empireofthesun

Artist: Empire of the Sun

Album: Walking on a Dream

Released: October 4, 2008

Label: EMI

 

I have listened to this song so many times it became funny again after it wasn’t even funny. Empire of the Sun is a collaboration between two guys I have never heard of (Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore) from a country I have never heard of (Australia). Their album “Walking on a Dream” captured my attention due to the album cover’s awesomeness, horribleness, what have you, either way the cover got my attention. On many occasions the cover means nothing to me; many album covers are covers that only mothers could love, this one comes to mind. But that doesn’t mean the music is horrible.

To make a long story shorter, I looked up Empire of the Sun and liked what I heard. There are some great tracks on the album; most notable being “We Are the People” and “Half Mast” but the song that got my booty shakin’ and quakin’ was the title track, “Walking on a Dream.” It is catchier than an addicting substance sipped through a crazy straw.

I don’t want to compare the duo to MGMT but it is easy to do so even if their music is not necessarily that similar. Empire of the Sun’s songs are electronic but have too much guitar to be electronic, you know what I mean? You don’t? Well than just listen to the song.

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Enter the Chicken Review

April 25, 2009

enter-the-chicken1Artist: Buckethead

Album: Enter the Chicken

Released: October 25, 2005

Label: Serjical Strike

 

 

A friend of mine had been listening to Serj Tankian’s “Elect the Dead” album a couple days ago and said he was looking for new music. I immediately handed him this album. “Enter the Chicken” is a collaboration between Buckethead and Serj Tankian (System of a Down) that took place in 2005 – the same year System released their double album finale that was the culmination of the group’s work.

Buckethead probably wrote most of the music on “Enter the Chicken,” but I imagine the work as a whole was pretty well split between Buckethead and Serj Tankian, who produced it on his label Serjical Strike. You may recognize Buckethead from his days with Guns and Roses, which ended when Axl Rose removed him from the band for being “unreliable.” Buckethead often releases upwards of a dozen records a year under various aliases and collaborations, so I doubt Axl Rose’s practice schedule allowed him the freedom he needed. Also featured on the album are vocalists Efrem Shulz from Death by Stereo and Azam Ali of Vas.

The intro track is a quarter minute of Azam Ali singing a hauntingly operatic sample. It transitions straight into “We are One,” which is when Buckethead and Tankian first let loose. The vocals are probably more spastic than any System song, even “Vicinity of Obscenity.” The guitar riffs are also much more heavy and powerful and are punctuated by thundering drums. It’s a little like System, but with the insanity and licks of Buckethead, and an extra dose of violence. This describes most of “Botnus”, “Funbus,” and “The Hand” as well. “Three Fingers” features Efrem Shulz in a sort of rap that grooves as well as the previous tracks tore it up.

“Running from the Light” opens only with Azam Ali’s vocals, and builds from a beautifully subdued song to a showcase for Ali to wield her powerful voice as it was meant to be. “Coma” is Azam Ali’s second chance to really shine, and coupled with “Running from the Light” her voice cuts the mood of the album in half. The song is mesmerizing, from Ali’s vocals, to Tankian’s harmonizing, and finally the quiet melodic guitar of Buckethead. Following is a song that, coming from Buckethead and Tankian, could only be called a pop song – as strange as that may sound. Tankian and Ali have equal parts and alternate between harmonizing and trading off during the verses. Tankian’s reappearance in the album signifies a transition away from Ali’s relatively peaceful songs, and there’s no better way to do that than with ukulele.

“Interlude” has Tankian singing a ditty over a solitary ukulele, and switches immediately into “Funbus,” returning the album to its crazy side, and crossing into heavy metal territory. “The Hand” is a frightening piece, and not only for its brilliance. Ali sings in operatic fashion behind Tankian’s vocals, which are completely insane in both style and lyrical substance. You might feel like you’ve been clubbed with a guitar neck after listening this song, but in a good way. “Nottingham Lace” is Buckethead displayed in all his instrumental glory. Concluding a collaboration that meshed together quite a few strange styles is one of his best instrumental tracks, which is where his songwriting and chops have always looked their best.

Also of note is the 2008 reissue of the album, featuring “Shen Chi” as a bonus track. At least a few of its listeners have declared it “The Ultimate Karate Song.” Chances are you may not have this on your copy, should you choose to purchase one, so here it is (Although the quality is a little poor).  Sadly it’s not a very good representation of the rest of the album.

Palace of Mirrors Review

April 22, 2009

61fjaazdsml_sl500_aa280_2Artist: Estradasphere

Album: Palace of Mirrors

Released: September 19, 2006

Label: The End

 

 

This is an excerpt from Estradasphere’s website and summarizes the group very well:

Estradasphere is a band of multi-instrumentalists from an unlikely variety of musical backgrounds. Timb Harris (violin/trumpet), Jason Schimmel (guitar/banjo/keyboards/vocals), Tim Smolens (upright and electric bass/vocals), Kevin Kmetz (Tsugaru Shamisen/guitar/keyboards), Adam Stacey (accordion/keyboards/clavinet), and Lee Smith (drums/percussion) were trained in disciplines ranging from classical and jazz to metal. This diverse instrumental and stylistic palette enables them to execute a vast array of orchestrations and even forge entirely new genres such as “Bulgarian Surf,” “Romanian Gypsy-Metal,” and “Spaghetti Eastern.”

Essentially the band is capable of playing a ludicrously diverse array of styles, and they do just that, plus create their own.  The group’s original lineup featured John Whooley (saxophone, accordion, vocals) from their early days in Santa Cruz until before their last studio album “Palace of Mirrors.”  Estradasphere became quite popular at clubs in Santa Cruz and their shows took on the bizarre atmosphere of a circus.  Fans were encouraged to come in costume and participate, which spawned a number of exceedingly strange sideshows.  Among them were fire-dancers, book readers, stilt walkers, and finally the infamous Mono Man, who “wore a cape, painted his bare chest with a large M, and proceeded to attempt to kiss people in the audience while pretending to have the disease of the same name” (Wikipedia).

After Whooley left the group they gained the renowned Kevin Kmetz who is one of the greatest shamisen players in Japan.  The next album was “Palace of Mirrors” and clearly fits their genre of “Epic-Cinema-Thon.”  After the intro, the title track begins with epic theatrical flair and continues to grow until it becomes a grand opus of strings, accordion, piano, and trumpet.  The following track, “A Corporate Merger,” starts with a jazzy guitar riff, before accordion, shamisen, and violin kick in and all begin trading themes.  The greatest realization I had from hearing “A Corporate Merger” was that the shamisen fits the song perfectly and matches the violin extremely well.

“The Terrible Beautypower of Meow” displays some really beautiful harmony on the part of Timb Harris.  “Colossal Risk” is even bigger than it sounds, and hits the listener with a musical range from walking bass lines to gloriously discordant trumpet.  “The Unfolding Pause of the threshold” is a psychedelic and heavy ride into a place that probably only Estradasphere has been.  “Smuggled Mutation” is a showcase for Harris’ frenzied violin skills, but also displays some really impressive shamisen, and underlying the whole vaguely bluegrass melody is a heavy metal foundation.  Trust me, it works.

Following the track is a sort of intermission-esque piece called “Six Hands” that seems to be entirely piano and harpsichord.  It is perhaps needed recovery time after the blistering Smuggle Mutation.”  It is very difficult to describe how much ass “Flower Garden of an Evil Man” kicks within the first two or three minutes, but suffice to say it is quite a large amount.  Nearing the end, “Those Who Know…” is the prime example of Kevin Kmetz’s ridiculous skill with the shamisen, and there is a majestic “Palace of Mirrors Reprise.”  Ending it all is “The Return,” which is probably best described as hardcore cinematic gypsy metal to the max.

This video of “Hunger Strike” off “It’ Understood” sums up the Estradasphere experience and is the epitome of their original lineup.  Instead of being intimidated by the length, start watching and you’ll be sucked in.

Actor Review

April 21, 2009

st-vincent-actor-album-art2Artist: St. Vincent

Album: Actor

Released: May 5, 2009

Label: 4AD

 

First of all, I would just like to ask: why hadn’t I heard of this woman until now?!

Apparently her 2007 debut “Marry Me” generated a lot of hype; however, clearly not enough.  I obtained that album in order to hear it in its entirety before listening through her impending release: “Actor.”  The most arresting thing throughout the album by far is Annie Clark’s voice.  I have a feeling she could sing “Over the Rainbow” and put Judy Garland to shame.  At times I began thinking I was listening to one of the incredible singers of the 50s like Ella Fitzgerald, but before I could slip completely into that notion I’d be bowled over by a discordant guitar and/or a sporadic drum break.

Annie Clark’s arrangements are hard to describe mostly because of their strangeness. The oddity of her writing is somewhat inherent, as she combines guitar, strings, various percussion, brass, piano, and the list goes on.  Upon investigation, I found that Clark was a guitarist for Polyphonic Spree, and then in Sufjan Stevens’ touring band.  This is some serious indie cred, but then she played drums, bass, and guitar on “Marry Me,” proving she is a skilled multi-instrumentalist to boot.

Her upcoming record “Actor” has been posted on NPR Music as separate tracks, and all of them are there and free to listeners.  Most of the instruments heard on “Actor” are still played by Clark, but her collaborators include musicians who have played for Sufjan Stevens, Bjork, and Phillip Glass, while her producer has done work for Modest Mouse and Polyphonic Spree.

“Actor” is less dreamy than her debut, although it does contain that wonderful essence on songs like “The Party” and “Just the Same but Brand New.”  “Marrow” is exemplary of the raucous irregular bursts that are especially powerful on “Actor.”  I can imagine that track becoming one of her supreme live songs.  The songs are even more complex and still feature a wealth of different instruments, but are arranged into increasingly byzantine layers.  Her guitar seems to have gained quite the attitude since 2007, so the quieter melodic portions tend to be dominated by piano instead.  All in all, there is just a lot more going on in “Actor.”  The sounds range from raging guitar and walls of noise, to pure heavenly vocals, which are often both present in a single song, as heard in “The Strangers.”

The only real drawback I see for listeners of “Actor” is that it may be too much for some people to take in at first.  If you have that feeling, then I urge you to listen through the whole album before you make any final judgments.  Any suspended criticism will pay off, and you’ll realize what a gem it is.

3

wolfgang-amadeus2

Artist: Phoenix

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Released: May 25, 2009

Label: Glassnote

 

 

I, like many viewers watching Saturday Night Live on April 4th, was unaware of a French rock group by the name of Phoenix. Apparently these dudes have been playing music for over a decade and most of it is very listenable, much of it being categorized as alternative, electronic and dance. Anyway, that fateful Saturday night has now given me a song that has been stuck in my head for a few days now. “1901″ is the hit single off Phoenix’s latest effort, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” which will be hitting stores in the colonies May 26. The song is upbeat, toe-tappin’ and overall very lighthearted, which is a mood that I am always on the hunt to find new songs to satisfy. If you are in an economically stimulating mind frame, then head on over iTunes where there is a four song EP for sale which also includes “Lisztomania,” the second song Phoenix played on Saturday Night Live, which is also very good. If not, here is the video of the performance, or the album version.

Fantasies Review

April 20, 2009

fantasies-metric-reduced1  Artist: Metric

  Album: Fantasies

  Released: April 14, 2009

  Label: Metric/Last Gang

 

              

For those of you unfamiliar with Metric, the band hails from Canada and plays energetic pop-rock written by the dazzling Emily Haines.  Haines is also the main vocalist and gained a great deal of fame as a member of Broken Social Scene, especially for her song “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” off the album “You Forgot It in People.”

Metric has been touring mostly in Canada since their last truly new material came out four years ago as Live It Out.  Grow Up and Blow Away was released in 2007, but was comprised of old material that would chronologically have been their first album; situating it between their “Static Anonymity EP” and “Old World Underground Where Are You Now?”  During the past four years Emily Haines has released two solo albums under the name Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton.  Metric’s latest album is evidence that if Haines didn’t come into her own as a writer while solo, then she certainly found a new center before “Fantasies.”

The album kicks off with “Help I’m Alive,” an almost mesmerizing song that teeters between brazen pop and well, even more brazen pop.  The song uses the driving energy of their more punk rock albums and explodes it with echoing synth and hissing ambience.  “Satellite Mind” is the quintessence of classic Metric rock, with pounding bass and exhilarating vocals.  “Twilight Galaxy” lets the energy level drop and showcases the more chill side of the band, maintaining that aspect demonstrated before in songs like “Calculation Theme.”  The first few times I listened through the album “Gold Guns Girls” always took me by surprise  The guitar intro is jarring and throws the listener back into a vigorous rhythm and sharp riff, which is a minor shock coming straight out of the previous track.

“Gimme Sympathy” is incredibly catchy, indeed it was deemed “dangerously catchy” by N. Smith the first time he heard it.  It is catchy on the level where you find yourself humming it the following day.  “Collect Call,” “Front Row,” and “Blindness” is the only part of the album that might be considered a lull.  Those three tracks are well written, but lack the distinction that most of the songs on “Fantasies” exude.  The album closes with the roaring synth and raucous drumming of “Stadium Love.”

The lyrics of “Fantasies” contain a great deal of uncertainty, but the music is assured and even grand.  It is a sort of confidence in uncertainty, which is probably a result of Emily Haines’ soul-searching time spent in Buenos Aires prior to writing “Fantasies.”  The lyrical material is broad, and focuses on human interaction on a personal level more than previous albums.  Personal doubt is ubiquitous at times as in “Help I’m Alive,” and rebellion in the face of relationship confines seems to be the topic of “Sick Muse.”

Metric also revisits political/social criticism with “Gold Guns Girls,” where they censure material greed as well as objectification of women.  However, this song does not target a population directly, but is addressed to a particular person – another example of the personal level of “Fantasies.”  In what is absolutely the catchiest song on the album, “Gimme Sympathy” pleads with you to stick with unknowns and real feeling – and why wouldn’t you?  The finale of “Fantasies” is “Stadium Love,” and Haines displays the confidence that has always been there as she assures the listeners that “No one’s getting out, Without stadium love.”

 

You can hear the whole album here:

http://www.ilovemetric.com/

Greetings 1.3

April 20, 2009

Well you made it, and not a minute too late. Mark V and I have established this blog you see in front of you. I am excited to get this thing moving so without further wasting your time I dub this Funguy and the Music Mushroom blog open for bizznas.