1. Ultraviolence (2014) by Lana Del Ray

    What to say, what to say? Lana Del Ray is quite a person. Without a doubt, she’s absolutely beautiful, enigmatic and has daddy’s checkbook to command the musical press. Yet… she doesn’t have the goods. On her second release Ultraviolence, she’s projecting a image of a self-confident woman who in my humble opinion believes that it’s contrived to the point of hilarity. Let us jump in…

    The album has a great production. Helmed by one half of the Black Keys, it’s as if John Barry spent his time listening to beach boys records, got crazy and stuck his orchestra in a trashcan for the next James Bond film. It’s spacey, moody and epic. There isn’t much variation across the tracks, making not a single one standout. The songs are ok for the most part; there are some ‘cool’ bits here and there. West Coast is a pretty infectious track, I’ll give her that. She’s too concerned about being cool and being associated with cool. By the time the cool wears off, I felt the album making me think of times I was depressed. The time we live in, there is no such thing as underground. We can thank the internet for the rise of nerd culture and the diminishment of underground status. So all these references to Lou Reed fall flat and edge on the side of snobbish.

    Clearly this chick can’t sing. Del Ray is all over the place vocally. The trashcan effect is extended to Lana’s vocals to keep the listener from switching over to something sonically better.

    Maybe I didn’t get this album, I’m sorry if I insulted anyone, but this is pretty bad. The competition in the girl singer category is pretty fierce with contenders like Adele, Lady Gaga, and my favorite St. Vincent who are pretty much doing the same thing just ten times smarter, more extravagant and better. I’d rather listen to a Katy Perry record that this. I won’t be pining for razor blades after listening to Hot ‘n’ Cold, that’s for sure.

    Essential Tracks: West Coast

     

  2. Mandatory Fun (2014) by Weird Al Yankovic

    Oh, Weird Al. One of my all time favorite artists is Mr. Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al was a gateway into the 80’s while also making laugh my ass off. On his most recent release, Mandatory Fun, he brings back the same, lovable humor and mocks the hits of ‘today’.

    Let’s be honest for one second, Top 40 music has gotten to a point where is horrendous. The last few releases, Mr. Yankovic has had some leeway with choosing hits. On Mandatory Fun, the hits are mediocre so the material that he’s working with is weak. The insta-hits of Iggy Azalia, Lorde, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams are mehh to say the least. The humor is clever, his singing is amazing, but the original songs aren’t good enough to warrant them parody. The songs are tracks based on production so when there isn’t a strong melody to latch onto they fall flat. The pool of hits are not there. The production value of the record is spot on. Lots of auto-tune, but its easily to dismiss. Now that we can easily “A” “B” tunes in iTunes, Weird Al is still the ultimate artist to music bomb someone. The original material, reserved for music snobs are hilarious. My Own Eyes satires Foo Fighters down to the vocal effect that Dave Grohl has. First World Problems’s Pixies satire could easily be mistaken for a Doolittle outtake. The only saving grace is the style parodies. Now That’s What I Call Polka! is clever, but it falls victim to the same problems of the parodies, poor source material. Weird Al is a musicians’ musician. All the references to pop culture, TV, food and other music is perfect for those media nerds. This is not Weird Al’s fault! Don’t take it the wrong way.

    It’s the sad state of popular music. Mandatory Fun’s title perfect alludes to this. Top 40 is guaranteed, mandatory fun. When it comes time to make fun of it, it’s not funny, it’s just uncomrfortable. Listen to Running with Scissors or Dare to Be Stupid and laugh like you used to. Long Live Weird Al!!

    Essential Tracks: Handy/ Word Crimes/ First World Problems/ Tacky

     

  3. The 2nd Law (2012) by Muse

    Grandiose Lyrics, Queen-esque guitars, pounding drums, and operatic vocals are part of the Muse lexicon. On the 2nd Law, Muse continues to utilize those traits that made them one of the biggest bands in the world. After five albums, a number of hits, Muse is maintaining that status while also turning into one of those bands that managed to incorporate mainstream sounds while keeping their idiosyncratic sound.

    Maintaining is the best way to describe what I thought about this album. The first album is front-loaded with the best tracks, Supremacy, Prelude/Survival, Madness, and Panic Station. And the second half continues the band’s inclinations for album-based storytelling. It’s very similar to the lay out on fifth album The Resistance, but now the band is using it as formula. Fans of Muse love this album, it’s all that the band is. There’s a heavy electronic and funk influence throughout the album. Dubstep is hinted on Madness to fool Top 40 radio morons. The opener, Supremacy, could have been the best James Bond theme song in over forty years (that being A View to a Kill by Duran Duran). The last two tracks, the mini-suite of The 2nd Law, close the album with grandeur that Muse is known for. The symphonic element of the album is so much grander and grandiose. On the follow-up, I wouldn’t expect the band to do a full concept album a la The Wall, The Dark Side of the Moon or Tommy with a hanfull of badass singles tossed in for good measure. It just seems like the right move, doesn’t it?

    Overall, the album is a-typical Muse that fans and casual listeners will love. It gets a little slow at the beginning of the second half, but regardless the concepts and sounds produced by the band are epic enough to keep you going. Highly recommend seeing this band live as well.

    Essential tracks: Supremacy/ Madness/ Panic Station/ Survival

     

  4. The Jazz Age (2013) by Bryan Ferry

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    Glam Rock star, Bryan Ferry, comes back every once and a while. While he isn’t the mega-star that David Bowie is, there’s always small contingent of album rock-based fans that loved Roxy Music. As of years past, Roxy has remained mostly in the United Kingdom, only to play a handful of dates in major cities in the US.

    With The Jazz Age, Ferry delves into a 1920’s jazz reconstruction of his best work. On your first listen, some of the songs are unrecognizable. Most of what made Ferry’s work unique was it’s undeniably weirdness and idiosyncrasies so this threw me off especially on tracks like Do the Strand and This is Tomorrow. Halfway through the songs, I picked up on a melody and figured out the tune. I didn’t check the track listing on my first listen.

    The album plays like a 78 from the 20’s. No, seriously it does. When I checked out some leaked tracks before the album was to come out, I was so sure that someone got the bit rate wrong. It can’t sound like that; you ripped the tracks in wrong! When I popped the CD into my car stereo I released I was tricked! The distorted, 78 record masking sends you back in time, making the album out to be a faux lost treasure. As much as I would like to hear the tracks unfiltered, it adds character and style. It makes the record authentic.

    The album is strictly Bryan Ferry’s project. He is of legendary status, so now is the time for him to flex his musical muscles and do some cool stuff. Fans will loved this. It has deep cuts that fans will love. It seems to go to a live show is the proper way to approach this project, but I’m down with this album.

    Essential Tracks: Do The Strand/ Just Like You/ Avalon/ The Bogus Man/ This Island Earth

     

  5. Hesitation Marks (2013) by Nine Inch Nails

    Trent Reznor is one of the few remain entities from the early 90’s still making music. He’s has survived Everything.

    Hesitation Marks, the eighth release as Nine Inch Nails. It’s the longest gap between albums since 2008’s The Slip. In that time, he has remain quite productive; marrying Mariqueen Maandig, scoring movies The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Atticus Ross, started a side project How to Destroy Angels with Ross, Rob Sheridan and Maandig.

    On Hesitation Marks, Reznor is refreshed and energized musically. The album is mellow for a NIN release, a first. Longtime fans are split between the move and desiring the classic NIN sound. I like the fact that Hesitation Marks is living in this new, mellow state. Reznor isn’t angry anymore. He’s been in the game a long time, and the angst is gone. Now we’re getting into territory where the music is based solely on an emotional timbre. It’s as if Pretty Hate Machine is the preface, The Downward Spiral is chapter one and Hesitation Marks is the epilogue, closing this story of Nine Inch Nails.

    There not too many new ideas, echoes to past NIN hits that are easy to spot. This album takes a minimalist, New Wave and krautrock approach. The Motorik beat is peppered on tracks throughout. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorik) Hardcore music nerds will recognize this immediately. There is elements of Neu!, Kraftwerk in the days of Computer World and the Cure.

    Like most Nine Inch Nails records, the album is produced and mixed magnificently. The tonal qualities of all the records are very important to the overall experience. The minimalist approach of makes sense… This is the next step in the evolution of the band.

    Essential Tracks: Copy Of A/ Came Back Haunted/ Everything/ Satellite

     
  6. (Source: jameskirked, via nayrnotlad)

     

  7. Poster Boy EP (2014) by High Fascination

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    High Fascination from New York City is a four-piece that’s been together since 2009. With a diet of the Beatles, Oasis Tom Petty and classic rock, they’ve managed to create a 21st century version of Britpop within the states. The four release, Poster Boy, is a snap shot at this sound.

    Starting with the titular track, Poster Boy, comparisons to pre-Kid A Radiohead and Post-Jason Falkner Jellyfish can be drawn. The music unintentionally encapsulates 90’s jangle rock and Post-Morning Glory Britpop of Manic Street Preachers in under a half hour. Lead singer Andrew Weiss has a voice that reminds me of Andy Sturmer from Jellyfish. The production is bright and clean, relying on the classic guitars and drums formula. Strings and an awesome violin solo on the best track, (Let’s Make) Snow Angels.

    This is the perfect example of how pockets of people develop self-contained scenes outside of the mainstream lexicon. This is completely outside of the box and nowhere near where music is today, but that’s fine. There are millions of other kids doing the same. Who do we have to thank for that? Technology. I could easily fool someone that these were outtakes from Everything Must Go by the Manic Street Preachers.

    The old down side of the EP is that it is a little long. If it were to be edited down a hair, it would be the best 15 minutes of pure jangle pop on this coast.

    This is a band that is gestating; developing something really good. I can’t wait to hear what High Fascination comes up next.

    Essential Tracks: Poster Boy/ (Let’s Make) Snow Angels

    Links:

    https://www.facebook.com/highfascination/

    http://soundcloud.com/highfascination/sets

    http://highfascination.bandcamp.com/

     

  8. This is Happening (2010) by LCD Soundsystem

    clever look back at the past. After nearly ten years of touring and recording, front man James Murphy called it quits. Two massive, sold out concerts at MSG, a mini-tour of the UK and This is Happening wraps up the final chapter of LCD Soundsystem in one feel swoop.

    The opening song, Dance Yrself Clean, is a classic. On this album, Murphy fine-tunes all that he’s learned recording and playing into a great record that uses emotion and production to give life to dance beats. It’s obvious where he lives musically, Talking Heads, the Fall, Iggy Pop and most importantly David Bowie. Each song is an ode to something off Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, The Idiot and Lust for Life. Murphy’s dry David Byrne-esque delivery can askew a casual listener to think that he’s a huge Talking Heads fan, but it’s Bowie that Murphy idolizes. Dance Yrself Clean is a nod to Speaking in Tongues-era Heads, but the second track, Drunk Girls, kicks in, the Bowie comparison is inevitable. Drunk Girls is a properly produced and well-played, dead-ringer for Lodger’s Boys Keep Swinging. All I Want is LCD’s version of “Heroes”; Somebody’s Calling Me is a dead-ringer for Nightclubbing/Red Money.

    The album has a very clean, minimalist palate. There isn’t too much going on sonically; the songs are emotionally driven. It’s the soundtrack to a digital funeral.

    The nine track album, is long, but full of ideas and great songs. It’s a shame that Murphy called it quits. He was on the verge of something. Emotions could dictate the direction of the music, rather than beats and sounds. If he were to continue, I can’t even imagine what kind of music he’d be making. We will never know, but what we do know is that we have three great albums, tons of singles, b-sides and a legacy that will certainly live on.

    Essential Tracks: Dance Yrself Clean/ Drunk Girls/ You Wanted A Hit/ Home

     

  9. The Suburbs (2010) by Arcade Fire

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    Combining the rural, rustic sounds of Neil Young, baroque pop of the Kinks and the sounds of the Beach Boys, Springsteen, Blondie, Bowie and Depeche Mode, the Suburbs is a modern look at both the concept album and the streets that inspired it.

    Arcade Fire creates a sprawling critique of America’s suburban life. Themes of alienation, loss, individualism and isolation keep the album full of steam and ideas.  Multiple listens bring one a sense of maturity and hard sentiment from the band. Songs like Rococo, Empty Room and Modern Man are prime examples of the themes of isolation and the teenage desire to remove yourself from your surroundings. The album is autobiographical, there’s self-awareness of the band with songs like Month of May, Wasted Hours and We Used to Wait.

    On the sophomore release, Neon Bible, the sound was darkened and is reversed to the band initial sound found on Funeral, Fire’s 2004 debut.  Touring with LCD Soundsystem that year, they’ve added synthesizers and more modern sounds on tunes Half Light II (No Celebration) and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains). It’s not a drastic change, but an unexpected welcome on the albums closing first and second side. It’s a good, but small primer for the follow-up, Reflektor in 2013. The album ends with Butler pining a return to those ‘wasted hours’. ‘If I could have it back, all that time we wasted, I wouldn’t waste it again…’ he sings. But we wouldn’t have this wonderful album and he wouldn’t have a Grammy.

    The album is comprehensive and a prime example of an album as whole. It’s easy to understand why it won Album of the Year Grammy. It recalls the lost suburban life of the late 70’s and early 80’s, now decaying in a liberal’s utopian dream.

    Essential Tracks: The Suburbs/ Ready to Start/ Rococo/ Half Light II (No Celebration)/ Month of May/ Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

     

  10. just-the-same-but-bound2 said: What songs did St. Vincent play? (Please don't say Birth In Reverse and Digital Witness.)

    Uhh.. well those are the singles off the album so she had to play them

    http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/st-vincent/2014/ed-sullivan-theater-new-york-ny-7bc12afc.html

     
  11. Cheerleader by St. Vincent

     
     
  12. St. Vincent Live on Letterman