Monday, October 21, 2013

Album Review: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., 'The Speed of Things'

If you are at all familiar with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., than you are likely already enthralled with the complex combination of danceable beats, jazz instrumentation, heavy guitar, sometimes heart-sick-but-still-optimistic lyrics, and the clever under-layer of hip-hop harshness that make up their sound. Characteristically apparent in their sophomore release, 'The Speed of Things', DE Jr. Jr. manages to maintain the aforementioned sound, along with their well-known and admired Indie pop sensibilities, true talent, and rough-around-the-edges youthfulness. They've certainly matured as a band, including adding new member Jon Visger on keys and guitar. But don't worry, they haven't outgrown wearing matching outfits.    

As with 'It's a Corporate World', there are some inconsistencies in the tone and style of the songs album-wide, but I find the more I listen, and get to see them play live, the more I like the former dark horse contenders for favorite song. For example, for some reason it took me a long time to really locate and appreciate "We Almost Lost Detroit" from the debut album, and now that song is closer to an anthem for me. So it goes with 'The Speed of Things'. It's not all happy-go-lucky 80's pop - there are some serious lyrical turns, some slower jams, and voice-play that leave the listener curious about what lies beneath the hood of these Detroit rockers that seem to have them feeling melancholy, yet ready to dance.

I have a few immediate favorites on 'The Speed of Things' - some songs that stand out as too catchy not to hear on repeat, such as "Don't Tell Me", "Run", and the first single, "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't on the Dancefloor)". Others are slowly making headway into my "need to hear again immediately" list. A few of those newcomers such as "Knock Louder", "Hiding" and "A Haunting" are lyrically a bit more morose, so I didn't jump on them as quickly because honestly, I wanted to savor the upbeat tempo of the sugary pop hits. However, don't assume those songs fail to address serious subject matter too. "Run" and "War Zone" both mix metaphorical instances of love in the time of war (and a saxophone on the latter) while getting the listener into a danceable headspace.

This sense of duality is due in part to the varying talent and taste within frontmen Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott. While their particular cohabitation of interchangeable lead and backing vocals makes DE Jr. Jr. more engaging to get to know, it also makes them an easy target for critics who prefer the likes of Tears for Fears rather than Hall & Oates when seeking bands who feature duo leads. I prefer Hall & Oates anyway, they have slid into a classic sound cloud, and I imagine DE Jr. Jr. will get there too.

There's too much talent within the rest of the band (including the especially adorable drummer Mike Higgins) to back up the brilliance of the lead vocalists to see them fade away anytime soon. 'The Speed of Things' is just as agreeable for easy listening as it is for throwing a dance party. Friendship with Josh notwithstanding, I give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

If you get a chance, see them on this tour. I got to see them twice in as many weeks recently, and it helped to better understand some of the complexities not immediately apparent when listening to the album. What set list you get will depend greatly on the line-up of the show (i.e. if they are the opener or the headliner), and maybe on the mood of the band too. It's much more fun for them to play the danceable hits if they can sense that the audience wants to get down, and it gives Josh and excuse to jump into the crowd. I like it just fine whatever they feel like singing, as no matter what, they balance their ballads with their beats and it's guaranteed to be a fun time. Here's hoping they continue to cover Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody".

Tour dates are available here. If they are not coming your way, check out the video below for a slight nod to the Beastie Boys and a great play on words.

Images via Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stepping Through My Shadow

I'm in the midst of a love affair with Tool; an ongoing and long, torrid affair, at that. It's not like this is new to me, I've been a Tool fan for a long time, but right now, all I want to do is sink into the darkness that surrounds this mind-blowing band and step through on the other side of the shadow

What's weird about this darkness is the lack of depression found here. I am comforted instead. I am motivated. I am incredibly turned on. I am reminded of friends who have come and gone who loved this place too. I dream of this kind of peace - where you know that the pieces fit and that you can come out whole again. Where the high-octane bass attaches itself to my bones, and because they are hollow, borrows the path to the rest of me. The troubling treble finds solace in my mind, and I can't help but close my eyes and sing. Sing. I do not sing unless alone, but when in love with Tool, I want to sing everywhere. 

Nothing rewards the heart like knowing that you can take a moment to try and trade it all in for a little peace of mind. Sometimes, I'd give anything for that little space, and Tool gives it to me. With Tool, I can manifest my fears and release them from hatred onto a path of forgiveness. What other band offers that kind of freedom? Critics claim that Tool's debut album Undertow has a "nihilistic yet wistful mood," which may be why I relate to the band in general. I'm no nihilist, but life is a constant stream of existential crises that require looking into the depths of nothing in order to find something. 

How's that for deep? Seriously though, when the need for self-exploration presents itself, a soundtrack of Tool suites the journey. Aenima allows for a new bass exploration with a new member of Tool, but does not disappoint my bones. Both the original "Push It" and the slow jam version that appears on the box set Salival, is heartbreaking. The kind of sadness that you must recover from in order to ever love again. The duality faced in this album allows your existential crisis room to traverse both your dark side and your light side and come out as your true Jedi-self. Maynard believes in redemption, and you can too.

Once you listen to these two epic albums, be sure to pay homage to early EP Opiate, to fall head over heels into "Part of Me" and the title piece, "Opiate", as well as later albums Lateralus and 10,000 Days. Those albums came out in the days in which Tool toured extensively again, and I wish I had been able to find myself in the crowd at one of those shows with my friends that did. Though Tool is not interested in posting their albums for free listening on sights like Spotify, Rdio, or even iTunes, you can often find several of the complete albums on YouTube, which makes my day when I am sitting idle and have no access to my iPod and need to immerse myself to come through whatever shadow is lurking. Don't tell Maynard though, he is pretty avid in his fight to keep the profits of being a musician with the music makers.     

If you're not sold on this, try out this adorable and amazing video of really talented kids covering "Forty-Six & Two." The whole band will blow your mind, but goddamn if the bass player doesn't give me more hope that we can - and will - survive all shadows. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hate Song

The A.V. Club has this brilliant feature called Hate Song in which they "ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world." Yeah, I know, right? And it is just as amazing as masturbating to a hate fuck fantasy in which you are the one who is hated.   

I have a multitude of Hate Songs (far fewer hate fucks, thankfully), but there is one song that I literally want to run screaming from the room every time it comes on. And that is Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance". I can't even. 

I don't remember the first time I heard it, but I know that when I lived in Asheville, NC and regularly attended 80's Night on Wednesdays at Broadways that I always left the dance floor when this horse shit came on. It makes me angry to even think about. 

I didn't even know most of the lyrics until just now when I looked them up. This dude is actually kind of funny - a complete misogynist, but funny. Seriously, the sound of this song immediately draws a scowl to my face and I can't help but send a stink eye to whence it came.

If I ever get married and have a DJ at the party, if he played this song (or anything by The Jackson Five), I would probably rip the very expensive veil out of my hair and choke him with it.    

Sunday, April 21, 2013

AroarA - "In the Pines" EP Review & Interview

AroarA, a Canadian husband and wife duo comprised of Andrew Whiteman (Broken Social Scene) and Ariel Engle (Land of Kush), bring us a most exquisite debut entitled “In the Pines”. This EP, available now on the artist website, is part of a forthcoming album, an adaptation of Alice Notley’s book of poems of the same name. Each song corresponds with one of the poems and contains words and phrases in the lyrics.

If the E.P. is any indication, the release of the full-length album is sure to be as intimate and haunting. Everything on this 5-song “ballad” is sweet and sad, as if it exists on the periphery, in some other dream-like place that only the poet could have imagined and these musicians could have personified.
BUST is no stranger to this little group, as AroarA stopped by the BUST SXSW Party to play at The Pussy Palace. 

Following up their friendly nature, AroarA kindly spoke to me about the inspiration behind creating this album. Andrew shared his love of the poetry’s sense of self-discovery through confrontation, and how while reading Alice’s work, he felt pulled in by her folky, bluesy voice. As Andrew and Ariel are not, in fact, folk musicians, perhaps tackling the conversion of Alice’s work into song would help him follow a similar journey of self-discovery?

“There is a strong 'gothic' element in the work, and after a while, it occurred to me that 'In The Pines" might be converted back into folk music. What would that music sound like filtered through the words of a woman who is a feminist, a lifelong poet, and a radical in her choices?” The process started with Andrew pulling phrases and words from the poems to build traditional folk songs. Once about 10 or so songs had been written, Ariel and Andrew began to add music to the lyrics. To be sure they were doing the poetry justice, the pair assembled a sample of songs and sent them to Alice. With the poet’s blessing, and acknowledgement that AroarA had built something all their own, thus an album was born.

“We considered ourselves working somewhat in a traditional manner.  So we put constraints on how we made the songs and what instruments and textures to use,” said Andrew. This included “recording in our living room and at our friend’s cottage.”

The folky, homey feel of the recording combined with the cigar box guitar-style, and the way the duo’s voices share the space of the songs makes you want to sink into a big hammock next to the river and drink whiskey late into the April afternoon sun. And doesn’t that sound like a place under the pines to seek and find?

Originally posted on

Monday, March 11, 2013

BUST Mag and SXSW.

Courtesy of BUST Mag:

Who's NOT going to be in Austin this month? God forbid a sinkhole doesn't open up and swallow the city because that would be the end of all music. Forever. It's that time of year when endless booze competes with endless shows and the parties you DON'T go to always have Bill Murray's at them. Viva los Borachos!

BUST magazine is on the Texas tip right now too! We decided to throw you a sick house party with our friends at Tito's Vodka and We wanted to give you the type of red Solo cup havin', backyard-sportin', multi-day house party you used to go to when you didn't do this stuff for a living. No badges, no problem! Just don't be under 21. We've lined up an incredible list of bands - some new, some seasoned, ALL amazing - to entertain you while you casually scope out the cute drummer in that one band you heard of on Pitchfork once. Photography provided by JOIN THE STUDIO and! Check out the lineup below, get off the 6th street madness for a bit and throw down like no one's watching!

2:00 PM- El Sportivo
2:40 PM- The Wolf
3:20 PM- GLISS
4:00 PM- K.I.D.S.
4:40 PM- Clairy Browne
5:20 PM- So So Glos
6:00 PM- Widowspeak
7:00 PM- BOY
8:00 PM- French Horn Rebellion

2:00 PM- Wax Idols
2:40 PM- Ex Cops
3:20 PM- Motive
4:00 PM- California X
4:40 PM- Low Fat Getting High
5:20 PM- Vulture Shit
6:00 PM- Wampire
7:00 PM- In the Valley Below
8:00 PM- The Death Set

2:00 PM- Dog Bite
2:40 PM- AroarA/ Broken Social Scene
3:20 PM- Snowblink
4:00 PM- Tashaki Miyaki
4:40 PM- Turbogeist/ Jimi Jagger
5:20 PM- Smoking White
6:00 PM- Weekend
7:00 PM- Photo Ops
8:00 PM- Rush Midnight (Twin Shadow)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best Albums of 2012

Alt-J ∆ - An Awesome Wave

An Awesome Wave tops my list as favorite album and favorite show. These nerdy Brits made some seriously great music. Lyrically the themes ring closer to Hipsterville than standard Rock n’ Roll, but I’m not offended. I even learned a new word – tessellate: to form in a mosaic of small shapes, like a beehive or floor tiles. While traditionally somewhere between art and math, in the song of the same title, these folks have made it sound like a dance between lovers. I’ve probably listened to this album the most this year, including the illegal online stream I kicked off before purchasing it on Amazon, before the release date in America. I’m not kidding, it is that good. 

While “Tessellate” is close to my favorite song, “Breezeblocks” takes the cake. An exploration of Where the Wild Things Are, it instantly makes a listener happy and sad, just like the story of little Max. I can already tell this four top will stay on my list of favorites into the next year.

The Cast of Cheers – Family

A latecomer to my list, The Cast of Cheers appeared in a newsfeed on Facebook by my friend Darren. As he’s always had great taste in music, I decided to check them out, and I am so glad I did. Another four top from across the ocean, these Irish Indie rockers have got something good going on.
Closer to guitar-heavy rock than new-age pop, the riffs are complimented by heavy bass and complicated drums rather than riff with electronic entanglements. The lead singer’s voice feels like TV on the Radio or Bloc Party. The lyrics are aggressive and full of prolific imagery of human struggle. Nothing new here, yet there’s something both eerily comforting and completely distracting to hear a new song that immediately reminds you of a well known and loved one.

The one that gets me the most is called “Palace and Run”. The intro sounds like the Tegan & Sara cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Dancing in the Dark”.  Totally mainstream and completely old school at the same time, just like any good rock n’ roll tune. I always get excited when the song comes on, because my brain has already gone into the depths and expects to hear The Boss, or some warped girly version of the Jersey man.

It’s this forced-reach around that makes this album so successful. They couple the freshness of a new lover with the old familiarity of a hug from your best friend. I can’t stop listening to this 10 track little gem. 

Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional 

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have danced in my underwear in the kitchen to this album. So fucking catchy! John O’Regan, now known as Diamond Rings on stage, has about as much sass as Rihanna, and wears the Mohawk with as much pride. His combination of synth and guitar make for danceable, happy tunes. The lyrics are mostly simple, singable love ballads mixed with the joys of young attitude. The first single, “I’m Just Me” for instance is an obvious ode to self discovery, but when delivered by a man rocking traditional black Ray Bans and Michael Jackson era metallic jackets, you can't help but want to boast about how amazing you are too. I had the privilege of seeing Diamond Rings play with a complete band, and got to dance there too.

Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits    

I can’t help but love new bands formed of various members of other bands that I already listen to. The birth of Divine Fits came from Spoon frontman Britt Daniels, Wolf Parade’s lead guitarist Dan Boekner and drummer Sam Brown. The band is not entirely cohesive yet, as you can clearly hear the choppy guitar sound and rough vocals of Spoon in the songs written by Daniels, and the more complex 70’s throwback sound of Wolf Parade in the songs written by Boekner, but that’s ok because it works. The cover of Nick Cave’s “Shivers” is especially fantastic, helping to solidify the band’s post-punk feel. I saw these guys play this year too, and not only did I appreciate the album more, but I also renewed my love of the bands they come from. Spoon will always be one of my favorites, so why not love Divine Fits. Merge Records knows how to pick great albums.

Django Django - Django Django

This album is on the top of the list of favs for my friend Rick, so I only know they exist because of his fandom. Yet another talented group from across the pond, this Scotland-based foursome has a unique, bass-heavy sound. The album lends itself to easy listening, but without the obvious implications of that label. More like, anyone will like it, and having it on in the background while eating dinner or hanging out with your friends is a perfect scenario.

Father John Misty - Fear Fun

As my friend Travis Headrick described Fear Fun,  “If you could make a musical mix drink from literary giants, you’d concoct this album with 2 parts Hunter S. Thompson, 1 part Tom Robbins, and a splash of Ian Fleming.”  Along with the lyrics, the twang of the hard guitar mixed with heavy drums and his slow and sultry voice might as well be a healthy poor of bourbon and a good book. This album is haunting, yet familiar, and feels like a road trip to see your favorite person. Like sadness, it’s kind of addicting, and reminds me of when I fell in love with Neutral Milk Hotel. I find myself listening to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” on repeat, sometimes wanting to cry, sometimes wanting to dance, and always wanting more.