Category Archives: New Music

Music to Your Ears – Franz Ferdinand, MGMT and Dashboard Confessional

What, is it nostalgia week? We’ve got releases from early-2000s emo mainstay Dashboard Confessional, as well as my personal favorite edition of that wave of British indie-pop that crossed over at the time – plus we have a new record from that influential late-2000s rock outfit MGMT. Let’s dive in:

Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

I’ve been waiting years for Franz Ferdinand to finally return to form. With 2009’s Tonight, the Glaswegian foursome had made it clear they were in love with their more ethereal efforts, with dreamscape dissonations like “Twilight Omens” and “Lucid Dreams” paving the way for their blueprint sound over the next eight years, including their uncomfortable collaboration with Sparks in 2015. Lucky for longtime fans, they skipped that beat and bring us back with the best of both worlds. Songs like “Lazy Boy” and “Feel the Love Go” remind us of that distinct Kapranos growl from early tracks like “Dark of the Matinee” and “You’re the Reason I’m Leaving”. The instrumentals seem to be harsher again as well – and while they’re not as inventive as earlier stuff, there’s an acknowledgment that they’d let the rough edges seemed to fade with later albums. A mixture of that early sound with the delicate crash from Right Thoughts makes for at least a happy reformation.

The unfortunate side effect of the band’s renewal is that longtime bassist Nick McCarthy left the band to focus on his family. In his stead the band recruited Julian Corrie (Miaoux Miaoux) and Dino Bardot (1990s) to fill in on guitar and a handful of other instruments. The result is seamless, with Corrie ably smashing out instrumentals like he’s been there the whole time. (Bardot will begin by touring and wasn’t featured on the album itself.) My guess is that the spark they found with their two new bandmates makes for a stellar stage show, but the studio sound still needs some smoothing out. I’m all for it, and hope to see them in April, with a future hope for even more in the long run.

Key Tracks – Paper Cages / Finally / Feel the Love Go / Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Franz Ferdinand, MGMT and Dashboard Confessional

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Music to Your Ears – Dream Wife, First Aid Kit and AWOLNATION

This week we have new albums from England, Sweden, California and….the forest? Well, superstar Justin Timberlake, hot off the Super Bowl halftime show is proud to present his latest production, a re-imagining with his worst Kris Kristofferson impression. This and all the tracks I’ve been listening to in the past week:

Dream Wife – Dream Wife

This is a pretty good fucking album, just trust me. I had a better way of expressing it, and had written a lengthy enough review to be satisfied, but WordPress lost it all on me, and that’s left me plenty pissed. You know who else sounds pissed? Dream Wife, on this whole record. Not sure who they’re pissed at, but it’s a brilliant anger to rock along to and let that anger diffuse out of you. This Brighton outfit by way of Iceland sounds a bit like Wolf Alice by way of Ida Maria, and that suits me just fine. Hard-hitting Hey Heartbreaker will hoist you up and let you know exactly where you’re going with this debut album, a sleigh 35 minutes of pure adrenaline. Take their word for it, they don’t really need me to scream their virtue from the rooftops – they’ll do that with these eleven tracks.

Key Tracks: Love Without Reason / F.U.U. / Somebody

First Aid Kit – Ruins

You like Eisley? This reminds me of Eisley, but with a bit of a twang in their step. The first few songs off the album could easily have been from early Eisley stuff, and strangely enough, the two bands had a concurrent trajectory. I’m a bit sad I missed out on the group’s earlier efforts, and promise to look into them for future articles, but for now you can settle in and comfort yourself with some folksy ballads with smart lyrics that will sooth any problems away…singer-songwriter sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg have been doing this since 2007, but I wager that this is the album that will push them into the stratosphere.

Key Tracks: It’s a Shame / To Live a Life / Fireworks

Justin Timberlake – Man of the Woods

This is rough, folks, and not in the way you’d expect from such a ‘rugged’ title. Given that this is the same man that asked us to cry him a river, what did we truly expect? There’s  something to be said for a pop artist that attempts to shoehorn himself into a certain style that was never inherently his, and it shows, terribly. I believe, when I first listened to his solo work back in 2007, I was blinded by my surroundings. A friend had me listen to ‘Sexy Back’ while I stood in front of the Jan Hus monument in the center of Prague, very possibly my favorite spot on Earth. So I apologize if I was ignorant of what was really less of a boy-bander breaking free of his bonds and more of a pop star appropriating some culture from around him. Unfortunately, beyond all the hubbub behind the scenes, it’s rapidly forgettable. When the Neptunes produced tracks pop up, there’s a small perk, but it largely reminded me of when listening to November’s Taylor Swift album Reputation, and really only liking any of the Jack Antonoff written tracks. It just made me want to listen to his own album Gone Now. This makes me long for a true Neptunes album, rather than a lackluster N*E*R*D release or solo contributions. I can’t see this having the legs that his first three albums had, and with the backlash around his personal decisions (working with notorious directors, etc.) it may be that he has a lot of work to do to redeem himself. Maybe he can take a cue from Janet Jackson on how to do so.

Key Tracks: Midnight Summer Jam / Montana / Higher, Higher

AWOLNATION – Here Come the Runts

Vocalist Aaron Bruno has a knack for picking out the best songs from each release to present as a single – and this is no different. ‘Handyman’ is the clear frontrunner on an album full of pretty basic tunes, albeit if you’ve always loved him this will suit you fine. The album starts strangely, a repetitive title hook that goes nowhere. Luckily he gets back to his old habits on the next track, ‘Passion’ and smoothly transitions from one electro-funk sensation to the next. Not a classic by any means, but it will definitely stretch us down the road to the end of winter.

Key Tracks: Miracle Man / Seven Sticks of Dynamite / Handyman


Well that’s it for now folks. Next we have the very (my) anticipated return of Franz Ferdinand, as well as old-school emo crooners Dashboard Confessional and electro-alternative rockers MGMT. Join in the nostalgia fest!

Music to Your Ears – Camila Cabello, Fall Out Boy and the Hell Yeah Babies

Well we’re now in the full swing of things for Music to Your Ears – as I was a bit busy preparing the 2018 Edgars for you all, I missed a handful of new releases. Here’s the highlights and lowlights of what I’ve listened to in the past few weeks:

Camila Cabello – Camila

‘Havana’ is a soft banger for sure, and it will definitely be inhabiting clubs long after this review has turned to dust. The shame of this all is that Cabello is a much better singer than this album allows – if she were truly given something challenging, she could take over the world. Between the humdrum lyrics and run-of-the-mill beats behind her, you can hear a true vocal master lying in wait for a chance to prove herself. A week after initially listening and I couldn’t tell any of these other tracks apart. It’s a shame, and here’s hoping this stays popular enough to let her spread her wings.

Key Tracks: Havana, I guess?

Fall Out Boy – M A N I A

Full disclosure here: I’ve been waiting for this to come to fruition for a while. This up-and-coming band has been lighting up Brooklyn and Manhattan clubs for the past few years and they’ve managed to finally release a full EP! Don’t worry all, this is definitely a lot of fun. There are certainly a few growing pains – some songs sound exactly the same, the lyrics are sometimes a bit goofy – but it’s all in good fun. If you want a similar sound before you dive into this, take what I thought of immediately: a modern-day version of The Oneders (Wonders) from Tom Hanks hit film That Thing You Do!. Let’s hope they don’t end up facing the same fate. When their best songs hit, they’re really danceable gems, and that’s all you want from a power-pop band, isn’t it?

Key Tracks: Grenadine Nosebleeds / Ms. Miss Me Yet / Vampire Girlfriend

The Decemberists – “Severed”

Your favorite folk-pop confederation is back – that’s right, after vocalizing a Lin-Manuel Miranda penned ballad to Benjamin *fucking* Franklin, Colin Meloy and copmany are back with the first single from their upcoming album I’ll Be Your Girl. The futuristic synth is welcome, if not surprising, but once Meloy’s vocals kick in alongside the rough-riding drums, you know you’re in for something completely innovative from the long-term merrymakers. I’m really pumped for this new album, all of a sudden.


Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully by the next edition, we’ll have a great deal more to have delved into. Most of the past three weeks has been listening to the best original songs from film in 2017….so I promise I’ll pick it up later.

 

Music to Your Ears – Justin Timberlake, The Vaccines, I’m With Her

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the outcome to our first annual Music to Your Ears single bracket, and here we are:

The Killers “Run for Cover” wins Best Song of the Year over Haim’s “Want You Back!

Thanks all who voted this year, and hopefully we’ll be back again next December even bigger and better than before!

Now, without further adieu, are the first new singles of 2018:

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Justin Timberlake, The Vaccines, I’m With Her

Music to Your Ears: Gwen Stefani, Tove Lo and Sia

Can you believe it’s already nearing the end of 2017? An exhausting time for all makes the time seem to fly. Well this is our last week for regular Music to Your Ears – other than a U2 album coming in early December, we’re going to focus on a recap with our Best of the Year bracket, which you’ll see the first Tuesday of that month, December 5th. For now, enjoy the remnants of what we’ve got in November:

Tove Lo – Blue Lips

Tove Lo gives no fucks, as you may know from her songs “Habits(Stay High)” and “Love Me Like You Do” – upbeat yet somber ballads that lament that love is nearly always fleeting, and with lyrics like “You do your thing never wanted a future / Fuck if I knew how to put it romantic”, you know she isn’t messing around. Late in her new album, “Bad Days” is of the same vein as the first segment of her “Lady Wood” idea, but the rest are harder, faster, meatier hooks, so electric they might knock you out. Tove Lo must be a bit angrier as she reaches her thirties, and I can relate – you’re beaten down by the news, lost love, untrustworthy friends. What else can I say? You want good beats and incisive lyrics? Look no further.

Key Tracks: disco tits / stranger / bad days

Sia – This Is Christmas

For someone who flew under the radar for the better part of a decade, singer-songwriter Sia Furler is doing alright for herself, having snuck into the echelon of great pop of the last few years on the backs of fabulous hits like “Chandelier” and “Cheap Thrills”. So a natural next step for anyone on that level is to put out a Christmas album. One might be worried that she’s “selling out” but I’m here to assuage your fears. This even works as a Sia album on its on, full of original songs meant to delight and inspire. There aren’t as many biting lyrics, meant to flip flop your feelings about lost love, and there’s obviously some winter themed whimsy. I’m pleasantly surprised by this, and you should be as well.

Key Tracks: Santa’s Coming For Us / Underneath the Mistletoe / Puppies Are Forever

Gwen Stefani – You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Gwen Stefani has betrayed me. Where is our pop punk princess of the early 1990s? Somewhere along the way since No Doubt, Stefani transformed past her Harajuku girls and became a Christmas country chaunteuse. Her impending marriage to Voice collaborator Blake Shelton has clearly helped her image, but she’s sort of distanced herself by pandering herself into that middle America pseudo-Christian country style that her beau has squarely positioned himself in from the beginning. It’s great to hear some traditional Xmas music, including a mix of secular and Christian songs, and her voice is as good as it’s ever been. But isn’t this sad for the once stellar sparkplug?

Key Tracks: White Christmas / Santa Baby / Let It Snow

Franz Ferdinand – “Always Ascending”

The past decade has not been kind to Franz Ferdinand. After exploding in 2004 with their self-titled debut, no one seemed to care about their equally fantastic You Could Have It So Much Better except die-hard fans. The following two albums were uninspired, and a questionable team-up with classic British glam-rock group Sparks left everyone asking, “Why did Sparks bother?” Well, now that they’ve even lost founding guitarist Nick McCarthy, who’s spending time with family, the band has moved into “a new phase”. A particularly apt title for their first single, it reminds fans of their early days, but with a decidedly fierce new mood. Alex Kapranos’ growl has never sounded heavier, and McCarthy’s guitar is filled well by new members Dino Bardot (formerly of The 1990s) and Julian Corrie. As it has long been my favorite band, I’m excited to see what new heights they can achieve.


We’ll be a little slight next week, and more likely we’ll be preparing for the upcoming bracket-fueled championship that will find one track above the rest. That’s it, I’ll probably fit in what my favorite songs were for the last three months of the year, showcase a final 16 best of the season, then we’ll get right into the challenges.

Music to Your Ears – Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez and Sleigh Bells

Bogged down by the cold weather? Treading water till your new New Year’s resolution? Well never fear, there’s more music to distract you from the never-ending torment that is reality!

Taylor Swift – Reputation

I don’t know that you’ll ever find anyone more divisive than Taylor Swift in the world of pop culture today. Everybody has a hot take on her reputation, and she seems as though there is a heavily cultivated image set forth by her label and other people. Naturally, Miss Swift has made it super difficult for a simple blogger like myself to obtain her music in order to review. Not that I put a lot of effort in, but coming to write this, I found that there were no ways to even stream a full song other than hoping for songs to come back around with iHeartRadio’s “Reputation Radio” station. It took over four hours and several repeats of “Wildest Dreams”, “Back to December” and “Love Story”. Suffice it to say, that’s a much more annoying way to take in Reputation than I would have liked, but it didn’t cause the work to suffer. Despite the tracks being wildly out of order, I discerned the centerpieces. You might already be well aware of the “I’m Too Sexy” sampling “Look What You Made Me Do” or the recent single release “…Ready for It?” I’ve heard from many friends that this is clearly a forced attempt at darkening her image like Katy Perry did last album with 2013’s Prism and “Dark Horse”. If that’s the case, then it’s shamefully dull of her to copycat. I think she’s still trying to discover where, as a major pop artist, she’ll stand in the echelon of pop culture. I think there are certainly better artists, and Swift herself has done much better (1989 is her best). It was always going to be an uphill battle with the paparazzi, culture and generally because it’s a follow-up to 1989. There are definite bright spots, but this may be forgettable in a year. The irony is that much of the good stuff was written and produced by Bleachers/Fun/superwriter Jack Antonoff, including the best song “Getaway Car” which has several lyrics and beats that seem ripped right out of his own “I Wanna Get Better”. If that’s the case, it’s shameful too, but I kind of don’t mind. She’s still fun, at least, if a bit over-processed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get some lunch at McDonald’s

Key Tracks: New Year’s Day / Getaway Car / King of My Heart

Jennifer Lopez – Amor Amor Amor

One artist I’m surprised I’ve missed is Jennifer Lopez. A stalwart of my high school years, as her image was repeatedly up whenever flashing by MTV – particularly the afternoon benchmark TRL – she sort of faded away from my radar after 2005’s Rebirth. I recall her popping up now and again, particularly as a judge for five of the later seasons of American Idol. I always admired her, especially as an actress (Selena is great), but I never really kept up with her music in the post-TRL universe. I’m glad she’s wrapped herself up in her Hispanic heritage with songs like this, sort of like Shakira has always maintained a Spanish-language first mentality. As for the song itself, it’s catchy and pumped me up on first listen. I could see this getting a lot of airwave time, so perhaps Lopez will re-emerge in my mind for this next album, Por Primera Vez.

Sleigh Bells – Kid Kruschev

This mostly seems like b-sides to last year’s phenomenal album Jessica Rabbit. Many of the tracks could be inserted anywhere in that and not seem out of place. I’m perfectly happy with it, because it’s seven new songs from singer-songwriter Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller. Oh, okay – I looked it up, and apparently the duo moved out of Brooklyn and can’t stop creating music. In addition, Miller says that they “like the idea of putting out shorter records at a more consistent rate, so we’re gonna give it a shot for a while, see how it feels”. Hey, if that means more Sleigh Bells on an annual basis, I am definitely behind it. If you love the band, this is easily worth it.

Key Tracks: And Saints / Florida Thunderstorm

Walk the Moon – What If Nothing

With the megahit “Shut Up and Dance” forcing the band into one-hit wonder discussions, there’s a lot riding on this follow-up to 2014’s breakout Talking Is Hard . Lead vocalist Nicholas Petricca starts off by stretching his vocals, lowering the bass in “Headphones” in order to mirror their high-range dance songs of the previous album. Don’t worry, they haven’t lost their rhythm tenderness, as the next two tracks “One Foot” and “Surrender” prove. If you’re new to them, think of the band as a little cousin to Imagine Dragons.

Key Tracks: One Foot / Kamikaze / Can’t Sleep (Wolves)

Evanescence – Synthesis

This is a neat oddity for Evanescence fans – the group has reworked much of their best material, and rather than forcing a best of album, they’ve crafted a remix version in the best veins of their genre. Lacrymosa now has violins and dripping pianos behind the original synth and vocals. Bring Me to Life is entirely different, orchestrally symphonic – the piece is like a prog version a metal butterfly emerged from the cocoon of their hiatus. It’s not a lot of new material, but people who grew up with Amy Lee’s melodic vocalizations will be enamored with this post-Halloween treat.

Key Tracks: Bring Me to Life / Imperfection (original song!) / Lithium

Seal – Standards

What’s with everyone getting into doing the classics? Recently it was former French first lady Carla Bruni, a year ago it was Bob Dylan. To each his own, I guess, and it’s usually a quick hit with fans and a nice cash grab, even when you’re actually a fan of the standards you’re singing. Seal sounds solid here, and he certainly has always had the chops to perform these songs. Of those recent performers, he’s easily the best. Heck, I want him to do another album already.

Key Tracks: Luck Be A Lady / Autumn Leaves / I’ve Got You Under My Skin


Apparently next week we’re seeing the Revival of Eminem, that Trump-slaying raconteur, and we’ll be getting some Blue Lips from songstress Tove Lo. We’re also finally into the Christmas season, as Sia has an Xmas album, while we’ll finally review Gwen Stefani’s month-old dip into the holidays. Stay tuned…

Music to Your Ears – Maroon 5, The Fratellis and Weezer

Yes, it’s been a bit of a time – much like last year, October and November see a dip in both quality of releases and my interest in them. Luckily, there were a handful of pick-ups you just have to hear from the last few weeks:

Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues

I don’t want to lower my expectations for this album, but we all have to face the fact that while Maroon 5 has “grown” as a band, they’ve clearly distanced themselves from their original rock sound. This is definitively a product of the current pop scene, best represented by frontman Adam Levine’s extended stint on The Voice. While we can’t say any of the band members are untalented, particularly Levine, they’ve sort of sold out too. There’s nothing wrong in it, as I’ve always hoped for the greatest of successes for one of my favorite bands. The truth is that their first album, Songs About Jane will be the only truly ‘rock’ infused work by Maroon 5. From then on they were reaching for the stars, and now that they’ve gotten there, they’re sort of dull. Sure, they’ve got massive hits, but the hooks propelling them are more intriguing when their guests join in (Kendrick Lamar in “Don’t Wanna Know”, SZA in “What Lovers Do”, Julia Michaels in “Help Me Out”). I’m sure the boys are still as talented as ever, they just don’t get a good showcase here – particularly James Valentine, so good on the first two or three albums, but pushed to the background by boops and whistles. At least he’s rich beyond his wildest dreams. Also, I can’t hate on Adam Levine if he’s willing to dress as a mascot bug to reference Kafka in his videos. The guys are still a least a little clever.

Key Tracks: Denim Jacket / Girls Like You / Don’t Wanna Know

The Fratellis – “The Next Time We Wed”

As the harbingers of the Chicago Blackhawks’ approaching dynasty, “Chelsea Dagger” was played constantly for the six years that team dominated the National Hockey League. Hoping to avoid one-hit wonder status, The Fratellis have plugged away touring and writing music, turning up now with their first single from the upcoming In Your Own Sweet Time, out March 9th next year. While it doesn’t have that hammer hook shout along of the older track, this is still a fun time. “Give me half a chance and you can be my next obsession”. Knowing that major radio stations have latched on to Fitz and the Tantrums and Portgual the Man in recent years for their “indie rock of the month” this has a chance to catch on over the winter months as a bit of an alternative infatuation to your moody Taylor Swift driven journeys.

Weezer – Pacific Daydream

Weezer has long made it a tradition to throw caution to the wind and make the same damn album nearly every year since 2008. They’ve been riding the coattails of their much better early work, which can seem to be the same thing as what I accused Maroon 5 of doing above. That, of course, is different here as I believe Weezer doesn’t really care about their public image, instead turning in song after song about lazy beach rock, reveling in their ability to maintain the mundane. That being said, they’re phenomenal live performers, and to churn out such dreck does not diminish the concerts they endow upon us. Of course, there’s still highlights to be had here, which entitle them to a few more songs in their playlists. Rivers Cuomo will live it up as long as he can, and more power to him – it’s almost as if he’s trolled us all into realizing Weezer is still a legitimate rock band.

Key Tracks: Weekend Woman / Feels Like Summer


That’s it – hopefully the rest of November picks up the same, but if it doesn’t, don’t fret – you can look forward to the Music Bracket Challenge, where you can pick which songs are the best of 2017! I’ve mentioned it in three previous articles, where I’ve chosen the best of each season:

 

When December rolls around, we’ll have a final twenty to add in to the mix, and from those four chapters we’ll cull four each to make a sweet sixteen symphony! I’m looking forward to it hopefully as much as you will be, so stay tuned!