Monday, May 12, 2014

Ghost Stories by Coldplay REVIEW

The boy's are back. After a slightly disappointing album (not in my opinion, but the public's) in 2011's Mylo Xyloto, the Londoners make their return with the "stripped-down" Ghost Stories. Dealing with the pressures of a disintegrating relationship, Chris Martin sings of nothing but  love on this 9 song, 40 minute album. Filled with the ambient production of Paul Epsworth and others (even including Timbaland and Avicii), the album has a very laid-back and casual feel to it. Most of these tracks aren't really stand-outs on their own, but as a whole they combine to create a lightweight and fresh feel.

Opening with "Always in My Head", the light and delicate work of Jonny Buckland's guitar and the simple yet soothing sounds of Will Champion on the drum machine, the song has a airy and dreamy quality to it, which is maintained by the rest of the album.

Two of my favorite tracks on the album, "Magic" and "Ink" both use thumping beats to create an upbeat and cheery feel. Lyrically neither of these songs, or the rest of the album for that matter, are anything really special. But with Coldplay, its the sum of the parts that counts, and the sum in this case is truly magnificent.

"True Love" is an OK track that to me feels like "Ink" but with slightly less effort put into it, and a hell of a lot more annoying background sounds.

Arguably the centerpiece of the album, "Midnight" is one of two songs that don't seem to fit into this album whatsoever, with "A Sky Full of Stars" being the other. "Midnight" is reminscent of Kid A by Radiohead mashed with Bon Iver's vocoder vocals. 

The weakest part of the album consists of the two songs "Another's Arms" and "Oceans". While "Oceans" does sound the closest to old Coldplay we get on this album, the incessant sound of a sonar like beep in the background ruins any and all atmosphere that is trying to be achieved. "Another's Arms" lyrically and musically is nothing special, here let Chris Martin's lyrics tell you:

"Late night watching TV,
used to be you here beside me"

The best song on the album in my humble opinion is the simple yet striking piano ballad, "O". Sounding like a mashup of "Atlas" and "Clocks" it has neither the high production of those two songs, but retains all the emotion and sensitivity that those two have. It simply is the best piece of work that Coldplay have done in the last few years.

Choice Picks: "Always In My Head", "Magic", "Ink", "Midnight", "O"

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Turn Blue by The Black Keys REVIEW

The hard rockers from Akron, Ohio are finally back with their newest album since 2011's El Camino. This new album, Turn Blue, marks a shift from the hard rocking bluesy sounds of their previous albums and veers into a more psychedelic-pop sound which retains only hints of its blues heritage.

I have to admit, when I first heard "Fever", I felt like this album was going to be a dissapointment, even though "Fever" grew on me. However, the album is so varied in sound yet connected in themes that it has something for everyone.

The album begins with the ramblings sounds of a lone acoustic guitar in "Weight of Love" then transitioning into looping and snaking guitar solos from the genius of Dan Auerbach. Had Creedence Clearwater Revival begun their playing days in this modern age, this is the equivalent of that. Conjuring up images of a travel down a desert highway at sunset, the song sets the mood for the rest of the album. "In Time" begins with a Broken Bell-esque sound most likely contributed by producer Danger Mouse, which then transitions back into familiar Black Keys territory, with small looping guitar riffs and hard rocking drum beats. Others include the Bo Diddley inspired "It's Up to You Now" and the sexy sound of the 9th track, "10 Lovers".

The rest of the album continues upon that psychedelic sound and even as it seems to deccelerate down into bluesy slow jams, it quickly picks back up to the familiar fast paced sounds of the Keys.

With the production of Danger Mouse, the guitar and bass of Dan Auerbach, and the drums of Patrick Carney, the Black Keys have created an album that holds up to its own when compared to Brothers and El Camino. In fact the three albums may even be considered a trilogy, like Bowie's Berlin albums and Dylan's 1960s classics.

Album Highlights: "Weight of Love", "In Time", "Fever", "Year in Review"

Rating: 8.5/10

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division REVIEW

The 1979 d├ębut album from the post-punk band: Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, is widely regarded to be one of the greatest albums of all time.

Taking their name from the infamous "comfort women", Jewish women who were forced to work as sex slaves by Nazis during World War II, Joy Division courted controversy since their inception. Joy Division were only able to make two albums before Ian Curtis committed suicide on the eve of their American tour in 1980. The rest of the band, continued on under the "New Order" name and became very successful through their dance synthesizer rock, which was a sharp contrast to the depressing music of Joy Division (listen to the song "Age of Consent").

The album begins with the dance drum-beats of "Disorder", seguing into a simple yet captivating bass line on the right and a distorted guitar on the left. However, the moment that hits you the deepest is when the crooning baritone vocals of Ian Curtis finally come in, "I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand/Could these sensations finally make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?" From that moment on, the album never loses its hold on the listener.

The simple black and white artwork represents the album with the fullest extent. Every song feels as though there is no color left in the world, as if there is only a dreary grayscale. The album uses only basic instrumentation to achieve this depressing effect, and does so with vigor.

Ian Curtis, though not the most technically gifted vocalist ever, inflects upon every word with the emotion of a man dealing with depression, giving each song a dreary and depressing mood. He is able to represent anger, the sadness, and the depression of the times of a world that has gone through a punk revolution and is only four years separated from the end of the Vietnam War. This is not an uplifting album, this is not a mindless punk album; it is an album distilling the pure angst and depression that the youth of Ian's time felt. You can simply lose yourself within any song on this album. Whether its "She's Lost Control" or "Day of the Lords".

Choice Picks: "Disorder", "Day of the Lords", "Shadowplay", "She's Lost Control"

Rating: 9.5/10

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire REVIEW

Arcade Fire's shock Grammy win left them jumping for joy.

So as you may know by now, this is more of a retrospective review. The Suburbs, came out back in 2011 and led to Arcade Fire's national prominence after a shock Album of the Year win at the 2011 Grammys, leaving most teenage kids in confusion as they could not comprehend the sheer indie-ness they were listening to. Frontman Win (fittingly named) Butler, coolly responded to the mass hysteria experienced by tone-deaf teenagers by simply saying, "We're called Arcade Fire — check it out on Google."

To simply state, The Suburbs is a fantastic album that manages to distil the anguish and isolation felt by countless numbers of people who decide to shift lifestyles and settle down in a simple neighbourhood far away from the insanity of a cityscape. 

The album begins with two fantastic tracks, "The Suburbs" and "Ready to Start". A torn lover is faced with the harsh cruel realities of life that he/she faces. These two tracks sum up some of the main messages conveyed throughout the album. In some ways this album could be considered a concept album in that it ties together a central theme of alienation and loneliness felt by humans. Other tracks of note include the frenetically paced "Month of May", the loss in "Suburban War", the cruel harshness of time in "We Used to Wait", the closeted optimism and rejection of the suburbs of "Sprawl II: Mountains beyond Mountains", and the isolation of "Modern Man".

From a musical standpoint, this album continues the trends seen in Arcade Fire's previous effort, Neon Bible. A variety of different types of instruments are used as well as numerous vocalists, whether lead or backing. Small flourishes of electric guitar or synthesizers, add to the albums grandiose feeling.

Simply put, this is one of the best albums of the decade, and in my personal opinion is the best album that Arcade Fire have ever put out on shelves. Such a shame however, that mindless pop is what gets the most recognition in the minds of the average person, as we have such beautiful music that for the most part goes unrecognised, but thankfully, not in this case.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reflektor by Arcade Fire REVIEW

Arguably one of the most hyped up albums of all time, Reflektor by Arcade Fire has been the spawn of many debates on the album's more controversial and electronic sound. The album itself was produced by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and was recorded in places such as an old Haitian castle. Frontman Win Butler, has not been shy in talking about the album's influences, stating that most of it is based on the Carnival in Haiti, where the band are frequent visitors.

The album starts off with their lead single "Reflektor" and lets listeners know that this album is nothing Arcade Fire have ever done before. With backing vocals from David Bowie, the song itself is one of the high points on the album. Other great songs of notice include: "Afterlife" with its rousing synthesizers and Win Butler's questioning lyrics, "Here Comes the Night Time" withe its rapid start-stop tempos and Carnival sound, and "We Exist" comprising of such fantastic guitar interplay. Other songs of note on the album include the slower electronic song "Porno" and the soul-staring "Flashbulb Eyes". "Joan of Arc", "You Already Know" and "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" are the closest to the old Arcade Fire we will receive on this double album. 

Thematically the album speaks of a general distrust in Christianity with many not very subtle references to Hell and Heaven. The lyrics aren't the greatest, but the general meaning of each song is inherent and easy to understand.

Overall, this was a risk that Arcade Fire had to take in order to not be complacent. The album itself, in my humble opinion is reminiscent of such career-changing albums such as Kid A by Radiohead, and Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan. The albums are not similar in sound or even context, but in the way that they completely changed the futures for the artist, and Arcade Fire truly reinvents itself on this album and their future is bright for this in lack of a better word, beautiful band. 


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

AM by Arctic Monkeys REVIEW

It's been one hell of a ride with the Arctic Monkeys. They gave us their fantastic punk-influenced debut back in 2006, and it has never been the same since. After alienating fans with their (in my opinion great and mature) 2009 album, Humbug, they took a turn back to the more pop-like anthems in 2011's, Suck It and See. AM is the culminating effort, their center-piece album. It seems as if all the work they have done in the last 8 years comes to this. Combining the mature sounds and lyrics of Humbug with the pop like choruses of Suck It and See, Favourite Worse Nightmare, and Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, AM comes out to be arguably their best album yet.

The album starts off with the lead single "Do I Wanna Know?" and never looks back. "R U Mine" is the closest we get to the hard-rocking days of oh so long ago and "One For The Road" is a hidden gem. "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High"'s hip-hop influenced beats help outline the repetitive yet golden lyrics. With grooves inspired by Queens of the Stone Age and fantastic production by James Ford, this is the furthest the Monkeys have journeyed from conventional rock and that risk pays off. The album thematically speaks of the many problems faced by a paranoid party-goer trapped in a fierce attraction with a unknown lover (rumored to be Alexa Chung).

For a lack of a better word, this album is pure sex.

This is one fantastic album by the Arctic Monkeys, but it will be tough to match up to in the future.


NEXT UP: Reflektor by Arcade Fire

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Apocalypse Now REVIEW

"The horror... the horror". These are the last lines uttered in the 1979 classic epic Apocalypse Now by The Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola. Set in Vietnam, the film takes us through the psychological and physical battles that our main character, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) endures throughout the course of his top-secret mission to kill the gone rogue, Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Set in Vietnam during the height of the war, the film is not necessarily a Vietnam film, but a film set in Vietnam, as the war itself is not the main focus besides showing the horrors of war.

Starting off with a now classic intro of Willard lying in his bedroom while the song, "The End" by the Doors plays interlaced with scenes of destruction in the jungle, the film sets the tone  as we see Willard is a damaged good, who claims that his new mission was going to be his last.

The cinematography in this film was truly breathtaking, with beautiful shots of jungles and rivers. And then there's the fantastic scene in which helicopters attack a beach with Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" playing.

The acting in this film was brilliant, from Martin Sheen's psychological portrayal of Willard, to Marlon Brando's incredible performance as Kurtz, to Robert Duvall's performance of the wisecracking Kilgore. There were superb performances from all around, including a young 14 year old (at the time of the beginning of filming; he was 17 when it finished filming), Laurence Fishburne, now known for his roles in the TV series Hannibal, and the film, The Matrix.

Overall, this was a film that justified its troubled and problematic production, with fantastic cinematography, acting performances, and just a fantastic script and plot [based on Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad], the film was everything that it was made out to be, and even better than that. Apocalypse Now is definitely one movie that you must see before you die.