Tag: Alternative

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Carved out with years of dedication and keen-eyed teamwork (and a hell of production lineup to boot), Portugal. The Man’s 2017 release, Woodstock is one to be reckoned with as a powerhouse release and catalog standout. With flavors spanning from hip-hop and pop to wheelhouse PTM, it certainly kicks it up a notch for a progressive endeavor while never turning face from the carefree, joyous sound that got them here. No bones about it, Woodstock is the most pop-rock-focussed effort by the Pacific Northwest outfit-“Live In The Moment” certainly attests to that, but songs like “Rich Friends” and “Easy Tiger” are as classic PTM as 2011’s In the Mountain in the Cloud (just with a contemporary twist). The hit single “Feel It Still” really bolsters mainstream appeal (let alone, it’s a tidbit out of left field) and falls right in line of a more radio-friendly effort with a heavy dosage of dance. With bouncy horns, catchy hooks, and an Austin Powers-like quirk, “Feel It Still” goes miles for shaking hips and bobbing heads beyond preceding highlights like 2013’s “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and 2009’s “People Say”. And in true PTM form, the band swaps in their traditional instruments for the good ol’ beat machine to kick off the record with the Danger Mouse-produced “Number One”, which features samples from Richie Havens’ “Freedom” (counter culture anyone?). Winding down the second half of the record, the group morphs into a full-fledged hip-hop group with tracks like the slow-grooving “So Young”, the beat-centric “Tidal Wave” and “Mr. Lonely” (featuring The Pharcyde’s Fat Lip), and the resistance anthem in “Noise Pollution” (produced by The Beastie Boys’ Mike D).

The verdict?

For PTM fans both new and old, Woodstock contains all the good ingredients of the past while mixing in dashes of newer, poppier nuances. It’s a different band that put out 2008’s Censored Colors, and with that some find nostalgia (note: they have a truly astonishing catalog). Woodstock is a fresh reminder that music can be contemporary without abandoning the past.

Death Song – The Black Angels

For a group of demonic missionaries (after all, their name is the The Black Angels), they sure know how to conjure the inner-psychedelic savage out of every listener. Eerie and haunting while shaking the bad juju off from a horrid trance, Alex Maas and the Austin, Texas troupe lay down all of the tarot cards and voodoo bone casts on Death Song to remind you that the devil comes in kaleidoscopic shapes and forms. And as their follow up to 2014’s Clear Lake Forest, Death Song stretches their lifelong dedication to the garage psych-rock of the Velvet Underground (see their 1967 release on The Velvet Underground & Nico, “The Black Angel’s Death Song”…) and much of the psychedelia to come out of the 60’s and 70’s. But what’s truly different about Death Song from past releases like 2010’s groundbreaking Phosphene Dream is it’s ability to charm their conjured demon into a groovy boogie. The impending apocalyptic doom is still looming like a dark cloud, but songs like “I Dreamt” and “Medicine” get the devils feet tapping and hips shaking as if it’s the last chance before that dark cloud takes over (after all, the record is dubbed Death Song…). And while certainly more cheekier than before and never short on cynicism, Death Song drives with an upbeat lifeblood faster and further than ever before, while still including that sinister synth squeal from Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” to shine a light on how dark the lifeblood truly is.

Little Fictions – Elbow

As the release that separates itself from the pack of brewing angst and lost loves, Elbow’s release in Little Fictions makes ground on the integrity it’s predecessors sought. A concoction of intertwining rhythms, melodies, and moving instrumentals, Little Fictions displays individual talent within the confines of a group setting. And where heartache bent for musicianship on previous releases, newfound love makes way for years of creative and raw exertion that spans from the microphone and guitar parts to the clinging percussions and backing string ensembles. As undeniably one of the most diverse and expansive releases for the group, and quite possibly for the year, Little Fictions sits as the sweet reminder that great things comes with time.

Villains – Queens of the Stone Age

Back in the saddle again after their monumental and roaring comeback release …Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age return with a through and through well-done and meticulously crafted release in Villains. As their third release in ten years, Villains stands to attest that the bad boys of Palm Desert don’t make much noise unless the noise is really worth making (side projects aside, of course). And with never a shortage of talent on virtually anything and everything Josh Homme graces (see Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression for a recent colossus), the addition of Mark Ronson on production bolsters different shades, sounds, and textures to a well-established and thoroughly solidified underlining. Ronson is the icing to the cake without being overtly prominent, and although sounds may seem to wander from their hardened sound, Villains is very much a testament to their vampire and black leather rock beginnings.

For those looking a smidgen too deep into the somewhat odd and unusual pairing of Ronson and the desert rockers, look no further than the production caliber of two seasoned powerhouses, both within the group and Ronson. Yes, Queens of the Stone Age and Villains in particular sound drastically different than say “You Know I’m No Good” or “Uptown Funk” (the latter being polar opposites). But oftentimes production quality goes far beyond the surface of sound and asserts itself in subtle yet incredibly prevailing manners, especially with the collaborative and weathered nature of both the group and Ronson. Think of an album like Beck’s 2008 release Modern Guilt. You get two indescribable talents in Danger Mouse and Beck himself, and yet the result is as subtle as it powerful. It certainly isn’t fool-proof (see Red Hot Chili Peppers’ The Getaway), but when it works well, it goes the distance, and that’s exactly what Villains does. So let’s get into the weeds, shall we?

Talent goes quite the distance when you have Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita in the backdrop. And it’s not just backdrop where their trappings can be heard, it’s solely their ability to layer guitar parts on songs like the chorus of “Domesticated Animal”. Having three(ish) guitar players enables the group to weave and intertwine melodies on a level that most acts can’t, and it certainly sets them apart when composition demagogues collide. But what’s starkly different about having Ronson behind the board on Villains is that it doesn’t scream in your face. It’s indirect, tasteful, and well orchestrated. “Un-Reborn Again” is a classic example of this. It drives a melody like the black-leather rock band they are, but kicks off with electronic nodes that point towards a genius of a DJ like Ronson, specifically in the beginning and towards the end with those erie whistle-like additions. The hit single “The Evil Has Landed” highlights the best qualities of both worlds. It sounds like something straight off a QOTSA live jam (or Them Crooked Vultures, anyone?) with quick, funk-like guitar strumming behind the screaming-eagle guitar solo.

As a whole, Villains is a piece that stands out as colossally different from anything the group has tackled. It’s certainly ambitious to add Ronson to the mix, but it pays off with an added edge that only sets the album aside from the vast majority of their catalog. It’s abundantly clear that the group wanted to expand their spectrum of sound while staying true to their tattoos and skull rings core. Take the freakabilly of a mess “Head Like a Haunted House” or the dancehall shake and twist number like “The Way You Used to Do”.  Their signature winding guitar melodies are backed by driving drums and bass on “Head Like a Haunted House”, and the hallowing whistles and harmonizing guitar all throughout the chorus speaks more of vampires and black leather than not.

The verdict?

Villains is direct and to the point. It’s a no-bullshit-type release that explores different sounds and angles that are only uplifted by the talent of Ronson being the mixing board. Tried and true, it’s a QOTSA archetype that will more likely than not stand out among the rest as something that’s as classic as it is unique.

Concrete and Gold – Foo Fighters

For the follow up to a release that magnified their roots and origin, Foo Fighters return with a blend and broad mix of sounds that speak more to their foundational form than a nostalgic glance in the rearview mirror. Where talent gave way to rationale on Sonic Highways, the band substitutes principle for ambition on Concrete and Gold. And it’s by no means an accident or coincidence that the group returned to their original tendency of broadening the spectrum of sound despite Sonic Highways standing in salute to that very endeavor. The polar differences lie in the sound, and Butch Vig (all hail) transitioning to the hit-pumping assembly line in Greg Kurstin provides the footing for releasing two drastically different albums in three years (or three in six years and change, if you’d like to throw Wasting Light into the mix).

Concrete and Gold is undoubtedly authentic to the bone, much like the monolithic return to form on Wasting Light, and it pushes the needle in favor of a band well on their way to renowned distinction. What separates it from the pioneering aura of Wasting Light is its delineation between sounds, style, and cohesiveness. Though Concrete and Gold certainly tangents off into different avenues of both unique and original pathways, the confined and concise aptitude that speaks strictly Foo Fighters comes full circle. One avenue in particular that is fresh from a catalog perspective is exploring the hard rock assets of the 80’s and 70’s. The group dives into their childhood roots of 80’s big hair and arena rock with the synth-like melody on “La Dee Da” and driving hi-hats on “Make It Right”. And though these numbers sound a bit off kilter from their repertory, they more or less point to more recent and undoubtedly comical alter-ego ventures in Chevy Metal (see here).

But where Concrete and Gold seems to venture off the track, it holistically fits into the grand scheme of their inventory. Setting the tone early on an album is certainly a facet the group has emphasized in the past, and Concrete and Gold kicks off with quite the bang in the marathon-like Rock anthem in “Run” and a the 70’s-esque epic in “Make It Right”. There’s a Jazzy/acoustic number in “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)”, a hard rock chorale in “The Sky Is a Neighborhood”, and a soft melodramatic drive on “Dirty Water”, which mirrors the blueprint of previous releases like The Colour And The Shape and There Is Nothing Left To Loose. 

The verdict?

Positioning Wasting Light, Sonic Highways, and Concrete and Gold in comparison undermines intrinsic and individual value. For the entire catalog and discography, some stand out more than others, and, whether purposely or not (though definitely on purpose), defining their individual value is just that-Sonic Highways was a multi-media project that delves into the heart and soul of the group paired with an album where the others are solely the latter. Taking in the quality of sound and composition becomes another matter; possible but almost a forlorn ambition. Concrete and Gold focuses on the music rather than pairing aesthetics, and it’s very apparent on the record.

As You Were – Liam Gallagher

Brotherly love comes in all different shapes and sizes, colors and shades, and fluid moods and attitudes. Some flourish through decades of art making and collaboration and others flutter at the slightest glimmer of bond. Where tension meets animosity for reasons both ill and valid, creativity falters regardless of the circumstance. And with odes to legacy that take the shape of a forlorn toast or nostalgic psyche, oftentimes the effort misses the mark between respect and relevance. Even though As You Were, Liam Gallagher’s most recent release, is undeniably an ode to the catastrophic and colossal nature of a past and very brotherly endeavor, it nestles comfortably within commemoration, reminiscence, and instinct.

A key facet in hitting this target is a familiar tactic for both the Gallagher family in general and Liam: composition, structure, and variation. What’s drastically different about As You Were from past non-Oasis ventures is a return to form rather than building from the ground up. Liam’s instinct and engrained habits take hold all throughout As You Were, and tests listeners’ limits into thinking the Oasis framework is back as a contemporary silhouette. He hits the target on numbers like “When I’m in Need”, ‘Wall of Glass”, and “Come Back to Me”, which sound like classic Oasis songs, but the missing (brotherly) link is undeniable on a song like “I Get By”. Where the listener, presumably an Oasis fan, would beg for a ripping Noel guitar solo, the substitute and long-time collaborator, Jay Mehler, fills in with hints of methodology and flair.

Though it’s definitely punitive to lob solo and non-solo releases into the same ring, the threshold of an artists catalog is all-inclusive, and the wind definitely shifts in Liam’s favor when comparing As You Were with non-Oasis endeavors (especially the Beatles write-off, Beady Eye). He surrounds himself with a talented cast of musicians both in the booth and behind the board, and it certainly pays off for a rounded album release. By enlisting the likes of Greg Kurstin (Adele), Dan Grech-Marguerat (Lana Del Rey), and Andrew Wyatt (Mark Ronson, Lorde, Miike Snow), As You Were has dynamic and idiosyncratic qualities in each number where they may have meshed together on a Beady Eye release. Down to every recorded instrument on separate songs, Liam’s voice sustains the only similar sound throughout. And though a common theme (the signature Liam sound) carries from the first song to the end, he subtly broadens the spectrum of sound through composition and personnel, whether the listener wants to adhere to the latter or not.

The verdict?

The undeniable yearning for Noel’s musicianship is a tough obstacle to hurdle. It’s certainly subtle on a tune like “I Get By”, but its absence is looming when considering the truly incredible stature of Oasis’ catalog. Again, unfortunately for Liam, this is not the first time he’s been on this path with side projects like Beady Eye dead in the backseat, but there are numbers like “Comeback to Me” to truly hit the target and the Oasis sound right on the nose. To a certain degree, Liam had to at least make the most honest attempt at recreating the sheer force of Oasis while also staying original, and he did a damn good job. Damn good.