Archive | March, 2010

[Review] Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

27 Mar

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - "The Brutalist Bricks"

Three years have passed since the release of double album Living With the Living, and a lot has changed. Leo’s moved to a new label (Matador), there’s a new guy running the country (so one wouldn’t expect another “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”), the band has a snazzy new website, and Twitter has burst onto the scene (in case you hadn’t heard @TedLeo won a Shorty Award a few weeks back for best Music tweets). In these times of great change I have come to regard Ted Leo as something of a constant.

When I first saw video of a solo acoustic performance of “One Polaroid a Day” back in October, I was pretty impressed. When “Even Heroes Have to Die” hit the internet as a free pre-release mp3, I was less enthralled but still feeling good about the album to come. Here’s a (dreaded) song-by-song breakdown of the The Brutalist Bricks:

“The Mighty Sparrow” is a kickass opener. Probably my favorite song on the record. (Video from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon)

“Mourning in America” is a re-recording of a song from 2008’s Rapid Response EP. Since I took a course on Reagan last spring, the title made me happy (and I borrowed it for a paper).

“Ativan Eyes” is one I’ve warmed to a bit from my first impression, it’s big-sounding but feels kind of stale at the same time. For some reason I was reminded of the Foo Fighters’ 2005 release In Your Honor.

“Even Heroes Have to Die” feels like an obvious single. Some major chord joy, pretty catchy. A lot of acoustic here.

“The Stick” is a hair under two minutes, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Not especially tuneful.

“Bottled In Cork” is a VERY Ted song. Wordy, straightforward, some guitar-hero time, lots of layered vocals. Once again, a lot of acoustic.

“Woke Up Near Chelsea” makes up for what lacks in melody with attitude.

“One Polaroid a Day” sees Leo use the bottom end of his expansive vocal range. I think the song would have been better served had he stuck to using his normal/falsetto range. I’m probably a bit biased because that’s how he sang it in the aforementioned video from last fall, but it just sounds wrong in the way it’s presented on the album.

“Where Was My Brain?” is a much catchier use of 2 minutes than “The Stick” was.

“Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees”
is a very approachable mid-tempo tune that apparently inspired the cover art???

“Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop” is a sort of ominious-sounding acoustic number that reminds me of Zeppelin III/IV material like the “Battle of Evermore.” I think that as a drastic change of pace it works pretty well. Liked the night sounds in the background. I heard that they were on loan from Neko Case.

“Gimme The Wire” is pretty standard Ted Leo fare. Good, but not great (though I did find the chorus grating; that’s an entirely different sort of “grate” however).

“Last Days” is an excellent closer; the sort of song Ted Leo + Rx are capable of when firing on all cylinders.

All in all, The Brutalist Bricks is a pretty good effort. It’s not on par with Hearts of Oak or Shake the Sheets, but if nothing else it proves that the guy’s still got it. This is not Ted Leo at his best, but to awkwardly paraphrase Tom Gabel, even when he’s at his worst he’s still better than most.

The Brutalist Bricks is out now, buy it here.
You can listen to a stream of the album here.


[Tech] LastHistory, or, Little Musical Dots of Joy and Wonderment

17 Mar

If you’re like me, then you have an obsession with the quantification of your listening habits that most people would deem unhealthy. If the options of sorting through your listening history on just aren’t cutting it any more, there’s a free application available for Mac users called LastHistory that allows for some pretty cool visualizations of what you have listened to in the past. If you have an antiquated internet connection and/or a slew of scrobbles, it might take a little while for LastHistory to sort through all the data, but on the plus side, it will save it all on your hard drive for quick future access.

Once you’ve spent a couple weeks in a row indoors combing through your archives with LastHistory, you can go ahead and take a look at other folks’ profiles. “Username” is the only field that needs to be completed, so taking a look at other people’s histories is a snap. Want to find out who amongst your friends really discovered Vampire Weekend in 2007 or listen to their own shoddily-recorded demos over and over again? Now you can. (Never did revisionist deletion of old scrobbles hold so much appeal.) The good book says “judge not, lest ye be judged,” but this tool allows you to judge away with thousands of tiny multicolored dots spread out over an expansive time canvas. What will they think of next?

Download LastHistory

(Via the ever-so-excellent Lifehacker)

[Video] Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow” (live)

12 Mar

This is one of four videos over on culled from the band’s new release The Brutalist Bricks.

A review of that album is forthcoming, sit tight folks.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

[Review] Everyone Everywhere – A Lot of Weird People Standing Around

10 Mar

Hailing from It’s Always Sunny-ville, this four-piece plays some pretty decent emo-tinged indie rock. The Piebald-esque vocals are a little more buried in the mix than I would like, but the dual-guitar attack sounds great. The first song was my least favorite, but I thought that the middle two tracks were winners, particularly “Cool Pool Keg Toss Pete.” Listening to this was a pretty good use of 11 minutes. I would encourage you to do likewise.

A Lot of Weird People Standing Around is currently sold out, but physical copies will be available again eventually. In the meantime, you can still buy it at the iTunes music store.

[Video] Olive vs. The Vacuum Cleaner

7 Mar

This is for all you folks who have been living (for) and dying (to see) Olive for some time now. Your comments, as always, are welcome. I’m sure that Olive reads them all. More music-related stuff to follow in the next couple days (and maybe more Olive).

[Review] Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

3 Mar

My good friend Adam has gotten into the habit of injecting Frightened Rabbit lyrics into our conversations. He does so playfully, affecting his best Scottish brogue and going for broke:

“‘Are you a mahn or are you a bag of sahnd?'”

“I’m definitely feeling like a bag of sahnd this morning. I’ll feel like a mahn once I get some coffee in me.”

As this oft-employed exercise has made clear to me, there are plenty of lyrics crafted by lead singer Scott Hutchison that when taken out of context can yield a chuckle. The band’s 2008 release The Midnight Organ Fight included such gems as “You’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it” and “Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name/How did one man get so much fame?” Hutchison takes some risks in his writing, but for every cringe-worthy line, there are half a dozen winners. Wrapped in the band’s ever-expanding sound, any lyrical missteps are rendered inconsequential. Frightened Rabbit’s newest effort The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a testament to this.

If The Midnight Organ Fight was a confessional, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is the entire church. Everything about this album is on a grand scale. Expressing displeasure with how The Midnight Organ Fight turned out, Hutchison was bound and determined to abandon live recording, instead focusing on painstakingly assembling the album one piece at a time. While this move may have sacrificed some of the organic feel of full-band recording that I am an unabashed fan of, this album is far from being sterile. Reverb makes one voice sound like five. Layer upon layer of instrumentation makes for an incredibly dense, intricate listening experience. This is not just your standard expansion-of-sound-via-string-section; there are chanting choirs, haunting samples from old film, synthesizer drones and processed drums. I have never been a fan of shiny production, but here studio tricks are used effectively to get the most out of the material without feeling overbearing or excessive. While it took me a few listens to warm to this significant departure from the sound of previous efforts, I found that the extra production did nothing to diminish the impact of the songs. If anything, every spin reveals more layers to dissect. To think that this is the same band responsible for 2006’s comparatively spare Sing the Greys is almost inconceivable.

Frightened Rabbit has spent seven years paying its dues, evolving from a one-man acoustic soul-baring to a five-piece dead set on conquering arenas with an enormous sound and anthemic choruses. The Winter of Mixed Drinks is the work of a band on the cusp of making it, showing extensive musical growth without sacrificing too much of the raw emotion that made the band so relatable and appealing in the first place. The question is not whether Frightened Rabbit is deserving of making that big leap forward, but rather is whether the world is ready to listen.

Listen to a stream of the album here on the NPR website.

[Video] A Free Agent Out There Needs Your Help

3 Mar

With baseball’s spring training well underway, it seems fitting to post this touching video about unsigned free agents, hosted by Sarah McLachlan.

(Via Big League Stew)