Tag Archives: album reviews

Album Review: She & Him – Classics

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With her old-timey voice and penchant for vintage garb, it’s kind of surprising that Zooey Deschanel hasn’t released an album solely of (non-Christmas) classic covers before now. However, the latest album from She & Him, simply titled Classics, now fills that void.

Teaming once again with M. Ward, Deschanel adds her smoky quirk to a string of familiar favourites. (Even if you don’t recognize them by name, you’ll likely know at least some of the songs on this album.) Whether or not that’s a good thing is almost entirely dependent on how much you like Deschanel’s voice and how much you buy her as a “real” musician.

Personally, I’ve been a fan of Deschanel’s voice since I heard her memorable rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the movie Elf. So when I heard that she was teaming with M. Ward (who I was already a fan of as a solo artist) to form She & Him, I was pretty excited. And while I wouldn’t say that I’ve been disappointed by their output, none of their albums have really captivated me in the way I might have hoped. I mean, it’s not really a case of false advertising, because if you’re looking for gentle, retro pop nuggets, that’s what you’ll find on any of their five LPs. The music has just never felt that inspired to me and, perhaps especially in the case of Classics, that trend continues.

The songs themselves are lovely; they are (as the title of the album suggests) classics for a reason. But from the lounge-y swing of opener “Stars Fell on Alabama” onwards, the album feels like something Deschanel could record in her sleep. That said, the softly swooning “Oh No, Not My Baby” does nicely showcase both the bottom and upper parts of her vocal range that we don’t often hear. And She & Him’s torch-y, echoing take on “Unchained Melody” here is mesmerizing. But on the whole, the album is full of expected – though well-executed – covers.

One strength of Classics is that it gives Ward more of a voice than we’ve heard in the past. It’s still Deschanel’s show, no doubt, but it’s nice to see the “Him” of She & Him step into the spotlight a little bit more. The most obvious example would be the track “She”, which (ironically) finds Ward taking on lead vocals with his gorgeous raspy tone. “Time After Time”, a true duet between Deschanel and Ward, also serves a somewhat lively highpoint for the album.

It’s hard to find a lot to say about this very pleasant but rather uninspired collection. I found A Very She & Him Christmas to be a more successful cover album, as the holiday theme tied in perfectly with Deschanel’s wholesome-sounding, straightforward vocals. The low-key Classics, meanwhile, just ends up sounding a bit sleepy and dated.

3

November 2014 Quick Takes

TVotR

“Quick Takes” is a monthly feature on Faint Uproar where we play catch-up with a few albums that slipped through the cracks and didn’t get a full review on the blog.

Alone for the First Time – Ryan Hemsworth

His latest LP may be a lean 27 minutes long, but Ryan Hemsworth doesn’t waste a second of that run time. On Alone for the First Time, the Halifax DJ weaves a smooth, layered collection of songs that often flow right into one another. And while Hemsworth’s beats aren’t quite groundbreaking, Alone for the First Time creates an effective atmosphere that lives up to the LP’s name. The music is sad, shimmering, brooding, and often frantic; it’s danceable, but hardly party music. It seems like 24-year-old Hemsworth is highlighting how lonely today’s cluttered, buzzing digital landscape can feel.

3


Four – One Direction

My biggest takeaway from Four is that the members of One Direction seem to have to hit their quarter-life crisis. This is slightly alarming on a cultural level, but, as it turns out, also doesn’t make for very interesting song lyrics. On “Night Changes” the wizened Harry Styles (all of 20 years old) croons, “We’re only getting older, baby.” Similarly, “18” is a nostalgic, rose-coloured look at the long-lost carefree days of being 18. Because, in case you weren’t aware, these guys are adults now. And accordingly, this album does feel surprisingly sombre. Other than the boppy “No Control” and the woozily anthemic “Clouds” (easily the two best songs on Four), there is a lot of earnest pleading and far too many stately mid-tempo offerings. I suppose the assumption is that 1D’s fanbase is aging right along with the band, but I’m not sure if these overstuffed, somewhat laborious songs are what any One Direction fan wants from the band’s music.

2.5


Content Nausea – Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts (or Parkay Quarts or whatever the band has decided to call themselves today) made quite a splash with Sunbathing Animal earlier this year, so it’s a bit surprising that they’d want to follow it up so quickly. But here we are, five months later, with another LP. I seem to be in the minority, since Sunbathing Animal didn’t do a whole lot for me, but Content Nausea still somewhat pales by comparison. If you like Parquet Court’s laconic style, you’ll probably also enjoy this album, but to me, it feels like more of the same. The snaking guitar jangle of “Slide Machine” and the unexpected melody of “Pretty Machines” is great, and as usual with Parquet Courts, there are elements at play here that I like. But for me, it doesn’t all come together to form a fully satisfying whole.

3


Seeds – TV on the Radio

The last time people got particularly excited about TV on the Radio was probably somewhere around 2008. However, the incendiary and soulful “Quartz”, the opening track of the band’s latest album, is reason enough to recall some of that excitement. Seeds shows that even if TV on the Radio isn’t as topical as they once were, they’re still one hell of a great band. “Lazerray” and “Winter” offer spiky punk rock, while more mellow offerings such as “Careful You” feel just as vital. This is a band that has always seemed startlingly self-assured, and this fifth studio album may be their most fully-realized and enjoyable offering to date. The musicianship is impeccable as always, and Seeds proves to not only be dynamic, but also surprisingly relevant.

4.5


Ixora – Copeland

From the slinky, pulsating R&B of “Like a Lie” to the sighing indie balladry of album opener “Have I Always Loved You?” the newly reunited Copeland have created a dreamy fifth album with Ixora. The electronic-heavy instrumentation (which becomes more pronounced as the album progresses) adds an interesting element to the album, but even with only 10 tracks and a 40-minute runtime, Ixora still feels a bit bloated. Singer Aaron Marsh’s earnest, emo-ish vocal delivery sometimes feels at odds with the distant, cool production. There’s some good songwriting to be found here, but the slick presentation seems to undermine some of the potential for genuine emotion.

3

Album Review: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

sonic highwaysHave the Foo Fighters become a parody of themselves? Their latest LP, Sonic Highways, makes a very compelling argument that this may be the case. Or, at the very least, it seems to be the final confirmation that Dave Grohl has befallen the same fate as so many musicians before him: Once at the cutting edge and involved with something big, his music now feels both hopelessly out of date and like a airless echo of what it once was.

Now, this isn’t to say that the Foo Fighters have ever been a groundbreaking band. Their sound vacillates between “accessible alt rock” and “accessible hard rock”, and there’s a good chance that your dad likes “Everlong”. Additionally, Grohl had the “misfortune” of having come up through the ranks by drumming for Nirvana – arguably the most revered rock band to emerge in the past 25 years – thus unknowingly ensuring that anything he did afterwards would pale by comparison. But considering that the Foos have now been releasing music for nearly five times as many years as Grohl spent in Nirvana, the band has had amazing longevity. Early hits like “Big Me” and “Learn To Fly” are still in high rotation on alt rock radio, and their past two albums (2011’s Wasting Light and 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace) were generally well-received. But whether it’s just the fact that Grohl’s straight-ahead brand of rock has fallen out of favour and or if he’s aging out of relevance, Sonic Highways is easily the most out-of-touch thing the band has done to date.

The album’s most befuddling and boated offering is its ill-advised medley, “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness”. The first half sounds like much of the bland cock rock that makes up the rest of the album, while the second half stretches into a drawn-out torch ballad that finds Grohl declaring over and over again, “With God as my witness/I’m going to heal my soul tonight”.

The Foo Fighters have for the most part avoided the dreaded “post-grunge” label, likely thanks to Grohl’s own legit grunge pedigree. But this album is undeniably post-grunge. From blandly chugging tracks like “Outside” to the frantic, screechy lead single “Something From Nothing”, this whole album is the sonic equivalent of someone taking a Ferrari for a leisurely drive around a retirement community and thinking that they look really cool as they do it. The genuine urgency and excitement of older Foo tracks like “Best of You” and “Headwires” is nowhere to be found. Nor is the more varied, thoughtful introspection of songs like “Stranger Things Have Happened” or “Next Year”. Grohl and company instead seem to operate on one gear for the duration of Sonic Highways: generic guitar rock.

However, the album is not without its bright spots. The sprawling “Subterranean”, while still a bit overblown with its soaring electric guitars, comes the closest to the textured mid-tempo offerings that the Foos have done so well in the past and offers a nice reprieve from all of the album’s riff-heavy offerings. “Congregation”, meanwhile, successfully achieves the arena rock sound the bands seems to covet by offering a strong hook and an impassioned vocal delivery from Grohl.

With this latest collection of songs, Grohl seems like he’s both grumbling about “kids today” not appreciating rock & roll music while still making a slightly desperate grab at relevance. I don’t know if there’s still a place for the Foo Fighters’ music in today’s musical landscape, but such a middle-of-the-road album certainly isn’t a great argument for why we should make room for them.

2

Album Review: Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

mfffFor people of a certain age and a certain propensity for melancholy, Damien Rice was and possibly still is a big deal. (Just ask Josh Radnor.) I’m one of those people. After I caught up with his 2003 debut, O, I spent more hours than I care to admit alone in my room basking in teenage/Damien Rice-induced dramatics. I then went out and bought 2006’s 9 as soon as it was released, and I slowly grew to love it, too. I waited eagerly for his next album. But as the time passed, my enthusiasm waned. And eventually, after five years or so, I sort of stopped waiting altogether.

Eight years later, we finally get a follow up.

Sonically speaking, Rice’s new LP, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, more or less picks up where his last album left off. 9 saw Rice add lush string arrangements and more general bombast to his already dramatic sound. But for me, 9 works so well because it’s unpredictable. One minute, it’s just Rice and an acoustic guitar. The next, it sounds like all of John Williams’ orchestra is backing him up. The beauty of that album is that the drama can come and go in the blink of an eye and that it somehow never feels incongruous with Rice’s authentic singer-songwriter persona.

Now, My Favourite Faded Fantasy ups the production values and the bombast even more, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Every song on this new album seems to trace a similar path: it starts with a whispery Rice backed by gentle strings and then builds to a big crescendo before eventually fading out by the end. It’s not only a more predictable and less interesting format, but it also gives credence to one of the criticisms that’s frequently lobbed Rice’s way: it all gets a bit maudlin. Take “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man”, for instance.  At nine and a half minutes, it’s the album’s longest track (though not by much), and even the song’s spare piano outro grows into an unbelievably drawn-out, horn and electric guitar-tinged affair. If I could wish one trait upon this album, it would be restraint.

The production boost on this album also tends to obscure Rice’s voice, which is arguably his strongest suit as a musician; the bare ache in his vocals is what made O so dynamic. I dare say that he’s lost some of the vulnerability in his delivery since then. Maybe he’s just out of practice after eight years, or maybe he’s mellowed with age a bit. Neither option is a bad one. But rather with working with what he has, Rice seems to overcompensate with somewhat overbearing instrumentation. Even on one of the album’s simplest and most lovely songs, “The Greatest Bastard” (which sounds like a parody song title, doesn’t it?) Rice can’t seem to resist throwing in soaring strings by the end. It makes it seem…well, a bit cheesy.

However, this isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have some really strong moments. “Colour Me In” is sparse and quiet (at least for the first half of the song), beautifully showcasing both Rice’s bellow and his wounded whisper. As well, “I Don’t Want to Change You” is one of My Favourite Faded Fantasy’s tightest offerings and its mournful string backing comes across as dynamic and lovely, rather than overwhelming.

As a fan of Rice, it’s undeniably exciting to have an album’s worth of new material from him. There’s a lot here to like, and as with his previous albums, it’s likely to reveal new facets and depth on subsequent listens. However, it’s also hard not to hear My Favourite Faded Fantasy as an album shrouded in uncertainty. I’m all for a comeback, but perhaps Rice has been out of the game a bit too long.

3

October 2014 Quick Takes

Weezer-2014

“Quick Takes” is a monthly feature on Faint Uproar where we play catch-up with a few albums that slipped through the cracks and didn’t get a full review on the blog.

Ben Howard – I Forgot Where We Were

Ben Howard perhaps had the misfortune of releasing his first album just as the (mainstream) British folk music scene was on the cusp of becoming something entirely different. So while Mumford and Sons is winning Grammys and Ed Sheeran is winning the hearts of tweens, Howard’s earnest folk-pop feels almost dated in that it contains some traces of actual folk music. I mean, don’t get me wrong – the guitars are pretty big and the vocals sometimes sound oddly processed, but he knows how to write a heartfelt tune. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on this latest EP that matches the urgency of his breakthrough single, “The Wolves”. It’s not a bad collection of songs, and Howard’s voice is engaging, but it all blurs the lines between traditional and pop too much to feel very dynamic.

3


Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End

It seems like every new Weezer record is marketed as their “return to form”, yet they’ve never quite managed to recapture the glory of their first two albums. There’s a bit too much forced pep and middle-of-the-road songwriting  here to get too excited about it, but this is probably the most solid LP they’ve put out since the Green Album. (Although I seem to be the sole defender of Make Believe.) On the whole, the band feels reenergized and the melodies are suitably bouncy. For whatever its worth, this album feels like what might happen if someone living in 2014 who had never heard Pinkerton read a lot about that album and then tried to create their own version of it. It’s up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing.

3


Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight

Second Sight is a disappointingly light offering from Newfoundland’s own Hey Rosetta. The propulsive percussion and visceral vocals feel watered down from earlier standout singles like “Red Heart”. They show hints of that otherwise absent intensity on the sprawling “Promise”, which is easily one of the album’s angriest and most captivating tracks. “I’ve got promise,” singer Tim Baker repeats. This album does, too, but it unfortunately never lives up to it.

2.5


Stars – No One is Lost

This dreamy outfit from Montreal has been creating swooning, transcendent indie rock for over a decade now, and while their latest album, No One is Lost, feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be current, it’s nonetheless another solid LP from Stars. The beat-heavy, dance-y tracks here feel like too generic of a direction for the band to take, but the album settles into a pretty nice groove by its mid-point. “Turn It Up” and “Trap Door” as big and as gorgeous as anything they band has written, and on the whole, this album proves Stars still have the chops to be major players in the murky indie scene.

3.5