Archive for the 2010 Category

Music Review: Solar Bears – She Was Colored In (2010)

Posted in 2010, Music, Review with tags on November 15, 2010 by liffeymusic

Irish electronica duo Solar Bears’ debut album, She Was Colored In is a genuine love letter to the masters of electronica that have come before it. Like many of its predecessors it is lush and icy, stressing a contrast between cold and warm, technology and nature. As far as it goes it can be considered a relative success. However, it falls short of being noteworthy when compared to its peers due to the fact that it is so admiring, but not necessarily fully understanding. Solar Bears are still in the learning process, mimicking the masters. That’s fine, and is to be expected, but as it stands now, their debut album doesn’t leave much of a mark.

She Was Colored In suffers from an overly sparse, sometimes jagged landscape, sounding like an awkward blend of Air, M83 and Black Moth Super Rainbow. I have no problem with minimal electronic music by any means, but Solar Bears fall short because they fail to make the genre their own. They lack both the confidence and the innovation that is essential in a genre where every note counts. With neither youthful daring or experienced proficiency driving their sound, the album washes over uneventfully. For those ready for yet another album full of sun-drenched synths and arpeggiating icicle melodies, it’s hard to imagine that Solar Bears won’t satisfy, but that’s only because they’re staying true to a well exercised formula.

I can’t say that Solar Bears make no effort to separate themselves. In a genre more likely to rely on dubstep, techno or glitch based beats, Solar Bears tend to flirt more with the rock side of things; they even feature occasionally distinctive lead guitar work. Thankfully, they typically don’t engage in the bombast of rock (with a few stagnant exceptions such as “Dolls”), choosing instead to respect the established restrained appeal of the vein of electronic music established by Aphex Twin and upheld today by modern electronic artists such as Pantha du Prince and Actress. The result is a respectable homage to the genre. This could be a negative or a positive depending on how you see things; if you’re happy to the tread the waters, then by all means give Solar Bears a try, but if you’d prefer to follow the current then there are certainly more impacting artists to invest in, in terms of both influence on the genre and the music itself.

I wanted to like this album a lot more than it paid off in the end. It sounds pleasant; too pleasant in fact, and all too familiar, causing it to feel worn out before you have had the chance to overplay it. The album unfortunately suffers from sounding like an inconsequential ripple on the far edge of a great splash. Solar Bears might have been able to stand next to the artists who caused he splash had they existed at the right time. I feel wrong saying that; after all, shouldn’t we judge the music alone for what it’s worth, regardless of the context of the times? Ideally yes, but Solar Bears sound too much like an afterthought, albeit a happy afterthought, to ignore the superiority and timeliness of their mentors.

Final Score: 66/100



Music Review: Menomena – Mines (2010)

Posted in 2010, Music, Review with tags , , , , on July 21, 2010 by liffeymusic

Menomena don’t exactly defy genre, but they draw influence from such a wide pool that it’s hard to compare them to any certain acts. They’re a rock band of course, but when you dash in all the little extra details and instruments, it becomes more and more difficult to pin down. This is true of Mines more than any past Menomena album, and as a result it’s their most satisfying and, I would expect, most enduring album yet.



The first thing that strikes me about Mines is the level of detail. Menomena have always been fine craftsman, but they take it to a new level here. As remarkable as the amount of detail is the quality of the production; I don’t know know that I’ve ever heard an album featuring so many layers of sounds without ever letting them smudge into each other. If you aren’t already sporting high-end headphones, this is the sort of album that will make you itch for a pair. It’s impossible to take in all the details with only a few listens, and the songwriting is the most challenging that Brent has offered yet. It’s not a difficult album to enjoy, but it undoubtedly has the highest payoff of any Menomena album thus far.



One negative result of the less accessible songwriting and deluge of details is that this album doesn’t deliver some of the straightforward hooks that the previous album, Friend and Foe, offered. There’s no “Wet and Rusting” here, nor are there any tracks to match the vicious “The Pelican.” This a little bit of a turn-off at first, and even though it’s pretty easy to get over this issue, it still would have been nice to have a couple songs that more emphatically establish themselves as single material. Also, despite the enormous level of activity on the album, there are a few brief areas, such as on the appropriately named “Sleeping Beauty,” that won’t vie for your attention if you’re not already offering it.



However, there is no need to worry that Mines is merely attempting to disguise hook inadequacy with studio tricks; this album has it’s own set of teeth. You probably won’t remember the vocal lines to “BOTE” at first, but the badass slide guitar and punctuated brass (which is way too easy to sing “ME-NO-ME-NA!” to) will echo in your brain long after the track has ended, and after the instrumental bombast has drawn you back for several more listens, the vocals begin to worm their way into the mix. Before you know it, you end up with a highly addictive track that is engaging on several levels. Menomena use this strategy throughout the album. You’ll probably repeat “TAOS” to sing along about not being the most cock-sure guy, but a barrage of big band layers will soon shift your attention, remaking it hard to choose whether to sing along or take it all in.


The music is never goofy, but it’s easy to tell that the band mates have a sense of humor and a willingness to indulge in quirks. Thankfully, they also have the intelligence to do so in ways that support the follow of the album and keep the listener fully engaged rather than for indulgence’s sake. The aforementioned “TAOS” and “BOTE” offer the highlights as far as volume goes, but there are plenty of well placed mood shifts. “Lunchmeat” and “Dirty Cartoons” share some of the minimal, post-punk tendencies of Friend and Foe, while “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy” and “INTIL” offer potent moments of tension, build-up and release that avoid the common pitfall of feeling inorganic and forced into being epic. “Five Little Rooms” touches back to a borderline ska element of Menomena’s past that is a bit more subdued for the most part on Mines.



Mines does a very admirable job of advancing Menomena’s sound to new territories both in terms of mood and technical proficiency without, for the most part, forgetting what made past albums endearing to so many. If I Am the Fun Blame Monster and Friend and Foe left room for questions, Mines should alleviate any doubt; this trio has managed to create and master a sound that is truly their own, and for that they undoubtedly deserve a new level of success.

Score: 8.8/10

Highlights: “TAOS”, “BOTE”, “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy”, “INTIL”

Music Review: Stars – The Five Ghosts (2010)

Posted in 2010, Music, Review with tags , , , , on July 15, 2010 by liffeymusic

Long time emotive devotees Stars are back with their follow-up to the consistently satisfying, if a bit too vapid, In Our Bedroom After the War. Although Bedroom wasn’t their most critically acclaimed effort, it found Stars in a pleasant groove that offered up several moments of gratifying potency, and in light of the more recent and excellent Sad Robots EP, Stars fans had reason to keep their hopes up for their fifth LP, The Five Ghosts.

Whether said fans are happy with The Five Ghosts will depend largely upon how committed they are to Stars’ creamy, soft-as-silk sound; as it turns out, a healthy dose of commitment will be required. In an age when synths are beginning to replace (if they haven’t already replaced) the guitar as the pop/rock building block instrument of choice, Stars’ increasing reliance on synths makes their already derivative brand of silky pop sound even less gripping. That is absolutely not to say that Stars cannot make a brilliant synth based song; for that you need look no further than Sad Robot EP’s “Going Going Gone [Live].” Unfortunately, inspired moments run far too sparse on The Five Ghosts, which stakes its life on fans being hungry for more of the same. To make matters worse, lead singers Amy Millan and Torque Campbell, who usually play off each other quite well, seem all too aware in their deliveries that this album is going through the motions.

There is a saving grace to be found in the fact that Stars make good filler, and none of these songs are particularly weak or out of place. Even the off-kilter “We Don’t Want Your Body” justifies itself with a peppy chorus featuring lines about cheap ecstasy and boughten sex. The album does feature its share of highlights, most clearly the soapy “Changes.” “Wasted Daylight” and “Fixed” are accessible picker-uppers that could’ve held their head high on any Stars album. Stars shyly poke at a few new ideas in the latter half of the album, and although none of them really take off, they’re engaging enough to save the album from becoming too sleepy. For the most part you have to be in this for the sound of the songs mores than the songs themselves, but I’d be remiss to give the impression that the album lacks any redeeming qualities.

The Five Ghosts is by no means a bad album. In fact, in the grand scheme of things its probably above average, with several songs that make it worth revisiting. However, when a band such as Stars offers plenty of moments of promise throughout their career but fails to bring it together in a complete statement, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. If you haven’t tried Stars yet, The Five Ghosts will give you a perfectly adequate sampling of what they’re all about, but long time fans know that Stars are capable of much more than “adequate.”

Final Score: 6.8/10

Highlights: “Wasted Daylight”, “Fixed”, “Changes”

Music Review: The Black Keys – Brothers (2010)

Posted in 2010, Music, Review with tags on July 2, 2010 by liffeymusic

From the very get go, Brothers is all about the swagger and the strut.  It’s also about grime, kicking ass and letting your junk swing free.  You could practically reach out and knock the dirt right off of it, but of course you won’t want to; this is a sty you’ll want to roll around in like the swine, celebrate it like a child.  Make no mistake, The Black Keys are a grown up band who make grown up music, but they’ve made a record that’s mature enough to take a step back and rediscover what made the blues-rock genre so engaging in the first place.  It’s the brazen youthfulness without the naivete.  It’s a complete ownership that is wisely taken for granted.  It’s good, soft mud.

Don’t be fooled for a moment into thinking this is a boyish record; it’s got a nasty sex appeal, fueled in part by Dan Auerbach’s increased appreciation for R&B infused blues.  The unexpected falsetto on opener “Everlasting Light”, the immediately classic melodies of “Next Girl”, the rambunctious and infectious “Howlin’ for You”, indeed the general level of well rationed polish and funk; all contribute to a record that has universal appeal while staying admirably true to its roots.  The law is laid down from the outset.  There is a clear purpose to this album and it follows through with all the reckless authority of Electric Warrior meets Electric Mudd, but with a fresh level of conciseness that The Black Keys have always handled so well.

That said, the album is longer than one might expect from the sound of the opening tracks, and it’s easy to think that this album would benefit from trimming a track or two.  Individually judged however, it’s hard to bear the thought of just about any of these tracks not making the cut.  The slow numbers, “The Only One” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” are both stellar in their own rights and fit snugly into the flow of the almost flawlessly paced album.  Not every song is particularly eventful, take “The Go-Getter” or “I’m Not the One” for instance, but even those bear endearing marks on an album full of tracks that don’t need each other but sound great together.  Each track is a unique, finely crafted gear that works to move the entire unit forward.  Yes, the machine is a bit rickety.  Not every song is perfect.  But so many of them feel like they might be, and they operate with such unity that griping feels contrived.  Brothers is part punishment and part celebration; critique doesn’t fit into the equation.  Brothers is an album that’s easy to enjoy in the midst of its possible shortcomings.

The bottom line is, this is an extremely intelligent record that isn’t spoiled by self-awareness; it’s genuine without being niche.  Is it accidentally great?  Maybe.  The Black Keys don’t give a fuck.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

Final Score: 9.2/10

Highlights: Next Girl,  She’s Long Gone, Ten Cent Pistol,  Sinister Kid

Masic Review: OK Go – Of the Blue Colors of the Sky (2010)

Posted in 2010, Music, Review with tags on July 2, 2010 by liffeymusic

Blue Color of the Sky provides a look at a band in transition. It’s not always pretty, it’s often ill-advised, but at the same time it’s often promising and enjoyable for what it is. OK Go take a break from the traditional pop/rock setup and lean more heavily on 80s inspired synths, sometimes successfully, but moreso to the point that it becomes a crutch, dampening what should be a primarily high-voltage affair. The occasional dose of The Killers or Menomena gives it a kick that helps album highlights such as opener “WTF?” and “White Knuckles” deliver an unforgettable punch, but too often OK Go settles back into a too-easy-to-swallow systematic approach that will inevitably cause listeners to wonder why they’re listening to a washed out version of Prince. This is particularly true of a 3 song stretch (with the exception of “White Knuckles”) in the middle of the album that is capped off by “Last Leaf”, an acoustic ballad of cringe-indicing predictability that brings the album to a slow halt. “Back From Kathmandu” brings a sigh of relief in the form of a more energetic composition, while the last two tracks bring the album to a fairly uneventful but satisfying end.

With these negatives pointed out, it cannot be overlooked that when OK Go hits the balance between the various and obvious influences they’ve taken in since Oh No, they do so with poise. Lead single “WTF?” features a savory, slippery-as-soap Prince inspired melody with bursts of instrumental flourishes that capture the attention and will put smiles on plenty of faces. Anthems are not lacking, and songs such as “This too Shall Pass” and “Needing/Getting” are sure to provide the soundtrack for many-a-teen’s drive to school. “Skyscrapers” is a highly successful low tempo track, demonstrating perfectly how to slow things down on an album where things are not supposed to slow down. Despite the fact that there’s plenty on the album to question, there’s also undoubtedly plenty here to embrace for the pop perfection it aspires to be.

Of the Blue Color of the Sky is an admirable attempt to bridge the gap between mainstream anthems and indie-approved textures. Does it work? Yes, in the sense that it gets the job done. It more or less limps it way through the 13 tracks, occasionally looking up to grin at those who are gathered around to cheer it on, and even dares to flex its melodic muscle from time to time. However, for the remainder of it’s hobbled walk it focuses on the well-trodden ground directly before it, afraid to take any true risk or abandon it’s methodical step by step approach. It’s a bit like watching a young child begin to grow more confident in taking steps; it’s certainly nothing to aspire towards, but it’s pleasing and exciting to see. Sure, Blue Color of the Sky might not be particularly special, it might be unable to poke its head out from the shadows of its big brothers, but with an attempt this honest and promising it almost feels wrong to criticize.

Final Score – 7.2/10

Highlights: WTF, White Knuckles, Needing/Getting, Skyscrapers