Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Truant Wave Review

Patrick Stump is something of an interesting character, isn't he? During his time with the wildly successful Fall Out Boy, he led his group through a series of pop-punk (border on pop toward the end of their career) releases, which garnered them an explosion of attention from 2003 to 2008. Since the band's indefinite hiatus announcement in 2010, he's been working on his upcoming solo album, Soul Punk. From this release spawned the six track EP, Truant Wave which was released in order to keep the fans satisfied until he could complete his full length - and with this release came quite the surprise. The album sports a boisterous and danceable power-pop sound, saturated with synth and club-pounding beats under Stump's powerfully soulful vocals. With such a remarkable career shift from one of the most well known mainstream pop-punk front men, it will undoubtedly create quite the hype machine from his devoted fans - but does it deserve such a response?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Degeneration Street Review

Degeneration Street, The Dears fifth studio outing, is an album you've heard countless times before. During the congested fifty-nine minutes that compose the record, the group chooses from a grab-bag of genres, varying between bits and pieces of arena-rock, to anthemic indie jams, and even the occasional toe tapping pop tune. While this range of sound would be hard to pull off by even the craftiest of artists, it's the disregard for any sort of flow that presents Degeneration Street as disjointed and unorganized. This lack of focus is fairly strange when one takes a look at the group's 2008 release, Missiles, on which they created a concentrated atmosphere of dismal and somber futures. Fast-forward two years and you find a band that has somehow lost a voice of their own, and have dove head-first into a muddied pool of genre clich├ęs and songwriting barren of any real inspiration. Degeneration Street is what you get when you scrape the floating remains of a dozen other records off the top of that pool. 

Though, credit where credit is due, Degeneration Street begins in a deceivingly great way. "Omega Dog" is, hypothetically speaking, what the entirety of the record could have been had there been any sort of consistency with its sound. Every bit of this song works together in a wonderful assembly of what went right with the band's previous effort. The screaming guitar at the end, the hushed intensity of the violins during the build up to the crescendo and the equally boisterous drumming all lend each other to Murray Lightburn's charming falsetto. Had the record followed this path in even a few more songs, it would have made it immensely more successful - however, just as track two begins, we're introduced to another band. The undeniably Arcade Fire influenced "5 Chords" screams everything about this record that needs to be said. From the out of the blue tonal shift from track one, to the contrived rising and falling from verse to chorus, The Dears kill the success of track one and begin to bury it with each track from there onward. 

From sightings of Radiohead and The Killers, to frequent glimpses of TV On The Radio, it's simple to see what went wrong with Degeneration Street. In a record riddled with repeated chorus after repeated chorus, paired with the unused sheet music of every prominent indie artist in the scene, The Dears anchor themselves to the bottom of the indie scene where they could be swimming victoriously. For every nearly impressive moment that they pull off, there is another uninspired shot at success that drags it down by the ankles. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Cold Still Review

The Boxer Rebellion are the metaphorical pebble trying to make tsunamis in the massive ocean that is the current alt-rock scene. With their third studio release, The Cold Still, they invest all of their creative gusto to import influences across the gamut to ultimately attempt to craft a sound of their own. With each unavoidable comparison to groups such as Radiohead or even U2, they struggle to make their voice loud enough to penetrate the critics who claim they're riding coattails. However, with each haunting crawl and creep coalescing with each booming crescendo throughout the relatively short duration of The Cold Still, they show an undeniable potential that is surely ready to be unleashed. Unfortunately for The Boxer Rebellion, this budding talent has yet to reach its full growth, and thusly we're given an album that is, for all intents and purposes, another stepping stone for a still blooming alt-rock group.

As Nathan Nicholson's vocals anxiously repeat the chorus of opener, "No Harm", he also introduces the overall atmosphere of the record. Within tracks such as "Step Out of the Car" and "Caught by the Light" he creates a variety of different moods that seamlessly tie back to a frigid, foggy backdrop for his lyrics to float upon. Unfortunately all of these must come with the comparisons to several tracks of similar bands, but are undoubtedly performed well in their own element. Luckily for them they prove their creative worth several times throughout the record, even producing some truly engrossing tracks such as "Both Sides Are Even". It utilizes the classic buildup and hits a wonderful crescendo, making for one of the most memorable tracks of the record. Had The Boxer Rebellion hit such highs as found in the gems of the record, they could have made a remarkable record - and although they hit the nail on the head several times, they never quite hit the pinnacle of what they're seemingly capable of.

While their influences crowd the record in a fairly noticeable manner, The Boxer Rebellion show that they're capable of moving into their own voice. They vary their style in an impressive manner throughout the album, with memorable crescendos and a well-maintained atmosphere paired with consistently smooth instrumentation and vocals to match. As they slowly get their bearings with The Cold Still, The Boxer Rebellion mostly do what the album title suggests by maintaining a mostly cold atmosphere and doing little to vary from it. A little simplicity goes a long way, but a change of pace for this band would not do them any harm.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Barton Hollow Review

The Civil War's highly anticipated debut LP, Barton Hollow, arrives just in time to capitalize on the season that fits its moods most accurately - winter. The timid plucks of the acoustic guitar paired with the breathy, soulful voices of the vocal duo Joy Williams and John Paul White encapsulate the season with a stunning precision as they volley between a simplistic folk facet and an underlying soulful country presence. It's this tip-toeing between genres that allows The Civil Wars to experiment in their myriad of techniques in order to convey what they do best - and that is writing music.

Atop their wispy and flowing music in the opening tracks of the record, they croon their poetic romanticisms on superb tracks like "I've Got This Friend" and "To Whom It May Concern" which will either split your heart in two or leave you chagrined that you're listening to such cutesy tunes. The pair work wonderfully together as their contrasting vocals hit perfect harmony occasionally, with White's gruff deliveries mixing with Williams' soft-as-silk vocalization to a surprisingly effortless success. It's in these soft moments that they slowly build up to the climax of the record, "Barton Hollow", which hits with a sharp intensity as they stir in hints of rock with their decidedly simple folk backbone. The pair's singing of "Won't do me no good washing in the river/Can't no preacher man save my soul" is another example of how well they mix together with their contrasting accents and vocal tones, but still finding a way to make it sound completely natural.

After the explosion that was the title track, the album simmers down to a musical interlude as the haunting "The Violet Hour" moves with a soothing eeriness as a cello hums in the foreground. Even with the absence of Williams and White, they contain the chilled atmosphere in the most layered and musically adept song on the album. They show enormous strides throughout this record as it progresses, which hits a small stagnancy as the few tracks before the conclusion mull along, but still they end with a satisfying number. "Birds of a Feather" is the one song that can describe everything that The Civil Wars has to offer to the world of modern folk music. It sways and swells with the group's customary vocals and simplistic chord progression, but still manages to remain absorbing as their lyricism ends the record on a remarkable note. With Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars live up to every bit of hype that arose prior to its release and imprint some incredible tracks onto their resume as their career begins with a bang. Not only are they a group showered in praise, but also they're a group that deserves that praise. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real payoff of Barton Hollow.