Mastodon at Fine Line Music Cafe (Minneapolis, MN)

Video of Mastodon‘s April 29, 2009 show at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis, MN featuring performances of “Oblivion,” “Bladecatcher,” and “Colony of Birchmen.”

Guante & Big Cats! “One of These Mornings (remix)”

“Life ain’t short, it’s just a lot of people waste it.” This could simply be coincidental, but it’s fitting that the tracks on Guante and Big Cats!’s Start a Fire EP have been edited and cut down to their most basic, wasting nothing in the process. It’s not that Big Cats!’s beats are any less flowing or robust than normal, or that Guante’s lyrics are any less poignant—the EP simply takes the duo’s abilities and projects them at their most concentrated. One shining example of this is the remix to “One of These Mornings;” the track that the previously mentioned quote comes from. Despite coming in at nearly a minute shorter than the original, nothing feels lost between it and the remix. If anything, the flute-based beat of the remix adds a fresh complexity to the track that allows it freedom while shedding the excess.

Guante has offered up some commentary on the duo’s site for their upcoming full-length release, An Unwelcomed Guest, including these thoughts on the remixed “One of These Mornings”:

The success that the original version of this track had really caught me off guard. The Current picked it up and was playing it every day this past Fall, and everyone was telling me how it was their favorite song on “El Guante’s Haunted Studio Apartment.” I liked it a lot as a recorded track (Eugene, OR producer G-Force put together a beautiful beat), but wanted a more lively, uptempo version to play at shows. Big Cats! delivered. One note about the lyrics: I think a lot of people hear this as a “slice of life” song, a song about me walking around and talking to random people. The song is about DEATH. The sample in the original (and the hook in the remix), “one of these mornings, you’re going to rise up singing,” is referring to the fact that someday you’re going to die. It’s from Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Again, I like this song a lot, but the live version with our band is on another level.

Shugo Tokumaru “Rum Hee”

Over the past decade there’s been a remarkable shift from using jingles to pop music when tracking the music for national commercials. Bob Dylan has crooned for Apple, Parliament has funked for Mastercard, the Go! Team got down with Honda, the Flaming Lips waved a wand for Dell and Daft Punk got their denims on for the Gap. All, I’m sure, had some direct effect on sales, yada yada yada. The shift is an especially bizarre one because now you (I) can hear a song and think “that would make for a great commercial.”

Well, Shugo Tokumaru’s “Rum Hee” would make for a great commercial. The Japanese multi-instrumentalist (which is a relative term as Tokumaru plays over 100 instruments) has created an inspiring track that combines the sounds of an earthy instrumental nature with the depth of an indie-rock orchestra. While my first reaction to the song was more along the lines of “my god that’s a beautiful piece of music,” it probably tells you something about me that I eventually began to think “I would probably buy whatever that song is selling.” Be it a movie, a commercial, or something in between, mark my words: someone will likely have the same thought I did and deliver Shugo Tokumaru to the American masses via advertising.

The Sounds “Dorchester Hotel”

Though I later became a fan of the album based on the music that was actually on it, the first thing that captured my attention when initially introduced to the Sounds’ Dying To Say This To You was its titillating cover. Though neither of the women featured on the cover (DJ Leigh Lezark and Alexis Page) were actually in the band, it was the perfect bait for someone in my demographic (…heterosexual male…breathing…has full use of his eyes…). Released when rock and dance were as intertwined as they’ve ever been, the album’s “Song with a Mission” and “Painted By Numbers” featured an oddly heavy feel, with singer Maja Ivarsson’s vocals teasing a little throatiness through her Scandinavian tone. The band has since played more than 500 shows, sold over 500,000 copies of the record and hawked a song for one of the Geico cavemen commercials (clearly the crown jewel of all their accomplishments).

Now releasing “Dorchester Hotel” as the first single from the band’s third album, Crossing the Rubicon, the Sounds appear to be following the trend set by their previous work: a blend of fairly straight-forward rock songs mashed with a flared beat, leaning heavily on crisp production and Ivarsson’s spunky vocals. The single is far from indie-chic and is a little harder than most of the pop-rock presently crowding from the airwaves, but compared to much of its trashy, bloated contemporaries coming out of the West coast it sounds inspired.

Blueprint “Sign Language” Review

In a move slightly more akin to his Soul Position partner, RJD2, Blueprint focuses primarily on his beats while wading through a sea of organ and soulful samples on his latest album Sign Language. A true followup to Blueprint’s 2004 instrumental release, Chamber Music, Sign Language is a largely instrumental mix that combines down-tempo grooves with compressed sounds of organ, drums and the occasional guitar. The eight-song album has a unique flavor to it, and the sound feels warm and organic throughout despite being largely influenced by the Entroducing-era DJ Shadow (though that could be said of the majority beat-makers’ tracks since the landmark album’s release).

“Untitled,” the album’s lone track to feature any substantial vocals, drifts through a sad balance of harmonies and offsetting beats, guided by a steady drum and organ groove. Coming roughly half way through the album, the song stands out due to its beat, which initially sounds like Sign Languages slowest point (rhythmically), with everything else coming before and after seemingly leaning on it for support. The album’s opener, “Numb,” is a track so illuminated with funk and accented electronics that it immediately brings to mind something you’d expect a wry executive to sneak into a Prius commercial. “Numb” comes in great contrast to the slow moving songs that immediately follow “Untitled;” the subsequent songs leveling off into a steady flow again by the time the album concludes with “6 a.m.” Sign Language’s single flaw? At only 27 minutes long, you barely get a taste for the sounds before the music fades away.

Doves “Kingdom of Rust” Review

Kingdom of Rust immediately dives into classic rock territory with the band’s spiraling, Steve Miller Band-like electronics in the album’s lead track “Jetstream.” Fitting that from there, the album initially succeeds by tracing the history of bands who had all but vanished a couple decades ago. Aside from the rushed sounds of “The Outsiders,” the album’s best tracks, “Kingdom of Rust” and “Winter Hill,” fill out Kingdom of Rust’s first half as the band wades through layered, calculated music that is slow to climax but thoroughly enjoyable. Despite it’s encouraging lead songs, Kingdom of Rust briefly falls into a pattern of moody songs that project dreary inconsistency. After the crushing “10:03,” the songs begin to slow and as the introduction to “Birds Flew Backwards” fades in all momentum the album had is lost. In the song Jimi Goodwin shifts vocal trends for the first time on the album, extending his moans as far as they can reach, all accompanied by a beautiful (though out of place) bed of strings in the process. Though pleasant, “Birds Flew Backwards” creates a jarring divide in Kingdom of Rust; though not comparatively poor, the following songs end up sounding less powerful than the first half of the album due to the divide. After tossing in a funky bass-line with “Compulsion” and the thuddish stomper “House of Mirrors” the album closes with “Lifelines.” The song has the most enjoyable melody on the second half of the album, but it begs question as to how the tracks would have sounded had they been ordered a bit differently. On the first few listens Kingdom of Rust hardly sounds like a fitting follow-up for a band that has twice been nominated for the esteemed Mercury Prize. But after listening to each song as a unique piece, the music begins to reflect the skill that is expected of the veteran band. And if nothing else, any band that can successfully replicate the elusive “Fly Like An Eagle”-swirl has my vote of confidence.

H.R. “We Belong Together”

The sole difference between H.R.’s latest album, Hey Wella, and Bad Brains’ 2007 release, Build A Nation, is that unlike the glossy surface provided by Adam Yauch, Hey Wella has a level of production value that lands it somewhere closer to a time when Bad Brains were in their prime (for the sake of discussion, let’s say 1986). Both albums sway between reggae and the post-hardcore DC punk that Bad Brains carried on throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, but Hey Wella is kind of like Build A Nation’s stoner friend who is perfectly content with the music as long as it “feels organic, bro.”

However, that’s not a complete depiction of the album. One of the standouts is “We Belong Together,” a track that teases an easy-skankin’ guitar riff, but blends in deeper tones and a much slower groove into a unique package that is in great contrast with everything else on the record. It’s clearly a love song at its core, but serves equally well as a lazy, late-afternoon jam that quenches a bit of the thirst created by the dry, stuffy reggae that occupies much of the rest of Hey Wella.

Though it’s not exactly brilliant, and hardly a departure from the sound of H.R.’s past, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of branching out from the heaping load of back-catalog that the vocalist has already recorded (aside from Bad Brains, this is H.R.’s 10th proper solo studio album). And seeing as though it’s the first record of a seven-album deal he signed a few years back with D.C.’s Hardcore LLC label, let’s hope it’s just the start of a new chapter in H.R.’s career. After all, the world hardly needs another uninspired collection of tracks casually praising Jah over the same “one love” beat.

The Streets “Trust Me”

Mike Skinner’s voice transmits a swagger that gives him the freedom to stumble through the some of the sketchiest lyrics at times, while still coming out sparkling. Taking that into consideration, his promise to release three original tracks in three days via his Twitter account still seemed like an undertaking best left for someone a little less prone to spend his days and nights in pubs.

“AND BACK IN THE PUB WITHIN 2 HOURS!” reads his celebratory message today as he completed his second song, the disco-house “Trust Me.” “I see Alice in Wonderland, I see malice in Sunderland.” The amusing yet scrambled line is repeated throughout at the lead into the song’s makeshift chorus, but for someone who has historically taken two years in between albums it comes off as surprisingly substantial. Even if the lyrics are a bit tricky to make sense of.

Neil Young “Fork In The Road” Review

Leading up to the release of 2006’s Living with War, Neil Young defended the anti-war, anti-Bush album by saying, “I was hoping some young person would come along and say this and sing some songs about it, but I didn’t see anybody, so I’m doing it myself.” It’s not that Neil Young needs to release any more music, but after his life threatening operation for an aneurysm in 2005 he has made it his personal business to use his platform for what he feels is just—and rightly so. Now, some three years later, Young returns for another album fueled by the unmistakable sound of his guitar, this time with topical songs directed at climate change and the credit crunch.

In a culture that is shifting ever closer to instant gratification through 140 characters or less, Young applied a relatively instantaneous release model with his music, recording the album quickly before Christmas of 2008. And while Fork in the Road seems hurried at times, it’s honestly very similar to the music released throughout Young’s career. Between 1985 and 1990 Young released seven albums, for instance, and has accumulated well over 30 solo studio releases to his credit (not to mention his work with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or live albums). At times there is a bit of a carelessness that comes with the album, the songs seemingly tossed together in no real order, meshing a strange combination of classic Young songs like “Just Singing a Song” and rigid oddities like “Cough Up The Bucks.” But had Young waited a year to release Fork in the Road, for while working out its kinks he would’ve run the risk of letting the moment pass him by (and especially after 2005, Young is right in making sure he says what he means in a timely fashion).

The bulk of the album is thematically centered around a project that has turned Young’s gas-guzzling boat of a 1959 Lincoln Continental into a 100-mile-per-gallon hybrid. His purpose in doing so is to simply publicize that it can be done—something that has sent him on a cross-country tour in support of awareness of the issue, and something that likely won’t earn Young any sponsorship consideration from the feeble auto industry. And the message is continued through his songs, though it tends to get lost through the repetitive nature of Young’s lyrics on the album. Somewhere along the way, the message from “Fuel Line” (that alternative fuels sources are, surprise, a good thing), “Get Behind The Wheel,” “Off The Road” and “Hit The Road” begin to bleed into one another and Young’s lyrics become overshadowed by his grinding guitar and aged snarl.

Though his voice doesn’t bear the same edge it once did, Young’s guitar is as sharp as ever—a point emphasized over eight of the album’s 10 tracks. Doing little to detract from his legacy, Young’s guitar is as mucky and grungy as it was in the early ‘90s—particularly so with “Johnny Magic,” a tribute to Jonathan Goodwin, the eco-mechanic that also modified Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jeep Wagoneer, converting it to support Bio-diesel. Young wails away at his guitar throughout the song, conjuring up images of the musician on stage spastically swaying as he strums to his heart’s content. When he does move away from the full-throttle sound of his electric the results are quite captivating. The two slow tracks on the record, “Off The Road” and “Light A Candle,” showcase Young’s under-appreciated poetic side. Especially moving is “Light A Candle.” Whereas earlier in Fork in the Road, Young chants “Just singing a song won’t change the world,” “Light A Candle” proposes that a song can actually serve as a beacon of hope. “Instead of cursing in the darkness/Light a candle for where were going/There’s something ahead, worth looking for.” The song parallels much of Living with War in that it acts as a reminder that, while things might be a bit messed up right now, we can build for a better future—a vital reminder at any time, let alone one as dark as this.

“Our goal is to inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st Century and delivers performance that is a reflection of the driver’s spirit. By creating this new power technology we hope to reduce the demand for petro-fuels enough to eliminate the need for war over energy supplies, thereby enhancing the security of the USA and other nations throughout the world.” So reads the vision statement behind Young and Goodwin’s LincVolt project. Even through Fork in the Road is a rushed album that suffers from muddy separation between the bulk of its songs, it furthers the goal that the duo have set out to accomplish. Buried deep inside the album is a line from “Just Singing A Song” where Young croons, “You can sing about change while you’re making your own.” Not to parallel the two, but Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Fork in the Road isn’t as much an album as it is a public journal of Young’s modern focus—he is working toward bettering the world to the best of his ability, to the degree which he knows how. And if that means releasing an album full of fuzzy rock songs that serve as a largely repetitive rallying cry, so be it. He’s still not parading around in Armani sunglasses, nor is he preaching what he fails to practice. And for that, if nothing else, he should be applauded.

Bat For Lashes “Use Somebody” (Kings of Leon Cover on BBC Radio1’s Live Lounge)

It’s not that King of Leons’ “Use Somebody” was a terrible song, or that Only By the Night was a completely unforgivable album (though to some degree it was), it’s just that for every enjoyable moment on the record, there was an equally awkward moment about someone’s sex being on fire, or the difficulties of lusting after underage girls. Add to that a level of production that gave the music a sound on par with the photoshopping of Maxim magazine, and you’ve got a collection of songs that was lacking of any real sense of personality or emotion.

If you were to strip all the static and unnecessary factors away from the music, it would be far easier to approach and digest. That’s exactly what has been done with this Bat For Lashes cover. With Natalie Khan’s version of “Use Somebody” there is no excess, every note is stripped to its foundation and her voice accentuates the emotion that was likely meant to be felt with the original track. The song is a beautiful reminder that upon occasion there is a good song lurking beneath even the most unbearable of exteriors.

No Doubt “Stand and Deliver”

The reunited No Doubt is set to return to TV with an appearance on the show Gossip Girl in May. In the flashback episode (which supposedly introduces a retro-themed spin-off series that will kick off in the fall) the band will perform a cover of Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver.” Accordingly No Doubt has released the song as their first new single since the band’s 2003 cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life.”

Since the band’s last studio album, 2001’s Rock Steady (the number of times I heard “Hella Good” and “Hey Baby” from the album that year is downright sickening), the attention has primarily been focused on Gwen Stefani and her two multi-platinum solo albums. While rumors of a reunion have been circulating for just about as long as the band has been separated, a spark in getting No Doubt back together might possibly have come from a highly unlikely source: Scott Weiland.

Guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young all appeared as studio musicians on Weiland’s second solo album, last year’s “Happy” in Galoshes. Whether or not getting together for those sessions had any impact on the recently announced reunion tour is debatable; whether or not Weiland rubbed off on the band is not, however. The new track, much like most everything Weiland has recorded this decade, is a bit underwhelming.

In all fairness “Stand and Deliver” might not even be a full-fledged single despite it’s release in conjunction with the band’s television spot. Perhaps it’s a little harsh to call the track hollow, but considering the plump sound that Stefani’s been using with her solo work (not to mention the various production roles Dumont and Kanal’s have taken on) it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that the band’s sound should be a little juicier than it is. As a cover it’s pretty faithful, though it hardly compares to the flair found in the original. Maybe No Doubt should have stuck with their cover of Bad Brains’ “Sailin’ On” for the show… whether or not it fits with the Gossip Girls theme, at least it’d have some sizzle. Looking at things from a positive point of view, it’s the band’s best song they’ve recorded in over half a decade. Then again, it’s the band’s only song they’ve recorded in over half a decade.

Jon Hopkins “Insides” Review

Whether it be the gloomy Maritime ambiance of “The Wider Sun,” or the layered funk of “Wire,” Jon Hopkins’ third studio album is a tremendous expansion on 1990’s electronica, offering 10 tracks that comfortably balance sounds with contrasting musical textures. Fortunately, Insides is far more consistent than Hopkins’ resume as of late: most recently the musician was heavily involved with Coldplay’s unbearable Prospekt’s March EP, co-producing a pair of tracks and adding electronics and a variety of other instruments to two others.

Coming across as a bit of an homage to the likes of BT and Leftfield, “Wire” sees Hopkins bouncing the song’s beats off one another before smothering the track with pounding synth and bass. Insides goes far deeper than surface-level electronica however, as “Small Memory” adds a defeated piano ballad, and “Light Through The Veins” unravels over the course of nine minutes, the song steeped with M83-styled progressions (without the added flair of aloof female singers, mind you). Having hawked songs to such shows as Sex and the City and MTV’s Dismissed, Hopkins clearly has a knack for creating music with an easy entry point, but Insides balances sounds in a way that suggests that there is so much more lurking below the surface. Now if only he could lay off the Coldplay.

T.Q.D. The Appetizer” EP Interview

Following the release of the Background Noise Crew’s Everybody Does This, the group’s T.Q.D. dropped an extremely limited release of The Appetizer EP as a supplemental CD in preparation for the emcee’s sophomore album, Clench, Grit, Breathe. Speaking of the EP T.Q.D. explained, “When I was making my full length Clench, Grit, Breathe, I wanted to have a certain number of songs that I was proud of, but decided to leave off the album. These are the six songs.” And the emotional tone of the songs is a dark one, one that strays thematically into the world of addiction and inner conflict, T.Q.D. writing from experience and as a storyteller. “I tend to draw from my own life or other people’s lives. However, there are a couple songs on this EP I decided to take some creative liberty with, for the sake of trying something new.”

And with that, here is The Appetizer EP, accompanied by a track-by-track explanation from T.Q.D. himself.

On “Destroy the Cure”: I got this beat from Chickenbone and it it blew me away from the moment I heard it and it still does. I made this song in the fall of 2007. At the time, there was a two and a half month period where I can honestly say I had a drinking problem. The plot of the song is a relationship gone wrong due to a drinking problem. The dirty little secret is that while the drinking issue was very real, there was no actual woman. I thought it might be fun to stop being autobiographical for a moment and just make a “what if” song from a first person point of view. It’s not my story, but I’m sure it’s someone’s story.

On “I Want It All Back”: This is the song that I had the hardest time leaving off of Clench, Grit, Breathe. It just didn’t fit as well as it could’ve. I received this beat from Poorboy and the sitar hooked me. This song was created last summer. It addressed being new to the dating world, which I was at the time and struggling with devoting time to a relationship and my music, which both require lots of time, and when you add in a day job, it gets more complicated. It’s about wishing I had a much less complicated busy schedule, but knowing that if things are important, then being busy is just a part of the deal.

On “Broken Vase”: This song was created in the Summer of 2008 for and about one of my ex-girlfriends. It was originally going to be a gift just for her and not go on any CD. However, she ended things before that could happen, but I wasn’t going to scrap a perfectly good song.

In terms of the song itself, she was going through some things when we met and this was basically me letting her know that, while I couldn’t change what happened before, I can be something different and for her to realize that. That is best exemplified in the “Recycle her tears plant a new tree” line. The part where I say “Follow the words and the path to sun rays/Maybe temporary but at least a new phase/A phase that you’ll always know/The kind you’ll regret if let go/Let hope set sail let the rest prevail” further drives the point home.

My favorite part of the song is right after that when I start singing after the “follow the words” portion, “Take my hand now, you won’t be sorry.” I still get chills when I hear that, because even though my singing is talent is whatever, it’s just me showing my raw emotion for someone I had fallen for. The “in love” feeling I expressed at the time is long gone, but at one point it was true and I still think the song is very good. Not to mention, my amigo Vividend gave me quite a nice beat.

On “Ponder Reasons”: I remember writing this song like it was yesterday. This, like “Destroy The Cure” is me deciding to forget about my life and play a character. I got this beat from Poorboy in February of 2008. At the time, I had never been in a relationship, so I never had a reason to make a love song. There wasn’t anyone at the time for me make this song about, but I just wanted to give it try and see what happened. I think the song turned out well. I think this was more about me building up my skill as a writer rather than anything else.

On “Growing Up Part 2″: I got this beat from Bam Bam Beatz. I totally fell for the aquatic sample. This was created in the winter of 2007. This song is about shedding the past and starting over. The song basically addresses what we all do when stuff goes wrong, which is sulk. However, at some point you have to move on. We decide when we’re done with things. The line “Rebirth is’ coming it’s already here” has to do with working toward the point where you’re no longer “wanting” to feel better and get to the point when you do feel better. I made other a couple other songs for Clench, Grit, Breathe along the same lines that I thought were better, so I left this one off. However, I still like the song.

The song “Growing Up Part 1″ actually doesn’t exist anymore. I used some lines from there and threw away the rest to make a whole new tune that will see the light of day in the future. I’m sure a demo still exists of part one somewhere on my hard drive, but I’m not a huge fan of it.

On “Time Travel”: This is one of the first beats I got from Phingaz when I met him a little over three years ago. I was going through the “find myself” portion of my life and this is all about moving through time aimlessly and one day waking up to realize that even if things haven’t changed, they needed to. I love the song, but always had a hard time finding a home for it. I’m glad it’s on this EP.