Hope you all had a safe and wonderful thanksgiving. I had started on this post a couple of weeks ago, but priorities changed and so now, without the usual fanfare, I wanted to highlight a few releases I wasn’t able to get around to since this month’s drop box hit and those that went uncovered in the initial release notes. You know how it is when things get a little busier than you anticipate. Thankfully, I’ve got a little time to bring you up to speed.I will drop this month’s releases in a day or two, so this should allow you to seek out those titles you might have missed.
Bowling Green Kentucky’s Cage The Elephant are not an unknown entity. 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday was both a critical and commercial success, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 200. So as a band, you’ve got to be asking where we go from here? The problem with a massively successful record is that everything that immediately follows will be measured in the glow of that success. Also relevant to this issue is the likelihood (real or imagined) that most people and radio programmers will want more of the same sound that sold the records in the first place.
Well, apparently, to get around this issue you make the record you want to make, sounding like you want it to sound and, in the long run, Melophobia is possibly a better record than Thank You Happy Birthday. I say that because Cage The Elephant have stayed the course by staying true to the sound that made Thank You Happy Birthday such a success but expanding the sonic territory covered so as to keep progressing as a band incorporating a diverse range of sounds. Consequently, Melophobia as a complete work takes a little getting used to when it is compared with the immediacy of the hooks present on Thank You, Happy Birthday (particularly on the ubiquitous single, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”).
However, patience is rewarded after several spins of Melophobia. Some of the brilliance of this record is found in the off-kilter and often distorted vocals, mid-tempo rhythms, and hints of 70’s rock found throughout the record. Hard to describe the sonic differences albeit the songs are catchy, sing-a-long affairs, and one point I Thought I was listening to Jake Bugg and Oh Mercy’s Alexander Gow on “Halo”. Try “Halo,” “Spiderland,” and “It’s Just Forever (featuring Allison Mossheart).” Here is the tour video of “Come A Little Closer.”
I digress: As you might discover from earlier musings in the drop box notes, I am a sucker for the karaoke television program the Voice. It’s not that I am amazed by the fact that so many people watch a program with possible the worst song selection in recorded history. Really, it is tiring to hear the same weak pop songs (the same songs in several countries) performed by capable singers. However, when you hear a song performed in a unique manner, like a great cover song, then the effort is worthwhile. When compared with the nearly unwatchable X-Factor (which has lost its charm this season) or the dreadful train wreck that is American Idol (which has really lost the path – England knows how to do “presenters” – the U.S. does not), the Voice is marginally the best of the lot. So, in past drop boxes I have covered a couple of interesting records from Dia Frampton (Voice Season 1 runner up) and Janet Devlin (5th place X-Factor UK Series 8), and finally amidst the carnage of the other winners, arrives Cassadee Pope (Voice Season 3 winner) with her debut entitled Frame by Frame, which upon released was the Number 9 album on the Billboard Top 200 and number 1 country record. All in all a successful launch – a rarity for these shows.
Prior to her becoming the winner of Season 3, Cassadee Pope was already in a pretty good pop punk band Hey Monday. Fast forward a couple of years and where is Cassadee now? Well, Frame By Frame is not a punk rock record. Rather, the album most closely resembles 70’s a.m. radio with a country flair. To be clear, Frame by Frame is a good record but not a great record. In order to rate the record great – there would have to be some sandpaper applied to all of the songs – the production syrupy and overblown has ripped all of the grit in these songs which makes the record in many places a country pop parody record. I get that the label is in control of this record and trying to appeal to the crossover market as almost all of country music is sugary pop, and if that sells records than from the label perspective all is good. I suspect however, that they could have released Frame By Frame without the add-ons that make many of the songs absolutely soulless and lifeless. For example, debut single, “Good Times” sounds like something Dolly Parton would sing and at times the vocal approach and muzak country reminds me of the schmaltz Dolly used to serve.
But after trying to look past the made for pop country, you can still find some heart buried in these songs and that is what makes this a good album. Cassadee is clearly experimenting here – stepping as far from her past as a light punk princess, she is clearly putting her effort into these songs and the vocals are strong. She has managed to find the balance by not over singing – letting the melody do the work and once you get past the first two songs on the record, and starting with “Wasting All These Tears” you have the essence of Cassadee’s country sweet spot – jilted lover and dreamer. Not a classic, but you should find something to love as a guilty pleasure. Hopefully someone at the label has the courage to release the rough mixes of this record without the goop additions. Shameful production. Here’s hoping she still has a rock record in her. Try” I Wish I Could Break Your Heart,” “This Car,” (Pedal steel is a nice touch), and the Kate Bush sounding “Proved You Wrong.”
Panic! At The Disco have evolved but not because they wanted to, but because when half of your band leaves for new horizons, you are forced to do something a little different.
More digression: Control is always an issue in bands. The rule, like marriage, is that you cannot have two individuals who are both lions occupying the same territory. Bands break up. Few survive the loss of key members and find the ability to continue without some loss of quality. What many fail to recognize is that it is precisely the relationships that exist within a band that create the magic laid down on tape, oops, I mean pro tools. Failures are legendary. See Clash – Cut The Crap (recorded after Mick Jones had left), Van Halen (everything after Diamond Dave left), The Smiths (after Johnny Marr left – and to be clear – there is nothing that Morrissey has recorded post-Smiths that even comes close to the Smith’s catalog).
In Panic! At The Disco’s lifetime, founding members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker walked prior to recording the band’s third album Vices and Virtues. Leaving only Brandon Urie and Spencer Smith to continue, Vices and Virtues left fans a little confused as to the band’s direction – which most guessed was strident boredom. Fast forward to Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! and Urie has taken firm control of the band. The result is a shift towards the mainstream but in a positive manner as Panic!’s earlier incarnations produced a form of dance rock was way left of center. Now, focusing on actual song structures and melodies, Panic! At The Disco has positioned itself in the same musical genre as Fall Out Boy – poopy dance rock. Still present are the odd-ball lyrics (see Ms. Jackson”) but Urie is cognizant that in order to survive you have to sell a few records and most of this album is catchy and interesting enough to make for its inclusion in the drop box. I’m not sure there are any classics on this record but there is enough progress here to look forward to the next release because the seeds of greatness are present. Try ”Girls/Girls/Boys” (which, really, is brilliant), “Collar Full,” and “ All The Boys (bonus track).”
Singer-songwriter Andrew Belle’s second album Black Bear should find a wider audience for his brand of alternative AOR music. Incorporating more electronics to his sonic approach, and it is hard to not like any track on this record. Sure, it is definitely adult contemporary alt-rock, but there is something mesmerizing about Belle’s soft croon and the incorporation of contemporary indie rock sounds (Milk Carton Kids whom he toured with comes to mind as does Grouplove) into well written songs which Belle claims continue the story of his debut album, the Ladder – Black Bear is an album that conceptually reflects and touches on all of the most important relationships in my life … It’s a dialogue and a wrestling with God. At times, there is a Coldplay feel to some of these songs, particularly on “Wants What It Wants” but not enough to be irritating. Try “Sister,” “Details,” and “The Enemy.”
Upping the tempo a bit, Detroit’s best sleaze rockers return with their first true Dirtbombs record since 2011’s triple album Party Store. No surprises here – Consistency Is The Enemy rocks and it should because this is the vinyl companion to an earlier CD compilation 2006’s singles compilation If You Don’t Already Have a Look. That two disc, CD-only collection focused primarily on out-of-print vinyl singles and some rarities that the band had previously released but it also contained several new songs – and that is what you have here. The songs that were buried in that collection that the Dirtbombs feel need reexamination until we have new Dirtbombs’ material. Try “Here Comes That Sound Again” “Candyass,” and “Walk On Jagged Air.” (The cover of Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss” is also cool.)
I never thought that Detroit’s Electric Six would ever make the drop box after their last album, Heartbeats and Brainwaves which was a bit of a disappointment. (I’m ignoring the live album – 2012’s Absolute Pleasure, and lead singer Dick Valentines solo record Destroy The Children as those contained no new Electric Six material. With Mustang, the Electric Six return to form, capturing their unique sound – an amalgam of punk, funk, metal, garage and soul all shaken and not stirred. Dick’s voice is in fine form and as you will be able to guess by the lyrics (most of which are NSFW) almost everyone is fair game – even you Adam Levine! Great video “Adam Levine”. Like their earlier records, you have to be in the mood for listening, but it is impossible to not get caught up in the beautiful mess. Try “Unnatural Beauty,” “Skin Traps,” and “Jessica Dresses like a Dragon.” Here is the Electric Six live at The Earl Oct 13th 2013 – Full Show (Mostly)
Glasgow’s Fratellis had the same problem as Cage the Elephant described earlier. How could the possibly follow up their single “Flathead” which was literally everywhere in 2007 – Apple used it to market the iPod, and the Chicago Blackhawks are using it as their theme song. The Fratellis method of dealing with the pressure to follow up “Flathead”? Break up. Well, skip forward a couple of years, five to be precise, and we have a new third album We Need Medicine from the reformed Fratellis. So, what does it sound like? The Fratellis have decided that they are a rock band and not a fey folk band like the Mumfords (except in a few places. See “Whiskey Saga.”) Striking the balance in favor of up-tempo songs and incorporating a little Springsteen, on the fabulous “Seven Nights Seven Days”, the album rocks like a band determined to move forward together. There are a few misses, particularly some unfortunate lyric choices – title track “We Need Medicine” comes to mind) but overall an enjoyable outing. Try “Seven Nights Seven Days,” “Rock N Roll Will Break Your Heart,” and “Until She Saves My Soul.”
Because it fits after a Springsteen reference, The Gaslight Anthem have a new 45’’ from their 45RPM Club (fan club) released on Vinyl only. The first track is an acoustic version of “Desire” and the second is the more up-tempo “Halloween.” Both worth a listen. You can join the 45 RPM Club here.
Why is it that bands breakup just as they are about to release a record? This is a troublesome event because you know you will never see a tour when the record is uniformly excellent and you would want to see it played live!. Bugger hell. So, I’ve been playing for the past couple of months, New York Indie rocker’s Cults second album Static, only to find out the band is no more. (Imagine gentle tears falling down my cheeks now). Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion whom were a couple and a band – split up last year as a couple and rumor has it that after their extensive touring in support of their debut, that the impact of that decision laid open here on Static is also the demise of the band. Why is this record so good? Madeline Follin has a voice that has captured the early 60’s girl group vocal styling and when layered alongside Oblivions early Motown orchestration the results are stunning. Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out where Madeline’s head was at as she was writing this album – the song titles lay it out pretty clearly. Surprisingly, I felt no cognitive dissonance as I listened to these bummer lyrics set to bouncy synth-pop and stellar guitar work. A uniformly consistent record. Top shelf. Try “High Road,” “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” and “Shine a Light.”
It looks like Los Campesinos! have discovered the fervor that had left them on previous releases a little flat and struggling to capture the energy present on their magnificent second album Hold On Now, Youngster from 2008. Earlier this year the live album A Good Night For A Fist Fight made the drop box and for good reason as it was a high octane presentation of the songs that made Los Campesinos! such an interesting band. It looks like the momentum from that project has found its way into these songs which are urgent, particularly on a killer track like “What Death Leave Behind” (no pun intended or considered), Gareth Campesinos! Sings like he actually means it, and in all likelihood, he does, but always with a wink. Los Campesainos! Approach has always been literate but now that literacy is transposed as there are several soccer references throughout the record. See if you can dig up a lyric sheet to follow along, because this is the happiest sounding sad record around. Uniformly excellent throughout, but for me try “What Death Leaves Behind,” “Cemetery Gaits,” and “Avocado, Baby!”
In case you missed Polica the first time around as I snuck their last album into the drop box at the end of last year, their latest, Shulamith, makes this month’s list. Minneapolis is the home of Polica which formed in 2011 and consists primarily of two members: Ryan Olson (production) and Channy Leaneagh (vocals) whose sound is augmented live by several others. While often labeled as synthpop, the sound is much more complex with the bands approach more akin to creating electronic soundscapes often in minor keys, emphasizing the sadness of some of the songs. As a vocalist Channy’s vocals transmit the emotion she feels in her lyrics which incorporate several feminist themes but explore the range of emotions at the end of a relationship. She recently declared that the title of the record is a tribute to feminist Shulamith Firestone, who Leaneagh described as her ‘muse and mentor’ but the songs on Shulamith are balanced on the edge on the love/loss dynamic. Try “Trippin,” “Chain My Name” and “Matty.”
Johannesburg South Africa’s Parlotones make the drop box for a third time with their follow up to the Shake It Up EP released earlier this year, the excellent Stand Like Giants. If you missed the EP, the album also contains the single “Shake It Up” and several other stadium sized anthems, consistent with their status as multi-platinum selling recording artists back home. In an effort to expand their worldwide reach, the Parlotones recently moved to Los Angeles but I would suspect that they will return home where they are everywhere i.e. huge media stars. Parlotones is South Africa’s version of corporate rock, and in many ways, if you didn’t know anything about the band, you would say that the sound on this record sounds like some of the larger U.S. acts., e.g. Foo Fighters in production which is uniformly clean and crisp. So, does the fact that the band is a little over produced and the songs “designed” for radio detract from my position that Stand Like Giants belongs in the drop box? No, and it is simply, for a corporate rock record, that there is something else going on with Stand Like Giants that permits actually liking this record. That is, there is enough earnestness by the band that is just enough to make me overlook some obvious missteps, such as the terrible ballad “Symapathise With The Cost” which is unlistenable. The anthems on this record in the main work well and as a diversion from the traditional indie music, Stand Like Giants is a big sounding record. While sometimes the lyrics are a little overwrought, I can imagine the lighters glowing in the stadium, particularly on title track “Stand Like Giants.”
Aside: The Parlotones kind of remind me of Supertramp, whom I saw at Empire Stadium in Vancouver in 1979 (August 11, 1979 to be precise). Here was the set list from that Supertramp show: (Pretty amazing from what I can remember – Supertramp were the headliner, and Trooper and Prism played)
- From Now On
- Gone Hollywood
- Bloody Well Right
- Breakfast in America
- Goodbye Stranger
- Sister Moonshine
- Hide in Your Shell
- Oh Darling
- Even in the Quietest Moments
- The Logical Song
- Child of Vision
- Give a Little Bit
- Take the Long Way Home
- Fool’s Overture
- Encore:Crime of the Century
So, back to the Parlotones. Try “Lazy Sunny Days,” “Stand Like Giants” and “Hollow Men.”
Knoxville’s Royal Bangs play indie rock of the catchy variety. There is enough moping around for everyone in this world and Royal Bangs blows away all the clouds. I played “Better Run,” Brass’ first track at least a dozen times in a row before moving on to the rest of this excellent record. This four piece band was originally composed of drummer Chris Rusk, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Schaefer, and guitarist Sam Stratton but in 2011 they added Dylan Dawkins to play bass. This is a straight forward rock record and Schaeffer’s voice does have that King’s of Leon sound, but this is not a KOL record. Rather, it is urgent, vital, and charming with just a touch of the Strokes. Once I was finished playing “Better Run”, I played “Orange Moon” another ten times. This is a gem…and like most gems will remain largely undiscovered, except to those of you in the drop box. Play Brass first this month. Try ”Orange Moon,” Hope We Don’t Crash,” and “Sun Bridge.”
A couple of punk things worth a mention:
Orlando Florida’s Teen Agers debut, I Hate It updates modern melodic punk but unlike most of this genre the vocals are in the forefront making for some catchy tunes that get your head and feet moving. Not much information about the band although the label claims that they are former members of also unknown bands: HOW DARE YOU, GO RYDELL, PROTAGONIST, and DIRECT EFFECT. Not much to go on here for history, but the future is bright – this is melodic street punk, well written and best played in the basement of your house. The overall sound is reminiscent of Rise Against but not as preachy and without the acoustic breaks. Great album. Try ”Learn To Swim,” “Savor,” and “Float.”
Cardiff’s Future of The Left’s latest release How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident, their 4th, is a slab of straight forward punk rock that lays waste to most of the punk rock pretenders wanting their records to sound harder and faster. And that is the genius of Future of The Left – they know who they are by now and they stick to the plan, playing catchy punk rock tunes that make you want to sing a-long to their bizarre lyrics. Having learned the lessons of their previous band, the legendary Mclusky, Future of The Left sound is distinctive, with traces of Mclusky’s wit humor and rock chops still intact, but the production on How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident is crisp and the music burst forth from the speakers. Be forewarned – for those of you unfamiliar with Future of the Left, Andy Falkous singing voice sounds remarkably like Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra in the heyday of that band. The music on How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident also sounds like it belongs on a DK record. Really. I was startled by how songs like “Future Child Embarrassment Matrix” could fit right next to “I am The Owl” off of Plastic Surgery Disasters. I loved DK and am hooked by Future Of The Left, who have released, the best punk rock record of the year. I liked them all, but try” The Male Gaze,” “ I Don’t Know What You Ketamine (But I Think I Love You),” and of course, “She Gets Passed Around At Parties.” ( The last track probably sums up the album nicely “Why Aren’t I Going to Hell.”
If you like your punk a little more street/oi then Brighton’s Control latest album Ballad of The Working Man is the record for you. Where Future of the Left mines the California/ Canadian Punk rock sound, Control is a mix of British and New York styled punk rock where the Clash/ Rancid meets early Motorhead/ U.K. Subs. Iain Kilgallon, Control’s vocalist doesn’t have the stripped raw vocals of say Lemmy (Motorhead) or Lars Erik Frederiksen (Rancid), but on this group of songs, exemplified by “Angry Punk Rock Song,” Iain does a nice job of hitting the Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers) vocal level and the catchiness of these songs in undeniable. This is what street punk is supposed to sound like, and Ballad of The Working Man captures the spirit without becoming Celtic. Control describe their sound as hooligan rock and roll. Try” Angry Punk Rock Song,” “Ballad Of The Working Man,” and “Knuckle Down.”
Until next time, tell your friends about Tales From The Dropbox and keep your ears to the ground for the latest and greatest. And to Nicole who is taking her first law school finals this week, good luck and “Peace Out.”