Tag Archives: Rock

Off to the Races Wins Triple Crown – Jukebox the Ghost

5 Apr

I’ve written about Jukebox the Ghost before back in 2012, and since then the band has matured their unique brand of anthemic pop and have built a sound that can only be called the “Jukebox” sound. The D.C.-spawned trio of Ben Thornewill (vocals & piano), Tommy Siegel (vocals & guitar) and Jesse Kristin (drums) are now on their fifth studio album, and, despite my overplaying of the infectious earworm Everything Under the Sun (2010)Off to the Races, which was just released in late March, may be the band’s best release yet.

The album brings Jukebox back to its creative roots, calling back to the first two releases (my two favorites) and creating more tracks aligned with this theatrical pop/rock sentiment. The band’s last few releases had a few tracks that worked under this lens, but Off to the Races fits it more as a complete piece. The album also features one of the band’s most ambitious pieces, “Jumpstarted,” which introduces the album and certainly sets the tone. The piece begins with a Queen-like layered vocal harmony and rapidly tickled ivories and transforms into a percussion-fueled, toe-tapping carnival of sounds – the song is a cavalcade of music (fit with creative vocals, call-backs, guitar solos, and electronic interludes) that even progresses into some a cappella. It is an immediate party and a bit risky – thankfully, the song delivers and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Fred Astaire” is classic Jukebox. It is a drenched guitar riff mixed with a strong vocal and consequent percussion. The song fits together like a Jukebox puzzle – it is catchy pop but done to absolute perfection. It goes down smooth.

“Everybody’s Lonely,” while different in tone, also demonstrates Jukebox’s grasp over pop tunes. The song starts as a call-back to something I can only term 1950’s diner piano and then progresses into a more traditional pop piece with crashing percussion and a swooning vocal. Thornewill’s piano diversifies this pop; he often demonstrates classical chops and this adds to the song’s success.

Another successful release for Jukebox The Ghost – perhaps their best album in years. Maybe this time I will actually see them when they come to NY; I tried several years ago but the concern was snowed out and I could not go to the make-up date. I need to see this band in concert!

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Riding a Moon Taxi Two High

14 Jan
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Photo Credit: Harper Smith From L to R: Tyler Ritter, Tommy Putnam, Wes Bailey, Trevor Terndrup, and Spencer Thomson

In the category of bands that finally got their due in 2017 is Moon Taxi, a band that existed prior to the original iPhone but has just now signed on with RCA Records. On the heels of the band’s fifth album (and first on RCA) which will be dropped in less than a week, I figure now, albeit a bit late, is the best time to introduce this five-piece Alt/Indie outfit to a growing world of listeners.

Moon Taxi follows a classic band tale, a piecemeal collection of bandmates through high school, college, and the local music scene. Stationed in music hotbed Nashville, Moon Taxi originally played a variety of music closer to jam rock, and this is where they cut their teeth with their first few releases – hence their casting as opening acts for bands like Gov’t Mule and Umphrey’s McGee. The band transformed with the times, taking on a style emulating the trend in alt/rock, a sound most similar to infectious riffs and creative instrumentation. This is where Moon Taxi found a true comfort zone, and this is reflective of the tracks that one will hear when listening to the new album – Let The Record Play. Already festival darlings, Moon Taxi is soaring to the, well, moon, and perhaps the greatest indication of this meteoric rise is “Two High,” a track that reaches the stars with its optimistic lyric and uplifting sound (count the space references in the previous sentence).

First released back in May, “Two High” has amassed more than 70 million streams on Spotify, which is most certainly in the not too shabby category. It’s success is for good reason also. The song begins with a saturated guitar riff – think brighter X Ambassadors. The vocal features that twangy southern charm that one expects from a Nashville band. The song has a couple of stand-out components that have helped propel it to popularity – one the horn fill in the chorus because everyone likes horns in Alt/Rock music (I’m surprised they are not used more) and second the slowed bridge with drowned percussion. Towards the end there is even some subtle Spanish guitar. It’s a strong track from what will most likely be a strong album.

Moon Taxi is a band you want to keep an eye on in 2018 – it’s time for them to touch the sky.

We Don’t Deserve Everything Now – New Arcade Fire

31 Jul

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Arcade Fire, the uber-eccentric Canadian Indie Rock band, released its fifth studio album last Friday. The album follows the natural progression for Arcade Fire who embraced the dance rock feel with their last LP Reflektor. For Everything Now the band brought in Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and the sound reflects this collaboration.

Arcade Fire and I have a volatile relationship. I embrace a few of their tracks, placing those songs in the rare coterie of “listenable no matter what,” but there are many tracks that just fall flat to me. Hence, I judge Arcade Fire releases accordingly. Everything Now features a few absolute clunkers – dance rock needs to be pretty infectious for me to enjoy it and, well, several of the tracks on this album just don’t do it for me. That said, I will say that Arcade Fire’s focus on lyrics this album was a big success, and I enjoy the theme. The big release is the title track, which serves as the central motif for the album – its melody opens and closes the record. Here is the track below:

Sensationally catchy, right? That melody is toe-tapping goodness. The sampling of “The Coffee Cola Song” by Francis Bebey works well – I always appreciate some well-placed pan flute in music. The song is even electric in lyric – “Every song that I’ve ever heard
is playing at the same time, it’s absurd” – a Delillo-like wall-of-sound image. The song is one of Arcade Fire’s finest since The Suburbs. However, it is not the best song on the album. That is reserved for the song that closes out the album (putting aside the reprisal of the title track).

I’m not sure why “We Don’t Deserve Love” has not received more attention in the critic’s reviews of the album. Perhaps it is the type of song that will grow on listeners. For me, though, the song’s significance hit immediately – this track is Arcade Fire’s most sincere in years – a true testament to the excellent band that Arcade Fire is when it gets down to its Indie roots. The song’s electric rhythm calls to Radiohead’s most recent release – a bit morose but eclectically beautiful. The dulcet and eerie melody reflects the lyric perfectly – a song about trying to persist with a loving connection in a sea of confusion and mixed messages. Consider the lyric below:

The men you love always leave you alone
You hear your mother screaming
You hear your daddy shout
You try to figure it out
You never figure it out
Your mother’s screaming
That you don’t deserve love
If you don’t deserve love
And if I don’t deserve love
Could we deserve?

The string of lyrics are telling and the rhetorical question at the end is so sad but oddly hopeful because who the heck cares if one “deserves” love – love is love – even in the infinite content wasteland portrayed in Arcade Fire’s album. Through its warped melody is clarity and that seems like an eloquent concluding message for the album.

Dan Auerbach is the King of a One Horse Town

20 Jun

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There is something quite old about Dan Auerbach’s second solo studio album Waiting on a Song (June 2017), and I like it. Auerbach, who is the guitarist and vocalist for The Black Keys, has not released a solo album since Keep it Hid (2009), and this new release is certainly different – more modern in its year and more oldies in its sound. It comes as no surprise that Easy Eye Sound (Auerbach’s new record label) holds the catchy slogan “Good Sound Comes Back Around.” Auerbach, though, is able to toe the line between copying the sound he wants to pay tribute to and creating new variations on that sound. So, yes, while Waiting on a Song would have fit the record players of long-haired 1970s-era teens, it still holds a uniquely modern spin that attracts listeners of all ages.

On a track-by-track sample of the album, George Harrison pops into mind, especially with “Shine on Me,” a lively guitar-driven ditty that was one of George Harrison’s staples during his post-Beatles solo career.

The song is carried by its rhythm, jaunty percussion matched with fragmented guitar strumming. Auerbach’s lyric matches the rhythm, persistent with its mention of smiling and shining. It’s almost a bit mawkish, but thankfully there is a brief riff that brings the song back to Earth. It’s a ditty of the finest variety and while I know many Auerbach/Black Keys fans are accustomed to a dirtier blues sound, this deviation is welcome, as it credits a time when music balanced fun and talent.

“King of a One Horse Town” is a bit more traditional Black Keys, but it takes the sooty blues and replaces it with a distorted spaghetti western. The song fits the soundtrack theme with its ethereal echoes and orchestral melodies. The way the twang is balanced by the string motif is masterful, and Auerbach’s vocals fit the piece neatly. It’s another original testament to songs from back in the day.

 

Top 10 Songs of 2016 – #10: “Ain’t No Man” by The Avett Brothers

24 Dec

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It is apropos that we begin this year’s countdown with a song off The Avett Brothers’ aptly-titled 9th studio album True Sadness. While the clamor labeling 2016 as one of the worst years in recent memory is a bit hyperbolic and overstated, The Avett Brothers’ hometown of North Carolina is no longer classified as a Democracy any longer, so perhaps there is legitimacy to those hoping 2016 let’s the door hit it on its way out in a week. That said, music in 2016 was at least halfway decent, and that means the annual Music Court’s Top 10 Songs countdown is underway. So, in a year of mostly downs, I bring you song number 10.

“Ain’t No Man” is carried by the best bass riff of the year. It is easily the best. The jaunty bass is splashed with clapping percussion and the jocular harmonic jabs of Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford, the purveyor of the aforementioned bass riff. The song is the genius of the Avetts, fit with an in-studio genesis from the musically-inclined brothers (oddly enough not the only brothers on the list).  The song stomps with a confident and bold lyric, which I’d say is needed to be listened to on repeat over the next week prior to entering the new year. Here’s the chorus:

There ain’t no man that can save me
There ain’t no man that can enslave me
Ain’t no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in
There ain’t nobody here
Who can cause me pain or raise my fear ’cause I got only love to share
If you’re looking for truth I’m proof you’ll find it there

It is akin to puzzle pieces connecting when a lyric fits a song. The potent, positive message just reflects the song’s joyful instrumental revelry. It is a ditty, topping out at 3:30 soaking wet, and it feels even quicker than that, so, take it from me, the song is best listened to on repeat.

#9 soon to come …

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