New Music: “Electric” – Cafeine

 

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Rock act Cafeine’s latest single “Electric” is a blast of ’80s new-wave with a bit of punk attitude thrown in for good measure.  The pounding drums give “Electric” an intensity and danceability that recalls early New Order. The distorted guitars add a bit of edge which attempt to muffle Cafeine’s shout/sung vocals. The background synths provide the song with a bit of iciness to the song making “Electric” poppy yet edgy at the same time.

“Electric” can be found on Cafeine’s new album New Love due out February 17th.

Check out “Electric” below:

 

For more info on Cafeine, check out his Facebook page.

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New Music: “The Loot” – Johnnie Lee Jordan

 

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There’s some fiery guitar work in the riffs that fuel Johnnie Lee Jordans’ “The Loot”.  It’s not flashy, but jagged and rough. There’s an edge to the playing that together with the pounding drums adds some drama to the song. Jordan doesn’t just sing over this noisy din, but rather around it.  It results in the ability to hear everything that takes place within the song. There’s just enough or a throwback in the approach to make it sound familiar, but it’s still forward enough looking to sound surprisingly contemporary.

“The Loot” can be found on Jordan’s debut album Run which is due for release on February 20th.  Check out the song out below:

 

 

For more info on Jordan, check out his web-site.

 

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New Music: “Our Ship” – Kin Cayo

 

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“Our Ship” is the latest single from indie rockers Kin Cayo which will be included on their debut EP due out later this year.  ”Our Ship” is an infectious, yet moody piece of melodic pop. “Our ship’s sailing into shore,” goes the chorus and the music with its Calypso-style guitar riff sounds exactly like that. You can almost feel the ocean rising and falling as the song moves along. The organic nature of the song is also layered with electronic drums and loops that seem to suggest that the travel isn’t exactly rocky for these travelers.  If “Our Ship” is any indication, Kin Cayo’s EP could be one of the most interesting pieces of indie rock to come out this year.

Check out “Our Ship” below:

For more info on Kin Cayo, check out their web-site.

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Retrospective: The Top 10 Albums of 2005

 

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I’m feeling a bit nostalgic at the moment and finding it hard to believe that 2005 was 10 years ago. Overall, 2005 was a pretty good year for music and saw quite a few artists releasing some of their best work. So here’s my Top 10 for 2005.  (In no particular order.)

“Come on Feel the Illinoise!” – Sufjan Stevens

Come on Feel the Illinoise! is a wordy, highly literate – just how many words and references can he throw in “Decatur”? – complex and musically ambitious album. It could easily fall under the weight of its own pretentiousness, but somehow it doesn’t. Managing to incorporate The Wall of Sound into a lo-fi record (particularly on the glorious “Chicago”, Stevens delivers not only the best album of his career but also one of the best of the 2000s. With a mix of folk, classical and even buzzing guitars (“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”) Come on Feel the Illinoise! reveals something new with each subsequent listen.

“Aha Shake Heartbreak” – Kings of Leon

Before they went mainstream (and downhill), Kings of Leon were a white-hot, dirty rock n’ roll band. Aha Shake Heartbreak shows that version of the band at its best: a strange hybrid of Allman Brothers Southern-boogie played with Stooges-style anarchy. Caleb Followill’s voice was nearly indecipherable as he belted out tales of his dick getting soft from too much drinking and threatening to take people down in a cock-fight. Every song is a classic and is an album the Kings never bettered. (Note: I’m going with the US release date in 2005, not the UK edition which was released at the end of 2004.)

“The Woods” - Sleater-Kinney

If Sleater-Kinney hadn’t decided to return with this month’s No Cities to Love, The Woods would be a hell of a way to go out. The Woods is a dark, furious beast of a record that crushes anything in its path. Janet Weiss never pounded so hard – check out her rolls on the opener “The Fox”. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker both deserve more recognition as guitarists- their interlocking riffs and wild feedback on “What’s Mine Is Yours” is the stuff of legend. Even the slower moments are dazzling as evident on the surprisingly poppy “Modern Girl”. At the time, The Woods was more than a fitting coda to one of America’s best bands. Glad to have them back.

“Cold Roses” – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Ryan Adams released two great albums (this one and Jacksonville City Nights) and one underwhelming one (29) in 2005. What sets Cold Roses apart from the other two is the lack of self-importance. On Cold Roses, Adams seems relaxed and embracing his inner American Beauty.  The highlights are many: “Sweet Illusions” is breathtakingly gorgeous, “Let it Ride” makes Adam seem command of the world’s best bar band. And “Easy Plateau” might be the best Alt-Country song he ever recorded.

“Welcome to Jamrock” – Damian Marley

I’ve always thought that the musical children of Bob Marley rely too much on his name and music and have never carved out a career of their own. Damian Marley, however is the exception wisely choosing to infuse hip-hop (in his case, “toasting”) into his musical heritage. The title track is a vivid portrait of Jamaica’s dark underbelly where “people are dead at random”.  The driving opening track “Confrontation” is a perfect showcase for Marley’s fast-paced vocal dexterity. The highlight is the Nas’ assisted “Road to Zion” who (naturally) gives an absolutely flawless verse.

“Silent Alarm” – Bloc Party

As far as debut albums go, Silent Alarm is a pretty good one. There’s a razor shape focus in the songwriting and delivery which is only amplified with the jagged guitars and dramatic drumming. The post-punk aggression in many of the songs makes the earnestness easier to swallow.  Make no mistake, Silent Alarm is a political album but it’s the quieter and apolitical moments like the soft “So Here We Are” that are the most memorable.

“Z” – My Morning Jacket

 Z found My Morning Jacket ditching their trademark reverb-heavy sound for a warmer vibe and deconstructing several different styles throughout. “Wordless Chorus” is psychedelic soul at its best: a showcase for Jim James’ to truly show his vocal shops during the outro. “Off the Record” is charged by a classic guitar riff, before sliding into a pseudo-reggae coda that reminiscent of both “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and “Layla”. A landmark achievement for the band, Z is endlessly inventive and rewarding.

“Plans” – Death Cab For Cutie In the mid-2000’s, Death Cab For Cutie found themselves at a crossroads much like late 80’s R.E.M.  Both acts received critical acclaim for their indie albums and questions arose what a major label debut would do to their sound.  Plans unlike Document (which boasted a heavier sound for R.E.M.) isn’t a radical departure for Death Cab, but rather a summation of what they do best: weary mid-tempo ballads that mixed with a few rockers for good measure. Plans achieved a rare feat of bringing in new fans while also satisfying the old ones.

“Arular” – M.I.A.

Arular is what happens when Sandinista! meets hip-hop and eletroclash.  Arular is a radical album on all fronts and is the first indication that not only does M.I.A. not shy away from controversy, but tends to thrive on it by writing songs about terrorism and snipers in Sri Lanka. Musically, the album is a barrage of sounds from all corners of the world mashed up together brilliantly. Bonus points for also sampling The Sanford and Son theme song. Not for the faint of heart, but a riveting record all the same.

“Late Registration” – Kanye West

Late Registration is probably remembered most for “Gold Digger” which was everywhere. But Late Registration is the album where West truly solidified his status as a visionary. Deciding to move away from the Soul-sample heavy sound of The College Drop-Out, West ups the ante by incorporating string sections and chamber music throughout Late Registration. Lyrically the template for his later works start here: biting social commentary mixed with boasting and self-deprecation. Easily one of West’s best works.

 

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Exclusive Interview with Dreaming Bull

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A few weeks back, I previewed Dreaming Bull’s newest video, “Feed Us.”  I recently checked in with Gabe and Nick from Dreaming Bull to talk about a variety of things and get their thoughts on their new EP (due out February 3rd).  The band will also be making an appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly on February 4th.

Your initial meeting, mutual respect for the blues and subsequent formation of the band reminded me a bit of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards meeting on a train — that rock and roll myth.  Do you think you guys were destined to meet each other?

Gabe: I think it was all destiny. We were both doing our own thing and we didn’t have any inclination it would turn out this way.  It was pre-destined.

Nic: Definitely. It was funny the way it happened and it felt very cosmic. It’s definitely something keeps pushing us forward and keeps pushing ourselves to create as we do in Dreaming Bull.

I think what makes your music so powerful is how you take the blues – a very old genre and manage to make it sound new and contemporary.  What is about the blues do you think that cause musicians to keep reaching back to it for inspiration?

Gabe: I think like any art-form, if you look the beginning of any of the masters paintings, they had to look at the grandfathers in their field. We look at rock and roll that way: who created the genetic make-up?  Who are the people that did that? We understand that we are ultimately a rock and roll band. In order to get the best of rock and roll is to go back and study the old masters. For us, it’s not just the blue but also a lot of Gospel.  We love that stuff; we’ll go back have some beers and watch some old videos from the ‘40s, ’50s, 60’s.  There’s a lot of great stuff online now. You can hear people like Al Green covering these old gospel songs that were made 100 years and you start realizing, “That’s where it’s at.”

Your music has been featured on “Suits” and “Sons of Anarchy”.  Decades ago, bands would have scuffed at the idea of their music being used for television shows, etc.  How did those collaborations come about?

Nic: I’ve never personally scoffed at that stuff and I’ve worked at advertising.  10 years back it was a purist thing. Maybe it’s a sign of my age, but it’s kind of the norm.  It’s one of the few ways to get your music out there these days.

Gabe: Everyone’s focus because has changed because the whole industry has changed. No one’s saying, “I’m going to be a purist, I want to be the next Springsteen.”  They’re not fucking signing anybody anymore. One of the main ways to make money is to get your songs on television.

Tell me a bit about the recording of your new EP, DB EP.  Did you have anything particular set in mind when you made it?

Nic: It’s a catchy but eclectic piece of art that we’re pretty excited.  It’s an evolution, sonically but it still has Gospel cues and Blues cues.  

Gabe: The writing process was slightly different.  Nick mixed the living hell out of them.  There is one cover on there — a psychedelic cover of War’s “Low Rider”.  It’s a quirkier, more aggressive version of “Low Rider.”  

One of the things that stands out about your drumming Gabe is your ability to be loud and powerful while still maintaining a groove.  How do you approach the beats you come up with?  

Gabe: I grew up playing punk rock and hip-hop, but there was always Soul and Gospel as a kid, so my heart was always there. I spent a couple years doing classic rock.  As a punk drummer, you learn to hit hard and to last a long time. When I hit hard, the ground shakes and it keeps me in the center of the song. I just love it.  As I’m getting older, the drummers that get me so excited are Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, AC/DC’s Phil Rudd and the drummer from Judas Priest.

Now that you’ve got the album out , what’s next for you guys?

Gabe: We’re working on getting ourselves out there. We’re hitting our stride with recording.  We’re going to be on Last Call with Carson Daly on February 4th. We’re hoping for a really positive outcome and going on the road.

 

Check out “Smile On Your Face” below:

 

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New Music: “Ain’t Easy” – Fox Street

 

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Colorado’s Fox Street has often been compared to Alabama Shakes and The Tedeschi Trucks Band. On their latest single, “Ain’t Easy” Fox Street takes several genres (Soul and Blues in particular here) and makes it their own.  Over a Soul-inspired beat and sparse guitar chords, the song pulls you in from the first few seconds. There’s an easiness to the song that never feels forced even when a Wah-wah powered guitar seems to come out of nowhere. The last minute of the song is the best: the drums, organ and bass all lock in together to give the song a rather nice coda.

“Ain’t Easy” is the first single from the band’s forthcoming new album due out this spring. For more information on Fox Street, check out the band’s web-site.

Listen to “Ain’t Easy” below:

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Review: “Be Yourself” – Dimestore Prophets

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The Dimestore Prophets latest EP, Be Yourself is all about grooves and feel good vibes.The band’s semi-acoustic approach to rock and reggae that wouldn’t sound that out of place on mid-90’s rock radio.

It’s an approach that  mostly works because the band sounds solid as they fall into a relaxed and easy rhythm that moves along at its own pace. That makes it the perfect soundtrack for a laid-back afternoon at beach-side bar or a college party. Unfortunately, it also makes it hard to distinguish one song from another.

When they do venture out of their comfort zone as evident on the ballad, “Draw For Love” the results are mixed. It’s nice to hear the band attempt a darker tone, but they still remained locked in their laid-back sound. If they had abandoned it and let their guard down, “Draw For Love” could have been a real highlight.

Overall, Be Yourself sounds good when you’re listening to it. It’s easy to get up caught up in the band’s happy-go-lucky attitude. But once you hit stop, it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

 

 

To listen to Be Yourself, check out the band over at Bandcamp.

 

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Review: “Radio Sister” – Dave Phaeln

 

 

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Much of Dave Phaehn’s Radio Sister sounds like adult contemporary pop of the late 70’s and early ’80’s. It’s not hard to imagine that many of these songs could be included on the soundtrack for an early ‘80s New York romantic comedy. The pristine production, slightly funky grooves and jazzy saxophones evoke feelings of Manhattan during the Reagan-era. With that in mind, it’s no surprise then that many of these songs were actually recorded in the early 1980s and shelved until now.

Many of the songs found on this set are ear-worms, particularly the title track and “Better Things to Do”. The melodies aren’t immediate, but linger in your head for hours afterwards. Much of that credit can be given to the background vocalists whose refrains and wordless chants who give the sometimes stiff performances a bit of needed soul and grit. The same goes for Phaehn’s scorching harmonica solos. If his licks were played against a white-hot blues band, the results would be stunning.

The best moments on Radio Sister are the rare ones where Phaehn actually lets loose and gets back to his bluesy roots. The rollicking “Soda Fountain” makes you want to get up and dance with its short musical battle between a saxophone and Phaehn’s harmonica.

And in complete contrast to the slick production found on the rest of the album, Radio Sister ends with a stripped down medley of Lead Belly songs and the front-porch blues of “Stranger Blues” . It’s just Phaehn’s voice and some hand claps, but he does his best to conjure up the ghost of the delta, and damn does he come close. Equally impressive is the front porch blues of “Stranger Blues” where Phaehn really shows off his harmonica skills. You don’t even have to close your eyes too tightly before you can see a keg of moonshine at his feet.

There’s a lot to like on Radio Sister but too often it seems stuck in the 1980s. When Phaehn removes himself from that era and dives back to a a more transcendent time is where Radio Sister truly shines. Those tracks are worth sticking around for.

For more info on Dave Phaeln, check out his web-site.

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My Life in 33 Songs: #18: “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes (Or Going to a Ravens Game on Thanksgiving Night With My Father)

 

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On Thanksgiving night in 2013, a little bit before dinner my brother made my wife and I offer that  was too good to refuse: his tickets to that night’s Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has season tickets but because of the holiday did not want to go. Naturally, I immediately jumped at the chance. My wife, despite loving football was a little more hesitant because it was supposed to be a really chilly night. But knowing how much I wanted to go, she still would have gone with me. After a little while, she suggested that I go with my father instead.

As soon as I told him, my father starting rummaging around my brother’s house looking for warmer clothes. I could immediately tell that it made him happy to go with me. There was an unspoken acknowledge between us: years earlier the thought of the two of us attending a football game together seemed ridiculous.

It’s not like I didn’t like spending time with my father. On the contrary. Yet football was an entirely different matter. As a kid, I hated football and couldn’t understand why he would spend Sunday afternoons watching it. The games seemed to go on forever without anything actually happening. I couldn’t relate to his anger and frustration at seeing the his favorite team, Washington Redskins lose time after time. Why would anyone want to put themselves through that?

It wasn’t until six or seven years ago that I finally came around to football due in large part to spending Saturday afternoons drinking and watching Notre Dame games with two of my closest friends. At first I just used the games as an excuse to drink on Saturday afternoons, but eventually I found myself not only enjoying the games but becoming a fan of the Irish as well. It also helped that my wife is a big supporter of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and we have since attended several games together.  Living in Baltimore has given me little choice but to be a Ravens fan.

As we made our way to the stadium through the large crowd, it felt good to be with my dad. There seemed to be an openness to our conversations that is not always there. I could tell he felt similarly. His mood was so jovial that he even joked around with the people around us.

Mid-way through the game, the familiar boom of “Seven Nation Army” blasted through the  stadium loudspeakers. Almost immediately, the crowd began to chant the song’s famous guitar riff. “What is this song?” My dad asked, not being too familiar with popular music. “I hear it all the time in English Soccer games.”  I explained to him that it was a song by the White Stripes and wasn’t originally intended to be a sports anthem. For someone who didn’t particularly like rock music or why I love it so much, he seemed genuinely interested and even got caught up in the crowd’s chant.

When “Seven Nation Army” debuted in 2003 on The White Stripes’ Elephant album, I could not have predicted that it would become such a world-wide phenomenon at sporting events, let alone that my father would know the melody and chant it.  And I’m not even sure Jack White could have predicted its popularity.

Though it might seem normal now (and maybe even cliche) now, in all honesty, “Seven Nation Army” is a fucking weird song to be a hit outside of the rock world. It’s fueled in part by paranoia and a massive yet repetitive guitar riff that never wavers but only changes in octaves. The guitar solo contains the same chords as the main riff. And to top it all off, there’s no chorus. Like The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the main riff is one that you can’t get out of your head no matter how much you try. The riff (sometimes mistaken as a bass guitar due its deep, thick sound) is the melody that drives the song. If the song is stuck in your head, you hum the riff, not Jack White’s vocals.

Though he can sometimes come off as cantankerous, Jack White seems humbled and bemused by the whole thing. As he related to Conan O’Brien last summer, “People come up to me all the time, and they think it makes me mad for some reason. I don’t know why they think it upsets me. As a songwriter, that’s the greatest thing that could ever happen. It becomes folk music.”

It’s hasn’t quite become reached that level, but it’s not far off. Watch any football game and you’ll hear marching bands play the song in the background. Many teams use the song to entice crowds who chant the song with glee. It’s on its way to becoming the “We Will Rock You” of the 2000s.

For fans of the Ravens, the song has a particular resonance. As the “pump up” song for thee crowd, it’s played at virtually every home game the Ravens play and it ignites the crowd in a way that nothing else does. Even some of the players have taken note of its power. Following the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory in 2013, former safety Ed Reed led the faithful through a chant of the song at a victory parade in MT&T Bank Stadium.

Interestingly, “Enter Sandman”, Joe Satriani’s “Crowd” and Shinedown’s “Diamond Eyes” along with “Seven Nation Army” were all original contenders for the “pump song”.  A few years ago, the Raven’s web-site called for song submissions and hundreds of requests were received. Coach John Harbaugh was then given the task of breaking the submissions the down to five. It wasn’t a landslide, but “Seven Nation Army” was clearly the winner. Ever since then, the song has become a regular part of Ravens home games.

I wish I could have explained all that to my dad. As it was, spending Thanksgiving night in the cold watching a Ravens victory over the Steelers was more than enough. As we left the stadium, I remember thinking that I wanted to make a tradition of going to a game with him every year. Just last month, we did exactly that. I hope we can go sometime next year too. Maybe I’ll make a Ravens fan out of him yet.

 

 

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New Song: “Black & White TV” – Menage

 

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Toronto-based power-pop act Menage’s “Black & White TV” is an electro-tinged mid-tempo number driven by a classical sounding guitar line which stems from their Portuguese heritage. That combination makes for an interesting listen as the song sounds organic and other worldly at the same time.

The band is currently at work on a new EP.

Check out “Black & White TV” below:

 

For more info on the band, check out their web-site.

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