Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘album’ Category

Any Man In America

In album, music on August 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Justin Furstenfeld never claimed to write generic rock songs. The founding member, lead singer and guitarist of Blue October has penned six albums of autobiographical material, focusing on his stay in a mental institution in the mid-90s and subsequent recovery. His early albums (The Answers, Consent To Treatment, History For Sale, Foiled) are poignant, painful and intensely personal, resulting in some of the most sumptuous rock music recorded today. Justin’s new role as a proud father created a fresh, ebullient direction for the band’s last production, Approaching Normal, and opened doors for new musical possibilities.

Unfortunately, much has changed since we last heard from Blue October. The group’s newest album, Any Man In America, released on August 16th, centers on Justin’s bitter divorce and custody battle over his beloved daughter, Blue. There isn’t bone-breaking anger on this album; the pain is deeper, more confused and unresolved. Only two of the tracks edge toward the explosive rage that punctures previous albums. Justin’s vocal performance remains as intimate as ever, and you get the sense that he’s still working through the issues he sings about.

The musical composition of the album is gorgeous, and harnesses the tools that have made Blue October great since the beginning: inventive drums and a heavy reliance on strings, blended with Justin’s soulful, echoing vocals. The finished product is layered, complex and infinitely listenable. “The Feel Again (Stay)” and “The Chills,” both singles, sport a classic Blue October sound, and it’s brilliant. If anything, the band is too comfortable in its own sound, and, for the first time, willing to bend for commercial viability. Tropes that defined Blue October’s early success, like the use of voice mail recordings to open “Hate Me,” the band’s most famous single, feel tired when they’re used on half the album’s tracks. As well, the melodies take the easy way out on too many of the tracks, wending through deliciously experimental verses to hit choruses of obvious chord progressions.

The shift of subject material from psych wards to divorce courtrooms plays havoc with Justin’s lyrics. Arguably Blue October’s greatest strength till now, his lyrics have always bordered on the poetic, tackling weighty subjects with a descriptive, poignant script. Any Man In America is comprised of scenario-specific libretto, vacillating between strings of stream of consciousness, shrink-wrapped to fit Justin’s personal experiences, and overblown generalities, scrambling to encompass all human emotions. As a listener, I can’t empathize or identify with much of anything on this album. Several songs, including the title track and “The Flight (Lincoln to Minneapolis),” even experiment with rap solos and a weird, disjointed vulgarity that doesn’t let Justin’s poetry shine through.

In the end, Any Man In America has a sound that soars, but doesn’t make sense as a coherent whole. It’s a muddle of simultaneously potent and pedestrian emotions that never go far enough and end up vanilla. Justin may undergo a whole spectrum of passions, but he doesn’t own them; instead, he equivocates, and he leaves his audience out in the cold. The album doesn’t climax. It just feels unresolved.

Carving Initials Into Desks

In album, inspiration, music, romance, smile-inducing, women on April 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Something’s happened. Your day-dreaming quota is through the roof. You’re Facebook stalking like a pro. You find yourself compulsively hugging your knees and grinning like a Cheshire, or pogoing around your apartment and shrieking. Face it- you’ve got a crush on someone.

OH GOD.

What to do, you implore? Not much. Don’t overthink; don’t do anything too stupid; remember to eat once in a while. Your euphoria might not last forever, and it might not last the summer, and it might not last the week, but dammit, right now, it’s new and exciting and all your single friends are jealous. Now is awesome. Focus on now.

To add some extra height to that hop in your step, here’s a playlist for all you twitterpated punks out there (to be played in sequential order).

1. I’ve Just Seen A Face, The Beatles

2. Suddenly Everything Has Changed, The Postal Service

3. First Day Of My Life, Bright Eyes

4. Balance Beam, Blue October

5. Hands Down, Dashboard Confessional

6. Come Down With Love, Allstar Weekend

7. She’s Got You High, Mumm Ra

8. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, The Smiths

9. As Lovers Go, Dashboard Confessional

10. Die Alone, Ingrid Michaelson

11. Tiger Lily, Matchbook Romance

12. All My Loving, The Beatles

13. I Will Hold On, Moxy Fruvous

14. Giving Up, Ingrid Michaelson

15. Her Beautiful Ideas, The Guggenheim Grotto

16. Never Gonna Leave This Bed, Maroon 5

17. Parachute, Ingrid Michaelson

18. Blue Skies, Blue October

19. 18th Floor Balcony, Blue October

20. Take Over The World, Juliana Daily

Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

In album, music on November 22, 2010 at 12:11 am

Gerard Way has reinvented his hair. Again. First a jet-black mop, then a close-cropped bleach-blond military cut, Gerard’s tresses are now a stringy Crayola red. His ‘do seems to be a bellwether for the band he fronts, My Chemical Romance, whose first album in four years, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, was released today. Like the lead singer’s ever-changing aesthetic, Danger Days reveals a rock band made famous by nursing teenage wounds, struggling to find an identity as the scar tissue knits.

Danger Days’s conceit is vaguely theatrical, though not as self-important as MCR’s last album, The Black Parade, which took emo-pop to operatic levels. A loose narrative is constructed around the band trading the East Coast for the West, donning washed-out denim and taking up 1950s-inspired ray guns to fight bad guys, vigilante-style. Song titles, replete with slashes and parentheses, are as cryptic as ever. Radio reports interject between tracks, barely intelligible in their Kerouac-inspired verbal scatting. It’s a party-all-night album, with lots of futuristic blips, pops and fizzles lacing through lyrics about running away and living forever.

It’s a shame that Danger Days lacks visceral sentiment: the roughshod anger of I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, the adolescent desperation of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, the grandiose existentialism of The Black Parade. MCR is no longer raging against cruel high schoolers and lusting for blood. The band members are older, happier, and more settled than when we heard from them last. Gerard, for one, has a wife and baby daughter, and is six years sober. The Only Hope For Me Is You recalls some of the group’s deep teenage need, making it one of the album’s best tracks. The catchiest of tunes, Bulletproof Heart, opens with an anthem-like melody ensconcing nebulous lyrics: “Gravity / don’t mean that much to me / I’m who I’ve got to be / These pigs are after me.” Fully two songs use the lyrics “na na na” repeatedly, and when that becomes too trite, “uh uh uh”- a far cry from the poetic melange of irony and ire of previous albums. MCR should hope its die-hard fans aren’t listening too closely as they party till dawn.

La Roux

In album, british, concert, music, nyc, performance on November 20, 2010 at 9:55 am

La Roux, the British electro-pop group, performed its last concert of a two-year tour this week at New York City’s Terminal 5. The young band, while not without its minor flaws, revealed lots of potential for albums and tours to come.

Francis and the Lights, a duo with self-important hairdos, jump-started the show with no fanfare or introduction. Two young men, clad in black suits, drew on Ziggy Marley and Sting for their bass-heavy tunes. The lead singer was chronically ironic, cutting off his Kings-of-Leon-inspired vocals to perform a spastic dance break, a three-second drum solo, or shake a tambourine with dour hipsterness.

The second opening act, Far East Movement, is famous for their electro-hip hop single, Like A G6. The inexplicable yet catchy tune drew the likes of Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore, in the city to celebrate her birthday. The three rappers took the stage in skinny ties, skinny jeans and astronaut helmets lined with blue and red LED lights. The group’s explosive set and high-energy antics roiled the crowd into a slamming, jumping frenzy. Even Snooki waved along.

La Roux took the stage after a break that let the audience’s endorphins dip a bit too low. Two keyboard players and a drummer were snazzy in angular black and white suits. Elly Jackson, the lead singer and face of the group, swept onto the stage in a floor-length gold jacquard cloak and lots of silver jewelry, silhouetting her improbable hair against a flashing image of her golden disembodied head. Leaning close to the crowd, she rocked her way through the group’s eponymous album. Highlights included I’m Not Your Toy, Colorless Color, In For The Kill, Bulletproof, and a very good cover of the Rolling Stones’s Under My Thumb.

Elly’s strength is the audience’s adoration. Her fans were more excited to see her than to see her perform; at the end of each number, she stood stock still and the crowd went wild. Her somewhat flagging energy and awkwardly pained facial expressions betray her reported reluctance toward fame, which is a pity. When she really cuts loose, her tight, controlled movements, menacing grimaces and 80s-inspired footwork command tremendous power, amping up the show’s energy a hundred-fold. The sooner Elly realizes how fierce she is, the better.

Deserve Better Playlist

In album, inspiration, music, smile-inducing, women on October 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Let’s face it: you miss your ex.

He was sweet. He was comfortable. He was familiar. He was also a total loser and a creep, which is why you gave him the boot- but that doesn’t make it any easier to fill the hole he left in your life.

This is a playlist for the dumpers: those girls and boys who were honest with themselves, ended things quickly and cleanly, and still can’t get their erstwhile significant other off their minds.

I’ll be the first to say it: you deserve better. You deserve someone who can live up to your expectations, who’s cool and who thinks you’re cool too. Right now, you deserve time alone to wade through your confused feelings, knock back a few margaritas and begin your life anew. And dammit, you need a soundtrack while you do it.

Without further ado: the Deserve Better Playlist (to be played in sequential order).

  1. I Should Have Sent Roses, Elton John & Leon Russell
  2. Not Goin’ Cry, Mary J. Blige
  3. Gone, Ben Folds
  4. Turn The Lights Out When You Leave, Elton John
  5. Did You Give Enough Love, Celine Dion
  6. Once Was Love, Ingrid Michaelson
  7. Why Should People Stay The Same, Harry Chapin
  8. Sorry To Myself, Alanis Morissette
  9. Shesmovedon, Porcupine Tree
  10. Why Don’t You Love Me, Beyonce
  11. No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer
  12. When A Woman Doesn’t Want You, Elton John
  13. Been Down, Blue October
  14. Irreplaceable, Beyonce
  15. My Heart Dances, Elton John (from The Road To El Dorado)
  16. Stronger Than Me, Melissa Etheridge
  17. Better Than Me, Hinder
  18. I Look So Good (Without You), Jessie James
  19. Now I Feel Better, Ayo
  20. Stronger, Britney Spears
  21. U Should Know Better, Robyn feat. Snoop Dogg
  22. Can’t Touch It, Ricki-Lee
  23. Better Days, Bruce Springsteen
  24. Miss Independent, Ne-Yo
  25. Whole Lot Of Leavin’, Bon Jovi
  26. Strong Enough, Cher
  27. Independent Woman, Boy George (from Taboo)
  28. Love Is On The Way, Celine Dion
  29. Haven’t Met You Yet, Michael Buble

For your listening ease and pleasure, this playlist is also available on Grooveshark.

Birdsongs

In album, music, recommended on June 3, 2010 at 10:25 am

There’s glitter on the highway

And music on the PA

And everything’s all right with me.

-Take Over The World, Juliana Richer Daily


Juliana Richer Daily’s debut album, Birdsongs, has been both a long time coming and a very recent twist in the life of one very lucky girl. The unassuming three-track album earned its moniker from her childhood nickname, and mirrors the simplicity with which she approaches her blossoming music career.

The acoustic album benefits from its lack of bells and whistles. Juliana’s complex lyrics, full of teeth and fearless, rush over you, buoyed by sweeping melodies that will soar in your head and have you humming for days. Her voice, a soulful alto, is pure and truthful (and entirely untrained, though you’d never know).

You’d be wise to follow her on her brand spanking new website and her Youtube channel, chock full of beautiful covers and reinterpretations (and, I might add, 10,000+ subscribers strong). This girl is going places.

Full disclosure: Juliana and I have known each other since birth. I swear that fact does not skew my perception of her musical ability; she deserves every bit of praise I can give.

Obscure Christmas Albums

In album, children, holiday, list, music on December 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm

As Christmas draws wonderfully, tantalizingly close, the sounds of the holiday season may start to grate on you: in the shopping mall, in the grocery store, in your car. Don’t you wish you could have a bit of variety? Don’t you wish you could escape that looped track of “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”?

Never fear! Here are a few obscure Christmas albums and websites to spice up the seasonal drudgery that is Sir Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” played ad nauseum on your local radio station.

A Christmas Together, John Denver & the Muppets : Sing along to classic Christmas standards with your favorite furry friends. Recorded in 1979 for the Muppet television special of the same name, A Christmas Together pairs John Denver’s endearing simplicity with the madcap humor of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt and the rest of the Muppet performers. Who doesn’t want to hear Miss Piggy try (and fail) to lead a round of “Christmas Is Coming,” or Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem rock out to the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick”? (Spoiler: Animal yelling “Run run reindeer!” in the background is priceless.) The album has its poignant moments too: Robin crooning “When The River Meets The Sea” is perfect for snuggling with little ones by the fire.

More Twisted Christmas, Bob Rivers : One of the most irreverent parody singers all year round is at his best at Christmas. Bob Rivers’ album is composed entirely of wittily-parodied holiday tunes, including “Yellow Snow! Yellow Snow! Yellow Snow!” (Let It Snow), “Police Stop My Car” (Feliz Navidad), and the epic “Buttcracker Suite.” As a sampler of the lyrics you’ll get, the aforementioned Buttcracker Suite opens with “Thong! What a delightful gift idea / Thong! Magical shorts that disappear.” A great album for linguists, punny people, and anyone who likes classic rock, More Twisted Christmas will make it hard to breathe for laughing.

Note: Although I love this album, I can’t recommend Bob Rivers’ other Christmas compilations, including Twisted Christmas and Chipmunks Roasting On An Open Fire. The songs can be vulgar and almost racist.

A Rosie Christmas, various artists : This star-studded album by former talk show host Rosie O’Donnell is great fun for the whole family. The tunes are perky and filled with Rosie”s trademark enthusiasm. Each features an appearance from performers both young and old, from Sir Elton John, Celine Dion, Billy Joel and Cher to Elmo and Angelica Pickles. “Gonna Eat For Christmas,” with Gloria Estefan, is a sassy song that will resonate with all those slaving away in the kitchen this holiday season.

Last.fm Christmas tag radio : This station on Last.fm, one of the leading free listening music sites now coming into vogue, plays a wide variety of holiday favorites non-stop with few repeats. Artists range from Bing Crosby and Eartha Kitt to Jethro Tull and Mariah Carey, with some Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Weird Al Yankovic thrown in there too. The site requires you to create a (free) profile to listen in, but the great mix of old and new tunes you get makes it well worth it.

Finally, for those of you with a penchant for overdone 80s pop ballads, there is Last-Christmas.com, which catalogs every recording ever made of Wham!’s seasonal hit. If you don’t know all the words by heart already, I guarantee you will soon.

Happy listening!

The Fame Monster

In album, music on November 23, 2009 at 12:00 am

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year and a half, you’ve probably heard of Lady Gaga. The singer/songwriter/fashionista broke onto the music scene in August 2008 with her debut album, The Fame, and its first hit single, Just Dance. She has since had a meteoric rise to the forefront of the pop music scene, with shocking lyrics and crazy fashion in tow.

Now, in conjunction with her worldwide The Monster Ball Tour, Gaga has released The Fame Monster, her second studio album featuring eight new songs. The album’s first single, Bad Romance, premiered at the Alexander McQueen runway show in Paris on October 6. Its music video was released two weeks ago, to great online hubbub.

The Fame Monster is identifiably Gaga, and melds the enthusiastic energy of The Fame with the self-assured confidence that comes with worldwide recognition. Bad Romance and the new tracks Dance In The Dark and Monster retain Gaga’s infectious musical hooks and crazed, nonsensical lyrics. At the same time, Gaga is still running the gamut with new sounds, experimenting with synthesized Latin beats in Alejandro and baring her fangs with the dark and seductive Teeth. Gaga’s voice and writing fit comfortably into each of these sounds, embracing their essences while making them her own. Her ballads, Speechless and So Happy I Could Die, are excellently sung but less engaging than her upbeat club music. In a much-discussed collaboration-of-the-divas, the track Telephone features Beyoncé, who provides a vocal punch with her fierce cameo.

Gaga’s weakness in The Fame Monster is her lyrics. Some songs hold true to the the razor-sharp phrases of The Fame (“Silicone / Saline / Poison / Inject me, baby” opens Dance In The Dark.) However, some weaker tracks give way to lyrics that are ironic at best and banal at worst (Telephone labors under “I have got no service in the club, you see / What did you say? You’re breaking up on me”).This fault is a small one: Gaga’s talent at writing catchy, groundbreaking melodies is more than enough to make her songs into hits.

The Fame Monster was originally intended as an extended re-release of The Fame, with the new tracks added as a second disk, and it shows. The Fame Monster, while providing enjoyable dance-club fare, does not stand alone as an complete work. That said, the album drips with Gaga’s explosive personality and unparalleled showmanship, and is a solid contribution to securing her place as one of the forerunners of contemporary pop music.

The Fame Monster, by Lady Gaga, is released today, and is available for download on iTunes.