Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hanni El Khatib Can Pull Head from Dirt on Sophomore

Hanni El Khatib - "Head in the Dirt"
Innovative Leisure
-out April 30
3.5 / 5

L.A.-based garage-rocker Hanni El Khatib arrives with this second album, a Dan Auerbach-produced affair (headman of the Black Keys, if you were wondering), and it has his influence all over it. Grimy, fuzzy guitar, straight rocking hooks, even vocals that seem Auerbach puts air to. In fact, it's a little hard to put it apart from Auerbach's 2009 solo album "Keep it Hid," except that "Head in the Dirt" eschews wind chimes and all the other extras in favor of guitar and drums. So what do we get, then? Ultimately, it's a good album, but Auerbach is too influential here, and what we really get is a ghost of an Auerbach album; a fine impersonator, and entertaining, but ultimately shy of the real thing.

The two singles off it are "Family," a hard-rocking affair, and "Penny," with a goofy and playful hook to it. They're good, we'll say as much. And these other tracks are equally good, too. "Nobody Move" is the one main regret, as it tends to overstay its welcome, with a very bland and repetitive chorus. But as we said before, there ain't much of a reason to pick this album up over the excellent "Keep it Hid," and it doesn't seem to have much personality beyond what Auerbach has given it. It's just another good take on the garage genre, and it doesn't really stand tall enough for us to run screaming to the store over it.

Khatib has a rocking time, enough that we can recommend this one. But there are definitely other albums you should get first.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Young Galaxy's Ultramarine not Ultra-Gem

Young Galaxy - "Ultramarine"
Paper Bag Records
-out April 23
3 / 5

It's sweet summer electronic pop that we get from Montreal's Young Galaxy, five musicians on their fourth album. It's shimmery, mid-tempo driven with clear female vocals, and as much as we want to like it (and we kinda do), we're finding it a bit plain and unadorned. Sure, it can be a cool dip in the water to summer's unrefined heat ("Hard to Tell"), but it lacks depth and resilience; it doesn't feel all that special, doesn't give us the heebie-jeebies when we spin it up. We're not sure where this one should go; perhaps a bit more layering; perhaps pick up the beat a bit more, spin it on different wavelengths. Yes, perhaps that is it, perhaps it is a matter of using the same tempo. Regardless, we're coming down on the negative side of things, despite the otherwise fun and glam-y feel.

Our favorite of the tracks must be "Pretty Boy," a four-star opener with a build that drives harder than a Mac-trucker. It's got great balance between the build and the chorus, excellent layered parts, as you can see below. Our next favorite, then, is "Out The Gate Backwards," which also has a whole slew of layers; it's more upbeat and dance than the three tracks that lay between them. But ultimately, Ultramarine is the kind of album you're going to spin up a few times and forget. Sure, it's got great seasonal timing if you're in the upper hemisphere, but it doesn't run wild, it's not untamed fun, glorious explosions of bliss. It scratches the itch, and nothing more. Tracks like "Fever" are just pure bass, and quite frankly, we need more than just bass. We need pop bubbling up, threatening to drown us in imagination and discovery, which is mainly what is missing from this release.

So feel free to pick up Ultramarine; it's put together well, it sounds good, and it generally gets there. But we're not expecting it to last much longer than a week on your player, with its played-everywhere beats. It is a solid attempt, but we're going to recommend you take a pass.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Victory comes off with one for debut

Victory - "Victory is Music"
Reserva Records
-out April 23
3.5 / 5

Pop has gotten deep-funky bass all over the place with L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist Victory, aka Robert Fleming. His debut is appropriate to the late-night scene on the other coast: cheery, surf-rock tunes mixed with cybernetic, street-cruising groove juice. It's the perfect kind of driving music, at times, mixed with aloha summer sweetness ("Dirty Jeans"), the kind of vibrant, quirky album which is only missing a few things, namely, a lawn chair and a drink with one of those cheap little umbrellas. While the music passes muster here, we were hoping a little more on the fuzzy bass and dance-y quality to a few of the tracks here, as that's where Victory channels his muse the hardest.

But it's still good fun. "Play It" is that kind of track that sends you cruising, searching for burgers or drinks or ladies, we don't know what. This is the track that fuzzes out that bass the worst, gets it all flipped over in a grand hook, vocals echoed over it, chanting. It's pure fun, light, fluff, and we love it. System Strange is the next bass-heavy track on our list, and gets another nod from us for its joyous groove. Victory is Music does mix it up heavily, and we do appreciate that, but then you naturally get "Records" with it's surf-rock mentality, and "Lazy Art," which tries for a fairly plain swagger and laziness. Win some, lose some, ultimately, which you can afford to do when the average play-time is about two thirty.

This album isn't going to win any awards, but it is a fun pop-romp, and we greatly enjoy "Play It" and the opener. It's good music, just makes the cut, and comes off recommended.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dawes' Latest Stories Are Stone-Solid

Dawes - "Stories Don't End"
HUB Records
-out today
4 / 5

It's great that Dawes' follow-up to their lukewarm 2011 "Nothing Is Wrong" has such memorable choruses and warm, tingly vocals, because we were getting a little worried for a bit. Stories Don't End, the latest by the L.A. quartet, is at times rocking, at times retrospective and wistful, always heartfelt. What we didn't get from him last time, deep, involved vocals, is what sells the act this time around: Taylor Goldsmith gives his performance enough oomph so as to not sink into what tends to be an un-groove for him, given the mid-tempo nature of these songs. Add to that his excellent lyric-writing, and you get an excellent mid-range rocker like this one.

"Just My Luck" and "Someone Will" are more downtempo than the rest, and come off a little sleepy; that is our only complaint about this album. They are average; when you get to "Most People," with a great chorus, one that demands you learn it and sing along, then we know we're getting some of their stronger material since their debut North Hills. It bounces, it sways, it struts in such a perfect groove that it just infects you with its joy and simplicity. The opener, "Just Beneath the Surface," finds itself with a similarly great chorus, shared by brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, hits straight home, no country roads or roundabouts, just direct, no superfluousness. Their vocals seem to open up more on this album, bringing a warmer sound to their songs, something more inviting and less stiff, which sometimes happens with this young band.

Stories Don't End is the kind of album you want in your car; it has clear vocals, good stories attached to the songs, and again, those wonderful, singable choruses. We admit we've been fans of this crew since Taylor Goldsmith's collaboration on "Middle Brother," but now, there's finally a second solid Dawes album worth owning, other than North Hills. Recommended.

Exciting literary news!

Hello all and ones! We figure we'd show you our book cover photo cause right now we're officially coming out of the closet and identifying ourselves as a basement writer. So, okay, that's James Joyce; nonetheless, we've got a collection of short stories that we're actively looking for readers and feedback on. It's called "The Keeper of Dreams: A Dozen Stories and Poems," and it's a quick 140 pages of pure unadulterated delight. Here's a sample of what you'll find within. So email us here at that address up top (mkeefer007 [at] gmail [dot] com) to let us know you want to read these stories and tell us which ones you liked and which ones you didn't.
And don't worry, we've got a review coming up today fer ya, too. It'll be here, we promise!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Not enough color on Black Angels' Indigo Meadow

The Black Angels - "Indigo Meadow"
Blue Horizon Ventures
-out today
3 / 5

The Austin, TX foursome is on their fourth album of hard, psychedelic rock. Our biggest question about this album is how the group makes a rocking-out album that, with each playing, feels a bit stagnant. They hit all the checkboxes, lyrics, vocals, guitar licks, but the end result is an album that doesn't invigorate psychedelic rock. They feel as if they are standing in place, which is never a good thing for a band.

Their single is great: "Don't Play With Guns." It's the most singable of the tracks, written as a rock anthem about, yes, guns and violence. It leaves the strongest impression of the baker's dozen on this album because it is well-balanced, simple, and goes straight for it. To use another analogy, they pulled the trigger here (ha ha, we know). But tracks like "The Day" are plodding, and don't seem to be about all that much. There isn't much of a story, there. We've tried to get into this album several times, as the vocals are appropriate, as well as the guitar, but that's the problem: everything seems appropriate to the genre. There isn't anything that particularly jumps out at us here, nothing brilliantly creative and new. In the end, Indigo Meadow is simply a collection of predictable psychedelia, the kind that doesn't quite stretch itself far enough to make something of itself.

So try "Play With Guns," but take it from us, the rest is mildly disappointing. Take a pass.