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Monday, May 25, 2009

Phoenix-Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

I was almost uncontrollably excited when I heard “1901” a few months ago. The aspect of a new Phoenix album on the horizon brightened my day like a ray of sunshine. Sure enough, the album came out, and it is my favorite release of theirs to date.

            Their music is the definition of European chic to me. It’s as though their music is dressed up in a tight leather jacket, skinny jeans, puffing on a slender cigarette with that effortlessly hip attitude.

            But these Frenchies aren’t just style, and they have a heck load of substance. Dubbed as a European Strokes, they have proved themselves more reliable than their NYC counterparts, crafting alternative rock as polished as a 70’s Corvette. They don’t disappoint with the new stuff either.

            The glossy “1901” paces back and forth over a fuzzy disco beat and zigzagging guitar. “Lisztomania,” the leadoff track, is as catchy as a cold, and songs like “Lasso,” “Rome,” and “Big Sun” show that the band refuses to let off the brakes as the cruise to a close.

            As glitzy and captivating as this record is, you’d be doing your self a disservice to not pick it up. Who knows? Maybe a little bit of that European cool will rub off.


Passion Pit-Manners

Discovering Passion Pit a few months ago with their EP “Chunk of Change”, I had high expectations going into their full-length release. They surpassed every hope I had.

            A must have for fans of MGMT and the like, Passion Pit’s “Manners” feels like a much more complete version of “Oracular Spectacular” with songs ranging from dance floor burners to full blown electro rock anthems. The whole record has the essence of being recorded in the depths of the ocean, splashing and diving with the glimmer of the moonlight overhead.

            The music bounces along like lighting through a thunderstorm, silver shimmers dancing across a gloomy skyline. They kick things off with the remarkable “Make Light” before throwing back to the 80’s with “Little Secrets.” “Sleepyhead,” a hold over from the debut EP, dazzles and splatters for a truly unique listening experience. Highlights come in the form of “Moth’s Wings” and “The Reeling,” which both uncover a glimpse of what feels like the future of music.

            If you feel like dancing, nodding, bouncing, kicking, rocking, and hopping, then this is the record for you. It’s got something for everyone, and everything if you want it all.

Miike Snow-Miike Snow

Miike Snow- Miike Snow

            This Swedish outfit provides the perfect summer cool down with their debut release. The side project of producers Bloodshy and Avant (the men behind releases from Christina Milian, Kylie Monogue, and even Britney Spear’s “Toxic”) enlisted friend Andrew Wyatt to create a sort of Scandinavian N*E*R*D*.  The result is a record that is unmistakably beautiful and undeniably cool.

            These boys must have been saving the best beats for themselves. The songs sound just as poppy as the music they had produced before, but with a much cooler edge. Frost tinged beats and icy swirls of synths make you feel like you are partying at an Antarctic dance club.

            “Black and Blue” glides around at a frantic pace, while “Silvia” sounds like the best OneRepublic song they never wrote. The band is firing on all cylinders with the two leadoffs to the album: “Animal” and “Burial.” “Animal” blips and hops along with an unforgettable hook. Then the blurry “Burial” whirls around like a blizzard viewed outside an icy window. The song won’t leave your head for days, and you won’t want it to.

            Miike Snow’s debut is a testament to how good unpretentious pop songs can be. Just leave it to the Swedes.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Red Cortez: The Opolis 5/19

To those of you who have not yet heard of Red Cortez, rush to the nearest computer and take a listen. No, they are not an extremist militant group. They are, in fact, one of the most interesting bands to burst on the scene in the past few years. Coming to the end of a three month long tour, the band made a quick stop in Norman this past week, and though the crowd was small, one by one, the crowd was slowly converted into a new legion of fans.

            Hailing from Los Angeles, the band has been quietly plugging away the last few years, honing their craft and getting rowdy on stage. But a band this good couldn’t stay hidden for too long.

            Over the past year, Red Cortez has exploded onto the scene. The launch began when Morrissey handpicked the band to open for him over a short jaunt across the US. It was then on to SXSW, an experience lead singer Harley Pritchel-Cortez described as “hectic, amazing, and unforgettable.” They got to open for bands as diverse as Black Lips, Delta Spirit, and Viva Voce. Since SXSW, the band has trekked across the States and has steadily amassed an army of fans.

            Opening for the likes of Tallest Man on Earth, the Submarines, and the Mother Hips, I am all but sure that Red Cortez has stolen the show nearly every time. The played to a sold-out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and were surprised and intrigued when the played a show for a strict Christian college in Indiana where the crowd participation was limited to clapping in a seated position after the conclusion of the song. If you have seen the band, you will know how hard it must have been to stay seated.

            Red Cortez live is an unforgettable experience. The crowd at the Opolis probably could have been counted using just your fingers and toes, but the second they rip into that first chord you feel like you are in a sold-out crowd at the Madison Square Garden.

            Pulsing with energy and passion, the band performs like their lives depend on it. The drummer plays on a small set, yet makes a sound bigger than dual drummers. Guitarist Calvin Love slashes and rips through the set, jumping into the crowd without missing a beat. The true spectacle is lead singer Harley Prichel-Cortez. He leaps between songs with the guitar, piano, and harmonica, howling and wailing the entire time. Witnessing the conviction he embodies brings to mind a maniac street preacher, twisting and turning like a gymnast. And the music doesn’t suffer for the theatrics.

            The music of Red Cortez is a puree of punk, bosa nova, blues, soul, and a rock and roll. These diverse influences make for an unmistakable. They bounce between frantic, hurried rock songs to gorgeous blues melodies with unparalleled expertise. “Fell on the Floor” exemplifies that energetic compassion they are known for on the stage. “All the Difference” shows just how light and beautiful they can play.

            So do yourself a favor and go take a listen. I know you will thank me. Just continue to spread the word.

TV on the Radio: Diamond Ballroom 5/18

TV on the Radio stomped through the Diamond Ballroom this past Monday. It was not a show to be missed.

            Most music fans are familiar with TVOTR in some facet. Whether unknowingly listening to “Wolf Like Me,” seeing them on Colbert Report, or reading about them in any of the countless “Best of the Year” articles. Their talent is undeniable. Their blend of rock with electro, jazz, and soul is unmistakable. Their performance at the Diamond was unforgettable.

            What TV on the Radio does best is capture the mood of America today. Much like Bruce Springsteen did in the 80’s and Nirvana did in the early 90’s, TVOTR holds that impeccable skill to capture the feeling of being alive in that timeframe. Their music is largely dark and brooding, but what makes it so exceptional is that ability to grasp that light at the end of the tunnel aspect in their music. There’s a very experimental, avant-garde facet to their songs, but being grounded in straightforward song structure makes the music accessible and remarkable.

            TVOTR’s recordings are complex and layered. It’s the quiet subtleties in their music that makes it feel complete. Sprinkled with synths, horns, and other unworldly tones, every release from the band is a music lover’s staple. The ability to translate these tunes to live shows will blow your mind away.

            The night started with Sweden’s Little Dragon warming up the crowd. Though bewildered at first, the crowd quickly grew more embracing of the band’s electronic soul jams. They proved the perfect opener for the maestros waiting backstage.

            The anticipation grew and grew as the stagehands worked to set up the equipment, you cut have cut the tension with a butter knife as the instruments laid their quietly on stage. Then the band hurtled onto the stage. The place erupted.

            The show began with the swirly “Whirlwind” and after some older, deeper cuts, the place really began to shake was the atmospheric “Halfway Home” churned throughout the ballroom. The crowd boogied along to the lively “Golden Age” before a collective shiver went through the spines of all in attendance as they launched into “Wolf Like Me.” We gazed and swayed along to “Love Dog” before “Staring at the Sun” burned through the crowd like a fire. They finished the set with the menacing “DLZ” that burst through the venue like a tornado, feeling as though the roof might just be torn from the foundation at any moment. For an encore Tunde hopped on the stage for a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Family Tree” before what felt like everyone back stage must have come up for a percussion dominated “A Method.” The night came to a close with “Young Liars” smoldering like embers as the crowd slow drew away.

            Though the Diamond Ballroom’s sound set up was less than suited for the aforementioned subtleness to some of their songs, it was, however, the perfect environment for the grittiness of songs like “DLZ” and “Wolf Like Me.”

            If you want a glimpse of what music is all about, make sure to catch TV on the Radio the next time the whirl through. I promise you won’t ever forget it.

Jacob Abello

Jacob Abello breezed through the Opolis Saturday night, sweeping the crowd into summer with bubbly pop tunes that warm the soul.

The show was originally meant to be a CD release party for his debut record, “Nothing But Gold,” but with the album just short of completion, the show turned into a celebration of another school year coming to a close and a musical career beginning to bloom.

The night was filled to the brim with optimism and happiness. People chatted the night away with conversations briefly breaking away for the music of the opening acts of the night: the Adventuretones, the Nghiems and Brian Webb. The Opolis felt truly alive, buzzing with energy while gorgeous melodies swept through the cat-plastered walls of the venue.

Anticipation came to a swell as the man of the hour sauntered onto the stage wielding an acoustic guitar. Abello, supported by a full band, dove into a set that swam between jaunty pop songs and unhurried, introspective ballads. With a shimmering gold curtain backdrop and working disco ball, the Opolis would briefly transform into Studio 54 with his dancier tunes before it would revert to a coffee house for his gorgeous, unassuming indie-pop. Abello’s flexibility and effortlessness left the crowd in wonder, gazing attentively at the stage, unable to look away.

The new songs are well-crafted pop tunes with a straightforward simplicity that is refreshing in an age of over-processing and production. Abello feels no need to hide behind production gimmicks and lets his heartfelt melodies speak for themselves. He confessed a love for cheesy pop music from the likes of Britney Spears, older influences like Fleetwood Mac and modern indie pop that he blends into a sound of his very own. He claimed that the more music you listen to, the more diverse influences and different ideas you get. You can’t argue his logic after listening to his immaculate pop tunes.

Talking to him briefly about the record, it is striking how simple the process was for him. Abello had been in love with music since birth, singing at family functions throughout his childhood. This passion gave way to him writing Christian music throughout his years at junior high and high school. However, after growing increasingly discontent with the state of the music industry, he quit writing music.

But he didn’t stay away for too long. He noted that “music was the only thing that I felt like I really loved doing. Going to concerts and such, it just felt like something that I really wanted to do.”

Yet Abello did not force the music out of him, he let it flow naturally. In fact, he did not even set out to write the new record, stating that he “didn’t really write the record for any reason; the songs just kind of came out. I kind of wrote songs just to write them, and that is where the record came from.”

That effortless approach led to a sort of refreshing stripped-down beauty that is hard to come upon in music anymore. Abello claimed that as much as he would love for the album to be huge success, he would be perfectly happy just sticking around here playing shows as well. That is just the sort of sentiment that makes you wish for his success even more, and if the awestruck crowd from Saturday night was any indication, he may very well be on his way.

Armed with a stunning voice, impeccable ear for melodies and effortless approach, Jacob Abello is poised for success. He just makes it all look so easy.