Monday, July 2, 2007

2007 Midseason Report

Note: A podcast may shortly be followed:


1. Kaddisfly - Set Sail the Prairie.
A work of art and journey of musical styles and flavors. Kaddisfly have broken through and grown immensely with this record. Having listened to it 100+ times over the last twelve months, speaks volumes for it's quality and demand to be played repeatedly. Like many classic albums, this one continues to grow on you and reveals new things about it over time and familiarity. The cracking chips for example in "Harbor" is a good example of that. Very much greater than the sum of all it's parts. And it has reached me on a spiritual level, which makes it worthy of my favorite record this year. The Summer, Fall, and Winter of 2006-07 will always be known for the time of Setting Sail on the Prairie for me.

2. Fair to Midland - Fables From a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True. A band I first heard over a year ago. Like Mew last year, I would say I benefited from time away and a 2nd assessment to fully gain the desire to discover this band. "Inter.Funda.Stifle" still is a well put together, complete record. And very much a big progression from this band's debut record. But it's amazing how some re-arrangements, polishing, and especially mastering can up the level of the impact of a song or band's sound as a whole. David Botrill does deserve a lot of credit for the clarity and improved tightness of these songs and quality of the compositions. It flows incredibly well, from headbanger, catchy melody, heavy-hook, to soaring ballad. They hit on all cylinders without excessiveness on every track. The versatility of Andrew their singer is a trademark on here; and really of the Fair To Midland sound. The concept could be loosely similar to Aesop's fables or other childhood fairy tales. As well, as the premise of the film "Big Fish" perhaps. Those fictional imaginings even translate to the artwork, with quotes and characters from each track on each page.

This is a record you can play over and over, infusing energy and adrenaline that is not frequently found from start to finish. At 48 minutes, it is a perfect example of less being more, leaving you for wanting maybe a tad more. That extra chunk is the only thing preventing this from taking the crown. But it's damn near close, as after 3 months, it's still reliable and sounds fresh to my ears and mind.

3. The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning of and All Things Regarding Ms.Leading. Casey Crescenzo's first full length LP since departing from The Receiving End of Sirens, a band who seemed to capture a lot of his genius on the only record he participated in. Casey's 2006 precursor EP "ACT I" and debut of The Dear Hunter, became something that caught me by storm, thus building up more interest in this one. While this record is quite different in many ways from "Act I" it does display more of why I believe he is one of the most talented young songwriters to arise this decade, This record is an epic chapter to the premise of this project. It's a story of "Hunter" as he's known, trials and tribulations, mostly involving a callgirl. A Rock Opera of sorts, similar in the tradition of The Who's "Tommy" to an extent, but not as story-based literally. Where he shines is creating the beauty and magic of what Brian Wilson was known for. The happy, barbershop vocal harmonies, and 60's style melodies. Beyond those, many songs recall older styles like ragtime and country blues. Putting aside the lyrical use in "Red Hands," it is about as orchestral and melodic a song as you'll hear this year. Every radio station on the globe should be playing it. "Dear Ms.Leading" is another that the more you hear it, the more you love it. Really the entire record is without a boring moment. As much as this one is long, there is enough flow and depth here, that it really works immensely well as an Epic record.

4. 3 - The End Is Begun. In hearing this (finished demos from a promo) one for a few weeks now, it's clearly to me my favorite 3 studio record. It is without a bad song, and includes a handful of tracks that work extremely well. And like many addictive records, the songs definitely start to grow on you over a few times. Lyrically it seems somewhat cynical and politcal about the state of things globally and the future. But that does not detract at all from the flow and quality of the songs. "My Divided Falling" and "Serpents in Disguise" may be the two strongest tracks overall. The former being complex, progressive, and aggressive, the latter being highly catchy, but still having punch. Many other songs have that punch and muscle that make this a great record. "The Word Is Born of Flame" and "The End Is Begun" also have punch and the groove element that 3 are known for, along with an infectious march that soaks you into the feel and flow of the album right off the bat. Once more people get to hear this record, they may not be able to avoid acknowledging how polished it is. With their recent exposure opening for Porcupine Tree and the newer fans who caught on to the band when "Wake Pig" was re-released, this could be the breakthrough this band deserves finally.

5. House of Fools - Live And Learn. This debut record from North Carolina's House Of Fools is very impressive. Noted in "Alternative Press" in 2006 for being one of "100 Bands You Need To Know" this album took a bit of time to finally come out. But it was well worth the that time. A concept album of sorts, that deals with primarily introspective and social situations. It flows remarkably well, never dragging. Capturing a lot of what many of the Classic Rock bands did in the 70's, one will notice hints of artists like Queen and Paul McCartney. The vocals are mostly minimalistic, which seems to really suit the House Of Fools sound well. Ballads, interludes, Ragtime themes, and even just clever catchy pop songs all work perfectly from beginning to end. Tracks like "Until It's Over," "My Life Before Today," "Better Part of Me," "Kiss the Haze," and the title track give an incredibly uplifting feeling. "Go Down" "Coke And Smoke" and "Interested" are also three other incredibly infectious songs that include things like a piano part, or guitar melody that you seem to find yourself loving. This is probably thus far, the most notably overlooked record of 2007. Whether it is that way in a year or two remains to be seen, but in the mean time, this is one band and album I will not stop singing the praises of. It unexpectedly impressed me a ton. And will go down as one of the best debuts this year and a very significant release on that big day of March 6th, 2007.

The Next Group

Avoiding ranking these seems fine for now since we are only 6 months in and more importantly, none of these seems vastly superior to the others thus far. But all of these albums have been in regular rotation to an extent this year, having many songs to want to go back to and hear each.

Kiss Kiss - Reality Vs. The Optimist. Very flowing debut disc. The length is the only issue, but they do make the most of the 32 minutes it is. Quite original style of Chamber, Progressive, and PostHardcore you could say. Love their string melodies in "Stay the Day" and "Vagabond" especially.

Bloc Party - A Weekend In the City. Another record that flows exceptionally well. No bad tracks on this, although some of the songs at times can sound samey. But it turned me into a fan, reminding me what i love about bands like Muse and U2. "Uniform" is probably the most *progressive* and biggest winner overall on this one. Lyrically it is quite dark however.

Silverchair -Young Modern. It is being released in the US on July 24th, this definitely is not a disappointment for newer Silverchair and Daniel Johns fans. About four or five tracks really sound grandiose and catchy, including the two singles "Straight Lines" and "Reflections of a Sound."

Pain of Salvation - Scarsick. Hardly their best, but through time this record does get better and better. The biggest moments do rank up there in the history of the band's best work. "A Flame to the Moth" "Scarsick" "Idiocracy" and "Enter Rain" all are included. The rest of the album is part of this record's "sound" and may get even better over time. Maybe the most unusual track "Disco Queen" is one that probably qualifies already, as the that one includes some incredible moments.

Fields - Fields. Somewhat unknown, this british group share some of the best qualities that bands like Pure Reason Revolution and Mew have. The Vocal and songwriting approach. They aren't as *progrock-like* as them, but they have some of the heavy riffs those groups or bands like Muse or Bloc Party have. But also a very strong emphasis on acoustic and folks stylings. "Song For the Fields" is an obvious highlight, but tracks like "The Death" "Feathers" and "If You Fail We All Fail" are as well. An impressive debut record.

Aereogramme - My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go. A Scottish band that was around for a number of years prior to this release, this one possibly has received the most distribution, but sadly it may be their last as the band announced not long after it's release their breakup later in the year. Maybe not necessarily a reason to martyr-ize a band, but there are a handful songs on this one. "The Running Man" maybe being my favorite. "Barries" "Exits" "Living Backwards" and "Trenches" all have some great moments. The ethereal and atmospheric. The pretty, ambient, and heavy riffs this band combines well, which is one of the best things I love about a band like Mew or Klimt 1918.

Stateless - Stateless. Another solid debut record from a UK band. This album has about 4 or 5 songs that I really like. The best probably being "Bluetrace" with it's buildup and layering. It reminds me of Pure Reason Revolution. It is one of those songs that got better over a few times hearing it. "Exit," "This Language," and "Running Out" are the other songs I frequently go back to as well. Not being familiar with much of DJ Shadow or Massive Attack, I still was able to get into this one surprisingly.

Blackfield - Blackfield II. The second record from Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen. This guy probably doesn't have as many huge moments on it than the 1st, but it seems to have more depth in quality songs. "Christenings" may be my favorite. A catchy tune. Other tracks of note, "The End of the World" and "Where Is My Love?"

Paulson - All At Once (reissue). Almost seeming like a guilty pleasure at 1st. This band have an impressive ability to create poppy hooks that work. Probably best on the track "I Knew You When." Fans of the over-the-top catchiness of Coheed And Cambria or even Men, Women And Children last year, may find the same thing with this album and that song especially. The reissued edition includes some extra songs, which ultimately makes it seem a bit lengthly, but more than half of the songs on it still really work. Tracks like "Miami Current" have a crazy synth bridge. "Just Shy" "Ultra High" "Voids" among them. The drummer Jeff Widner has one of the cleanest snare drum sounds I've ever heard. Similar to someone like Dino Campanella from dredg.

Deas Vail - All the Houses Look the Same. Another group who share elements of the Danish band Mew. The higher range vocal style, with ambient layering and a heavier guitar riff. The entire record I haven't found myself having to hear repeatedly, but a couple of songs especially they hit the nail on the head melodically. "Shadow And City Lights," "Surface," "Shoreline," and "Anything You Say" are the songs I found myself going back to.

The New Pornogaphers - Challengers.
In playing this one off and on over the past month, I have probably raised my level of interest in this band. Although, they are not a group whose totally blown me away, I can't deny their consistency. "Entering White Cecilia" "Unguided," "Myriad Harbour" are my early favorites, but especially the pieces Neko Case sings lead on really sound great. The production on this album impressed me as much as anything. It drops finally on August 21st.

The Apples In Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder.
Being new to this band and only listened to this album a couple of times, my feeling about it is probably not what it may become. But at least I can claim to like more than half of the 24 tracks it includes. Maybe the best of the Elephant 6 bands at putting together great Poppy Psychedelic Rock. Almost too much at times. They are one-part fun, one-part trippy, and one-part analog. "Beautiful Machines Part 3-4" "Crimson" "Sunday Sounds" and "Energy" are probably the early favorites. Definitely a competitor for Power-Pop record of the year.

Disappointments, uncertainties, and lower interest albums:

Battles - Mirrored. I haven't spent a ton of time with this guy, but among a lot of buzz, I have gone back to it a couple of times. Mood music for myself. It does remind me well of 80's Crimson/Fripp/Eno and The Residents for what that's worth. I'm not fully clear on why it's as popular as it is however, but I suppose I could say the same about some "Post Rock."

Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet.
Not a bad record compositionally, I just haven't found reason to go back to it. Lacking energy and flow unlike the last three records from this band. It was far too hyped up to fulfill my hopes and expectations. "Anesthetize" years from now might be a classic epic, but within the whole record it doesn't matter. Also it somehow feels far too short and might work better with more meaty songs.

Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos. Not a classic record, but not quite as over-the-top as their recent work. Four songs work, one songs does not, and the others would work far better with a lot of editing and un-useful gymnastics. "In the Presence Of Enemies Part 1" and "Forsaken" are both well written. "Prophets Of War" has a strong hook, and actually the lyrics don't matter ultimately. The opposite could be said about "The Dark Eternal Night" possibly one of the band's worst songs lyrically ever, and it comes across musically as well. A song I don't foresee wanting to hear for a long time. "Constant Motion" has an acceptable chorus, but what makes it work is the outstanding bridge.

Marillion - Somewhere Else. Nothing like the classic "Marbles," instead this is a very slow and depressing album. There still are a handful of songs that work on here, but the overall feel and mood of this one prevents it from deserving repeated play. Kinda disappointing given how great their last record was. But not unlike some of their past history. Highlight tracks include "Somewhere Else," "The Wound," "A Voice From the Past," and "The Other Half."

Rush - Snakes And Arrows. With some buzz about this one being more reminiscent of their classic era, and a general hype about this one, the newest Rush record has not translated to be much different than their recent work. The style and songwriting is quite similar to 90's Rush and their last record "Vapor Trails." The production is better, but save for the instrumental "The Main Monkey Business" I cannot find anything on this one so far to want to go back and listen to.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Se Dice Bisonte, No B├╣falo.
I have yet to go back to this many times more due to time and it slipping my mind. When I did play it, I was surprisingly impressed by a lot of it. Cedric Bixler sings on a couple of the songs. The 11+ minute "Please Heat This Eventually" I recall being the most likeable track. And while it still had some of the symptoms of the last Mars Volta record, it didn't meander to the same degree. Maybe one of the more overlooked albums so far by myself and others in 2007.

Jason Falkner - I'm Ok...You're OK.
A late addition here, I was up for this one at 1st as from the limited number of solo songs by him I have heard I have liked many. However, the entire disc didn't go that far for me. One or two tracks I recall liking, although I am not remembering which ones they were. But I do recall a lot of the songs having a cool melody but not quite going far enough and a lot of samey-ness. I probably need to give this one another go like some others though.

Chick Corea and Bela Fleck - The Enchantment.
Very much of a mood record for me. I need to go back and play it again, but I recall them quoting at least one or two pop tunes in a Jazz style. Not overwhelming, but not bad either. More of what you'd expect from these two.

Dean Magraw - Unseen Rain. Dean's latest with his trio. About 1/3 of this really works, including the Coltrane piece and the numbers that remind me of Pat Metheny. The rest kinda put me to sleep, but that may have more to do with how much of a *mood album* this is. I still find he shines a lot more live anyway.

Abigail's Ghost - Selling Insincerity. I want to like this band, and at 1st I was impressed by their diversity of kinds of songs. But the *influence* the recent Porcupine Tree has on this album and band's sound seems a bit too close to copying, rather than influence. Thus far, they seem too much like a Poor man's Porcupine Tree at best. Maybe I need to play it more.

Circa Survive - On Letting Go. The vocal style hasn't changed enough for me to like this band. The songs and production is a step-up at least, but ultimately it doesn't make a difference. I may never be able to call myself a fan of this band until Anthony Green stops singing for them.

Portugal the Man - Church Mouth. I have sampled this but wasn't getting a sense of a lot of progression from their last. The Mars Volta copying will probably have to end if my interest will continue.

Menomena - Friend And Foe. I'm new to this band, and am not fully clear how I feel about them. Their last record I seem to really like, but the one time I put this on, I recall being bored to tears. Maybe it requires more time.

Dominici - 03: A Trilogy part 2. I heard it once, and as much as I loved the guy with DT, and the 1st effort seemed adventurous; this album is not my thing anymore, if it ever was. Very much like "Train of Thought" from Dream Theater, but it's not even Dream Theater.

Slavior - Slavior. I love Mark Zonder as a drummer, and some of the music here I recall liking. But the singer is too much butt-rock and it suffers from too much of an old-school Metal writing approach. Mark, that's wonderful this came out, but I still hope you have interest in doing that "Alfa Dog" project with Gary Wehrkamp from Shadow Gallery.

Glory Opera - Equilibrium.I was suggested this is a band who captures the Andre Matos-Angra style really well. Maybe so, and maybe their singer is better than the average Power/Prog Metal vocalist, but I was lost in over-indulgnece and cheese. Maybe this style has left my tastes, or for the people who make those comparisons, they are not hearing what I do. More power to them. I may want to give it another go eventually and see if my mind changes.

The Apex Theory - The Lightpost EP. This is a remarkable piece this band seemingly have refined and re-identified themselves with. A 15+ minute epic track, it hardly seems to last that long it flows so well. It is the springboard to the upcoming full length "Faces" due out in September.

Portugal the Man - It's Complicated Being A Wizard.This was like one long trip-hop noodlefest gone bad and drug-induced. And then repeated as individual songs. Nothing that I recall that would warrant any repeated play.

Haven't Heard:
The Pax Cecilia - Blessed Are the Bonds
Alan Morse - Four O'Clock And Hysteria
The Bad Plus - Prog
The Aliens - Astronomy For Dogs
Amaran's Plight - Voice In the Light
Machinehead - The Blackening
Thought Chamber. Angular Perceptions. I like Ted Leonard a lot, but the music sounded incredibly like recipe prog.
Between Two Skies - A Thousand Conscious Moments EP

The 2nd Half's biggest anticipations:
Coheed And Cambria - No World For Tomorrow
The Receiving End of Sirens - The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
King's X - Go Tell Somebody
Oceansize - Frames
The Apex Theory - Faces
The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath

Superior - New World Order
Pure Reason Revolution
Ours - Dancing For the Death of an Imaginary Enemy
Margot & the Nuclear So And So's - Animal!
Klimt 1918
Imogen Heap
Andre Matos
Demians - Building An Empire
Orphaned Land - ORWarriOR
Peter Gabriel/The Big Blue Ball
Bend Sinister
One Republic