Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Album Index 40-31

40. Falling Up - Your Sparking Death Cometh
Jessy Ribordy's original, heavier, more electric, rock-oriented band. Their last album, 2009 Fangs! I have come to enjoy a lot. And part of that is the production quality, and part of that also is the seemingly departure of the Christian element. Like  Fangs!, this album was produced by Casey Crescenzo, and it was recorded at Casey's studio in Southern California.

I had high hopes for it, after enjoying Fangs! more and more, and contributing to the successful Kickstarter campaign. While I'd say at this point, I don't enjoy this album as much as Fangs! nor was it as addictive as I hoped (like The River Empires of course), I guess I enjoy a lot of it. There's a strong sense of grandiosity and epic-ness (if that is really a word to use), about it. It often sounds like Jessy's trying to sound like a rock band backed by a symphony orchestra. Lot of heavy, thick synthesizers and guitar tones, and doubled (or more tracked) vocals.

I suppose part of what hurt it overall is it's length. I'd say I enjoy the first two-thirds (or the 1st 35 or so minutes) of the album okay, but the last 3 or 4 tracks I almost get a sense of samey-ness to it.. But as far as specifics, the 1st track "Circadian" has one of those repeated vocal lines I can't get out of my head.

(x2) And they're burying all of the evidence
My glamorous words will catch them
Burying all of the evidence
Some thousands of eyes are watching (x2)

Songs like "The Wonder" reminds me of something off Fangs!, with the vocal and guitar textures. "Diamnds" and "Blue Ghost" are catchy enough, their melodies stay with me.

So while this album didn't blow me away, it still ended up as one of the albums I enjoyed this year. I guess it's clear though, I don't look for them to reach the interest level that The River Empires is, and maybe even The Gloomcatcher. But especially leaving the Christian side out of their music, I enjoy Falling Up enough. Now what exactly happens with Jessy's schedule and priorities in the future for each project? it seems still only up for speculation. I recall reading things favoring both Falling Up and The River Empires, and as well, the thing Casey Crescenzo mentioned to me about scoring films. I guess no matter what he does, it'll be something I and this blog will keep tabs on.

39. Skeleton Staff - Psychomorphism
The sophomore release from one of the best new power-pop bands. They hail from Australia, which happens to becoming more and more of a hotbed for new music.

Honestly, this album was released on December 12th, and I've only been able to listen to it 3 or 4 times. And the best things I can say about it is, it's like their last record, rather consistent and catchy. It doesn't vary too much, and it includes about 40 minutes worth of music.

Many songs include the trademark vocal harmonies and Brian May-ish guitar parts, catchy piano, and the occasional string layers.  "Prince of Thieves," "The World In 7 Days," "Capsize" "Rat Poision" and "Gateway to the Stars" among them.

I think my favorite track could be "Turnstyle" which stands out stylistically being more groove/almost-funk oriented. It's very energetic and catchy.

A solid 2nd record from this band, which is one I suppose time will tell more on how well it holds up. But for now, it's an album I enjoy, and given how recently it was released, I probably will listen to more than some other 2011 albums in 2012.

38. The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - All Out of Peaches
One of John Wright's, of  Lehto & Wright's other, newer projects, which features his wife Lisi and 2 other talented musicians in Dan Neale on guitar and Mark O'Day on drums. Their sound blends a few genres pretty well in jazz, bluegrass and progressive rock, or as they like to call themselves "New Grass Art Rock."

This is their 2nd release, and I guess I'd say it's about as good if not a little better than their debut album from 2009 Lookin' For a Little Strange. There's a few songs on here that stand out, "The Blaze" "Five Up Front" "At Cross Purposes" the title track, plus the 2 epics "Memo 9" and "Minion." Some very nice violin work from Lisi on those, especially "The Blaze." That tune could be on pop radio to be honest, but of course, save for KFAI and maybe KBEM, none of the stations would ever consider playing it.

There's really good production on this album, and it captures at least a good amount of the energy they have live. Good musicianship, tight songwriting, dynamics that keep your attention, and a blend of styles all work here, like on their last record. They even covered surprsingly, a Lady Gaga song in "Paparazzi."

They've garnered some attention in other parts of the country on tour, which is good to know, but also silly that the same interest level may not be what it is even in their home here in Minnesota.

37. Jolly - The Audio Guide to Happiness (Part 1)
I first head this band's name in the summer of 2010. And I don't even think I listened to them, just based on some of the comments. They sounded like they were another one of those bands who are aping other, better bands. And then the Used Bin Radio guys interviewed one of the members and started talking about them enough to get me curious. And I checked out this record and enjoyed it somewhat, but not enough to go back to it more than one or two more times.

Well in the last month I revisited it, and realized it's definitely a grower, and the band can be awfully good at times. They do remind me of Oceansize among some other bands. Their singer I think was part of my issue with them, but his voice works well enough with their music. He has a deeper, (tenor?) style of singing on most of their songs. A bit like other bands such as Minus the Bear or Umphrey's McGee, in that they don't need a standout lead vocal for their songs to work. They just need to have vocal lines mix well enough with their music.

I'd say highlight-wise, tracks like the catchy-ness of  "Joy," the almost-ethnic (Pat Metheny-s Pedro Aznar) vocal chanting on "Where Everything's Perfect" and "Still a Dream" along with the raw, heaviness and crunchy layers on "The Pattern" really do enough for me. Along with the narrative and segue sections, which might seem cheesy at 1st, but I think works overall and don't go on for extensive amounts of time.

So, while I don't know how big a fan of this band I'll ever become, nor are they the most original group I've listened to in many years or anything, I think their songwriting and the way this album was composed is impressive enough, I could easily see myself going back to it and their previous record in the coming years.

36. Younger Brother - Vaccine
This is a side-project of Simone Posford of the English electronic band Shpongle and Benji Vaughan of Prometheus. I've been continuously impressed in just hearing this in recent weeks, it jumped all the way up in the Index. I guess why that is, is primarily due to the flow and great moody nature of it. It's kind of a mix of electronic-pop/rock, and ambient music. I guess being a fan of groups like Stateless and Woven, among others (Porcupine Tree, Pure Reason RevolutionOSI ? even), this seemed to work really well. This album featured more vocals than their previous 2.

The 1st couple of tracks sound kind of poppy, but it seems from then on, the album flows rather well. A nice mood record, and also trippy enough at times to want to go back to listen closer. Their use of samples, vocal effects, guitar textures, and the drum work, are reasons to continue to go back to it.

Suggested: Night Lead Me Astray, Spinning Into Place, Train

35. Al Di Meola - Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody
I saw Al play a solo show I want to say back in 2008, and he played some of the music that ended up on this record live that was pretty great. I distinctly remember the Italian vibe to much of it, with accordion namely. His acoustic fret-board work plus those accordion textures, I couldn't forget.

So hearing this album I was brought back to that show a bit. Al Di Meola being who he is and his past work, the changing times and ultra busy leads are not something unusual. But I think the actual varying textures and dynamics give this record a unique style. It does remind me some of his early work (namely his 1st 4, classic lps), where I have my head-turn intermittently. I can't help just love hearing Al solo and play fast, but still within the structure of the songs he writes.

This record goes from multi-section italian, to latin jazz pieces that build to great peaks, to ballads that evoke great calm. While his presence was missed on the Return to Forever tour this Summer, this record at least gave me and many others our Al Di Meola and Jazz-Rock fix.

Kaddisfly - Demos & Rarities [Compilation]
Well I posted about this over the weekend, and it sort of came out of nowhere. I might not be so knowledgeable as to know the exact date Kaddisfly formed, but it was 10 years ago this past week, and this was the way they decided to say Happy Anniversary.

Kaddisfly has been on Hiatus since 2009, but not too long before that, they had recorded these demos for a showcase I recall in New York City in front of some major record labels. Some of these tunes I recall them playing live (and some other new songs as well, that apparently never got demo-ed well enough to share). "It Has to Be This Way" specifically is the song that I recall most. And I'll admit to having heard other versions of it, but the one on here they made available on their bandcamp page is without question the best.

But I'd say every song on here is excellent. It's almost a tease as it reminds me why I love Kaddisfly's music so much. "Man on a String" is probably as powerful and emotional a song I've ever heard them make.The ending of "Conan" is pretty crazy, almost like "Via Rail" in a way. "Hourglass" and "Lately" are both songs I could see working on any of their other records. Very lyrical and having those driving choruses. 'Slow Motion" and "You Are a Painter" are kind of epic, in a subtle way.

Most of the guys are now doing Water & Bodies, which is great, but this collection of songs just reminds me of what was so great about Kaddisfly, and what is different about Water & Bodies.

I suppose among the songs that didn't get included, one specific song, the 8-minute track "Flowers" is the main thing that comes to mind given it was supposed to be a b-side for Set Sail the Prairie . But in reading a comment a bit ago on their Facebook page about it, the band don't own the rights to it, their ex-record label Hopeless Records does. So the band sadly had no ability to include it. But it is on Youtube amongst other places online for those wondering.

34. Tokyo Jihen - Daihakken
A friend and co-volunteer in KFAI's music library was playing some stuff last June for me one week I was there, and this happened to be one of the bands he brought in. Tokyo Jihen (or Tokyo Incidents) are this Japanese group who explore many different styles of music, while featuring a female lead singer who can sing in many different styles (and accents). Call them J-Rock, J-Pop, jazzy punk, loungey-prog, pop-ballading reggae, Symphonic-pop, etc. They really pull off, quite well, an assortment of styles. But I suppose it's their overall songwriting I am impressed by the most.

I checked out some of their other records, and eventually their singer Ringo Shina's solo work as well. I believe it was Adult that was what my friend at KFAI was playing for me. A great energy record, and something I wanted to try and track down a hard-copy. I have yet to do so with that album, nor with this new album of theirs. "Daihakken" I guess means "discovery" in Japanese. A fitting title for me anyway.

Like a number of other albums this year, I find about a couple of songs in, it really starts to work. "Osorubeki Otona Tachi," is extremely catchy and yet jazzy/funky/loungey at the same time.

"Adam and Eve would toss the apple away,
the earth would turn the other way
You'd live up far on some barren star,
but down below you might hear us laughing
I'll give you all you're wanting so bad,
hold out your hands,
whisper a prayer
Can you feel forever and ever?

"(Kinjirareta Asobi)" is quite the rocker, "Atarashii Bunmeikaika" is playful power-pop number. I love the flow of "Sora ga Natteiru," which fades and then nicely segues into the following song "Kaze ni Ayakatte Ik,." That one which features some odd guitar textures along with Shina Ringo's repeated vocal phrasing on some lyrics, one being "Space Space Space Space Invaderssss" Even the last standard track "Onna no Ko wa Daredemo" has this great jazzy-pop charm to it.

So this is one of those records that has a handful of quite good, memorable tunes on it. And I can't say I ever got bored with it. The Japanese music I've gotten into in recent years is not extensive, with Mutyumu, Kacica, Presence of Soul and a few others. But this band (and Ringo Shina's solo work) are one I can include among that group now.

33. Team Me - To the Treetops
A member on the forum suggested this band I want to say sometime last Summer. And honestly, a lot of the suggestions I get from that site are nice thoughts, but often don't do much for me. But this band for whatever reason, really did.

After checking out and liking their Self-Titled EP, I noticed this debut album coming out from this band from Norway. I actually didn't expect a full-length so soon. But after hearing the EP, I was rather intrigued by this full-length coming, and it turned out to be one excellent debut record. It's filled with upbeat, energetic, orchestral pop/rock. Vocally they remind me of Mew and some other bands. Including wonderful use of vocal harmonies  Musically I'm reminded of the likes of The Polyphonic Spree, Annuals and Anathallo.

Song-wise, the thing that stands out most, is the outstanding flow from track-to-track. I'd say just the 1st 5 or 6 tracks are equally good. It's really one of those albums that's great to wake up to, or one to put on for energy or an uplifting mood. And that's why it got rather addictive, in a short time. And why I wouldn't be surprised I'll be listening to it often in the coming years.

32. Mutemath - Odd Soul
The 3rd album from this band, and the 1st since the departure of original/longtime guitarist Greg Hill. I was initially skeptical how good this could be with his leaving, but as it turns out, even with a little style change, the quality of the songwriting wasn't affected much if at all.

Actually, many others have said this is better than their last album from 2009 Armistice. While I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, I can understand why. There's some wonderful, epic tracks on this album. And they showed they can write music that's more heavily influenced by 70's classic rock and funk. Some of the fuzz guitar really grooves on this album. "Tell Your Heart Heads Up," "Quarantine," "Allies," and especially "Cavalaries" for example, have that great, badass groove.

The song "All or Nothing" is another standout, in that it starts out like one of their traditional ballads, but about 2:45-in this build starts on with what sounds like on a synthesizer, and it leads to this awesome climax.

This may ultimately become my favorite record of theirs (why I think I probably am underating it a bit at 32), and while I'd be surprised if I'll ever prefer their recorded music over their shows, this is definitely a sign of a band who hasn't tailed off in their songwriting. Now, they haven't made one of those perfect, epic, classic records yet, but at least they aren't a band I would soon dismiss based on this.

31. Hands of Despair - Hereafter
This is one of the best produced Metal albums I've ever heard. I'm not sure how, but I'd say this ranks up there with The River Empires, Kevin Gilbert and the last Soundscape album in amazement on the clarity and clean-tone that was able to be captured. So much so, I'm not sure I pay enough attention to the actual music itself.

But I did enough to appreciate this. Their vocals sound fantastic, some clean, some using deeper guttural growls really effectively. Some of the songs have nice quieter sections that segue well to the heavier parts. Many symphonic parts including synths (and mellotron perhaps?), blast beats, and forceful power chords all seem to work together with their vocals.

This is how Death Metal can work, or at least Death Metal with some doom and progressive elements being it's only 6 tracks, but all of which range between 7 and 11 or so minutes.. It's not over-the-top, but it's not generic. It's just well thought-out and precise. And it clearly is a band whose doing this music, to make good sounding music. If even a fraction of the hard rock and metal bands had this band's attention to detail, the production issues with so many albums would not factor in.

A really intense album, that at times is a mindfuck of ferocity.

Suggested: Creator, Shattered Memories