Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jamiroquai - Rock Dust Light Star (2010) Album Review

I have to admit that I'm only a recent convert to all sounds Jamiro. Apart from their biggest hits, my first real encounter with a Jam album would be "A Funk Odyssey", which was on cassette- a record I got some time in college. The next one would be "High Times: Singles", on mp3. And it was probably only three years ago that I seriously listened to the rest of Jamiroquai's moderate catalog. My fingers would eventually keep "Return Of The Space Cowboy" constantly on the ready, whenever I needed to bob my head to that StuZender-flavored funky bass, and yeah, the rest is history. That album completely turned me into a fan.

Now that Jay Kay and company have arrived with the new and shiny Rock Dust Light Star, and with that "White Knuckle Ride" teaser video on Youtube constantly reminding me that this should be a pretty sick record, I was hella excited to load the tracks up on the Winamp, once I got a-hold o' 'em, *ahem*, and watch the new music unfold...

Wait... these other tracks don't sound like "White Knuckle Ride".

What I heard was an actual band playing - something we all probably forgot Jamiroquai was. As I went on to listen to the rest of the tracks, I realize that these supposed "electro converts" are damn serious about returning to analog. With the sole exception of "White Knuckle Ride", this is probably the most stripped-down they have sounded since, umm, Return Of The Space Cowboy. That doesn't necessarily mean they've returned to their old sound, by the way. It just means they - whoever calls the shots (I bet my ass it's Jay Kay), are actually allowing themselves to play straight out of their instruments seemingly without any kind of digital rendering to boost bass or add synths, effects, or whatever, to make it sound more electronica. They are, once again, effectively a live band, everyone. Bra Vo.

I'm the one riding the fancy cars, therefore I
call the shots, mmk?
Despite that though, I hate to say that the record feels uninspired and a bit trite at certain points. Maybe it is the prevalence of downtempo songs- the type of songs one would expect to appear at least once or twice in a typical Jamiroquai album, songs this band certainly did NOT build its career and reputation upon. Well, apparently this one is crawling with slow songs, like it or not. Once upon a time, Jay Kay described his band's music "punchy" in an interview. He did not lie. And I liked their music that way.

Is this the best Jamiroquai album? No. But if you're asking if this album has any good songs at all- the answer is yes. Are there good downtempo and "punchy" tracks? Yes. The dreamy or should I say spellbinding title track, "Rock Dust Light Star", calmly and gently soothes you in a confetti-like fashion, sets the stage and promises a more relaxing Jamiroquai experience than usual. "White Knuckle Ride"'s big beats and signature bass lines will leave you stomping your feet and bobbing your head as usual. And my favorite, and probably the closest they'll ever get to their acid jazz sound, "She's A Fast Persuader" - whips up a sleek and clever bass line over a fast beat (that, in my mind, quaintly reminds me of "Eye Of The Tiger"). I won't be surprised if the "she" in that song was another one of Jay Kay's absurd vehicles. Don't miss the magnificent bass break near the end, by the way. As for the other tracks, there's not much good to say about them, really. If I must, I would say "Never Gonna Be Another", besides having the keys as its only redeeming quality, feels like it was specifically written to be sung by some cheesy pop star, crooning to some kind of Rapunzel at the balcony.

In a nutshell, the album starts off pretty well, but then muddles into downtempo mediocrity. I know I shouldn't, but that lack of experimentation and adventurism with the rest of the tracks makes you wish Stuart Zender was still behind that bass (Oh dear. Here comes that Stu-talk again. sheesh) - that's definitely someone who, in my recollection, would unabashedly slap the hell out of it, or wouldn't have second thoughts about melding extravagant bass licks into a bland track. When more appropriate than at a time they're finally loosening up with the fancy electronics? Ahh... dreams, dreams.

But in all honestly, I doubt a Stu reunion would save this band from what it has become. This Jamiroquai, whoever their current line up is (besides that dude who wears the funny hats and dances funny), sounds a bit too reserved. A bit too disciplined. And a bit too old. Even Jay Kay's voice rasps with the decay of age - struggling to break its ever-shrinking range and having to settle with less theatrics than it is usually known for. Oh well, we all grow old at some point - but it certainly doesn't mean we can no longer loosen up and have more fun.

My score:
6 out of 10

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz (2010) Album Review

If you happen to be situated somewhere far away from any kind of indie scene like myself, Sufjan Stevens proves to be quite the guilty pleasure.  You should never, by any means, play Sufjan tracks on your stereo when you have metal-head friends in the same room.  Doing so will warrant a disgusted look, followed by comments such as: "what the hell is that shit?".

For someone in my current geographical location, I would deem Sufjan Stevens music as strictly private - one that you should NOT recommend to just anyone, unless you're particularly sure that that someone is as elitist, indie, and as seemingly pretentious as yourself.  Neither should you play Sufjan at parties- though some of the music can be effectively used at parties aimed for children aged 5 and below, and, more appropriately, parties filled with wannabe hippies and supposed artsy people.

That said, and as much as I stubbornly refuse to be called pretentious, I did honestly enjoy Illinois.  I wasn't much into the story telling (although I found the homo-erotic ones worth gossiping about on the internet) but I did enjoy the music in some way.  A lasting memory transports me back to a time when I once longed for the American dream.  A time that I daydreamed about walking the streets of Chicago without having to worry about being stared at for wearing too much clothing (or, similarly, for looking really dope).  A time that I longed for more concrete and less dust, less heat, less beggars, and less abusive drivers. I walk the streets with an entourage, nay- a PARADE! And the centerpiece is me! Balloons balloons everywhere! And the camera frantically swirls around me as the music swells, and then... I orgasm. (Imagine the look on the faces of my metal-head friends.)

That is my definitive Sufjan Stevens experience. I can still force myself to have that experience every time I do listen to the record, but probably without the excessive drama (and the orgy).

As for The Age Of Adz, I am not quite sure where it wants to take me.  First impressions were not good, reminding me of this constant occurrence where I'm lying in bed and I leave the computer on, playing whatever music was on the playlist, while I tried to doze off.  I would then wake up in a panic- thanks to some "sonic jerk"* from some random song.  But the thing is, with this album, I get that same "sonic jerk" even when I'm wide awake.  Mr. Sufjan's new knack for SCATHINGLY LOUD electronics was just not naturally welcomed by my ears.

I want to reinvent myself. So bad.
Time would mildly change that.  It's like a horror movie actually - the more times you watch it, the more you'll get used to that scene where the idiot main character ventures into the attic and you jump out of your seat as the killer comes out of nowhere and shivs the guy repeatedly with a sharp knife.  Likewise, I wonder why Mr. Stevens does the same thing to his music.  He probably hated it so much that he thought he might as well make a mess of it, or maybe it's one of those gimmicks to give it some "abstract feel", like a painter would to a painting (and every other pretentious twat).  But all in all, I think it is deliberate.  He is deliberately destroying his "sound", probably in hopes to reinvent himself.  Commendable at least, but I still don't think it was a good idea.

How so? Simple. Imagine The Age Of Adz sans all the electronics. How much better would that sound? Mr. Stevens even gives us a taste of that momentarily near the end of Impossible Soul! Full band, full choir. That authentic Chicago-like feel that made Illinois extra special.  No wonder why so many people think it's the best track on the album.  But alas, the other songs did not receive the same treatment.

But hey, don't fret.  Ultimately, once you've grown acclimated to the spiking electronics, you'll inevitably begin to notice the many layers underneath it.  The wide array of organic instruments that flows to and fro- even the vocals seem less heavily rendered.  You'll notice that the main character wasn't just stupid- he also wanted to check if his old Nintendo was still in the attic- you just missed that bit the last time because you were covering your eyes.

My score:
5 out of 10

*get it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stone Temple Pilots (2010) Album Review

Album cover
May 2010 marked the release of Stone Temple Pilot's brand new eponymous album, and it comes almost 10 years after their last effort, Shangri-La Dee Da, which I'm still not fond of to this day.  And the fact that I haven't listened to an STP album in one sitting in a very long time doesn't bode well to any kind of "benchmarking" I was hoping to employ for this album.  But hey, it's been ten years- nay, almost ten years, and I'm sure they've grown out of their little pajamas and likewise I can say the same for their music- that any kind of "benchmarking" would be futile.

Obviously enough, this is a different band.  The edginess that was once prevalent in STP records is noticably missing here... well, there are traces of it from some of the tracks (i.e. Between the Lines), but it's clear they're opting for a more straightforward rock 'n roll sound, almost like cowboy rock 'n roll (if there's such a thing).

Anyway, when I'm listening to this album, this comes to mind:

A cadillac.  (And for some reason a disco ball).  I'm ridin' down the Hollywood strip with my huge aviators on.  And while I'm at it I'm wearing either a leather jacket or one of those driving scarfs those posh drivers like to wrap around their dirty old necks.  I'm headed to Las Vegas, and once I'm there, I keep my aviatored-eyes on the road, seemingly oblivious to all the neon lights that crowd the streets (I've never been to either Hollywood or Vegas, by the way).  I light a cigarette, keepin' it real like nobody's business, seen?

If you can't daydream about being said douchebag making his way from Hollywood to Vegas while listening to this album, then you must be listening to it wrong.

Or maybe you just don't like this album.

My score:
7 out of 10

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Miike Snow (2009) Album Review

I was familiar with this band's name long before I heard any of their music.  The first time I did though was in an unusual way for me - inside a video game.  That video game would be NBA 2K10, and the song would be "Black & Blue".

I've been listening to the album since.  So this is electro pop.  I actually expected something as fast-paced as "Black & Blue", or something I used to associate with the word.  ELECTRO... ELECTRO... I don't really follow the genre much, but when I think of that word "electro", I think electricity.  Heavy synths.  Huge beats.  Neural shocks.  Gigantic headaches.  I'm not even sure if this is any kind of electro at all.  While there's a fair amount of synths present on the album, there weren't any headaches whatsoever when listening to it, nor did I expect it to be the way it is.

This is a pretty chill record actually.

The songs have obvious pop sensibilities, songs that make you sing once you figure out what the singer is saying.  But what makes them shine so brightly are the subtle sounds sprinkled throughout the record, brilliantly added and placed in the songs.  I call these moments moments (pun).

Miike Snow (covered in snow)
An example would be the chimey keys to the intro of "Burial".  Another would be the nintendo-esque sounds that immediately follow after singer Andrew Wyatt's first "ssssiiiiillllvvvviaaaaa" in the final part of the song "Silvia".  Actually there are a couple of amazing moments to that song, and it's probably the best song on the album.

"Sans Soleil" is another of my favorites that has a kind of uniform samba or rhumba beat throughout (sorry if I'm wrong, but as a child they're the preset beats I recognize from an old Yamaha keyboard my father had).  The weaving in and out of the vocals is the final piece that makes this such a beautiful song to listen to.  "Hard. You make it hard. Hard."  Yep.  That's what she said.  But while it's kind of a humorous read, it's entirely magical when heard from the song.  Trust me.

Then there's "Cult Logic".  Downtempo disco updated and probably at its best, hearkening back to disco radio in the late 80s.  (Seriously, I do not know what the hell I'm talking about.  Just trying to pick up the pieces of what I thought I heard as a child).  It's one of those songs that make you smile while hearing it from afar- thinking "yep, that's my song.  And damn, does it sound so good".

A low point in the album for me would be "A Horse is not a Home".  There's something wrong with the title and the way the music was constructed in order for those words to be sung.  It just doesn't work.  It's a metaphor, alright.  But it still doesn't work.  Well, maybe for some people, but not for me.

All in all, it's the first album of its kind that I thoroughly enjoyed.  One thing is for sure- I won't back down from searching a remedy for the bones I broke.  Nyahaha.

My score:
8 out of 10

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Migrating and starting anew...

After trying to make something out of reviewing local artists (Philippines), I realized the hard truth that I'm not as dedicated as I thought I was.  I'm just too busy listening to other music (mostly originating from other parts of the world), and it turns out I want to talk about those too!  So here's to lumping all of my stuff together in one little blog, hoping this will finally turn into something that won't die as quickly due to no updates. *crosses fingers*