Monday, June 15, 2015

Welcome to Random Play!

This is the first in a series of reviews from my ever-expanding eclectic collection of music.The first half of the year has ushered in some great music as well as some real disappointments.  Here are my thoughts on some of the albums that I have added to the collection:

Likely my favorite album this year so far has been the Passenger album Whispers 2. After the commercial  success of his “All the Little Lights” and Whispers 1, he decided to self-release this album with all of the proceeds going to Unicef. No money was spent on marketing, so it is all word-of-mouth -- support it in any way you can. These songs have struck a chord with me (no pun intended), but perhaps it is just the time and place I find myself in.  Be warned, it is by and large a collection of wonderfully sad songs; one might deal with the complicated side of relationships whilst another tells the story of an unemployed ship welder. His music reminds me of Jim Croce in many ways, a sweet reminiscing sadness.  Basically I enjoyed every song off the album but my favorites are…Fear of Fear, Catch in the Dark, I’ll Be Your Man, David, 1,000 Matches, Words, The Way I Need You. I look forward to seeing him live in September.

Death Cab for Cutie's latest album, Kintsugi, has also been a joy to listen to. It is varied in terms of scope, happy to sad. It is on par with their Plans and Narrow Stairs albums, and far better than their previous release, Codes and Keys. My favorite songs off the album are Everything is a Ceiling, Black Sun, No Room In Frame, Little Wander, and You’ve Haunted Me All My Life.

The most recent release on the list is Florence and the Machine's album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.  Though not her strongest album to date, it is still packed with many great songs. A testament to her wonderful voice and talent. I was not expecting much from this album after hearing the song What Kind Of Man and it’s subsequent airplay on the radio. It in my opinion it is one of the weaker songs on the album. To me the jewels of the album are the songs Third Eye, Caught, Hiding (available on deluxe album), Long & Lost, Various Storms and Saints, and Queen of Peace

Lord Huron's second major release is entitled Strange Tails, and it is my second favorite of all my recent acquisitions. Seeing them live also helped cement that position -- they have a great stage presence and keep the show rolling once they start. Though you can pick out the influences on this album more-so than their first, they are still removed enough that they sound fresh. For instance, the song Fool For Love is heavily reminiscent  of 50’s pop music. The song World Ender is Dick Dale Misirlou through and through, but since there is nothing like it on the (congested and overplayed) commercial stations of today it is a breath of fresh air; the band and listeners have benefited from it.  It’s another album that I can’t find a song to fault. I also like how they create characters and sing the songs from their perspectives rather than limited themselves to first hand experience like many other artists. I believe it opens up many more avenues for songwriting.  My favorite songs are Night We Met, Cursed, Fool For Love, Meet Me in the Woods, Way Out There, and Yawning Grave.

Colin Hay, better know as the front-man of the 80’s band Men at Work released an album entitled Next Year People. He's come a long way since those days of fronting a pop band. His songs are now more mature and straight from the heart. No more 'Vegemite sandwiches Down Under' for his solo albums. Unfortunately, this album is also a fine argument for buying singles. Not every song is gold,  and many could be left out of the collection. Lyrical inspirations range from the dust bowl (and likely the current California drought where he finds his home) title song Next Year People, to the remorseful songs If I Had Been A Better Man, and Want You Back, to the song Mr Grogan about a man,his Labradoodle , and a fall resulting in a head injury. 

Lainey Wright... Yes, you never have heard of her. Though if you have… Good for you. She falls into the grey area of Folk/Singer-Songwriter/Country (the good kind) music genres. I discovered her while browsing Noisetrade, a site for legal free music (though you can -- and should -- donate to the artist as well). In general new artists use Noisetrade to release selections of their music to generate buzz.  In any case this was a complete album purchase entitled Till We Go Home. She has a pleading voice, and by that I mean it begs to be listened to, though some could possibly find it not to their liking. The album has a a wide range of tones from the upbeat to the melancholy.  My favorite upbeat songs are Oft I Stray, Hold You Up and Olive Tree. The more melancholy songs are What Love Does, Leave Me Not Alone, and  In My Head. In many ways I hope that Nashville never gets a hold of her. It's not that I don’t want her to have success, it is that I never want them to homogenize her and turn her music into pop crap. Don’t mess with what isn’t broken.

The married duo Weepies latest release Sirens blossoms with 17 tracks. That many tracks is a rarity in the usual non-deluxe album releases of 10-12 songs. The female portion of the duo, Deb Talan has a unique voice that your equally likely to love or hate. I fall mostly in the love category though I couldn’t listen to a marathon selection of just her. Luckily, as a duo they switch leads and work well together. Album standouts are Crooked Smile, Never Let You Down, No Trouble, Ever Said Goodbye, Fancy Things, River From The Sky, and the Tom Petty cover Learning To Fly (that says a lot as I am not a huge Tom Petty fan; I enjoyed his time with Traveling Willburys best) . I feel I got my money's worth on this album.

Probably the only flat out rock/industrial album on the list comes from the band The Dreaming (otherwise known as Stabbing Westward) entitled Rise Again. It's a slickly almost-overproduced album that doesn't break any new ground for them. That said, they certainly know how to sing about bitterness.  The standouts on the album are Alone, Rise Again, Afraid, and Destroy.

Now on to the biggest disappointment  of the year, Mumford and Sons latest release Wilder Mind. This is their third major release . When you usher in the latest wave of folk rock and you have a hundred similar bands follow you, what do you do next? I guess you try to re-invent yourself and prove that you're more than a folk rock band. You lay down the banjo, driving rhythms and plug in. Unfortunately you sound exactly like every other band out there (Kings of Leon, etc. etc.) I have given the album a dozen listens and I still can't remember a single song. They're all so very similar and -- for the most part -- forgettable. The best ones in my opinion are Tompkins Square ParkHot Gates and Monster. It's okay though: Every band has to have an experimental bad album and hopefully this is Mumford's last. With luck they will return to the genre in which they own, and are distinct and memorable in.

Stay tuned for next the next installment. Where I'll likely review upcoming albums from Glen Hansard, Chris Cornell and more.

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