Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review: Grace Basement "Gunmetal Gray"

Grace Basement from St. Louis is back with their sophomore effort, "Gunmetal Gray". Voted "Best New Band" by The Riverfront Times in 2007, bandleader Kevin Buckley is hopeful that his latest will take off like a shot from a gun.

Kevin Buckley is not only the guitarist, singer and songwriter behind Grace Basement, he happens to be a world-class Irish fiddler. He brings this novel element into his pop rock songs, creating a fresh and interesting dynamic. Building on this theme, he's also recruited several noted guests from St. Louis' rock, folk and Irish music scenes (including his father Jack, who plays the Uilleann pipes). So you'll also hear some gentle horns, accordion, harp, and more peppered throughout "Gunmetal Gray". Lyrically, Buckley thoughtfully explores themes of separation, loneliness, and finding meaning.

"Gunmetal Gray" has lots of ammo packed right up front with instantly catchy cuts like "There He Goes" (my favorite on the disc, by the way), "Tilly Lingers", the soothingly sweet ballad "Back On The Moon", and the rockin' "Bad Design". These are hard acts to follow; consequently, the latter half of the CD seemed to struggle in matching this precedent. However, I really enjoyed the acoustic driven ballad "Highway" and the quiet, steady build of "Golden Bell" towards the end.

Grace Basement walks the line between melancholy and upbeat pop, with an occasional sidestep into the baroque. Recommended if you like Guided by Voices, Waterboys, or Flaming Lips.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9

Grace Basement on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

TV that rocks: "Fame" Seasons One and Two on DVD

“Fame! I’m gonna live forever!" was being sung in many a shower during the early 80s, but with no one quite capturing the finesse and grace of Irene Cara. Her inspirational song helped make her movie of the same name a huge success. The song went on to win an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song and helped to launch Cara's career as a pop star. The success of the movie also spawned an equally successful television series that ran for six seasons between 1982 - 1987. While Cara did not reprise her role, Debbie Allen, Gene Anthony Ray and Lee Cureri did, supported by a very talented set of new actors and dancers. The first two seasons are now available as a nine-disc set (38 episodes) on DVD as of September 15 from MGM Home Entertainment. Fans of pop music and dance, quality television dramas, or those just nostalgic for the 80s won't want to miss this.

“Fame” Seasons One and Two Synopsis:
Known for its outstanding choreography and popular original songs, the critically acclaimed 1980’s hit earned rave reviews and garnered multiple awards, including a Golden Globe for best TV series comedy/musical in 1983 and again in 1984, instantly establishing a dedicated fan base across the world. Based on the beloved motion picture with the same name, “Fame” brings drama, music and dance to life; Emmy-award winning choreographer Debbie Allen stars as Lydia Grant, a faculty member who guides the gifted students through discouragement and disappointment as they struggle for a spot in the cutthroat entertainment industry. Ultimately, they learn that although there are many set backs on the treacherous road to stardom, they must follow their dreams to achieve fame. Filled with exciting dance sequences and original musical numbers, this double-set includes all 38 original episodes from the first two seasons.

Buy it now!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: Cheap Trick "The Latest"

Always a pleasure to listen to something from the masters of modern power pop, Cheap Trick, and their "latest" is no exception. After 35 years, they are still delivering some of the sweetest melodic rock with all the intensity and thrills of a group of teenagers in their parent's garage. Talk about staying power...a lot of today's bands can learn from how these gentlemen get along. Three plus decades and the original line up remains intact: Robin Zander still sounds brilliant on vocals, Rick Nielsen still kicks out plenty of crunchy riffs, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos remain steady on the bass and drums, and all of them still provide those trademark backing vocals.

"The Latest" finds Cheap Trick flaunting a lot more of their Beatles influence than previous releases, with some tracks ("Miracle") making you check to be sure it isn't some obscure John Lennon cover. The production sounds amazing, with mixing by the masterful Chris Lord-Alge. There is a good mix of upbeat numbers among a healthy dose of their signature power ballads.

After beginning with a brief and surreal instrumental, the boys blast into an excellent cover of Slade's "When The Lights Go Out", which sounds better than most of the 70s covers on Def Leppard's "Yeah!" record. The rocking attitude continues with hooky new classics like "Miss Tomorrow" and "Sick Man of Europe". "These Days" sounds like a single that could have fit easily on "Busted", and "Everybody Knows" is one of their best ballads in recent years. Another highlight in this exceptionally strong set is the album closer, "Smile".

There is really nothing wrong with "California Girl", but do we really need another song about freakin' California? Let's hear a song about girls from Maryland or something. The only other minor complaint is that several of the tracks are way too short - they are more like ideas than full-fledged songs. The tragic thing is some of these, like "Everyday You Make Me Crazy", are great ideas and would have made killer tunes.

All things considered, I rank "The Latest" as one of Cheap Trick's greatest (and most consistent) records in a long time. In a perfect world, this one would be the ticket restoring Cheap Trick to their rightful place on top the pop and rock charts.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13

Cheap Trick on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New video: Boh Runga featuring Serj Tankian "Be Careful"

We thought the debut CD from New Zealand's Boh Runga was fantastic (check it out here), so wanted to let you know about her new video for the great song "Be Careful", which made our famous "iPOD-worthy" list. "Be Careful", a song about starting over, is her duet with System of a Down front man Serj Tankian. The video follows some more info on Boh.

"The song is off Boh's U.S. album debut 'Right Here' which was released digitally in July. Well known in her Native Zealand as the front woman of Stellar (one of New Zealand's most popular bands), and as the designer of the hugely popular Birdland jewelry line, Boh has assembled and eclectic and talented group of collaborators for her U.S. solo debut. The album includes performance collaborations with Serj Tankian and Greg Laswell, and writing collaborations with Wendy Melvoin (Prince and the Revolution), Whiskeytown's Mike Daly, Kevin Savigar, Rod Stewart's songwriter and Shelly Peiken who wrote 'Bitch' for Meredith Brooks and also 'Genie in a Bottle' for Christina Aguilera".

Check out the video:

Boh Runga on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Flying Machines "Flying Machines"

Hopping back and forth between the classic rock sound of Queen to the trendy sound of The Killers, with an occasional side-step into bouncy pop, the Flying Machines hope to blast off in a big way with their new self-titled release. The band has secured a place on the runway having landed some of their music of 'Psych' (USA Network) and winning the Converse 'Get Out of the Garage' battle of the bands contest. They'll also perform at CMJ 2009 and will be featured on the cover of the November CMJ magazine).

William Ryan George can deliver some mad vocals - you'll see what I mean after a few minutes into the opener "Talk About It". He blasts into a falsetto that reminds me of last season's American Idol runner up Adam Lampert. One thing that I normally don't find myself motivated to comment on are the drums, but I have to give a shout out to the talents of Ken Weisbach for his stunning work here.

The first single, "On A Whim" encapsulates everything Flying Machines is all about - layered atop a perky piano melody you'll hear some retro rock overtones and Queen-inspired harmonies in the chorus. The track received 500,000 spins in just three months, becoming the #1 most-played song on Yahoo Music's "Who's Next" for three weeks running. While their single is a clear winner, a few runner ups that should be highlighted include the infectious rocker "Stay" and the sweet 70s-styled pop gem "Hopelessly Alone". The quiet build of "I Don't Remember Why" adds a nice dynamic and is well-placed on the CD to break things up. There's a few tracks that don't quite reach this caliber, but nothing on this CD crashes and burns either.

I'm not completely confident that Flying Machines will soar to great heights with this one, but they certainly got off the ground and deserve to be on your radar. The album is out today and I have clearance to give you this FREE MP3 of "Talk About It".

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10

Flying Machines on MySpace. Official site.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Review: Pretty Faces "Another Sound"

A trio of Thorslunds from Canada who modestly refer to themselves as The Pretty Faces are trying to be more than just a face in the crowd with their latest CD, "Another Sound". By some measure they are successful - the hot pink packaging will surely grab your eyeballs. Their sophomore effort just debuted at #163 on CMJ and helping the band secure notable gigs as they embark on a tour, such as a lot at the International Pop Overthrow Festival on November 5.

I like the perky beat and oldies song structure that embodies lead off track "Right On The Money", which is instantly catchy and gives high hopes for the rest of the CD. Sad to say, but nothing that followed seemed to reach the bar set by the opening tune. "Rib" comes close, sounding more like modern indie pop, but this is where Jeph Thorslund's vocal limitations begin to rear its ugly head. He's got the heart and a good instinct for where to go vocally, but he often sounds out of pitch and has some cringe-worthy moments when reaching up to the limit of his vocal range. Add to that the fact that most of these songs are melodiously nondescript and you have a record that generates as much excitement as a tax form. However, Hannah Thorslund takes the mic on "Elephant" and temporarily saves the day with one of her songs...not that it is a great song, but compared to the others it stands out in a big way - it is the elephant in the room.

If you want to check out some Pretty Faces, start with "Right On The Money" or "Elephant". Imagine a cross between the Jim Carroll Band and Plain White T's - in fact, "Yellow Highway Lights" could be their "Hey There Delilah".

iPOD-worthy: 1, 5, 7

The Pretty Faces on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: Black Crowes "Before the Frost...Until the Freeze"

"Before the Frost...Until the Freeze" is the latest opus from The Black Crowes, an ambitious project divided into two parts totalling twenty new studio tracks. Kudos to the band for not stabbing fans in the back with the trendy bullsh!t "deluxe" editions of the CD release. The "Before the Frost" CD includes a card allowing access to download the "Until the Freeze" mp3s for no extra charge. The entire project was recorded in just five nights in front of a live studio audience, explaining the audible applause at the end of each track. Also very cool - the CD looks just like an LP.

To put my review in perspective, my top three favorite Black Crowes records are: "By Your Side" (1999), "Shake Your Money Maker" (1990), and "Three Snakes and One Charm" (1996). I believe this year's release is going to be my fourth favorite.

Upon first listen, I honestly wasn't so enthusiastic. Only a couple tracks instantly grabbed me...but after a couple more spins the subtle hooks were sinking in fast and a greater appreciation for the astonishing musicianship was developing. These songs have to chill with you for a bit, but it is worth the investment. Overall, the double album is a more laid back affair for Black Crowes, so people looking for the higher energy of their debut or the upbeat catchy pop of "By Your Side" may be disappointed. While a little slower and viscous, "Before the Frost...Until the Freeze" still engages the listener and is ultimately satisfying. Highlights from "Before the Frost" include the rousing opener, "Good Morning Captain", the excellent ballad "Appaloosa" and the celebratory sound of "And The Band Played On". They also do an intriguing organic dance track ("I Ain't Hiding"), but it was more strange than enjoyable to me.

"Until The Freeze" is comprised of eight more original Black Crowes' studio songs plus a cover version of the Stephen Stills tune "So Many Times." "Freeze" continues in the mellow vein, with most tracks containing copious bluegrass and country overtones. An alter-ego for the band, but not one that I could get into so much.

"Before the Frost...Until the Freeze" won't give you chills right away, but most of it will grow on you as it thaws.

"Before the Frost" - 1, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12
"...Until the Freeze" - 2, 4

The Black Crowes on MySpace. Official site.

Here they are performing "Good Morning Captain" on Letterman:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Archie Powell and the Exports "Loose Change" [EP]

The new EP from Archie Powell and the Exports, "Loose Change", is loose, raw, and...downright fun. Each song has a core of pop, but Archie Powell and the Exports cover it with enough grit that it is almost disguised. The result is an exciting foray into what I would classify as modern roots rock.

Lead off track "Moving To The City" exemplifies their style - a hook-filled chorus flanked with Wilco-esque attitude. On "Mattson Is A Flake", the low end is cranked up in the chorus, pounding on your ears and demanding your attention. Most of their songs follow a similar dynamic, making this tactic a bit of a trademark for the band - the EP only has 5 songs, so it doesn't get old. The title track is another highlight, with some old country piano accenting the verses until that trademark low end guitar tone comes crashing in during the chorus. For you fans of 50s cover tunes, they end things with an upbeat, acoustic-based cover of Bobby Freeman's "Do You Want To Dance".

Archie Powell and the Exports are taking alt-country to a whole new level of cool, putting a more aggressive and modern spin on the genre. If you enjoy Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, or gritty pop rock of any kind, you owe it to yourself to invest a little time in checking out this EP from Archie Powell and the Exports. The price is right..."Loose Change" is being offered as a FREE download on their MySpace page!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3

Archie Powell and the Exports on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Loose Change":

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review: Josh Fix "This Town Is Starting To Make Me Angry" [EP]

Hot off the heels of his terrific LP, "Free At Last", which earned a rare perfect score here at BMF (review here), Josh Fix is back already with a new 5-track EP. "This Town Is Starting To Make Me Angry" is an all-too-brief musical meditation on our sorry tendencies to persist in wanting trivial things while a hurricane of poverty and suffering devastates the rest of the world.

Not that you'd easily pick that up in these wonderfully catchy and perky melodies and robust harmonies. Unbelievably, Fix is once again playing all the instruments and doing the vocal duties, leaving me in awe of this guy's talent. With this latest EP, Fix solidifies his righteous position to be this generation's Elton John/Billy Joel.

Nearly every track on "This Town Is Starting To Make Me Angry" shines with brilliance and it just seems to get better as it goes. "Dirty Bloody Naked" is a classic Fix groove, with crisp electric guitar accentuating the jingly piano on this melodious gem. The instantly infectious "Ghosts In Your Head" is my favorite of the bunch. I had a surprising affection for his more low key number, "Dear Lord", a bare bones acoustic ditty with deeply introspective lyrics. "Barely Insane" has a mild disco flavor, bringing potent hints of E.L.O. to mind - it is another fun and rewarding treat for the ears. The only track that I felt a little ho-hum was the title track.

Just enough to whet your appetite, the EP will leave you salivating for his next full-length release, which we hope is not far away. We need another Fix already!

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 5

Josh Fix on MySpace. Official site.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review: Collective Soul "Collective Soul (Rabbit)"

Collective Soul are about as proliferative as rabbits when it comes to writing catchy rock songs and delicate ballads. Believe it or not, Ed Roland and the boys have been at this now for almost 15 years, and their talent to fill their releases with potential hit after hit is admirable. While you couldn't find a radio station without them in their program list during the 90s, the new decade has met them with an undeserved cold shoulder. Now on Roadrunner Records, can Collective Soul once again dominate the charts?

Collective Soul marks their eighth release with another self-titled record (their 1995 sophomore record was eponymous); the 2009 release is consequently referred to as "rabbit", referring to the bunny on the cover that is the likely inspiration for the song "Fuzzy". At any rate, Collective Soul delivers another 11 tracks of what fans expect, with the same level of energy that has made their other seven albums so enjoyable. What is lacking are unequivocal hits.

The record begins with a rousing crowd-pleaser, "Welcome All Again", which probably goes over better at a concert than on a record. It is lyrically empty and just doesn't do much for me. "Fuzzy" had potential, but the guitar tone (yes, it sounds fuzzy - how clever) and the whistling rub me the wrong way. They just turn what could have been a cool midtempo rocker into a novelty track that is merely a sonic onomatopoeia. "Dig" is a solid track delivered with gusto, but just doesn't climb above the bar Collective Soul has passed previously. After this, they settle into a more comfortable groove and the chemistry comes together to deliver some new standards by which the band can be proud to be measured by.

"You" is a great acoustic-laced ballad, quickly followed by the punchy "My Days", which is a groovy throwback to their debut material. Another one-two punch hits us next, with the brilliantly shifting "Understanding" and the album's first single, the mellow but pleasant "Staring Down". Things get a little too average after that.

The new one by Collective Soul is like a sandwich - good meat in the middle, but it is slapped between two pieces of stale bread. In short, good...not great. Collective Soul has done better, but their latest is still more fulfilling than most of the garbage out there.

iPOD-worthy: 4, 5, 6, 7

Collective Soul on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Review: Van Ghost "Melodies For Lovers"

Van Ghost Myspace

"Melodies For Lovers" marks the debut record for Chicago band Van Ghost. Van Ghost is the brainchild of concert promoter/band manager Michael Berg, who was inspired to write and record his own tunes after working with many other diverse artists in the business. His connections allowed him to assemble a group of exceptional musicians to contribute to the Van Ghost project, and their chops can't be knocked.

A mix of alt-country and Southern rock, there is plenty on this offering to satisfy most readers of BMF. "Melodies For Lovers" is richly textured, generally bright, and organic through and through. But personally, I felt the hooks could be stronger and too many songs sound too similar. Also, the vocals sound like a hybrid of Bob Mould and John Wesley Harding; they work better on some songs than others. My picks include the sweeping "Summer Promise", the skillfully catchy "Do It For You" (my favorite), the bouncy "Through The Years", and slow burner, "Coliseum". Recommended if you like The Derek Trucks Band, Pat McGee, or Black Crowes.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 8, 14

Van Ghost on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Review: Chris Richards and the Subtractions "Sad Sounds of the Summer"

Power pop fans in the audience may already be familiar with Detroit's Chris Richards, but now he's added the Subtractions for the 2009 release "Sad Sounds of the Summer" (Gangplank Records). Don't let the album title fool you - there is nothing sad about this upbeat melodic rock. On the contrary, it is a perfect summertime soundtrack, containing radiant and sunny tunes guaranteed to brighten your day.

Chris Richards has a little Scot Sax thing going on with his vocals, and the abundant harmonies round out his sound in the most ear-pleasing way imaginable. There are strong hints of 80s pop rock coming through in the guitar tones, calling to mind some of the best guitar-driven acts of that era (e.g. The Outfield, Jimmy Davis & Junction). The ten tracks on this record are full of solid hooks, infectious riffs, and meticulous harmonies. Every song is respectable, but some of the stronger ones that appeal to me the most include "I Can't Quit Her", "Consolation", and "I Do Declare".

The harmonies and song structures are strongly reminiscent of The Rembrandts, but fans of The Meadows, Material Issue, and Matthew Sweet will also find plenty on this disc to savor. Definitely not a CD fans of power pop will want to miss this year!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8

Chris Richards and the Subtractions on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Review: hyperstory "hyperstory"

The debut CD from hyperstory strikes me as a bit of a throwback to the classic days of LPs that were meant to be digested whole. Scott Blevins is the man behind this story, who intentionally recorded the tracks at a wide variety of places around L.A. in order to create a diversity of sound. He describes the music of hyperstory as "genre bending, with live instrumentation, programming, ambient textures and unique performances all playing a part."

The nine tracks on the disc are a heady mix of instrumentals and interludes with some pretty straight forward pop rock containing a dash of electronica. I am not a huge fan of instrumentals, and this record doesn't change that much, with exception of the very groovy track, "Ascension". This one makes me feel like a cop driving the backstreets in the 70s, having an epiphany about a cold case. The retro feel and wicked bass line just ooze coolness and will be my new theme song to play on the way to work each day. Additional standouts include the mellow "Will It Ever Change" - very Pink Floyd - as well as "A Recokoning", which is a soaring and upbeat piece of tasteful pop.

A mix of influences and genres - "artertainment" - hyperstory is not for everyone or every occasion, but is good to have on hand for when the moment is right. The album comes out November 10. In the meantime, why not get on the mailing list and be rewarded with a free mp3 of "a happening"?

iPOD-worthy: 5, 6, 8

hyperstory on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: Star and Micey "Star and Micey"

Star and Micey is a new indie pop band from Memphis, who have just completed the recording of their self-titled debut record at the legendary Ardent Studios. The core of Star and Micey is comprised of Joshua Cosby (guitars/lead vocals), Geoff Smith (bass, vocals, percussion), and Nick Redmond (lead guitars). The trio named themselves after a homeless man who called himself Star, who one day told Cosby about a song he wrote about his ex-wife Micey. The band is supported by the newly reactivated Ardent Music label, which was founded in 1959 and brought the hugely influential Big Star (no relation to the homeless dude mentioned above) to the world. So do Star and Micey stand out in a musical universe consisting of billions and billions of wannabe stars?

Probably not, but one can easily spot a few twinkling diamonds in their sky. The music is generally upbeat yet tranquil - a gentle blend of quirky folk rock and pop sensibility. Cosby's vocals are shaky and timid, sometimes so shaky that you're not sure if its a vibrato or nerves. He frequently glides into a rather effeminate falsetto that will impress or scare you. But to his credit, Cosby's vocals are soothing and nonthreatening, well suited to the brand of folk pop they have mastered.

Highlights include the joyously poppy "Carly" (complete with a great sing-a-long ba bop ba ba line in the chorus), "My Beginning", and the undeniably infectious "So Much Pain", which is my favorite in the pack. If you like Jack Johnson, Frente!, or Paul Turner, be sure to lend an ear to "Star and Micey" sometime soon. The album is out October 20.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5

Star and Micey on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review: The Brigadier "Time Is A Wound"

Loyal readers of this blog know our fondness for The Brigadier, the UK-based pop singer/songwriter also known as Matt Williams (see here). Following a string of impressive releases of indie Brit-pop, The Brigadier is back already with his third full-length record, bringing more infectious melodies and harmonies into the world.

The thing that stands out for me the most on "Time Is A Wound" is that The Brigadier can rock! This time out, Williams is more liberal than ever with the electric guitar, which really works on some of these tracks and takes them to a whole new level. You'll notice this right away with the rambunctious opener, "I’m Gonna Make You Mine Missy", which is my favorite track on the CD. The rocking guitar is a refreshing twist on his usual formula of gentle and sweet indie pop. But long-time fans need not worry...there is plenty of the typical Brigadier sound to be found on his latest effort. Even in the rocking "I’m Gonna Make You Mine Missy", there are still his trademark harmonies, hand claps, catchy melodies, and sunny keys.

A strong suit of "Time Is A Wound" is the mix of jubilant pop rock with moody atmospheric pieces. Yet, despite this diversity, every tune remains wholly recognizable as a Brigadier song. For instance, "Why Don't You Love Me" is rich with elements from 70s pop funk and R&B, but the ELO-like harmonies bring it all home to Brigadier territory. The record is not without its quiet, reflective moments, such as the harpsichord enhanced "Wrong By You" and "The Insomnia", as well as the haunting "Watch Me Cry".

In addition to the outstanding "I’m Gonna Make You Mine Missy", I'd highlight the bouncy piano-driven number, "Oh, Paddington", the McCartney-esque "Traditional Lovesong", and acoustic driven (and aptly titled) "Something Good". You also have to check out the lyrically interesting title track, with lines such as "Time heals all wounds...that ain't true when time is the wound". Bringing in rock, pop, folk, this track is another example showcasing the extraordinarily diverse musical talents of Matt Williams...long live The Brigadier!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13

The Brigadier on MySpace. Official site. Get it.