In March 2009, Manchester Orchestra released AP.net's Album of the Year Mean Everything to Nothing, which combined intelligent, introspective lyrics with raw, unpolished, dynamic rock. Critics hailed them for their imagination, emotional charge, and willingness to push the boundaries of the radio rock genre.
Ke$ha's debut album Animal shares none of these qualities, and it's the breakout pop debut of the year.
Taking cues from Lady Gaga's success in 2009, Ke$ha stomped onto the pop music scene with "Tik Tok," a pre-game anthem to getting drunk with your girlfriends and going out to party. Lyrics like "brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack" and "don't have a plan in the world, but got plenty of beer" are delivered so matter-of-factly and...happily (more on that later) that the listener is forced to consider that Ke$ha's songs are autobiographical. Make no mistake, there isn't a single intelligent or introspective phrase on her entire album, but the sheer vapidity and (dare I say it) "swagger" of Ke$ha's delivery makes her assertions of "kick [men] to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger" believable.
Nearly all of the songs on "Animal" are infectiously catchy. From the kick stomp Katy Perry stylings of "Your Love Is My Drug" to the piano rain echoes of the title track, our drunken star delivers polished dance music with only a few missteps (3OH!3's further degradation of the English language in "Blah Blah Blah" reaffirms my hatred of them and completely ruins a great track). The song titles show the limited range of topics: "Take It Off," Hungover," "Party at a Rich Dude's House," etc. Despite the odd out-of-place ballad (Ke$ha's at her best in full party mode), there's not much variety either, with synthesizer and computer beats and nursery rhyme melodies. But it works. Over half of this album has single potential, and as Rihanna, Madonna, or Michael Jackson can tell you, that's all that matters in the world of pop music.
Intelligent, introspective lyrics? Nope.
Raw? Not in the unpolished sense. Maybe the morning after these songs feel a bit raw.
Dynamic rock? Went out the window as soon as 3OH!3 was invited to the party.
Imagination, emotional charge, and willingness to push the boundaries of radio? Nope. Ke$ha plays it safe by releasing dance music that's easy to latch onto, and that's all anyone's asking.
I gained new hopes when I heard/saw the video for Thirty Seconds To Mars' new single, "Kings and Queens." Sure, it sounds like a total U2-knockoff, complete with a cawing eagle and gang vocals over a soaring chorus, but it was a GOOD knockoff. Leto harnessed the unique aspects of his voice into a catchy refrain, complete with whispery vocals in the verses for gravis and abstract lyrics.
Unfortunately, the rest of 30STM's "This Is War" never matches the intensity of their lead single, and instead of attempting a varied collection of songs, the album tiredly repeats each and every trick in each and every song. Entire songs are whispered as Leto's lyrics devolve into boring buzz phrases like 'a brave new world' and the mostly lackluster choruses lament the fall of man. Most tellingly, every song on the album has gang vocals, as if a hundred voices could help Leto pound his way out of a shitty song.
I'll give it another few listens, but "This Is War" seems pretty skippable.
So I just spent a good hour typing up a lengthy review of Say Anything's November 1st show at the TLA in Philly with Eisley, Moneen, and moving Mountains. Trust me when I say it was filled with clever insights, pictures, links, and videos from the show itself. It was probably tied for the longest blog I've ever done.
For some reason, when I clicked 'Post Blog Entry' I got the hated "we're sorry" screen from AP.net and all of my work was lost. Fuck.
Let's do a short short short version:
Say Anything - Phenomenal
Eisley - Underwhelming
Moneen - Epic
Moving Mountains - Energetic
I got this idea from Anton's blog.
Bargain Bin Diving - Going to a record store and buying a cheap album on a whim based on album artwork.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
It's a dreary, somewhat brisk autumn day in Philadelphia, and I don't feel like really diving into a "great" new album. I've only got 8 bucks on me after my Subway token, so I begin browsing the bargain bin. This album caught me for it's $0.99 price tag and the perfect circle of the rollercoaster (I'm assuming it's emotional) on its cover. The girl at the counter didn't acknowledge my existence when she rang it up. I don't blame her.
From a myspace someone set up: "Named in tribute to both singer/bassist Kevin Ridel and the school featured in the classic musical Grease, the Los Angeles-based alternative pop trio Ridel High also featured guitarist Steve Leroy and drummer Steve Coulter. The group debuted in 1997 with the indie label release Hi Scores; upon signing to A&M in 1998, Ridel High retooled a handful of the album tracks for re-release under the name Emotional Rollercoaster."
Don't get me wrong, it's bad. I don't know what A&M was thinking when they re-released this album. They were probably influenced by the growing sales surges of boy bands like O-Town and 98 Degrees, and when they saw these guys' haircuts the label assumed the best (worst?).
Basically, Ridel High plays pop-punk music that stays away from the punk side of the hyphen; in fact, it's more like power pop. The lyrics are pretty cheesy, and there's lots of forced rhyme couplets (see the video below's chorus: "Self-destructive / all I ever wanted / and it's so abruptive / Self-destructive." There's an enjoyable hookiness to the songs, but part of that might be forced on my part since I desperately wanted to like this album. In the end though, it's hard to really connect with lyrics like "breaking up for the moment really SUCKS," when they're delivered in three-part, slightly off-key harmony. And therein lies the problem with Ridel High: they have all the staples of good pop punk music from the late 90s (Woah-ohs, journal-y songs about girls, fun and punchy riffs, etc), but they don't put it together well at all.
Case in point, the music video for the afore-mentioned "Self-Destructive", the only one from their short stint on A&M. They dress themselves in what looks like mariachi band attire and rock out on a game show; funny concept though, and worth a watch:
In a way, it's sort of unfortunate that Ridel High was expelled from the music scene. With a little more experience and talent, they could have fit in fine with Sugar Ray's niche.
I finished the latest Dan Brown novel last night, and it turned out to be a (not surprisingly) quick-paced and thrilling read. Chapter 104 in particular blew my MIND and I was happy this raging cliffhanger was adequately explained. There were tons and tons of codes, and though I only initially knew how to solve one of the hundred or so (in 500 pages, that's a lot of codes), the solutions were presented in a logical way.
My only real qualm with the book was the lack of a giant twist towards the end. Brown's never been very good at them: of all the Langdon novels, 'Angels and Demons' had the best revelation about its villain. You could see this coming from literally hundreds of pages away, and I could tell Brown obsessed over the chapter where he gave out minor clues of the Solomon secret but it just didn't work. On the bright side, Mal'akh is his best villain yet, a scarily believable religious freak. Reminds me of the assassin from 'Angels and Demons' (still my favorite of Brown's work) and I might have a nightmare about his tattooed body.
My last thought was that it seems Brown was trying to AVOID controversy this time around, which to me doesn't compute in terms of book sales. He went after some of the core beliefs of the Catholic Church in his first two Langdon stories (especially 'The Da Vinci Code'; everyone in the world got caught up in that pheonomena), but he casts the Masons in a very sympathetic light: though Langdon doesn't (initially at least) believe in their worldview, he respects it in a way that breaks from his sort-of cynicism towards the Church.
Overall, 'The Lost Symbol' was a good, solid book that was worth the six-year wait. Its dozens of codes allow for multiple rereadings, and the action and intellectual cliffhangers ensure a pageturning thriller.