Bloc Party – Intimacy

October 31, 2008

Though UK based band Bloc Party’s second album wasn’t as well received as their first, Silent Alarm, I did like it a lot, and the same goes for their third, Intimacy, which is filled to the brim with the kind of passionate, hard driving synthesizer based dance music the band for which the band initially made a name for itself. There’s still a New Wave and 80’s synthpop influence to be heard, but they’ve also woven in a 90’s techno sound by way of the Chemical Brothers, “Mercury,” the first single, being a prime example. There are also a few slower numbers sprinkled throughout which work really well, too: “Biko,” “Signs” and “Zephyrus.” They’re at their best with the harder edged songs, however, with “Halo,” “Ono Month Off,” “Talons” and “Better Than Heaven” being particular standouts. Bloc Party excel at matching pithy, non-preachy social and political commentary with great, hook laden dance music, and their more personal songs are emotional and moving without dipping into sappy territory. Intimacy should be cause for celebration for Bloc Party fans, as it gives them everything they love about the band and more, and it’s not a bad place for newcomers to their sound to jump on the bandwagon. Definitely recommended.

Just a friendly reminder that the third season premiere of 30 Rock is Thursday night, October 30 on NBC, 9:30 PM EST. Owing to the wonder of the Interweb, I was able to catch a sneak preview of the premiere episode, and it’s good, it’s good. It’s called “Do Over,” and it picks up a few months after the wild second season finale, with Devon (Will Arnett) still running GE, and Jack (Alec Baldwin) looking to reclaim the mantle. Meanwhile, Liz (Tina Fey) is looking to adopt a baby and ends up having to field a visit from a very anal retentive adoption agency representative (Megan Mullally) to the chaotic set of her variety show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan.” Tracy himself is busy glorying in the success of his porn video game, irking Jenna (Jane Krakowski), who feels entitled to some of the profits. And if you don’t know who all these people are, well, you should go rent or buy the previous 30 Rock seasons on DVD, and catch the hell up. 30 Rock‘s won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series two years in a row, but it still hasn’t caught fire with TV audiences, and if you’re one of the people who hasn’t been watching it, well, then I blame you. Seriously, this is the best TV comedies ever, with great characters, endlessly quotable dialogue and if you watch it, then you’ll see more of that woman who’s been doing that killer Sarah Palin impression on Saturday Night Live the past few weeks. Also, you’ll laugh. A lot. So tune in tomorrow night on NBC, or else watch it online, but watch it.

“Now step aside! Check it, tight pants, woo!”

Palm Desert based band Eagles of Death Metal’s latest album, Heart On, contains a tongue in cheek, wickedly effective blend of garage rock, glam rock and funk that sometimes threatens to spill over into novelty territory but is savvy enough to never quite go down that road. It’s sexy, it rocks, and it’s got a beat and you can dance to it, and it may just convince listeners that they, too, are sexy and that they, too, rock. They also do a convincing take on psychedelic folk with “Now I’m A Fool,” which, as with a lot of songs on Heart On, has to do with the pitfalls of living in and around the Los Angeles scene. (Some of the joys are noted in other songs.) My favorite songs are contained in the first half of the album, but the band nevertheless winds things up in memorable fashion with “I’m Your Torpedo.” All in all, an solid, enjoyable release from a band unlike any other on the American scene. Standout cuts: “WannaBe in L.A.,” “High Voltage,” “Secret Plans” and “I’m Your Torpedo.”

Pink – Funhouse

October 29, 2008

I’ve always liked singer/songwriter Pink’s mix of rock and R&B (though I refuse to spell her name P!nk), and there’s even more to like on her fifth and strongest album, Funhouse. It’s an even mix between high energy dancer rockers and ballads, with the best material being the former, including “So What,” which was already a number one single prior to Funhouse‘s release. Part of Pink’s appeal is the mixture of brashness and vulnerability that informs so many of her songs, the voice of a strong, successful woman who nevertheless experiences her share of doubt, confusion and insecurity about herself and the world around her and is unafraid those things as subject matter for her lyrics. This adds a very human dimension to her music, elevating her above most of her pop peers, who themselves often make music as fun and infectious as Pink does, though painfully devoid of authentic human feeling. She’s also willing to take risks with her music and experiment, and if that doesn’t always make for a good song, you have to respect her for trying. That said, one of the highlights here is “Crystal Ball,” an emotional acoustic number that recalls Janis Joplin that she reportedly did in a single take and mastered without mixing it. I have to admit, though, my favorite Pink songs are the ones where she rocks out, as on “So What,” “Sober,” “Bad Influence” and “It’s All Your Fault.” Pink’s brand of pop music is the kind where you needn’t affix the term “guilty pleasure” to, since there’s no reason at all to feel guilty about taking pleasure in her music.

Off With Their Heads, the third album from UK based band Kaiser Chiefs, combines a bit of XTC and Madness with some of the social and political commentary of bands like the English Beat and the Specials into a pretty irresistible dance pop mix. They really came into their own with their last album, Yours Truly, Angry Mob, following an enjoyable, if comparatively lightweight, debut, Employment, and they continue their upward trajectory with this Mark Ronson produced effort. Both the music and the lyrics are smarter sounding, more expansive and self-assured, and though it loses some of its fire on the last couple of tracks, Off With Their Heads generally contains some of the band’s best material yet. Standout cuts: “Never Miss A Beat,” “Like It Too Much,” “You Want History” and “Tomato In The Rain.”

The second album from San Francisco based band Loquat, who initially made a splash on their third EP with their sublime Smiths cover, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” is a glossy set of electronica influenced songs, musically firmly in the tradition of bands like Ivy, Frou Frou, Everything But The Girl, Hooverphonic and Dido. Lyrically, they eschew songs about romance, instead opting for songs exploring loss, grief and loneliness. Owing to this, they put a unique stamp on the genre they’re working in, enabling their intelligently made pop to stand out amid an admittedly crowded field of musical peers. Loquat has a first rate lead vocalist in Kylee Swenson, who also writes the lyrics, and she’s backed by a talented crew of musicians. They deserve a wider audience, and hopefully Secrets Of The Sea will attract more listeners for them. If you enjoy the aforementioned bands, or else the Cardigans, Stereolab or Cat Power, musicians they cite as influences, then I very much encourage you to check Loquat out. Standout cuts: “Harder Hit,” “Sit Sideways,” “These Kinds Of Friends” and “Go Hibernate.”


October 26, 2008

Usually by the time a horror franchise has reached its fifth entry, it’s taking place in space, but Saw V takes place in the same grungy warehouse it seems to have been taking place in since the first movie. The original film was a effective thriller that worked up the kind of suspense that most modern so-called thrillers almost completely lack. I thought the second film was more of a retread, but the third one was surprisingly good, so I went to the midnight showing of last year’s Saw IV, which was ruined by inept execution (no pun intended). So now there’s Saw V, and…it’s not bad. It’s less gory than previous entries, and it seems to have been made with fanboys in mind, so there’s a lot of backstory, so much so that this almost qualifies as Saw: The Beginning. I suppose the other way to look at the latter quality is that the filmmakers are working diligently to fill in the numerous plot holes contained in the previous Saw movies, while finding ways to keep Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the serial killer who designs elaborate traps to “rehabilitate” other evil-doers and who in fact died in Saw III, involved somehow. Bell created a memorable horror character in the first few films, but he now appears exclusively in flashbacks, serving mostly to fill in the aforementioned plot holes while passing the baton on to a police detective, Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), whom Jigsaw has been grooming to continue his work. Mandylor, who can otherwise be engaging and charismatic, hasn’t been given much to work with so far in the series, so Hoffman isn’t nearly as interesting as Jigsaw. Mostly Hoffman and Jigsaw exchange a copious amount of dramatically whispered dialogue. The filmmakers need a more compelling character to carry on the series (yes, Virginia, there will be a Saw VI), or else the Saw movies will be dead in the water, even for diehard fans, enough of whom showed up this weekend to make it $30 million. It was not the number one movie, however, as another horror movie, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, beat it out this time. Also worth mentioning: Julie Benz, one of my favorite character actors of late and one of the reasons I paid to see Saw V, stars as Brit, one of Jigsaw’s victims, and she elevates the movie every time she appears.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

In my review of Calgary based multi-instrumentalist and one man band Chad VanGaalen’s last album, Skelliconnection, I described his work as sounding “like a collaboration between Devendra Banhart, Beck and the Moldy Peaches.” To some degree this description holds true for Soft Airplane, his third LP, but I think I’d add in Sonic Youth at their most experimental to the mix. The songs on Soft Airplane are preoccupied for the most part with death and mortality, and the music is more aggressive and frequently more abrasive than the music found on his previous releases. The potent combination of folk with rock, experimental pop and any number of other musical styles makes for an appropriately otherworldly sound that’s both engaging and possessed of an eerie beauty. I was mightily impressed with Skelliconnection, to the point where I declared it one of the best albums of 2006, but VanGaalen has outdone himself in a big way, Soft Airplanes representing a considerable leap forward, the sound of someone coming into their full powers as an artist. Standout cuts: “Willow Tree,” “Cities Of The Dead,” “Poisonous Heads” and “Molten Light.”

Army Navy

October 23, 2008

The full length debut from Los Angeles based band Army Navy sounds like a happy collision between the Monkees, Teenage Fanclub, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw and the Housemartins. The slightly noirish album cover, showing a phone booth in the dark, belies the sunny music inside, which is full of soaring melodies, jangly guitars and breezy harmonizing. I’m not sure listeners will necessarily find anything radically new or groundbreaking here among the 12 tracks included here, but it’s otherwise difficult to find fault with a set of music so filled with infectious melodies and so highly enjoyable. Standout cuts: “Dark As Days,” “Saints,” “Unresponsive Ears” and “Ignite.”

This collection of 7″ vinyl singles from Memphis based singer/songwriter Jay Reatard is like a box of candy for garage rock and power pop fans, 13 tracks worth of non-stop indie-style goodness. His guitar and organ infused music has echoes of bands like the Buzzcocks (he often sounds a lot like Pete Shelley), the Cramps, the Plimsouls and early Elvis Costello: A punk sensibility informs his take on 60’s garage rock, which sometimes comes in lo-fi form, sometimes not. Later in the collection, he slows things down with “No Time” and “You Were Sleeping,” which recall Elliott Smith. A full length album for Matador is scheduled for early 2009, which means more garage rock good times are just around the bend. Standout cuts: “See Saw,” “Painted Shut,” “Trapped Here” and “No Time.”