elenimandellLos Angeles based singer/songwriter Eleni Mandell set out to make her seventh album in ten years, Artificial Fire, with a specific goal in mind: “I want people to hear this record and have fun, more of a good time.” Not that her previous albums haven’t been fun, albums that musically have ranged from moody, film noir-ish rock and jazzy pop to forays into sultry torch songs and country music. The unpretentious eclecticism that has characterized her previous work is fully intact, however, and elements of all those aforementioned styles find their way into the fifteen Mandell original songs included here. The rockers she’s written for Artificial Fire have a punk and New Wave edge to them, not unlike Blondie or the Pretenders, and are strategically sprinkled throughout the record, essentially adding some extra punch to the beginning, middle and end. Mandell hasn’t really rocked out like this in some time, so those tracks are especially welcome. She’s backed on this album by an ace band that includes Ryan Feves (bass), Kevin Fitzgerald (drums) and Jeremy Drake (electric guitar), whose musicianship insures this is a consistently entertaining and sometimes surprising record to listen to from start to finish. Artificial Fire is a lot of sophisticated, playful fun, and if you don’t know Mandell’s work yet (and you really should, as she’s one of the American music scene’s greatest contemporary talents), this is a pretty good place to start getting acquainted. Standout cuts: “Artificial Fire,” “It Wasn’t The Time (It Was The Color),” “Bigger Burn” and “Cracked.”

http://www.myspace.com/elenimandell

eleniband

franzferdinandtonightI will say this much about Scottish band Franz Ferdinand’s moody and restless third album: It’s definitely different. It’s also the same in that their basic core sound, inspired by 70’s and 80’s era punk and New Wave is still present, though they’ve layered some electronica on top of it, along with some dub, ska, even a bit of folk, a bit of disco and funk and a generous amount of psychedelic elements. What might’ve sounded like a confused mess instead comes off as an intriguing, energetic and frequently inspired shift in several different directions at once (i.e. the nearly 8 minute long “Lucid Dreams,” which is a little psychedelic, a little New Wave, and then winds up with an extended electronica jam). I loved their last album, and I find myself, on the first couple of listens, anyway, not exactly loving Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. That said, the changes here aren’t so radical that fans of their last two albums are going to feel alienated or anything, and those changes may earn them some new ones. Don’t get me wrong, though, I do like this album a lot, and I appreciate their effort to branch out musically. It may just take awhile to grow on me. Standout cuts: “Ulysses,” “Turn It On,” “No You Girls” and “Bite Hard.”

http://www.myspace.com/franzferdinand

The Long Blondes – Singles

December 10, 2008

longblondessinglesSleater Kinney, the Delgados, Arab Strap and now the Long Blondes: All recent favorite bands of mine, all of them now broken up. It’s enough to drive a music fan to stop having favorite bands, or at least declaring them publicly. The Long Blondes (Kate Jackson, Dorian Cox, Reenie Hollis, Emma Chaplin and Screech Louder) combined a punk and New Wave sensibility with sometimes sardonically witty, sometimes despairing lyrics. They released two excellent albums before they broke up in October of this year after guitarist and songwriter Dorian Cox suffered a stroke. (Cox is currently undergoing therapy and hopes to eventually be able to play guitar again.) Singles collects the music the Long Blondes released before their debut album in 2006, and there’s not a dud to be heard among the 13 tracks collected here. The digital release gets major demerits for the muddy, distorted versions of “New Idols” and “Long Blonde,” which are otherwise terrific songs. Hopefully, this will be corrected in the near future. The rest of the album sounds great, however, and even features an alternate version of “Separated By Motorways.” I would say Singles is an essential collection for Long Blondes fans while making a pretty decent introduction for newcomers to one of this decade’s most memorable British bands. Standout cuts: “Autonomy Boy,” “Giddy Stratospheres,” “Appropriation (By Any Other Name)” and “Peterborough.”

http://www.myspace.com/thelongblondes

The Killers – Day & Age

November 25, 2008

thekillersThe fourth release from Las Vegas based band the Killers, Day & Age, may not be “one of the best albums of the past twenty years,” as lead singer Brandon Flowers declared Sam’s Town would be, but it’s pretty good, anyway. It’s less ambitious than Sam’s Town, but no less focused on soaring, epic pop melodies, guitars blazing amid washes of synthesizers, big choruses, and Flowers singing with his trademark passion and commitment. There’s the usual 80’s New Wave retro sound that they’ve been honing since their debut, Hot Fuss, and there seems to be a David Bowie circa Young Americans influence floating through some of the songs, as well as a disco and a tropical feel that produces mixed results in “Joy Ride” and “I Can’t Stay,” respectively. Most of the best material is weighted towards the first half of the album, with “Losing Touch” being an ideal album opener, followed in short order by the current single, “Human.” The latter song is hampered by a chorus refrain, “Are we human or are we dancer?,” which is a reference to a Hunter S. Thompson quote about American raising “a generation of dancers,” which makes sense in that context, but out of context, it just sounds distractingly weird. It’s nevertheless a pretty good tune. The album ends strongly with the moving anthem, “Goodnight, Travel Well,” which skirts sentimentality in favor of genuine emotion. All in all, this is a good album with some great moments from the Killers, which should please their many fans, though it may not necessarily gain them many more new ones. Standout cuts: “Losing Touch,” “Human,” “Spaceman” and “Goodnight, Travel Well.”

http://www.myspace.com/thekillers

loveisallSwedish band Love Is All’s second album A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night sounds suitably restless and more than a little frenetic: The 11 tracks contained here are a noisy fusion of punk rock, surf music, ska and New Wave pop, with any number of influences floating on the surface, Romeo Void, Sugarcubes, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Pylon and the B-52’s among them. Once it gets started, the album doesn’t slow down until “Giants Will Fall” and then two tracks later, “A More Uncertain Future,” both New Wave styled ballads by way of Phil Spector. Most of A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night is furious and frequently heavy on the dissonance, and I expect listeners will either hear an inspired mash-up of styles or an overly busy mishmash. I tend to hear the latter more than I hear the former, but I’d encourage listeners to listen to more than one track before making up your mind about Love Is All. Whatever you end up deciding about Love Is All and whether you find their music energizing or just exhausting, I think A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night is worth a listen, anyway. Standout cuts: “New Beginnings,” “Wishing Well,” “Big Bangs, Black Holes, Meteorites” and “19 Floors.”

http://www.myspace.com/loveisall8

This Is Not The World is the third album from UK based the Futureheads, and their first indie release from their very own label, Nul Records. It’s a mixed bag for me, all in all: On most of the songs, the band recalls either the Cure or XTC, which is not itself a bad thing, but this set of music started out strong for me, in particular the first three tracks (“The Beginning Of The Twist,” “Walking Backwards” and “Think Tonight”) but then it tapered off as it went on. It’s certainly not that the energy ever flags, as virtually every song is hard driving, New Wave style rock, and you can imagine nearly every song being pogo-ready in a live setting. My enthusiasm for the whole proceedings just flagged after a few songs, and nothing, save for those initial songs, much stuck in my head. I’ve noticed this album is getting raves in other quarters, so it may be just a matter of taste, but for my part, This Is Not The World was an album that only half worked for me.

http://www.myspace.com/thefutureheads

The Virgins

June 9, 2008

When I first read about the New York City based band the Virgins, they were described as “post-punk,” which makes me think that term must have such a broad meaning that it really has has no meaning. The music on their debut album is in fact disco flavored pop rock for the most part, the kind that used to rule the AM airwaves in the late 70’s, with a nod towards 80’s New Wave dance bands like ABC. Only a handful of songs, “Fernando Pando,” “Hey Hey Girl” (both more familiar sounding indie pop) and “Radio Christiane” (which sounds a bit like the Strokes) fall outside of this category. Now that you know what the album sounds like, is it actually good? Well, quite good, in fact. The first four tracks, “She’s Expensive,” “One Week Of Danger,” “Rich Girls” and “Teen Lovers” are the highlights here, all inspired and fun dance tracks. The Virgins don’t exactly reinvent the wheel here musically, but they do manage to give it a few extra spins, and while the emphasis here seems to be more on having fun than making art, the band manages to do a bit of both. They inject some 21st century sardonic humor into a musical form that seems a lot more entertaining in their hands than it did the first time around. If you liked Kelley Polar’s I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling from earlier this year, then you may want to give the Virgins a listen, too.

http://www.myspace.com/thevirginsnyc

Santogold

June 3, 2008

Brooklyn based Santogold’s debut album, despite its unfortunate cover image of her apparently spewing gold flakes, is entertaining, high energy pop. Though Santogold’s been compared to M.I.A., the Sri Lankan rapper with whom she’s performed, it’s not a very useful comparison as Santogold is primarily a singer rather than a rapper, and while her material is filled with some witty social commentary (“L.E.S. Artistes,” case in point), it’s nowhere near as politically confrontational as M.I.A.’s work tends to be. That said, the album is engaging fun, jumping effortlessly from genre to genre. Santogold’s singing voice is reminiscent of Gwen Stefani, before Stefani started making Top 40 junk, and the music itself is fueled by old school rap, hip-hop, reggae and a lot of 80’s New Wave influences by way of Missing Persons, Bananarama, the Fun Boy Three and Blondie, for starters. The strongest material is weighted towards the first half of the album, with tracks like the aforementioned “L.E.S. Artistes,” “You’ll Find A Way,” “Shove It” and “Creator.” I also like “I’m A Lady” a lot, too. I’m guessing this will be the soundtrack for a lot of people’s summers. Definitely recommended.

http://www.myspace.com/santogold

Second full length from Sheffield, England based band the Long Blondes is a more focused affair than their US debut, which was 16 tracks of punk and New Wave fueled pop glory with echoes of Siouxie and the Banshees, Elastica, Pulp, the Human League and ABC (the latter three being Sheffield bands as well). Their influences still shine through, and they’ve maintained their sardonically witty take on the world, but Couples seems a more relaxed and assured album, more New Wave than punk, with added synths alongside the guitars. It’s as good an album as Someone To Drive You Home in its own way, perhaps a shade better, with the band, led by Kate Jackson on lead vocals, who is fast becoming one of my favorite singers, showing new depth and range. It’s smart pop for adults that you can dance to, and the world can’t get enough of that, I don’t think. If you didn’t catch their US debut last year, here’s your chance to discover one of the coolest bands going. Standout cuts: “Century,” “The Couples,” “Round The Hairpin” and “Too Clever By Half.”

http://www.myspace.com/thelongblondes

Monstrously catchy full length debut from Newmarket, Ontario based band Tokyo Police Club almost never stops to take a breath over the 11 songs included here, which wind up in just under 30 minutes. In fact, they don’t slow down the pace until “The Harrowing Adventures Of…,” 7 tracks in. Their unique mix of punk, New Wave and power pop recalls, among others, the Buzzcocks and the Jam, though instead of sounding like they’re come through a time warp, they manage to sound thoroughly modern, which is a huge part of their appeal and emblematic of their achievement here. Fans who have been eagerly waiting for an LP ever since their EP A Lesson In Crime will not be let down, not in the least. Standout cuts: “Juno,” “Tessellate,” “Sixties Remake” and “Your English Is Good.”

http://www.myspace.com/tokyopoliceclub