Thursday, April 28, 2011

Texas is the Reason - Do You Know Who You Are?

★★★★★ Tracks:
Back and to the Left

Along with the likes of Sunny Day Real Estate, The Promise Ring, and Jawbreaker, Texas is the Reason are co-founders of a brand of rock that would eventually become synonymous with edgy black hair, tight pants, Rivers Cuomo glasses, and overly-sensitive douchebaggery. But unlike the Saves the Days and Jimmy Eat Worlds of the emo universe, Texas is the Reason has always been one of the more respectable groups to like from the genre. While that might not be saying much due to emo's stigma, Texas is the Reason is without a doubt a very influential group. They combined power-pop, punk rock, and post-hardcore with mid-song tempo changes, drop-D tunings, monster breakdowns, and a more earnest brand of vocals and lyricism than your typical rock band would allow. Followers (mostly forgettable) from Sparta to Taking Back Sunday to most the Deep Elm and Revelation Records bands that would follow would point back to groups like Texas as foundations for their music.

Oddly enough, out of the countless emo bands I listened to throughout the course of the mid-to-late 90’s, Texas is the Reason is a group I never got in to all that much. Most of my friends did, and I know all about them. There isn’t any particular reason for my lack of fandom other than that I never owned their full-length album. As I listen to these somewhat familiar tunes now, there are a few that definitely catch my ear. "Johnny on the Spot" is a rollicking opener, setting the tone for the rest of the record, and "Back and to the Left" is a phenomenal hard rock anthem. Texas is at their best when they rock the fast-tempoed power chord jams, mixing distorted octaves and off-kilter drum beats. The downfall for most will be Garret Klahn's vocals, as his somewhat high-pitched yelp has me thinking Texas would have been better with with a different frontman as well. And while I do enjoy most of these songs, the slower, more "emo" tracks do feel dated at this point, and overall it feels like I missed the Texas boat by about fifteen years; it might be too late for me to jump on board now.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down - We Brave Bee Stings and All

★★★★★ Tracks:
Swimming Pools

Cannonballs into swimming pools. Licks of ice cream. Big kid tables. Bee stings. Bike riding adventures with friends. When Thao isn’t complaining of being dumped, she’s singing of childhood nostalgia. She compliments those lyrics with a high-pitched, somewhat off-key vocal style, further embedding those school day images in to your head as you listen. Thao’s guitar skills are by no means childish though; she writes chord progressions that sound like they come from a blues and jazz aficionado, and combines those chords with intricate finger picking, as her band expertly crafts leads and rhythms to accompany the acoustic melodies. Electric guitars, brass, percussion, bass, and banjos can all be heard here, sometimes in the span of one song. The contrasting mix of childish lyricism and masterful musicianship results in to a calculated playfulness, and it gives Thao her distinction amongst the plethora of other modern day folk-rocekrs. I played the shit out of We Brave Bee Stings and All in the Spring of ‘08, but after a few play-thrus three years later, it’s lost a bit of its luster. Thao’s voice can teeter on annoying occasionally, and her lyrics are a little too syrupy to digest in large doses. Still, there are a couple of tracks I’ll always come back to; the bluegrassy “Swimming Pools” is the highlight but “Geography” is a close second, where a beautiful melody accompanies lyrics focusing on emotional distance.

Monday, April 18, 2011


★★★★★ Tracks:
Baby, Please Don’t Go

Remember Good Morning, Vietnam? My dad loved that flick. And soon after he saw it for the first time he went out and grabbed the soundtrack, proceeding to play it at almost every party my folks threw through the late 80’s and early 90’s. In the film, Robin Williams portrays Adrian Cronauer, an outspoken, controversial DJ for an Americanized Vietnam radio channel during the war. Some of his radio bits are included on the soundtrack, and they can be just as grating as you’d expect large doses of Robin Williams to be, but the songs included are fantastic. A lot of the artists you know; The Beach Boys, James Brown, The Supremes, Louie Armstrong, but there are a few buried treasures here as well, my favorite of which being from a group called Them.

“Baby, Please Don’t Go” by Them always reminded me of swampy roots rockers like Creedence Clearwater Revival or Gram Parsons, and discovering some years later one of the most famous rock signers of all time, Van Morrison, fronted the group was surprising. But although their stomping grounds are across the pond in Belfast, Ireland, Them is indeed rooted in American, bluesy rock’n’roll and R&B. And it was this group that would launch Van Morrison’s resilient career, as “Brown Eyed Girl” would be released just two years later. I haven’t had a chance to grab an album’s worth of material from Them, but "Gloria," the B-side to “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is another killer track. Grounded in garage and blues, one of the more interesting aspects of the song is its use of duel drum tracks, an almost unprecedented recording practice in the studio to this day. I can put both of these songs on repeat for an hour and not get tired of them.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thom Yorke - The Eraser

★★★★★ Tracks:
Black Swan

I’ll leave the Radiohead chat for the Radiohead post, but in a few words, while the group has made a ton of truly groundbreaking music, I don’t find most of their post-OK Computer albums to be all that listenable. Thom Yorke’s solo album turns out to be no different. The Eraser was sent to me by your typical Radiohead superfan, a good friend who told me I needed to give “Black Swan” and “Harrowdown Hill” a listen. “Harrowdown Hill” is decent and “Black Swan” is spectacular, the busiest track of the bunch with a simple, effective chorus (“This is fucked up / Fucked up”). But overall, just as I lose interest quickly with most of Radiohead’s electronic stuff, my attention wavers even more so here on The Eraser. Yorke’s voice is great as always but the songwriting isn’t immersive enough to distract me from the lack of instrumentation. My favorite Radiohead side project will most likely always be Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood. That shit is genius.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Three Mile Pilot - The Inevitable Past is the Future Forgotten

★★★★★ Tracks:
Grey Clouds

I have no idea when or why I downloaded Three Mile Pilot. When I saw it was next in line on my mp3 player I mouthed to myself, “who the hell are they?” My first play through I was immediately reminded of the low-key, indie prog-rock group Pinback. So much so that I was pretty certain I’d find one of its members listed as a collaborator when I wikied them. Sure enough bassist/singer, Zach Smith, and drummer, Tom Zinser, are both members of, as I am now informed they are often referred to, 3MP. What was surprising was to find out 3MP have been recording music for nearly twenty years, and Pinback wasn't Zach Smith's primary group to begin with. The Inevitable Past is the Future Forgotten sounds a lot like Pinback though, with a few more synthy sci-fi tones and a few less progressive influences incorporated in to their music. The album as a whole isn’t compelling enough to come back to often, but I really dig “Grey Clouds,” a mellow jam that brings to mind those awe-inspiring feelings I used to have as a kid from star gazing, and the fantasies of space travel that would always ensue. The album cover suggests I am not alone.

“It’s a far off dream...”