James and the QuietBy Benjamin Griebel
2 out of 5
Since Bob Dylan first showed the world that a guy with a guitar, good lyrics, and a lack-luster voice could make it to the big times, there has been a whole slue of artist that have said, “well I could do that.” Unfortunately, few, if any, come close to making the cut. Wooden Wand’s James Toth posses all the right qualities; twangy-folk guitar, unusual lyrics, harsh raspy voice, but manages to only produce a mediocre, and forgettable album. The opening track ‘The Pushers’ begins the album with a desperate and dark sound that gives an impression of something good to come. The second track ‘In a Bucket’ presents the listener further hope, with a slue of interesting and unusual lyrics, such as, “Sometimes gettin’ dressed is the most important meal of the day.” However, by the time the halfway point, ‘We Must Also Love the Thieves,’ Toth’s grating voice plus the less than inventive folk guitar may cause a sudden and uncontrollable loss of interest. If your attention span can hold out long enough to make it to the title track James and the Quiet make sure to listen to the lyrics, as this may be one of the few redeeming qualities to this album.
In the end this album is not completely worthless, but perhaps entirely forgettable. The most disappointing part may well be the compelling darkness of the first track, which gives listeners hope of something better than what they will ultimately receive. Anyone looking to hear some good folk rock is better off blowing the dust off some old Bob Dylan or Neil Young albums.
The Adventure: The Adventure
Rating: 3 / 5
One of the things I loved about playing games on the original NES back in my younger days was the music of the games. For some reason, 8-bit music has something catchy to me. It isn’t something I would listen to every day, but hearing it does bring real nostalgia.So here I am reviewing the self-titled first album by The Adventure. While I write, it is as if I just left a game on pause. It suppose it isn’t all that surprising that somebody would have enjoyed old videogame music as much as I had, and took it a step further, making anentire album of 8-bit music. It isn’t unheard of, after all, I have heard 8-bit additions in “regular” alternative/electronic bands, and I even have a few tracks from some of the artists on 8 bit peoples.
The music is good. Each digital instrument is laid at a good dynamic level, and everything feels like it is where it should be. But really, all the tracks kind of run together after awhile. After all, 8-bits doesn’t provide a lot of versatility. But each song does have its own “theme” to it, all far from badly composed. If you are looking for lyrics, you’re out of luck on this one. The closest thing to singing on the entire album is some sparse sampling in the second track, “Poison Diamonds”. Just like any album, there are certain tracks I like better, such as “Loredo”, “Jurassic Park City”, and “Travel Kid”. However, I can say I would really only listen to this kind of thing as background music while I do other work. or play a game with the sound off.
What it comes down to is that 8-bit composition is a cool field, but it only really has a niche audience. To be frank, you probably aren’t going to hear The Adventure on commercial radio. It isn’t going to be played at clubs or parties, unless there is some secret underground nerd club that I haven’t been made aware of. All it really comes down to is a little cheerful blippity-blip diversity in your personal play list.
I would say that if you have an open mind, give The Adventure a shot. If you’re into video game music cover bands like The Advantage, you’ll probably like it. If you go to 8 bit peoples and like bands like Anamanaguchi, then this is right up your alley. If you are wondering why the hell this album is even worth reviewing, it isn’t for you.
The Stage Names
By Dan Goldberg
Rating: 3 out of 5
The fifth release by Okkervil River, another little band from Texas, is an album that begins so well but then…leaves you a little disappointed. The first four tunes- Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe, Unless It’s Kicks, Savannah Smiles, and Unless It’s Kicks are outstanding tunes. They evoke such musicians as Elvis Costello, Jeff Buckley, Spoon, and if you listen carefully you can hear a little Counting Crows. But the sound is still all theirs. These songs are highlighted with both Lo-Fi and clean studio sounds. It’s a real neat combining of the two sounds and works well with the band’s style and sound. Some key vocal harmonies make these songs really pop. It does have a “poppy” feel to it but the music keeps you rocking in these first four songs.
From then on the album takes a spin down. The album begins to become more clean and poppy in the wrong ways. Instead of sounding like themselves they begin to take on traits of other groups and seem to be almost forcing the songs. Some songs seem a little too close to the people I mentioned as their influence earlier. The songs lose that pop/ but still rockin’ feel. Now I’m not saying that all these songs are bad some of them have very good moments such as track 8-Title Track and track 7-You Can’t Hold the Hand of Rock and Roll Man.
I also enjoyed the artwork and direction on the album. The cover painting and a few other paintings on the case are well done. The concept is creative and does follow throughout the album. Something you can appreciate on a full listen of the album.
This isn’t a bad album overall. Parts of this record are very enjoyable, but it will leave you wanting more.
By Brandon Chapple
4 out of 5 stars
Returning to the same dark, isolated sound from their third album, Alligator, that brought them into the spotlight, The National’s fourth attempt not only continues with that sound, but utilizes melodic string arrangements and the occasional trumpet to evolve into something wonderful.
Lead singer Matt Burninger’s voice evokes the brooding baritone of Interpol’s Paul Banks. Though, where Interpol fails by creating overwhelmingly boring music, The National‘s layers of dueling guitars, piano, strings and trumpets, in spite of being significantly slower in tempo, never seem to provoke the same level of drowsiness, if any at all.
In fact, the album does an amazing job at balancing that lonely sound with something ultimately beautiful. The album’s first track, “Fake Empire,” begins with a somber piano and slowly builds to include a grandiose string and trumpet section very reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, which is not coincidental. Sufjan makes an appearance on the album contributing piano to two of the album’s standout tracks: “Ada” and “Racing Like a Pro.” The latter of which sounds like it could have been lifted right off of Illinois. Guitar and strings swirl around the slow, piano driven track while Burninger sings of his fear of middle-class assimilation, “Your mind is racing like a pro, now/ oh my god it doesn’t mean a lot to you/ one time you were a glowing young ruffian/ oh my god it was a million years ago.”
Burninger’s fears, especially that of middle-class assimilation and the ultimate disengagement from the world that soon follows, seem to be a recurring theme throughout the album. Lyrics such as “Were half awake in a fake empire,” from “Fake Empire” and “Underline everything, I’m a professional in my white shirt,” from “Squalor Victoria” evoke these fears of what mediocrity can be.
Boxer is well worth a listen, and with wonderfully crafted songs and brilliant lyrics, this is an album that just gets better with each listen.