Amanda Palmer: Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Author: Luke Skoza
Rating: 4 / 5
Imagine a street performer posing as a living statue. Then picture her turning into a lead singer, a pianist, and a lyricist for cabaret punk band called the Dresden Dolls and finally going her separate way. If you follow Amanda Palmer this story might sound familiar. After graduating from a Wesleyan University she formed a traveling street and theater group called the Shadowbox Collective and met Brian Vigiline along the way. They decided to settle down for a while and write some music under the name Dresden Dolls. Maybe Palmer felt stifled by the Dresden Dolls and wanted to explore on her own and it seems she’s found a partner in fellow piano pounder and producer Ben Folds. The album feels like it began as a clean canvas and both artists have filled it with many different colors of paint. On the album’s third and first strong effort “Ampersand”, It’s just Palmer and her piano aided by Paul Buckmaster’s strings telling a story about a struggle against oppression and how there’s always a way to find freedom even in the most restrictive situations. “Leed’s United” is one of her character studies of herself and others, which uses a rousing horn section to tell a story of an eerily personal protagonist who is unable to deal with reality, so she buries herself in booze, shopping, and pop culture. Palmer keeps her character study theme going in the sad and angelic “Blake Says”. Blake is full of loneliness and depression and refuses to confront his demons so he says “we all go to Alaska when we die.” “Strength through Music” is another portrait piece that tells the story of a shooter and was, ironically enough, written the week of the Virginia Tech Shooting. On “Guitar Hero” Palmer feels no sympathy for a character who chooses the fantasy of being a guitar hero rather than accepting reality. Palmer strays away from character studies on “Have to Drive”. The song deals with one of rock’s and life’s most needed emotions; escape. We take a drive and listen to Palmer sing over and with a poetic string band and a men’s choir. “What’s the Use of Wond’rin” is a comforting Rogers and Hammerstein like lullaby that puts you under a supernatural spell. “Point of It All” highlight’s Palmer’s strengths as a songwriter and a composer by creating a symphonic sound with piano and strings. Unfortunately, there’s a few blemishes on “Who Killed Amanda Palmer”. “Astronaut” and “Runs in the Family” feel too overstuffed with guitars, synths, and vocal embellishments. The clutter drowns any good moments in either song out. “Oasis” is easily the album’s low point. It’s an ironic rape and abortion tune that’s too full of trite pop and overly ironic tones making it impossible to take seriously. The closer “Another Year” is a profoundly moving reflection of Palmer’s life up to the moment she made the song. It’s a tale of unrequited love and she namedrops her friends, Bill Hicks, and her art during the course of the song. It’s the perfect ending to a new start.
Gregory and The Hawk: Moenie and Kitchi
Author: Genna Ord
Rating: 4 / 5
For whatever reason, I’ve never been a fan of female vocalists. Maybe it’s because I’m secretly jealous, but I think it has more to do with vocal quality—in my opinion, boys just tend to sound smoother. There are, of course, exceptions to this: among them are Jaymay, Rilo Kiley, and now Gregory and the Hawk.
Moenie and Kitchi, the group’s third album (preceded by a 2007 EP, In Your Dreams, and the Boats and Birds EP, released in 2006), is an exercise in lyrical relaxation. The album is driven by New York native Meredith Godreau, whose vocals are soft and just sweet enough to sound sincere. Backing up her acoustic guitar and vocals is Mike McGuire on percussion, and the two are added throughout the album with strings, piano, and occasional hints of other instruments. Doubtlessly, Godreau is the spearhead of Gregory and the Hawk, and Moenie and Kitchi clearly showcase her considerable singer-songwriter skills.
The album is a successful marriage of acoustic pop and folk, from the charming first track, “Oats We Sow”, to the soothing closer, “Two Faced Twin”. In between the two is roughly a half-hour of music with enough hooks to keep interest and enough breezy melody to keep the mood relaxed. The melancholy “Stonewall, Stone Fence” was a favorite of mine, provoking imagery of grey, drizzly days that wasn’t unpleasant. The feeling builds until the last minute of the track, where Godreau is joined unexpectedly by percussion and electric guitar, bringing the song to a surprisingly satisfying close. It’s these, the clever, unexpected breakdowns and arrangements throughout the album, that make it more than just another collection from some folksy singer-songwriter. Though there are traces of artists like Regina Spektor, Gregory and the Hawk are all their own, and I look for them to grow in popularity in the future.
Though it may destroy the tone of the review (which is why I saved it for last), the opening seconds of the track “August Moon” have a strange similarity to the beginning of Tenacious D’s “Tribute”…listen for it.
The Crane Wife
By Adam Fedyski
One would think that a band who releases an album every year would run thin on material after a CD or two. The Decemberists, however, have proved this logic incorrect. Since their debut full-length “Castaways and Cutouts” in 2002, the band has been averaging one release per year, making “The Crane Wife” their fifth full-length release. They have all but lost originality from one album to the next. With Colin Meloy’s creative lyrics and songwriting abilities, the band captures a variety of styles and emotions from start to finish. The CD contains two tracks that clock in at over eleven minutes each. Each is a rock opera like feel, changing directions and dynamics many times throughout the songs. This is what Green Day wishes they could have done with their CD “American Idiot”. There is not one song that needs to be skipped on this album. It is solid from beginning to end. Check out the first single “O Valencia” along with, well, every song on the album. I have not come across an album this solid in some time.