Friday, July 30, 2010

Neon Horse

the first page of this review pretty much sums up my conclusions on "christian" music. I found it interesting and articulate in a way that I'm too jaded to express.

You will recognize some of the bands mentioned in this review. I don't know if you have any interest, but I would recommend checking this band out; even if it's just for the novelty factor.

Hi. I'll see you in a couple of weeks, yeah?

NEON HORSE Review; Myspace

Fine China's Three Strikes

Arizona is the last place you'd expect to find an band that worships 80's europop with the fervor that Michael Bay fans do explosions. Much less so than in 1997 when Fine China signed to Velvet Blue Music and released their "No One Knows" ep, a collection of songs that prompted a young me and friend David to take notice, become interested and expand our, then limited, musical landscape.

The following is a weak baseball analogy of their three albums:

Strike One: "When the World Sings" was their first of Fine China's three albums and continued the collaboration between the band and Ronnie Martin (of Joy Electric) that started with the bands second ep "Rialto Bridge". This album features some very strong songwriting and construction for a band that, at the time, was basically a novelty. The songs were, however, completely drowned out by Ronnie Martin's overdone, synth-heavy, production. Upon listening, it would appear that Martin ran wild and seemed to make Fine China his side project rather than producing the band and letting their instruments shine through. The only reason I'm able to still listen to the record is because I was able to see the band while turing for this album. They left the synth at home and recreated much of the annoying sounds on the record with real instruments; highlighting the songwriting and a surprisingly tight and original band.

Strike Two: "You Make Me Hate Music" was the band's second (and most awesomely named) album in which they left Ronnie Martin's production in favor of his brother Jason (of Starflyer 59). The new Martin left a subtle, yet unmistakeable, mark on this record. Where Ronnie used heavy synth and technoesque beats, Jason added a little more reverb and the songs on this record seem to be played at 20bpm slower than they should be. While it was a relief to have the band out from the synth grip, it was disappointing that the songwriting was so melancholy. The best way to describe the album is "a downer", because of both material and expectations. However, listening with fresh ears after years on the shelf (or hard drive) the album doesn't sound as much like the let down I remember it being, but the songs are also much more depressing than I realized in 2002. I'd be interested in hearing Jason Martin produce this band today as he has grown leaps in bounds as a producer over the past few years.

Strike Three (or: A Hit!) So we'll say the strike is on me for not having a physical copy of "The Jaws of Life" on hand. I can't tell you who produced it or much about the record because I didn't even know it existed until 8 months ago. Whatever the process was, everything seemed to fall into place. The songwriting is as solid as ever; the music ever euro. But it all works to the advantage of the record. Keep in mind that this album was the only one released in a time where anyone know about bands like Interpol. The europop revival wasn't "hip" for most of Fine China's existence. Perhaps it was the success of bands like Interpol that made 2005 a fertile year for Fine China to become the next big thing. But for whatever reason, they didn't and subsequently broke up.

(this is from "Jaws of Life" but for whatever reason the picture is of the cover from "You Make Me Hate Music")

It's always a shame when the world loses a great pop band that nobody has heard of.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wild Nothing: Gemini

If the Smiths ever recorded a song that was engineered by Kevin Shields that had a love child with Starflyer 59, the resulting eraserheadmutant-childsong would be "Chinatown" by Wild Nothing. I've really liked everything I've heard from this record so far. Thanks to Chris M. Short for bringing something worth hearing to my attention.

I especially how the songs are moody and spacey with plenty of reverb to go around, without sacrificing strong songwriting.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Consider This

Rainer Maria was the best woman-fronted rock and roll band since EVER; yes, even better than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. A comparison: Caithlin De Marrais is a much stronger singer than Karen O, and never had to dress like a $5 hooker trying to pick up a $10 John to prove it. Karen O might have more stage charisma, but stage antics don't really come through on the record. And if you do want to go there, Kyle Fischer had more than enough charisma for one band, let alone one member of a band; he played everything Nick Zinner does all while jumping around like he had ants in his pants and was also on fire. Brain Chase and William Kuehn have surprisingly similar playing styles as well as blank facial expressions and, as far as drummers go, I'd be happy to see them mud wrestle to the death. Kuehn, however will have a little glint in his eye and a barely-there curl at the corners of his mouth.

This turned out to be Rainer Maria's swan song single. They never did make very good videos, but one can assume this was largely due to budget restraints. Which begs the question as to why this band never took off to the level the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have. Notice that you can still recognize the instrumentation as derived from actual instruments.

I was completely blown away with "Maps" especially that it came from a band such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who didn't really have another song that would have prepared me for how gut-wrenchingly awesome "Maps" was. I never really got into them until last year when Amber played me this song. I like to think of it as "Maps: The Sequel". Notice the awesome (and low-budget) effect when the band appears in the alley although the sounds that you hear, aren't the sounds the instruments they're playing would make in that particular setting.

Let's be fair. Both of these videos suck more than a neutron star, but were used to illustrate the mannerisms of the individuals and the wildly different budgets the bands have worked with.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Dream of Dessa

For all of the crappy music the Current plays on a regular basis, they still manage to knock a few out of the park. Lately, the Minnesota Public Radio "alternative" "rock" station seems content to feed us a diet mostly consisting of Hold Steady-esque semi-sonic bullshit or refrigerator buzzing, auto-tuned club music intent to rival the local top 40 Clear Channel station, KDWB.

Before I wage my war on the Current to demand that they stop caving to advertiser demands and start playing more of what the public demands, I thought I would point out that there is good to be had. I'm not all that familiar with Dessa, but everything I have heard (including her read an open letter to Dave Eggers) has blown me out of the water.

One of my biggest complaints about the Minneapolis music scene is that style seems to prevail over substance, almost without exception. The Current's playlist only seems to perpetuate this attitude in the worst kind of way. It is encouraging to see and hear videos and performances like this one, but they are too few and far between. It is my wish that this kind of thing would be the norm, rather than the exception.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Skinny Ankles and Long Pants

Chris Davies writes a music blog called Skinny Ankles that is head and shoulders better than this one. A while ago he posted video of Decibully (yeah, I know. This isn't a Decibully fanblog, but I can't seem to stop writing about them) preforming three stripped down versions of unreleased songs.

In bands that do a lot sonically, whether it's with layered effects or more-than-usual instrumentation, it can be interesting to hear their music stripped down to its lowest common denominator. Decibully does this wonderfully as witnessed by the video. There is one, but perfect example in the video for "Band Bang" when drummer Aaron Vold is keeping time on the bass drum and tambourine and then comes in with the jingle bells right at the end. It completely changes the feel of the song without distracting or taking away from the rest of the players. The ability to add without taking away from the rest of the band is one of the ingredients that make Decibully stand out to me as one of the American greats.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Decibully Sings in America

Here is an unreleased Decibully song that helps one through bad days. The quality of the sound is noticeably improved by watching in hi-definition.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Born Again Drops (and Sucks)

As promised (or threatened...?) the Newsboys released their new album "Born Again" on Tuesday. While fans might find comfort in the band not heading in a drastically new direction, I'll submit that release is yet another exercise in sterile, polished noise; offering nothing new or interesting to the world (even if the "world" is limited to CCM).

I'm not trying to pick on the Newsboys and perhaps I'm wrong for using them as a template for everything I think is wrong with music. They brought it upon themselves, though. Breaking out with a cover of Degarmo and Key's "Boycott Hell", calling out "Christian" bands to step up and stop settling for being cheap imitations of popular secular music only to turn around and make a too-long career by doing just that.

I'm reminded of the U2 song "Even Better Than The Real Thing" as they articulate the copycat nature of popular culture:

"give me one last chance
and I'm going to make you sing
give me half a chance
to ride the waves that you bring"

While there is, of course, comfort in the familiar, people shouldn't be content to remain unchallenged. The "Real Thing", as U2 puts it, doesn't have to remained confined as this God-thing that alienates twice as many people as those that can identify with. Instead, the "real thing" can be found in the everyday and mundane. Just as struggles help to sharpen and grow, so does stripping away the layers of everyday life to find what makes life so good.

We'll find that the "real thing" isn't going to remain good if it's repackaged and sold over and over. It will spoil.

To answer Barry's rhetorical question, it is better to burn out. In a blaze of glory.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Newsboys are Night Zombies!

Are you surprised that the Newsboys are still releasing albums? Seriously, they’re like the poppy Christian version of Pete Doherty. Only, you know, a band. Tuesday will mark their first release without an original member, calling into question the validity of calling themselves the Newsboys at all. Do you know who is signing for them now? Former DC Talk-er Mike Tait. Do you know what a bad replacement he will make? Where their previous vocalists for the band both shared not only Australian accents, but this nasally buzz saw quality that, granted, might not have been appealing to everyone, but made the Newsboys sound like the Newsboys. Having Tait front the band would be on par with getting John Legend to front the Smashing Pumpkins.

Here is an example of the Newsboys ripping off the Cure in 1994 with original vocalist John James.

Here is a video with choreographed dancing the Newsboys released long after I thought anybody cared anymore in 1999. Note the use of heavy eye makeup on new vocalist Peter Furler.

And here is a crappy modern rock song featuring their new singer Michael Tait.

I understand the importance of legacy, but as Barry asks in "High Fidelity", is it better to burn out than fade away? This literally isn't the same band anymore and I'm going to preemptively question whether or not this group would sell any records if it weren't for the inherited moniker. I get that they're a "Christian" band, but that doesn't excuse the lack of integrity displayed.

For good or bad, some bands just won't go away. However, a band should consist of an original nucleus that holds the group together. Once the nucleus disappears, so should the entity that was the band lest all credibility vanishes in its place. The "Newsboys" have lost the plot.