All posts by Nate Seltenrich

The Bloody Lovelies – Some Truth and A Little Money

The Bloody LoveliesSome Truth and A Little Money (Cheap Lullaby)

The piano is a powerful instrument. In cartoons, pianos are often used as props to crush unsuspecting victims, to predictable yet amusing effect. The instrument also saves The Bloody Lovelies’ debut, Some Truth and a Little Money, from utter mediocrity. The Lovelies are a pop/rock band whose music is driven by a piano, and without it, they’d be just another pop/rock band. As unremarkable as their approach to “roots” rock and “garage” pop is, it’s worthy of some attention and maybe even an occasional listen due to their decision to give the piano top billing in most of their song arrangements.

In a live setting, you would first notice the deep soulful whine of lead singer Randy Wooten’s voice. Then the gritty, exuberant guitar of Lance Konnerth. The lead singer sits behind a piano, his fingers on the keys actually dictating the song’s rhythm – the bassist (Eric Holden) and drummer (Craig Macintyre) following the piano’s lead! Amazing!

And that’s the Bloody Lovelies at their best. On a studio album, with no rousing visuals of Wooten rockin’ behind the piano, no cigarette smoke in the air, no cute bartenders in the corner of your eye, the Lovelies aren’t quite that fun. The piano is nice, refreshing, different, smartly used, etc. But take it away, and you’ve got a lackluster lite rock record with a hesitant eye to the past, unabashed pop overtones, and just not enough depth.

The piano may be a powerful instrument, but I’m not going to hang my taste for a band on it. Really, isn’t that what the guitar is for?

Free Bloody Lovelies MP3s are available via CD Baby.

Coldplay – Live 2003

ColdplayLive 2003 CD & DVD (Capitol)

For anyone who ever doubted Coldplay’s musical authenticity, this CD/DVD combo is a firm “What were you thinking?!” slap across the face. As everyone else who was with Coldplay all along should know, Live 2003 represents the culmination of their career thus far and must not be overlooked.

Coldplay also released Live 2003 as a CD-only album, but the bonus DVD, which contains over 90 minutes of footage from Sydney, Australia’s Horden Pavilion as well as a tour documentary and song lyrics, is what makes this release so notable.

Besides featuring an additional five songs that aren’t on the CD – “Daylight,” “Trouble,” “Don’t Panic,” “The Scientist” and “Life is for Living” – the DVD’s cinematography is excellent and the visual quality stunning. Alternating between shots from the crowd and from the stage, the video not only places the viewer in the position of the fan, but also offers a VIP view of the entire concert experience. Throughout the show, the crisp live recording captures each instrument, including the vocals, at the utmost clarity and with calculated balance.

Although lead singer, guitarist and pianist Chris Martin gets the most face time, he deserves the attention. The video establishes him as an enigmatic frontman with an amiable yet intense personality and remarkable stage presence. His musicianship, as well as the rest of the bands’, is seemingly perfect within the Britpop/dream pop/rock confines that they operate. On both the album and the video, the group sounds very tight and rehearsed, yet also satisfyingly expansive. Arena rock can indeed be a passionate affair.

Both collections of songs feature a mixture of singles and deeper album cuts, as well as two unreleased songs – “Moses” and “One I Love.” Musically, the most invigorating moments come when they expand upon their style to a psychedelic, Pink Floyd-esque jam. Guitarist Jon Buckland fits into this mold perfectly with his occasional wailing, almost ambient single-note leads. Guy Berryman’s droning yet dynamic bass lines tend to carry the melodies and play well off of Martin’s vocals and the chunking rhythms laid down by drummer Will Champion.

The quieter moments, which often feature Martin alone with his piano and his fabulous voice, are unfortunately less enjoyable when mediated and were likely more stirring at the concert itself.

The album’s standout selections include “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” “Shiver” and “See You Soon.” The video also manages to breathe new life into the previously overplayed singles “Yellow,” “Clocks” and “The Scientist,” all of which are quite impressive in modified live form.

After only two studio LPs, the members of Coldplay have established themselves as world-class musicians. Live 2003 showcases all that they’ve been able to accomplish and would be a worthy purchase for just about any music or concert video appreciator, as it proves that moving, dramatic and heartfelt rock can still be done well and without clichĂ©. Coldplay fans, you were right all along.

Also, check Johnny Loftus’ review of a Coldplay show from way back in February, 2001.

Stereolab – Margerine Eclipse

StereolabMargerine Eclipse (Elektra)

What do you say about a band that does everything right? It seems that with every release, London’s famed indie poppers Stereolab zero in on the ultimate infallibility of legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, and after 13 years in the game, they’re pretty darn close.

Their latest, Margerine Eclipse, comes on the tails of the sort of disaster that could have torn lesser bands apart – the loss of singer and keyboardist Mary Hansen, whose contributions were instrumental to Stereolab’s early success. Just over a year ago, after a decade in the band, Hansen died at the age of 36 when the bicycle she was riding was hit by a truck.

Stereolab charged on, with lead singer Laetitia Sadier’s voice carrying a newfound significance and their music continuing to evolve, develop, and improve. Margerine Eclipse, Stereolab’s first LP since 2001’s Sound Dust, may be one of their best. Drawing on new directions fleshed out in their 2003 EP, Instant O in the Universe, as well as perfecting old themes, Stereolab’s latest work is a fascinating journey into the vibrant world in which they reside.

And although the album’s concept may be less ambitious than Emperor Tomato Ketchup or even their full-length debut, Peng!, it nonetheless showcases Stereolab near the peak of musical credibility.

There are a few tracks on Margerine Eclipse that do lack the luster of their finest work, such as the rhythmic rambling of “Le Demeure” and the hyperactive “Hillbilly Motorbike.” I might call these tracks boring, but I somehow feel inclined to blame that on my own lack of patience. I could also claim that many of the songs sound similar to one another, but instead imagine their subtle differences must be going over my head. I could say the album starts strong and fizzles out toward the end, but the last song, “Dear Marge,” which closes with an awesome disco jam borrowed from “Mass Riff” on the Instant O EP, is like a goodbye kiss that lingers for days.

The echoing keyboards in “Need To Be” would be right at home in an ATB song, but would probably much rather stay right where they are. And the persistent background synth of “Feel and Triple” evokes pleasant memories of fellow Londoners the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”

The truth is, any criticism I could extend toward Stereolab is preemptively rebuked by the longevity of their career and the intense creativity, beauty, and fun of their style. This is music to be enjoyed, not picked apart.

IRS – Welcome to Planet IRS

IRSWelcome to Planet IRS (Universal)

Welcome to another world, where rappers don’t shoot at each other over geographic feuds, where popular hip-hop groups advocate art, and where I-R-S does not spell taxes. Welcome to Toronto.

Welcome to Planet IRS showcases a rap trio who hail from the most multicultural city in the world and who represent their roots to the fullest. Although IRS’s style takes cues from West Coast rap, hardcore rap, and even gangsta rap, their open-minded musical experimentation and lyrical exploration reflect the diversity of their home base.

IRS’s progressive approach to beats and rhythms arises out of their underground roots in Scarborough, Canada, where IRS members Korry Deez, Black Cat, and T.R.A.C.K.S. teamed up with the Mighty Monolith crew. IRS, whose name stands for Instinctive Reaction to Struggle, formed in 1998 when the Monolith crew disbanded. In the year 2000 they released their debut, America’s Ghettos.

Welcome to Planet IRS is the next step along the IRS path. It is centered on themes of tolerance and understanding while promoting Toronto, local underground hip-hop, and music as an end in itself rather than simply a means to fame and glory. “The ignorance has to stop,” enunciate Deez and Black Cat together in the second track and the album’s first single, “Strictly for the Heads.”

Musically, Welcome to Planet IRS draws upon 70s funk and disco and old school hip-hop as much as it advances modern beats and techniques. With multiple emcees and skilled DJs on hand, IRS often create a dynamic similar to that of Jurassic 5, albeit with a more hardcore punch. And their occasional use of musical instruments, as opposed to exclusive reliance upon samples and programmed beats, lends the album a live performance vibe that enhances and expands the listening experience.

The most inventive song on Welcome to Planet IRS is “Munyam Jam,” a smoke break purposefully placed at the middle point of the album. IRS give the track a conceptual spin that changes it from empty filler into something worth hearing – as a deep breath inhales and exhales smoke, the laid-back beat lazily fades in and out.

The album’s opener, “Lift Off,” is another standout, featuring ex-members of the Mighty Monolith crew Nisk Rawks, Dan-e-o, and Wio-k. A space station countdown kicks things off before wicked scratching and passionate raps lift things up even higher.

IRS’s music is intelligent hip-hop with an underground ethic and feel that maintains mainstream appeal. The group’s tour with Shaggy in 2001 and multiple awards prove that they have earned the attention of people in power, while the reputation they enjoy within their scene in Canada ensures their street cred. Hip-hop world, beware: collision with Planet IRS is imminent.

Rachael Sage – Public Record

Rachael SagePublic Record (Mpress Records)

Rachael Sage’s deep blue left eye stares at me from the back cover of her fifth album, Public Record. As I listen to the poetically rockin’ soul-searcher “What If,” the first track on the album, I feel that the eye manifests Sage’s physical presence in the room. I can’t tear away, and out of some strange discomfort feel compelled to flip the jewel case over – but not before I catch of a glimpse of the galaxies within that painted and jeweled eye.

As Public Record continues, so does Sage’s intimate self-disclosure. All fourteen songs, which ambitiously explore issues of love, acceptance, and identity through a lush palette of pop, folk, and jazz, are written in the first person. Her words have a private feel that insists that she writes not from an assumed persona but from her own life.

“You say that you find me ‘intoxicating’…what dare I ask does that word really mean? / Could I be someone who you would rely on – or am I just someone you’ll always run from?” she asks in “Of Blue.”

Sage’s music is as vivid as her lyricism. The album features no less than sixteen additional musicians, who play drums, saxophone, cello, trumpet, guitar, bass, percussion, organ, harmonica, tambourine, viola, violin, and flugelhorn. She constructs moving and cohesive songs, skillfully calling upon her guest musicians to fill in and flavor her work. But her deft fingers on the piano keys drive most of the songs.

The last track on the album, “Frost,” is fittingly sparse, featuring only delicate violin, piano, and percussion while Sage’s whispered voice sweeps the foreground of the song. Its understated force lingers long after the album falls to silence. If Sage’s eye was the window to her soul, then her music, as the title Public Record suggests, has been an open door.

The Distillers – Coral Fang

The Distillers - Coral FangThe DistillersCoral Fang (Sire Records)

“He’s gone away / He’s gone away,” screams Brody Dalle at the end of “Drain the Blood,” the first track on Coral Fang. The Distillers’ third album opens with this quick street-punk anthem that recalls much of the group’s earlier work and teases to set the tone for more of the same.

However, as astute observers will note, the “Armstrong” is gone from Brody’s name, signifying her split with Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, and much has changed. “He’s gone away” is not idle lamentation – it’s foreshadowing the next 45 minutes.

The second track, “Dismantle Me,” wastes no time in introducing a new sound. Singing like Courtney Love possessed by the spirit of Kurt Cobain, Dalle repeatedly moans in the chorus: “I want to bury you.” This is screaming punk with a rock and roll soul that follows a hard/soft formula atypical of the Distillers’ previously established sound.

As the album progresses, Dalle’s passionate and expressive singing takes over. Her simultaneously rough and well-trained voice has improved considerably since the Distillers’ self-titled debut. No matter what she’s saying, she demands attention. And her trademark screams still resonate like a chainsaw between the ears.

Although the Distillers remain rooted in street and gutter punk, they fearlessly explore other areas of punk and hard rock over the course of Coral Fang. Some of these attempts succeed and others fail. “The Gallow is God,” which operates on a much slower pace than traditional punk, feels Metallica-goes-acoustic awkward. On the other hand, the new-wave guitar riff that runs through “For Tonight You’re Only Here to Know” works surprisingly well. “The Hunger,” which lasts almost five and a half minutes – a startling departure from the one-to-three-minute cuts that characterized the band’s first two albums – falls somewhere in the abyss between.

Just like Iggy was the Stooges [Ahem, don’t say that around the Asheton brothers – Ed.], Dalle is the Distillers. Although her band does a decent job of backing the songs, Dalle’s singing and writing dominates the soundscape of Coral Fang. The only drawback to her taking all the songwriting credits for this album is that her breakup with Tim Armstrong seems to overpower its themes and stifle its intricacies. At times Dalle sounds like she’s overextending herself simply to make a statement. Hopefully more of a fad than a direction that the Distillers will choose to follow in the future, Coral Fang makes a strong argument that the only thing that’s inevitable, in both life and music, is change.

You can listen to the album and watch a video via the Distillers’ player.