It must have been something in the water that made Leaves so good. Or more correctly, something in the ice. Although the band members started playing a mere months before the band formed two years ago, this exemplary Icelandic trio has laid down 13 beautiful tracks for its debut album, Breathe.
Breathe is all about sound and mood. Admittedly, at first listen, the album sounds very bland and pointlessly melancholic. Because of that, an unwritten rule should apply when listening to Breathe: “Play it loud!” The difference between hearing the tracks at a low volume and a high volume is like night and day.
When turned up to maximum volume, the amazingly broad range of sounds cannot be denied. Drum hits ring out with harmonic vocals seamlessly stacked on top of each other.
Bird-like calls echo in the background, and synthesized orchestral arrangements provide yet another level of musical depth. Such integral elements create this complex yet soothing masterpiece.
One of the most responsive tracks on Breathe is the song “Catch.” While Leaves takes a lot from its neo-shoe gazing contemporaries, “Catch” is a bit of a departure, compelling listeners to sing along. Though not as original as “Catch, other standout tracks include the single “Crazy,” and the abrasively unsettling “Alone in the Sun.”
In the spirit of the autumn season, set aside some time to bury yourself in your headphones, covered in the sound of Leaves.
– Joe Gettler
Room On Fire
For anyone who needs to be told, on their second album, Room On Fire, The Strokes prove themselves once again to be the unequivocal masters of modern rock rhythm and boogie.
From the opening bars of the album’s kick off, “What Ever Happened?” all the way through the closing conceits of “I Can’t Win,” the quintet show off their thrift-store cool with more skill and confidence than any other band around.
The dirty amp, back-and-forth guitar attacks and retreats at exactly the right moments. The bass grooves like a hipster kid unashamed of diggin’ on disco. The drums are so tight that they beg the question of whether they are performed by man or machine.
The vocals are soft and distorted, buried deep in the mix, fighting for recognition against the sonic barrage created by the band behind them.
But let’s face it, this flawless rock cool is familiar territory for The Strokes.
Any one of the 11 songs from Room On Fire could be transplanted into their debut album, Is This It, without the slightest concern for rejection.
While it would be a bit remiss to simply brush off the new album as a continuation of the last, it is difficult to see it as anything else.
That is to say, until you pay attention to what is actually being said. Room On Fire builds upon the social melancholy merely hinted at during Is This It.
“What Ever Happened?” asks an obvious question, while the music colors the words in a way that turns what could have been just another breakup song into a surprisingly hip and affecting lament on the transitive nature of relationships.
“Between Love & Hate” adds tension and melody verse after verse, creating a forward thinking sound, while pondering the nature of need and loneliness.
Room of Fire is not a departure by any means. The album is proof that introspection, along with mood, can add limitless depth and meaning to a previously perfected sound.
-Robert James Algeo
The Three 4 Tens
Taking Northern Liberties
It seems like The Three 4 Tens have actually succeeded in accomplishing the unimaginable. Somehow, surely while possessed with an undeniable sense of cosmic self worth, The Three 4 Tens have created a completely banal and boring drug album.
Almost every song on Taking Northern Liberties reeks with the stench of cheesy narcotic imagery. After hearing this album, it’s completely impossible to imagine that these guys were actually able to tear themselves away from their bongs long enough to learn how to play the guitar.
The worst part of all is that The Three 4 Tens try to have a sense of humor about it. You know, that whole “I’m that dumb stoner kid who can only talk about drugs in high school, and the closet thing I’ve ever had to an actual moral or political thought is how much it would rule if pot was legal,” sort of humor.
It’s lame, base, and completely unoriginal. Here are just a few of their shockingly urbane lyrical subtleties: “Cover your eyes / and I’ll show you why I try to fly high,” and “Waiting for Mary / To Save our lives.”
Mary? MARY? Okay, it needs to be said: this whole Mary equals marijuana thing might be the least funny and most horribly antiquated personification of any object in any art form.
Though, in their defense, once you listen to the trite, amateurish attempts at pop and psychedelics, you might understand why The Three 4 Tens are fans of such crass and dated subject matter.
Organs and synth abound as they attempt to take you on a journey to the center of their minds. Unfortunately, the only things in there are a stack of rolling papers, a Kink’s poster and a horrible case of the munchies.
-Robert James Algeo
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
If an artist’s work were deemed worthwhile because of staying power alone, Van Morrison would undoubtedly be one of the greatest performers of any era. After more than forty albums, What’s Wrong With This Picture? poses an important question. Can a musician work within the same format for decades and still create compelling work?
Unfortunately, the album doesn’t exactly answer the question for us. Most of the songs on the album sound exactly like Van Morrison.
The delicate instrumentation, the masterful performances, Morrison’s trademark stuttered inflection: everything you’d expect to find is there. The problem is that a great deal of the album feels like Morrison is retreating as opposed to rediscovering.
The Sinatra-esque lead-in on the title track and the jazzed up blues of “Too Many Myths” sound crisp and clear, but they fail to attract any more attention than a simple admission of proficiency.
Even some of the subject matter feels a bit trite. While most of the numbers deal with the standard themes of love and romance, songs like “Fame,” where Morrison complains about the nature of being a celebrity, come across as boring and crotchety.
Even though there are some missteps, Morrison finds his stride when he either throws himself into his style wholeheartedly or removes himself from it as much as possible. The eerie arrangement of “Saint James Infirmary” is the album’s most striking moment.
The sorrowful backing vocals and chilling keys give the track a flavor all its own. On “Evening In June” though, Morrison proves that he is still a legend. The song would not feel out of place on any of his past albums, yet it sounds fresh and smooth. “Evening In June” gives listeners the original Van.
-Robert James Algeo