New Tunes Review: The Hold Steady ‘Teeth Dreams’

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The Hold Steady “Teeth Dreams”

Its been 4 years since the last Hold Steady album.

The new album, Teeth Dreams, is an expansive record with nods to all of the usual influences. Certain songs refer to the usual cast of characters. Some phrasings call back to old slogans. The locations are the same. The sentiments are the same. Craig Finn is the same, mostly.

The thing that stuck out to me the most was the frequency of acoustic jams. With a total of 10 songs, Some of them (“Almost Everything” and “The Ambassador”) are in the vein of “Lord, I’m Discouraged” (from 2008’s Stay Positive). This is not a bad thing. One could speculate that this is a by-product of the band growing older. You can write about ruckus partying forever. The scene moves on and I believe the band gracefully accepts that.

Of course there are more positive, upbeat songs. “I Hope This Whole Thing Doesn’t Frighten You,” the album’s lead single and opening track, “The Only Thing,” and “Spinners” are of the record’s most memorable songs because they are the most Hold-Steady-esque.

Like, the lyric “Heartbreak hurts but you can dance it off” in “Spinners.” These 8 words pretty much illustrate the entire Hold Steady ethos. Their songs and live showmanship encourage you to put troubling problems behind because you are among supportive friends.

“Big Cig” and “On With the Business” were the most “talk-singing” tracks and seemed like an attempt to regress into their weirder, earlier material. The closing track, “Oaks,” ends with a long guitar solo, much like certain classic-rock songs.

It is hard to decide where this album will eventually rank. It is definitely not on the same level as Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America. As a first impression, I believe it goes somewhere between Stay Positive and Heaven is Whenever.

iTunes is streaming the new album for free. It comes out March 25, 2014.

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New Tunes Review: Beck’s Morning Phase

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image from Wikipedia

Every so often there comes along an album that makes you close your eyes and slowly drift into a calmly pensive state, unburdened by stress and responsibility.

I believe that Beck’s Morning Phase is that album.

Released as a “follow-up” to 2002’s Sea ChangeMorning Phase is wonderful.  30 seconds into my first listen and I was already convinced.  Sea Change is one of my favorite sad and pensive albums.  It is full of heartbreak and mourning but with elements of hope.  Morning Phase follows the same tone.  The acoustic melodies strum slowly through Beck’s melancholy lyrics. Violins and harmonic background vocals create a lush yet delicate sound. It is hard to know what exactly Beck was going through when writing and recording this album but I feel his emotions as deeply as my own.

I was immediately drawn to “Heart is a Drum,” “Say Goodbye,” and “Blackbird Chain,” but each track has interesting elements. Morning Phase works both as a “sequel” to one of the most beautiful albums of the 2000s and as a stand-alone journey through Beck’s psyche.

As the album glided along, I inadvertently found myself leaning back in my desk chair, imaging a warm and hazy sun radiating from the clouds. The view was much better than my current scenery, full of dirty ice mounds and slushy street corners.  It was sensational.

The album officially comes out Tuesday, February 25th but you can listen now via NPR’s First Listen: Beck’s Morning Phase 

Links List: Jan 10

And in case you missed it, check out my Best of 2013 playlist, featuring last year’s stand-out tracks from this year’s releases.

New Tunes Reviews, Nov 12: The Killers, an ode to Slim Dunlap, Inside Llewyn Davis, and a frantic Retro Release

When The Killers gather their strongest songs on to one album, as in this week’s Direct Hits, its hard to ignore how great that band was. 2004’s Hot Fuss. Everyone danced along to their synth-influenced melodies. They scored some crossover hits and made some music videos and were suddenly everywhere. Their other albums were not as successful as that debut studio album, but each album did have some great songs. They were loyal to that Las Vegas sound (whatever that means).

This latest compilation includes “When You Were Young,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Read My Mind,” and “Mr. Brightside” (a song that is less annoying now as opposed to when it was initially released and subsequently over-played by radio stations, television shows, and bars). There is “Human” and “Spaceman,” two songs that just plain silly, but catchy. The first 10 songs are from that pre-2009 era of The Killers when you could always count on the band to construct a new-wave, pop power ballad.

Although, I wonder why “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” is missing from this collection. I always considered that one of their best songs.

Songs for Slim: Rockin’ Here Tonight is a project conceived as a way to raise money for Slim Dunlap, The Replacements guitarist who suffered a stroke last year. Originally released as group of EPs, this 2 disc set is a tribute to Slim’s songs (both as a solo artist and on Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down), as sang by Craig Finn, Deer Tick, Patterson Hood (Drive-by Truckers), Jeff Tweedy, Lucero, Frank Black, Jakob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, and others.

It is a great testament to the far reaching influence of Slim on the music community and during his time as part of The Replacements. I enjoyed “Hate This Town,” especially when Patterson Hood interjects a direct shout-out to Slim towards the end of the song. He thanks Slim for “his beautiful songs” and hopes that he feels better soon. Jeff Tweedy’s twangy “Ballad of the Opening Band” is wonderful as well.

The whole album makes me want to do a deep-dive into Slim-era Replacements and post-breakup solo stuff. That is a definite possibility for the future.

Inside Llewyen Davis: Original Soundtrack Recording comes out a little bit more than a month before the release of the Coen Brothers movie by the same name. As with “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” this album features music from the movie, sang by some of the movie’s stars, produced by T-Bone Burnett. The music really sets the stage for the film, which is about the Village’s folk music scene of the 1960s. While a majority of the songs feature the movie’s stars (Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Oscar Isaac), modern day folkies Marcus Mumford and The Punch Brothers to make appearances. A song called “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” leads directly into a Bob Dylan remastered b-side from the 60s called “Farewell.” This is the best type of period-piece. It feels authentic and spontaneous. This is where Coens and their creative team excel.

Apparently the Violent Femmes released a complete-6-disc remastered collection of all their albums this week.

This made me revisit their signature self titled album, Violent Femmes, from 1983 (!!!!) for this week’s Retro Release.

I’ll admit the main reason I knew about this band was their memorable cameo on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But Sabrina/Clarissa/Melissa Joan Heart was always kind of hip. Its logical that she attended a Violent Femmes in-store appearance.

When thinking about this album in the context of the 1980s and current music, I thought it might be dated but it isn’t. There is something unique about this band’s sound. It could be the jittery mix of tapping drums and Gordon Gano’s weird, talk-along, raw and disorganized vocals. There is nothing refined about the Femmes. It sounds haphazard at times. The whole album emulates the anxiety of youth. Its unsure of itself. It is apprehensive with each step.

While “Blister in the Sun” might be their most popular song, the album is full of many more classics, like”Kiss Off” for example. Who doesn’t want to tell someone to just “Kiss Off!” The song starts off slow, with some talking vocals, and then speeds up with urgency. Then it slows down In the chorus, Gano sings, “They’ll hurt me bad but I won’t mind/ They’ll hurt me bad they do it all the time” while “Yeah!/ Yeah!/ Do it all the time!” echos in the background. Getting hurt is a shared experience and the Femmes know that.

“Please Do Not Go,” is another classic song. Lyrically, the song is a plea for company. Whether it be friendship or a lover, all that is required is a few more minutes of a little more explanation.  “Add It Up” asks “Why can’t I get just one kiss?,” escalates to “Why can’t I get just one screw?,” followed by “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” “Prove My Love” literally appears to be about the struggling to prove to someone that you care. When is it just too much??!!

This album is chock full of nervous panic. It is gritty and raw, while maintaining some innocence. If I was actually born in 1983, I would’ve been a big fan of this album. I’ll have to settle for loving it in 2013, while realizing that an anxious kid living in 1983 has basically in the same concerns as one living in 2013.