Album Reviews: Arcade Fire, Cults, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Grade: A-

Release Date: 10/28/2013

Staying fair with this album is difficult. On one side, the Arcade Fire and Reflektors buildup was gigantic and the live show I attended(and covered in another post) was the best live event that I’ve ever seen. This seemed to set the table for this to be an almost unfathomable ‘next-step’ for a band which was already one of the premiere names within the alternative music scene, and a band who was already following up on an album which won album of the year in 2011. In my opinion, that next step didn’t happen on Reflektor, but you can’t hold the fact that an album didn’t turn out to be a classic against it when grading. Reflektor is a very good album which contributes to the dream of reviving disco in 2013, and it’s awesome to hear that when Arcade Fire collaborates with James Murphy the product can legitimately be played and danced to at random venues. There’s also a few new Arcade Fire gems like “Normal Person”, “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) “and my personal favorite “Here Comes The Night Time”(which I personally believe will become as hypnotic and repetitively played as “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” was for Tame Impala in 2012). Reflektor is much better than the average record that you’d hear, which is why it deserves an A-, but it’s hard to mark it higher when it’s likely the third or fourth best Arcade Fire album out of their four releases(Neon Bible being it’s competition). The final viewpoint for me is that it’s really cool to hear Arcade Fire do disco, but I don’t think that this product is as good as what they’ve done before, so I hope it’s not a permanent sound shift.


Cults- Static

Grade: B-

Release Date: 10/14/2013

Cults had an outstanding  self-titled debut album back in 2011 which showed a lot of promise for the indie pop duo, but there was a bit of an odd development in between that release and their sophomore effort Static. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion decided to split and end their relationship, but maintain the band and continue releasing music together, a snippet which makes tracks like “Always Forever” a bit of an awkward listen. Static is a step back for the band in terms of the energy and catchy pop choruses which were present on their debut, but this album is still a fun listen even if it is an unspectacular release.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- The Speed of Things

Grade: B+
Release Date: 10/08/2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Cults actually have a lot in common, both indie pop duos released terrific debuts in 2011 (Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s being It’s A Corporate World) and  released their second albums within a week of each other. It’s a tough band to judge because Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is exceptionally good at making music with pop gimmicks in it, which begs the question of if an album should be judged based upon how enjoyable it is or how likely it is to last the test of time. The Speed of Things is not an album which is going to inspire people to make new music or make people marvel at their sources of inspiration, but the album is a tremendously fun listen with moments that are surprisingly beautiful. Hopefully increased exposure for the band inspires them to take more risks in future projects about song topics because they have a great pop sensibility, and it would be fun to hear what a more ambitious project by them would sound like.

Thirty Albums From the Ten Best Years of Music

Written by Robby Red, current WCDB Rock Director.

Some people will tell you that the 90s were the ten best years in music. Others will disagree, citing the 60s or 70s as a better ten years. It’s an extremely subjective question to ask someone: “What were the best ten years in music?” Twenty people could have twenty different answers. Recently, I decided to put some of my favorite albums in chronological order to determine the best ten years in music, or my favorite ten years at least. Before you get upset about the bold claim I am about to make, please keep in mind that I have not heard every album that was ever released. I haven’t even heard every album that came out in the ten-year period I’m choosing. I have, however, heard the thirty albums I chose to represent my favorite years in music and I would highly suggest all of them. The only restrictions I placed on my list were that a band could only have one album on the list and all of the albums had to be released within a ten-year period. Albums are listed chronologically, then alphabetically. I hope the music will do the rest of the talking.

1976 to 1985 were the best ten years music ever had.

1976
1) Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny
1977
2) The Clash – The Clash
3) Television – Marquee Moon
1978
4) Blondie – Parallel Lines
5) Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
1979
6) Adam and the Ants – Dirk Wears White Sox
7) Bram Tchaikovsky – Strange Man, Changed Man
8) Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
9) Martha and the Muffins – Metro Music 
1980
10) The B-52’s – Wild Planet
11) The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms
12) Magazine – The Correct Use of Soap
13) Mental As Anything – Espresso Bongo
14) The Monochrome Set – Strange Boutique
15) The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight
1981
16) Television Personalities - …And Don’t The Kids Just Love It
1982
17) Dexys Midnight Runners -  Too-Rye-Ay
18) Haircut One Hundred – Pelican West
19) Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
20) Orange Juice – You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever
21) Romeo Void – Benefactor
22) Wall of Voodoo –Call of the West
1983
23) The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge
24) ESG – Come Away With ESG
25) The Go-Betweens – Before Hollywood
26) Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
27) Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
1984
28) The Icicle Works – The Icicle Works
29) The Pale Fountains – Pacific Street
1985
30) The Replacements – Tim

RIP Lou Reed

Lou Reed, lead singer and guitarist of the iconic and influential Velvet Underground and successful solo artist passed away today. Reed was a living legend who actually attended school in upstate New York at the University at Syracuse before he became the coolest man in music, and he was 71 years old. If you have any good Lou Reed stories feel free to share, for now we’ll just collect people paying their respects.

Continue reading RIP Lou Reed

Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 60-51

Here are numbers 60-51 on my countdown of my 100 favorite songs.

60. Death Cab For Cutie- Steadier Footing

This is the chance I never got/ To make a move, but we just talk about/ The people we’ve met in the last five years/ And will we remember them in ten more.

A really short and pretty song by Death Cab from earlier in their career, “Steadier Footing” captures Gibbard people watching from his porch late night after a party. He was looking for some isolation, but he found himself in a conversation which was incredibly genuine and capped off the night well for him. I always loved the talking point about if the people who you’re currently friends with will still be friends of yours in ten years because it’s a very real fear for myself, in an ever-changing world you have to wonder if the good things will stay constant.

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59. Bright Eyes- Amy in the White Coat

“You see, we’re all trying to endure/ You could easily go and make your own life somewhere/ Couldn’t you?

I dug into Noise Floor after hearing the more popular Bright Eyes albums and loving them, and I remember that on the first listen I enjoyed it, but the only songs that really jumped out at me were the Daniel Johnston cover of “Devil Town”, the piano-lead “Drunk Kid Catholic”, and “Amy in the White Coat”(in hindsight, “Blue Angels Air Show” should have been in this grouping). At the point though I hadn’t followed the storyline to “Amy in the White Coat”, I just remembered it as a good song that I wanted to re-visit, and on that second listen I was stunned and saddened. The entire track is about a girl, Amy, who is in an incredibly bad living situation with her father (I don’t feel fully comfortable typing out how so). The horrible part is that Amy’s just found a way to deal with it because she needs to be there to survive, so she doesn’t really see an alternative. It’s the saddest song I’ve ever heard.

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58. Radiohead- The National Anthem

“Everyone/ Everyone is so near/ Everyone has got the fear/ It’s holding on.”

I respect Radiohead a lot but I don’t obsess over them, in fact the only real Radiohead song that I feel a strong connection to is “The National Anthem”. I like how this song attacks you as new instruments get introduced to the chaos in response to Thom Yorke’s messages to the masses. Everything seems like it really belongs in the track, as Radiohead creates a national anthem where the nation doesn’t get rid of the ugly, where it isn’t meant to be sung by kids in school, and where there are just long segments of chaotic noise occurring.

Continue reading Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 60-51

Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 70-61

Here are numbers 70-61 on my countdown of my 100 favorite songs.

70. The Flaming Lips- The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)

It’s a very dangerous thing to do exactly what you want

“The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” brings up an excellent social point in my mind, in that we shouldn’t be able to critique those above us without first considering what we would actually do in that situation. No hypotheticals, if you were placed into a position where you actually did have power what would you do with it? The whole song is really an accusation that you would probably misuse the power you had too in some way, and that that’s just a natural part of being human and not something to hold against a person. Try to find the good things in those people and understand that they could be infinitely more cruel and inept than they currently are and we’re lucky to have them.

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69. Jeffrey Lewis- Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song

“If I was Leonard Cohen or some other song writing master/ I’d know to first get the oral sex then right the song after.

One of my favorite things in music is when you fall in love with a song on the first listen. I listened to “Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song” for the first time a few months ago and Jeffrey Lewis’ story-telling ability amazed me alongside his openness about being a nervous male. There are so many things that get captured perfectly within the interaction, like how he slowly becomes more confident as everything in the conversation seems to progress perfectly, but then he lets you know ahead of time that the conversation only lasted for a few minutes and he never saw her again afterwards. After this, you learn that not only did the girl like him but she basically invited him to have sex with her, but he still couldn’t bring himself to suggest it. That interaction is tough for him to look back on in hindsight, but he reveals that that wasn’t the true motive he had in mind while writing the song. Rather, he realized that he wrote a love song for a girl that met him for two minutes and who he will likely never meet again, and realized that there could be people all around the world doing the same thing. There may even be people out there doing this for you and me, and that’s a beautiful thing to consider.

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68. The Mountain Goats- No Children

“I hope you die. I hope we both die.”

This was the Mountain Goats track that introduced me to the side of John Darnielle which is crazy. “No Children” is the story of the alpha couple which he wrote numerous song about, but stopped doing so after this track was made. That’s because Darnielle was becoming to depressed writing these songs, and after the chorus of “I hope you die. I hope we both die.” arrives you understand why. This couple has grown to despise each other so much that they want to see their pair die, but a fear still exists about what they would be if they had to exist alone.

Continue reading Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 70-61

Show Review: Arcade Fire in Brooklyn

Arcade Fire is set to release their fourth studio album Reflektor on October 28, and they’ve taken an interesting approach to advertising themselves. What they’ve essentially done is abandon the Arcade Fire name temporarily so they could be re-labeled as The Reflektors, a band whose rise to fame was assured once fans realized it was the same band. One really nice part about this strategy is that The Reflektors didn’t start by playing in gigantic venues, their first gigs were intimate and often unannounced events where they would usually play nearly entirely new material. It was a rare chance to see such a widely successful band in a small club and it gained them a lot of notoriety from music publications. When Arcade Fire announced last week that they would be playing two gigs in Brooklyn on Friday and Saturday, I decided to pre-order their album so that I could get myself into the pre-sale. The shows were at a seldom used venue and only had one requirement: formal attire or costume required. I was extremely excited about the possibility of the show as their previous gigs seemed like the coolest concerts I had ever heard of, but some of my expectations were misled while others were exceeded.

For starters, the ticket situation was handled in a completely fair and understandable way, but it could have been done better. Nearly 80% of the tickets that were sold were sold in the pre-sale so that scalpers couldn’t dictate the price to much, a good idea which was probably suggested by James Murphy after the fiasco of trying to sell tickets to his final show in Madison Square Garden, but it had the fallback of making the affair almost entirely white middle aged couples who wanted to attend in their formal wear. It wasn’t a dancing crowd for sure, and this could have been easily fixed by opening up an allotment of tickets to CMJ badges, or the college radio kids that helped them rise to fame. They would have gotten students to camp out at the venue in their costumes and bring energy to the front of the crowd,but  instead they filled the room with statues holding iPhones.

One thing that was noticed once the line began to move was that this wasn’t an intimate venue, but rather one gigantic room (similar to an Armory show for Albany perspective). New York was the Reflektors first big gig and where they wanted to take the city by storm with thousands of people present for the show. The ratio of formal attire wearers to costume was about 3.5:1 with many choosing to wear masks and some being clever and showing up in group costumes (unfortunately I can’t recall any of the more clever ones). The show had no opener but had what I suspect was a James Murphy DJ set occurring before hand as it was awesomely curated and Murphy himself came out from behind the main curtain to introduce the crowd to tonight’s band, The Reflektors. Three members came out wearing the large heads that we’ve seen in the SNL video and music video for “Reflektor”, and these three played some jarbled noise for two minutes before setting their instruments down and running off the stage.

At this point I should state that within this gigantic room, I was pushed nearly entirely to the side wall with a not-so-great view of the stage but the intention of working my way to the middle once the music started. The large headed musicians ran off the stage in our general direction and went behind the curtain wall on the side of the venue, leaving audience members confused about what was currently happening as everybody began to turn their attention away from the stage. It’s at this point that all of a sudden, the side wall’s curtain was lifted to reveal a second stage, where Arcade Fire was standing and immediately began playing the album opener “Reflektor”. This was an event that nearly blew my mind as I went from being stuck in a pretty poor position to being about eight rows back and only slightly off center in a single moment. They apologized to the fans who were close to the other stage, who chose to watch the performance from the fake stage and seemed to have a great time there. Frontman Win Butler insinuated that the band would find a way to make it worth their while and I believe the band went over there afterwards in order to sign autographs to make up for it.

In terms of the actual music, all of the Reflektor tracks sound amazing with the highlight being “Here Comes the Night Time”. They played two older songs which were referred to as ‘Arcade Fire covers’ in “Sprawl II” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and on the last song of the night Win jumped into the crowd and seemingly disappeared as he never returned to the stage until the set had ended to inform the crowd that there would be no encore, but a disco set where he wanted everybody to stay and dance. All in all it was an awesome show to be a part of and probably the coolest event I’ve ever gone to, I was only disappointed by how gigantic of an event it was and how un-energetic the crowd seemed to be. I’d still highly suggest trying to see them on their upcoming world tour though for sure, bring a costume if you go and dance!

CMJ 2013: A Preview

It’s the most glorious week of the year. CMJ is finally here! Most CMJ-newbies and even some seasoned veterans will find the abundance of shows, unofficial parties, day-showcases, RSVP-only parties, and things to do during CMJ week a bit overwhelming. As a WCDB alumni (key word: alumni) I have the added challenge this year of doing it all without a badge, that wonderful golden ticket that lets you in to (almost) any show during the week. However, over the years I’ve found that most of the smaller shows are free, some of the medium sized shows are free w/rsvp, and a lot of the cool stuff to go to aren’t in traditional music venues or are even shows at all. The only shows that definitely require a CMJ badge to enter are the big ones: shows at Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Terminal 5, and Webster Hall. And who wants to go to those? Because really, CMJ isn’t about seeing Savages play at Terminal 5 (capacity: 3,000) during CMJ 2013, it’s about seeing their first live shows in the U.S. before their debut album came out, at Glasslands (capacity: 275) and Public Assembly (capacity: 400) during CMJ 2012.

Every year I try to find a nice balance between bands I love and bands I’ve never heard of before. It’s my own opinion that the quality of the festival and number of bands that I’m excited to see decreases slightly every year, but I’m trying to stay optimistic. Here are the showcases I’m most excited about, some “bands to watch”, and other things I’m looking forward to during CMJ next week. See you there?

Bands to Watch

the bold CMJ dates below are free, even if you don’t have a badge!

Joanna Gruesome

SO GOOD SO GOOD SO GOOD. Seriously, look past the name. Their debut album Weird Sister came out September 2013 on Slumberland Records (swoon) and it’s surely one of my favorites of 2013. It’s amazing. I’m in love. Go see them.
~ RIYL: Riot Grrrl, noisepop, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart


Where to catch them:
Tuesday 10/15 @ Ran Tea House (Force Field PR showcase) 12:10am | $5 without badge
Wednesday 10/16 @ Pianos (Kanine Records/SESAC party) – 3:30pm
Wednesday 10/16 @ Pianos (Old Flame Party) 7:45pm
Thursday 10/17 @ Cakeshop (Capeshok Presents) midnight
Friday 10/18 @ Shea Stadium (Portals Music) 9:00pm
Friday 10/18 @ 285 Kent (Pitchfork showcase) 11:15pm | unofficial show, $10 with or without badge
Saturday 10/19 @ The Rock Shop (Lost Colony party)
Saturday 10/19 @ Death By Audio (Agency Group showcase)

Perfect Pussy

debut cassette demo I HAVE LOST ALL DESIRE FOR FEELING is incredible.

thumbs down for no free shows:
Wednesday 10/16 @ The Flat (SHOT! Presents) | $8 or free w/CMJ badge
Friday 10/18 @ 285 Kent (Pitchfork showcase) | unofficial show, $10 with or without badge

Drowners

~s/t debut album comes January 2014 via Frenchkiss Records

playing:
Thursday 10/17 @ Pianos showroom (Frenchkiss Records showcase)
Saturday 10/19 @ Pianos showroom (Bowery Presents CMJ show)

the band in Heaven

dreampop shoegaze from West Palm Beach, FL
debut album Caught in a Summer Swell out September 2013 on Decades Records

thumbs down for no free shows:
Thursday 10/17 @ Parkside Lounge (S/T Management)
Thursday 10/17 @ Pianos (Frenchkiss Records / Label Group)
Friday 10/18 @ (Decades & Timberwolf Showcase)
Continue reading CMJ 2013: A Preview

Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 80-71

Here are numbers 80-71 on my countdown of my 100 favorite songs.

80. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

What good is it to sing helplessness blues?/ Why should I wait for anyone else?

The opening message of this song is really true for me too. As I grew up all that people talked to me about how we’re all unique and will have individual lives, but I didn’t really see it like that. I could buy that we were all different, but I always worked towards a goal that benefits the whole anyway. I believe in uniqueness but I don’t feel like that’s overly important. The bad part is that once you take on that line of thinking, there are ways where you’re expected to act which can sometimes be a struggle to actually fulfill. It’s scary, but that feeling is what the entire track and album is about because of how common the feeling is for us but also necessary to state.

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79. Bon Iver- Skinny Love

“And now all your love is wasted/ And then who the hell was I?

I make fun of Bon Iver now for really no fair reason. It’s not his fault that people anoint him as the premier folk artist of the moment, and it’s not his fault that he grew to be an example/joke for the artists that are large in the alternative music scene but unheard of outside it. “Skinny Love” is a track which justifies a lot of For Emma, Forever Ago because it becomes clear that when this girl left Justin Vernon he was still madly in love with her. It was nonsensical to him because he loved her wholeheartedly and she still just decided to leave. Harsh.

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78. Death Cab For Cutie- A Lack of Color

“And when I see you/ I really see you upside down.”

There are some songs where the guitar in itself sounds like it’s singing to you. In “A Lack of Color” it sounds as if it harmonizes with Gibbard as they both present a depressingly sad story of loss in a light and pretty way. I end up finding lines like the one above and the later mentioned “And all the girls in every girly magazine can’t make feel/ Any less alone…” gorgeous but I feel awful because of how it hurt the singer to go through it. It’s a weird counterbalance that defines the song for me.
Continue reading Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 80-71

Essential Albums: Bob Dylan- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Freewheelin Bob Dylan

I’ve done a poor job of balancing out actual classics in this segment with albums that are classics in my mind within the alternative music mindset. You should be aware of who Bob Dylan is and what he has done, though I suppose you never know in a world where “Who Is Paul McCartney” exists. Dylan is the premier folk artist pretty much without a doubt, the man who defined the genre and inspired countless artists from the 1960s until today. As his career progressed Dylan’s sound did as well, with him experimenting within different genres including rock and blues, but a look back to his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan does a great job of outlying his talent in the traditional folk sense which captures him at his best.

Continue reading Essential Albums: Bob Dylan- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Revisiting a Viewpoint: Are Most People DJs?

When you join our radio station, after you go through the process of shadowing shows, working the board, and passing the written test you come up to the final test: on-air clearance. This is about a fifteen minute long period of time where you are going to be left on your own, and you have to show that you’re capable of doing everything that will be required of you on your show. It’s a simple process to look back on because all that it truly tests is whether or not you feel comfortable being on the air yet, but it also provides you with a bit of a defining point. This is the first chance that you have ever gotten to choose a song to play over the radio.

This ‘defining first song’ theory admittedly doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of what your show will be, but I would bet that 90% of our DJs they would say that the first song that they played over the air meant something to them. For me I didn’t choose to go with a classic or something trendy at the time to define myself, I went with a message: “Most People Are DJs” by the Hold Steady.

This was a comforting notion in my mind. There was a bit of doubt about whether or not I was actually qualified to be a DJ, to be the guy who decides for other people what music they are going to listen to next. In reality it takes a lot of confidence in your music taste to be able to take this step, and while I knew I had a good taste in music I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good enough for me to feel deserving. I knew it was something that I wanted to do badly though, and I entered the station despite my fears with the mentality that most people in this world are DJs, and I was going to find my way at the station in time.

Most of us are DJs in some way. We all have found songs that worked really well back to back while we walked with headphones on from class to class. We’ve all been at a party and thought about what track would be perfect to hear right now. What more is a radio show than organizing a set-list, a mix tape, and letting that play itself out. If the masses like it, than great, if not, who cares? The wisest advice I’ve heard since joining the station came from DJ Show at a meeting when he stated to just play what you like, and other people out there will like it to. You don’t need to know what the public is hoping to hear because for the most part they don’t know what they’re hoping to hear, all that they want is good song selection and good transitions. If they want to hear a song, they can use the request line.
Continue reading Revisiting a Viewpoint: Are Most People DJs?