Tag Archives: Rock Music

LONERISM by Tame Impala

Australian daytrippers Tame Impala burst onto the collective consciousness in 2010 with their fantastic debut album INNERSPEAKER.  That record, which I once described as perfect Sunday morning chill-out music, set the bar pretty high for the band.  I honestly didn’t expect to hear from Tame Impala so quickly, especially after lead singer/songwriter Kevin Parker released an album of similarly psychedelic (but far woolier) tunes under the name Pond in March of this year.  Much to my delight, however, Tame Impala is back with their new album LONERISM.

In case your’re wondering, the sign on the gate reads: “Dogs, even on a leash, are not admitted beyond this point.”

What I find most interesting about the album is that it’s both a leap forward and a step back.  Sonically, the album is lightyears ahead of INNERSPEAKER, which itself was hovering at the very finge of our soloar system.  The band pushes the band’s sound even further into space with it’s  heavier use of synthesizers.  Parker has said in interviews that LONERISM is more prog/indulgent that the last record.  And while that typically is a negative, in this case the songs on LONERISM run wild without running completely away (the longest song clocks in at just over six minutes).  The band’s vast, spaced-out sound is pushed to the limits on such tracks as “Mind Mischief” and “Apocalypse Dreams.”  Both tracks sound like a calmer, mellower, less cartoon version of The Flaming Lips.  LONERISM also recalls Todd Rundgren, whom the band has cited as a major influence.

That said, LONERISM is also a bit of step back in that lyrically the majority of the songs deal with personal issues of loneliness, isolation, and social awkwardness.  The best example of this is the woe-is-me jam “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” in which Parker sings about being alone and only thinking he’s happy. This material would probably seem whiny, self-pitying, and immature except that it’s swathed in a big bouncy beat.  The trippy vibe takes an emo kids lament and transforms it into the inner musings of a stoned philosophy major.  The albums themes of isolation are also represented on the album’s cover, which is a photo taken by Parker at a French public park.  I think the shot of the happy people viewed through the bars works best with “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?”  Tame Impala was smart to both expand their telescope sonically while at the same time write more personal songs. It keeps the band from floating away entirely into the stratosphere where the listener is unable to relate to them.

Sitting amongst the green.

Special mention should be made concerning the band, specifically Kevin Parker’s affinity for John Lennon.  John Lennon’s ghost looms large on LONERISM, specifically on the albums best songs “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” “Sun’s Coming Up,” and “Elephant”.  Parker’s vocals eerily channel the former Beatle throughout the album, but on “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” sound like a lost PLASTIC ONO BAND track.  “Sun’s Coming Up” sounds like a sleepy/boozy Lennon demo for one of his piano ballads. “Elephant” which is my favorite track on the album, sounds like “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” merged with “I Am The Walrus.”  It’s a lumbering rocker that wouldn’t stick out too much on MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR.   The homage/influence of Lennon will probably turn off as many people as it switches on.  I don’t think it’s 100% fair to give Tame Impala too much grief about this because:

1. The dude can’t help who he sounds like

and

2. There are worse things to be like than John Lennon.  Do Tame Impala rip off The Beatles? No.  Do they re-invent the wheel? No, but what they create vast sonic murals of trippy space rock and they do it well–end of story.

Ah. Freak. Out.

Tame Impala have forged a solid second record with all the big, epic sound you’d expect from the band that brought us INNERSPEAKER.  However, more than just delivering more of the same, the band has stretched their legs and dug a little deeper for LONERISM.  The album, while not as top-to-bottom perfect as INNERSPEAKER, still manages to capture the imagination and delight the listener.  To say that LONERISM is a headphones album would be the understatement of the year.  Switch off the lights, pop in your ear buds, and close your eyes.

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“Fats Domino” by The Features

Tennessee rockers The Features have become one of my favorite bands through double-osmosis: I dragged my wife to a Kings of Leon show a few years ago and they were one of the opening acts.  So impressed with their sound, my wife did something she never does and actually went out bought some of the bands CD’s.  The Features are probably one of the hardest-working bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing–six times in less than 4 years.

Beyond the endless touring, however, The Features also consistently release an album every year (give or take) that’s really good.  The band’s song writing has not only been solid as a rock, but they’ve done that rare thing in rock where they’ve stayed true to themselves while still managing to grow artistically AND appeal to an increasingly wider audience.  Most recently, the band was featured in a national TV spot for a big American car company.

WILDERNESS, the band’s latest album is fantastic…but you should hear them all.

The Features seem to be a band on the verge of breaking big, and when that day comes I’m going to feel very smug.  But because I’m a Hipster-Soothsayer, I’m going to be a bit sad, too.  I mean, can a band so down-to-Earth and workman-like endure the harsh spotlight? I wouldn’t think so, but then I heard “Fats Domino” from the band’s most recent album WILDERNESS.

“Fats Domino” is a soft battle-cry, but a battle-cry nonetheless.  It’s about all the things we need, or don’t need.  It’s a list of everything not needed…and the one thing that we can’t live without: Rock ‘n Roll. “You can take everything except my rock ‘n roll, my love, put down Fats Domino.”  The song, which is in the context of a relationship ending, on the surface is about a dude asking for his records, but beyond the surface “Fats Domino” is about nourishing, enduring magic of rock music.  We live in a modern world full of so much crap that, quite frankly, none of us need.  “Fats Domino” is a song written by a band that has it’s priorities in order and their heads on straight.  That it’s called “Fats Domino” and not “Elvis Presley” or even “Chuck Berry” is both telling and extremely comforting. Not only do The Features know where they as a band are going, they know where rock has been.

I think this sort of musical literacy and historical awareness is not only endearing but also very comforting. I’m comforted that The Features love rock music.  They don’t just live it, eat, sleep, and breathe it–they know it intimately.  The Features aren’t rock stars, they’re craftsmen.  The albums they make are strong, sturdy chairs like those built by master-carpenters; beautiful to look at but also very functional.

So I don’t worry about The Features getting success and losing their heads.  The only thing that I worry is that the success will remain elusive for them, not for their sake….but yours.

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TSAR Returns with THE DARK STUFF Ep!

If there’s one thing that I love, it’s finding out that a band I really love has put out new music.  But what I love even more is when a band I’ve completely written off as “disbanded” returns with new music. LA rockers TSAR put out two phenomenal albums that really didn’t get the attention they deserved.

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Their self-titled debut album is more than worthy of a CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED post and their last record, BAND GIRLS MONEY was worthy follow-up that proved the band wasn’t a fluke.  But then something happened, I don’t know because I’m not in LA and I don’t follow that scene…but TSAR went away.  Then, a few days ago, I was prepping my iPhone for a trip and what do I see on Spotify? Brand-spanking new TSAR music.

THE DARK STUFF is an Ep of five songs; all killer, no filler power-pop perfection.  Upon first listen, I was surprised at how dark THE DARK STUFF really is.  Sure, the music is still sugary and fun; but TSAR aren’t pulling any punches–these songs have a real bite to them.  The first song, “Punctual Alcoholic” is a demented, spooky song that appropriately name-checks Stephen King.  The phrase punctual alcoholic  is one of those really good TSAR-isms that I’ve been missing over the last few years.  

Despite being really well-produced, the song was a bit of shock in that it wasn’t as hyper-produced as the songs from BAND GIRLS MONEY.  It’s a really good, really catchy song that instantly reminded me why I love this band.

The second track, “Police Station” is a more straight-forward rocker and sounded more akin to the songs from the band’s last album, but toned down and more thoughtful.  I especially like the reference’s to “Teen Wizards,” another of the band’s songs.  “Little Woman” returns to the darker, melodic quality that gives the Ep it’s name.

The best song on THE DARK STUFF is the last track, “Something Bad Happened To Me.”  Like “Punctual Alcoholic,” it’s more restrained than the band’s previous album but edgier.  It’s like a haunted-house where the music is provided by Cheap Trick by way of George Harrison, The Cars, and Steely Dan.  It’s a very cool, multi-faceted song that seamlessly morphs from acoustic noodle to electric monster.

TSAR is still a great power pop band, but with THE DARK STUFF the band seems to be moving away from the endless-partyrock sensability and more textured, mature rock.  I didn’t think it would be possible for TSAR to come back and actually be more interesting than they already were, but with THE DARK STUFF the band has proven that not only are they back but they’re better than ever.  I only hope that we don’t have to wait long for the full album.

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Aping The Beach Boys

 

Last month, Ben Folds Five released their first new studio album since 1999.   After reading a few favorable-to-glowing reviews, I decided to check out the new album despite being a casual fan of the group.  To my great joy, THE SOUND OF THE LIFE OF THE MIND is a really fantastic album that’s chock full of really good pop songs, I encourage you to seek it out.

The opposite of “Rire and Rain” but not PET SOUNDS.

One song, though, really stood out to me: the second track “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later.”  The song, which begins with drums and very familiar-sounding vocal harmonies instantly made me think of Jellyfish.  Particularly their second album SPILT MILK which my mom got me into durin the 1990’s.  Hypnotized, I found myself listening to the song over and over.

Then, around the 30th listen or so, I had a realization: The Beach Boys.  In this modern age, where artists are paying homage to other artists who were paying tribute to other artists, it can be tricky to trace the musical genealogy of a group or song .  Now that I’ve thought abou it, it’s obvious to me that on “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”  the band is clearly doing something that goes back to the 1960’s: they’re aping The Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys, as I’m fond of reminding you all, were pioneers in rock music and highly influential.  The band has a stuffy/boring reputation among many young people today, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve written before about my deep love of PET SOUNDS, but beyond that monumental album, the band’s influence can be felt today.  Being such a cultural-touchstone, other bands have been making sly (and sometimes not so sly) references to The Beach Boys in their work.  That this has been going on literally since they achieved their initial popularity in the 1960’s only serves to underscore just how damn important they were/are as a band.

We don’t know how lucky we are, boys.

The first time I can remember thinking “this band is making fun/referencing The Beach Boys” was when I heard The Beatles self-titled double album THE BEATLES (also known as the “White Album”).  The first song of the first album is “Back in the USS,” which is a direct parody of “California Girls.”  The Beach Boy-esque backing vocals are a perfect copy of The Beach Boys, but more than that The Beatles also poke fun at the band’s Apple-Pie/Baseball American-ness with their song’s Soviet Union-theme.  The Beatles were not the first, and they were not the last to ape The Beach Boys however.

Growing up, another band that I was exposed via my parents was REM.  I remember to practically wearing out their cassette of OUT OF TIME when it came out in 1991.  I had no idea what any of the songs were about, but I really liked them all, in particular the fourth track “Near Wild Heaven.”  The song, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills, is pretty much a spot-on WILD HONEY-era Beach Boys song.  And like “Back in the USSR,” it’s not the just vocal arrangement that’s referential to the Beach Boys, the lyrics and chords are also reminiscent of the band.  Looking back on it now, I think it’s weird that one of my all-time favorite REM songs is really just them riffing ironically on The Beach Boys. 

Not near enough…

English rockers XTC recorded a series of albums as their alter-egos The Dukes of Stratosphear and recorded “Pale and Precious,” a song that channels Wilson’s PET SOUNDS and SMILE-era lush production so well it borderlines on plagiarism. I feel weird mentioning the song because The Dukes were sort of a jokey-novelty, but “Pale and Precious” is too good to ignore.  Many people think these over-the-top homages are cheap, easy ripoffs but the amount of detail and knowledge required to create what essentially amounts to a “lost” Beach Boys song is incredible.  Anyone who willing to disregard the artistic merits of “Pale and Precious” can should try their hand at writing such a loving tribute–I have a feeling it’s harder than Andy Partridge makes it look.

Alt-rockers Everclear started their third album, SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW, with a massive Beach Boys nod on the album’s title track “So Much For The Afterglow.”  The song has an opening so Beach Boy-esque that when it comes on when I shuffle my iTunes I always mistake it for an actual Beach Boys song.  Jellyfish likewise opened their second album, the before-mentioned SPILT MILK, with “Hush” a lovely lullaby that exists thanks to The Beach Boys.

Sounds like The Beach Boys drunk on everclear.

Much like there are for The Beatles, there are a large contingent of modern bands who’s primary influence is The Beach Boys.  I vividly recall when California rockers Rooney broke onto the scene and were hailed by (the then-still somewhat musical) MTV as the “modern Beach Boys.”  The comparison wasn’t completely off-base, though I don’t think Rooney is as strongly connected to The Beach Boys as say,  South Carolina rockers The Explorers Club.   The Explorer’s Club have managed to cultivate a small, but growing fanbase with their supremely Beach Boys-like pop sound.  I  particularly enjoy their song “Run Run Run” of their most recent album GRAND HOTEL, which sounds like an eerily like an early 1970’s Beach Boy number.

This is a fantastic album, you should check it out.

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then Brian Wilson & Company must feel very flattered indeed.  It’s one thing to write a good song, it’s another thing to invent a unique style that others copy and build upon.  Below is a Spotify-playlist I’ve started for this interesting sub-sub-sub-genre of music, if you are a Spotify user please feel free to add songs you think fit into the category of Aping The Beach Boys. I’d be interested to see how massive the list can get.

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