With Arrows With Poise
Seattle-based The Myriad sucks the soul right out of brit-rock, and then swallows it. The carefully cultivated, prepackaged sound-and-image combo that smothers their mammoth MySpace page is just a hint of the bullshit you'll be wading through if you dare to listen to With Arrows With Poise. Aping their sound from all the right bands, including Radiohead, U2, Coldplay and Muse, the band most closely resembles Mute Math, another technically proficient but soul-less group of artistically bankrupt panderers. Lucky for the band, MTV2 loves them some panderers, and the Myriad was recently chosen as the channel's breakout band of 2007. Additionally, the band won the Mountain Dew Circuit Breakout Winner award. Good for them. The music is slick, well-executed, well-produced and completely vacuous. It's so harmlessly derivative in a praise-and-worship band sort of way, and yet it's that very harmlessness, that avoidance of conflict that makes it so offensive. Anyhow, "Rant Rant Rant."
They may make millions of dollars in the next year, but they won't be able to buy my respect. And that, dear readers, is all that matters. --Joshua Kline
After years of creating epic, post-millenial electronica under the moniker m83, Anthony Gonzalez has shifted gears drastically for his latest album Saturdays=Youth. In earlier work, Gonzalez wore his shoegazer influences on his sleeve, but with each subsequent release he moved further away from the traditional pop format and closer to an aesthetic that was film-score influenced and crescendo heavy.
Now, he's returned to the 80s of his teenage years to create his most coherent and appealing album yet. Saturdays is an epic pop masterpiece that raids the catalogs of everything from Cocteau Twins to the Cure. With songs like "Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl," Gonzalez has created an 80's album that's far more sincere and straight-forward than any of the current wink-wink retro that's over-saturated radio stations and record stores. Remnants of the old m83 are present in tracks like "Couleurs", a sprawling 8-minute instrumental track that slowly builds into an epic dance floor frenzy before softly receding back into quiet obscurity.
The success of the album is due in large part to the unabashed enthusiasm of someone who actually grew up listening to the kind of music he's creating.
One gets the sense while listening to Saturdays that Gonzalez, rather than riding any current trend, is exploiting it to make the music that he's always wanted to make. The result is his strongest work to date, and one of the year's better albums. -JK
The Odd Couple
Much like fellow oddballs Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley has elevated counter-intuitive self-promotion to an art form. The super-duo (hip-hop artist Cee-Lo and mega-producer Danger Mouse) performed well right out of the gate when, two years ago, their hit single "Crazy" flooded the airwaves and carried their debut St. Elsewhere to worldwide success. Their eclectic concoction of dance, soul, R&B and hip hop was made all the more memorable by the group's unrelenting theatricality (they frequently played shows dressed as Star Wars or Wizard of Oz characters, many times using a fake band name).Now, with their sophomore effort The Odd Couple, the group has solidified (if not necessarily advanced) their sound with the kind of fine-tuned perfection that's come to be expected from the prolific Mouse. The album is a fine collection of soulful funk that's both old-school (in an antiquated, Motown sort of way) and vaguely futuristic. It's an adequate, utilitarian party album, perfect for background tone-setting, but it doesn't exactly stand out in any particular or meaningful way. And maybe that's the point. Gnarls Barkley's music has always been social by nature, and if nothing else, The Odd Couple proves that St. Elsewhere wasn't a fluke. -JK
Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor's gone a little crazy. Just a month ago, a review of his mammoth instrumental album Ghosts I-IV adorned these pages, so it feels a bit repetitive to be covering the band again within such a short frame of time. But Reznor's already gone and made another album, so it can't be helped. Since he was freed from contractually-obligated dealings with corporate labels, he's apparently locked himself in the studio 24 hours a day to write and record.
This latest is the exact opposite of Ghosts in every way--it's a tightly constructed rock album that showcases Reznor at his poppiest. Where Ghosts was a sprawling, minimalist exploration of ambience and seemingly stream-of-conscious soundscapes, The Slip finds Reznor back in familiar territory with aggressive, guitar-driven assaults to back four-minute tracks of his angry, pessimistic ruminations on life, death and George Bush. There's a freshness to the album, an urgency in knowing that it was recorded very recently over a short period of time, that makes it feel like a snapshot that's captured Reznor in a very specific moment in time. Instead of toiling deliberately over the album for months or even years (as he's done in the past), you get the sense that he's released something off-the-cuff. Effortless, but totally sincere. What's more: it's completely free. Instead of the "pay what it's worth" moral scenario that bands are imposing on fans left and right these days, Reznor is taking the internet distribution scenario a step further by giving the album away through his website, without a pay option even available.
Thankfully, the album is worth every penny. Er, it would be worth every penny. It's possibly the most cohesive, tightly wound collection of tunes to come out of the Reznor camp since Broken, and the one-two punch of Ghosts and this is a reminder of the fact that Reznor is still a force to be reckoned with. First single "Discipline" is especially worth taking note of: it's the most swaggering, cocksure pop song that Reznor's written since With Teeth's "Only". -JK
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