Tuesday, June 26, 2007

5 A Day: Day Seven

I've noticed that many of my reviews have been overly positive. I swear to you that I haven't listened to most of these albums before. These reviews are from first impressions and nothing else. Also, I took the time to type everything out today! Alright, here we go...

Stereo Total - Monokini

Stereo Total is a multinational coalition of pop fans. As their multiple backgrounds would suggest, the lyrics alternate between many languages, primarily French, English, and German. I only have a slight grasp of two of those languages (english being one), so some of the songs are completely incomprehensible to me.

Regardless of lyrics, this album is actually really fun. The rhythms alternate between punk speed and slower electro-pop, dance songs and ballads. Stereo Total is coming from everywhere across this album and this made it for me an exciting listen; I never really knew where they were going to go next. The first three tracks are a good example of this. The first song sounds like Kraftwerk. Then Kraftwerk changes into a song that reminiscent of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Then the next song recalls the sound of Serge Gainsbourg. And this isn't it. Monokini goes into French lounge singing, bossa nova, but the overriding groove is definitely electro-pop across the album.

In the end, Monokini is a great album because, while it does reference all of those sounds, it makes it sound like its own. After some initial spastics, the band settled down and found their their sound. The sound is still conflicted a bit, but, overall, it's pretty much an awesome sound. I would like a more coherent vision, but I do really like what I heard on this album.

The Ponys - Turn The Lights Out

The Ponys are a Chicago-based band that has been getting a lot of ink spilled about them due to their recent signing to the indie major label of Matador. From the onset, the sound is a bit shoegaze-y but not overwhelmingly so. It's definitely there, but it's infused with an early, post-punk Cure sound. Their lyrics aren't that heavy, but the heavy reverb and guitar interplay of those early Cure albums is definitely there. The rhythm section is perfect. The bass and drums are solid but don't really get in the way of the whole listening experience. Listening to the bass is like listening to Tina Weymouth on Talking Heads albums.

The bass is clearly there as a sonic foundation, but it doesn't get in the way of the overall sound. The bass playing is interesting to listen to and holds the song together with the drums while the guitars go flying all over the place on their solos. As chaotic and/or boring as that all sounds, that's exactly how a good band should sound. There should be a base that the guitars can jump to and off of at leisure.

This album grabs from the beginning and doesn't let go. The slowdown tracks are well placed and do not ruin the flow. The sound is always changing yet very consistent, showing that The Ponys have a fantastic understanding of their own sound. The lyrics are actually very good as well, if not slightly insignificant. The technical aspects of the album are amazingly well-done. The instrumentation is strong and the production accentuates the artists instead of overpowering them or muting them. There are no rough edges in the production; everything has its space. A thoroughly compelling listen. I was actually shocked when the album ended; I wanted it to keep going, even after 40 minutes. I listened to this album again in my car, and it was just as compelling. Turn the Lights Out is definitely a repeat listening album with each time being as satisfying as the last.

Peter, Bjorn & John - S/T

This is a Swedish trio that has been getting a lot of press due to the hit song on their most recent album Writer's Block called Young Folks. You probably know it as it has a whistling bridge between the chorus back into the verse and was featuring in Grey's Anatomy. This album is an earlier production from the band from 2002.

If you expect to hear the same sort of coy sing-along songs that are on Writer's Block, the first song on the eponymous album will shake you of that expectation quite briskly. I don't know what I want us to do starts with a blast. A rollicking organ line compliments the frazzled lyrics and the breakneck pace of the song. But, album soon finds its groove and becomes more reminiscent of the country that bred the trio: Sweden.

The album takes on a lot of the aspects of the Swedish pop scene that is populated by amazing bands like The Legends, Acid House Kings, and the ever popular Cardigans. Peter, Bjorn, and John is sweet and coy, but is not saccharine sweet; there is still a bittersweet tone. And the lyrics maintain a sad optimism that is very pleasant to listen to. Their sound changes from E6 positive to Legends-style power pop to Acid House Kings melancholic across the album. Regardless of what they do, these boys charm throughout the album with their consistent pop sound that knows how to rock and write a ballad while putting it over a catchy beat.

While this is their first entrance into the field, Peter, Bjorn, and John definitely makes them a band of note, someone who has been on their game since the beginning. The eponymous album of Peter Bjorn and John reminds us that Young Folks isn't a fluke; this band is actually amazingly good and should be the hero of anyone who calls themselves a fan of indie music. They aren't my heroes, but they would be if I had heroes.

Stereolab - The Groop Played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music"

Stereolab is one of the more vaunted indie bands of recent history. Prolific in output and unique in sound, Stereolab has fans amongst experimental listeners, straight ahead pop fans, rockers, and punks. Most everyone in the indie world has a certain soft spot for the kraut-based magic that is Stereolab. Additionally, the fact that they are whip smart doesn't hurt too much either, as they frequently infusing their lyrics with marxist politics.

The Groop...is more of an experimental album. The poppiness of later albums such as Dots and Loops and Emperor Tomato Ketchup is not to be found here. To begin discussing the record, it is important to note that the album is split into two parts.

The first part is very experimental and wandering, forgoing traditional pop structures. The second part is far closer to traditional Stereolab than the first half. The songs over the first half are not as lock groove as their better album work, but the songs do maintain a dreamy, futuristic, droning aesthetic. The second half does getting into the more traditional Stereolab sound, but not quite. It is still floating and more distant.

Without throwing any more adjectives around, The Groop... does sound like Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, like Stereolab sat in a room with Esquivel and Les Baxter albums and applied their sound to that aesthetic. The album overall is a good listen, but it is not a good place to start for someone who has no background with the band. This is an earlier release that could easier turn off a listener due to the fact it is a bit dreamy and not a good representation of the Stereolab experience. But, once a listener gets more acclimated with Stereolab, they should come back and explore this album fully. They will find it more satisfying that way.

Saint Etienne - Tiger Bay

Saint Etienne is a critic's band, primarily because they are made of critics. They know what they don't like and have created a band to satisfy not only them but other critics. Musically adventurous, Saint Etienne is known for cranking out good album after good album.

Tiger Bay is no exception. The ballads are beautiful. The beats are crisp and utterly danceable. And the songs tell the story of the mystical Tiger Bay, with travel and a story of a failed romance. You can see the story of the love between the two people rise and fall, the gossiping people, the beauty of the shore. This is an amazing album, further proof that Saint Etienne is one of the best indie acts of the 1990s (this album is from 1994).