Two Reviews for the Price of One

[aka: La Roux is Definitely Into the Boy Who Knew Too Much] [It should also be noted that these two reviews have been severely edited from their original versions for the sake of space and sanity]

There is something to be said for good sugar pop (as a fellow radio colleague called it). As I’ve said in the past, writing a good hit-worthy pop song is not easy task, something that far too many people don’t seem to appreciate. However so much of sugar pop is disregarded as fluff while more “artistic” bands and artists are lauded over while the writers of pop songs are ignored and pop stars left for rehab (or worse.) Every once in while though, sugar pop should be, or at least deserves to be, reviewed and treated the same way its more respected musical categories are treated.

When Life in Cartoon was released in 2007, I had no idea it had been released. I had never heard “Grace Kelly” (or for that matter “Relax (Take It Easy)”) and was quick to hop on the bandwagon of slagging off Mika for the pleasure of making fun of someone who was in competition with my favourite band, Kaiser Chiefs. So when I stumbled upon the fact that Mika had released a new album and single I saw an opportune moment to take up the mockery once again on my radio show (since that’s what I do and most of the original mockery had occurred well before I had a radio show.) I stuck “We Are Golden” towards the end my show and didn’t really bother to give it a listen. In the course of broadcasting my show and subsequently having actually listen to “We Are Golden” I found out something about Mika: He knows how to write a really infectious pop song. A trained musician (with some of that training having happened at the Royal College of Music) Mika knows how to effortlessly incorporate the musical trickery of the Western European tradition into the format of your standard pop song. But what’s slightly more impressive (at least in my mind) is his further incorporation of his falsetto range, which he manages to do without falling into the Darkness trap of using it just for shits and giggles or as some odd way of showing off (something can’t be said for his first album, which does sometimes fall into that trap more than once.) The best sugar pop sounds effortless and simple while being actually much more complex on the page. The Boy Who Knew Too Much, the majority of which was written by Mika, does just that while also showing the kind of musical growth you would expect of an artist who is so clearly influenced by glam rock and electro/glam pop.
Recommended Tracks: The whole damn thing except for maybe “I See You.” But even that’s tentative, so just the whole damn thing.

The self-titled debut album from British techno pop group La Roux starts off promisingly enough. The first half of the album sounds like a throwback to the early 80’s when drum machines and synthesizers ruled the airwaves but with enough gloss to show that it was written and recorded in the 00’s. Although a clear line could be made between between La Roux and many of the early new wave band what makes La Roux distinctive, at least for the first half of the album, is Elly Jackson’s vocals. While in many of the songs Ms. Jackson tends to let herself settle into her breathy upper range, the moments when she goes back into the lower part of her range (which in my opinion is the stronger part) a needed grittiness is added to the songs. Unfortunately after “I’m Not You’re Toy” the album lapses into a repetitive cycle of broken hearts and thinly textured techno beats. With time and more maturity La Roux could quite possibly be an excellent band. La Roux defintely shows that the band has that potential and it’s a good album. It’s just not brilliant.
Recommended Tracks: “Tigerlily,” “Bulletproof,” “I’m Not You’re Toy,” “Armour Love.”
Album Grades: The Boy Who Knew Too Much: B+; La Roux: C+

New E.P. by J.C.

Finally! The new E.P. from the much acclaimed artist Jesus Christ! As many of you know, J.C. supposedly consists of Carles and Tao Lin from the popular hipster website I think that this song is really a leap forward for so many independent basement chillwave artists who are trying to reach the “mainstream” indie community with a song that will both inspire and confuse, for it has done both for me!

Yes, it is true, their band name is Jesus Christ. I for one, find this particularly hilarious because of the stupid amount of backlash that it will hopefully (for the “band”) generate in their favor.

As many (none?) of you know, I am a religion major who is not offended by much (I claim nothing, but my life isn’t over yet) and this “band” is headed into the not offended pile as well. So, if any of you are truly and deeply offended by this post, please, do not be afraid to tell me……. Oh, and here is the song.

Jesus Christ – Is this really what you want?

Noah And The Whale – The First Days Of Spring

Ok, this is the start of a new chapter in my life, consistently contributing to the blog.

As someone who gets their heart broken once a day, aka no on writes on my facebook wall :( I have something in common with a majority of the themes presented in this album. Now, I would not normally make the following statement, but I am glad this bro got his heart stomped on cause it completely makes this album. First though, let me back track; The First Days Of Spring is the sophomore release from the U.K.’s Noah And The Whale (aptly named after the wonderful Noah Baumbach coming of age film The Squid And The Whale). You may remember their quirky and upbeat hit off last years album “5 Years Time“. P.S. They also like Wes Anderson, if you couldn’t tell from the video. Anyway, fast forward to the present where things are not so happy go lucky and instead, excuse my french, shit sucks.

The Album is essentially a “concept album” in the fact that it deals with similar scenarios/emotions and complementing hooks to bring the listener back to former topics within the album. It begins with some beautiful orchestration on the title track “The First Days Of Spring” and general narrative to explain the events. Next, “Our Window” brings us deeper down into initial fallout with a slow moving piano intro that gives way to the somber realization that there is nothing left but the end of the relationship. The end of the song leaves us with the repeated and hopeful expression that “blue skies are coming, but I know that it’s hard”. The next track “I Have Nothing” brings us to the bargaining phase of the album. He is pleading to get her back, anything, just one more day, one more anything, for he has nothing.”My Broken Heart” continues the ol heartbrokin’ thing with a nice guitar fuzz out for the last minute and a half or so, and really adds to the superb instrumentation choices for this album, because what comes next? Yeah, you guessed it, an instrumental track with an orchestra to really bring you back to where this album was headed the whole time whether or not you realized it, the first days of spring. And next? A choir. Yup, a choir, with the wonderfully titled “Love Of An Orchestra” (cause the orchestra is still there). Then, in the song “Stranger” he has the obligatory rebound one night stand/overly forced faux relationship, only to realize (what a shock!?) that it does not fill the void, but only gives him a VD (jk, shortsighted hedonism doesn’t always lead to stds). So, he loses the lady of the night and comes full circle with the eventually uplifting “Blue Skies” (also the first single). The song is impossible to enjoy(musically)/relate to(lyrically), especially with the opening lines “this is a song for anyone with a broken heart, this is a song for anyone who can’t get out of bed, I’ll do anything tooooooo be happy”. The album wraps with the somewhat self deprecating but still very understandable “My Door Is Always Open”. Very nice band harmonies to round out the album. All in all I loved this album, but I’m also a sucker for some great melancholic/depressing/heart breaking/uplifting indie pop music with rich orchestration. And the fact that it reminded me of at least 8(hundred?) great songs from the album(s) “69 Love Songs” by The magnetic Fields which I hadn’t listened to in a good 4 years did not hurt either. The production value helps this album tremendously too, it’s minimal when it needs to be, while being accompanied perfectly for every part. In no way does this band suffer from the sophomore slump. I have become a much bigger fan of Noah And The Whale because of this album, which is surprising considering my generic love of Wes A. and Noah B.

-Bill Boring

Quickie Reviews: Lily Allen

Lily Allen: It’s Not Me, It’s You is a musically intriguing little pop confection with a slightly intellectual core. Sometimes when Ms. Allen gets up too high on her horse the songs fall flat, but for the most part she leaves sociological observations left to those who can actually do it and just observes her world to very best of her ability, which in most cases is excellent. Recommended songs: “The Fear,” “Not Fair,” “22,” “Never Going to Happen,” “Fuck You.”

I was going to talk about Different Class and This Is Hardcore by Pulp but I’ll have to get back to you on those two. Excellent albums though, really glad I gave them a listen.