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+

Christian’s February Reviews I

Hello again, comrades. I decided to review Lily Allen’s new album instead of Vulture Whale (not to steal your thunder, imnore), but I’ll review the boys from Birmingham next week. Here are my reviews for this week.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears E.P.

Blues rock from Austin, Texas. Organ, hot brass, guitars. Unintelligible, blues-style male vocalist. Four tracks: a blues/funk song, a slow hot song, an improvised ramble set to music, and a bo diddley beat. There’s nothing that original on this record, and I think it’s only really supposed to promote their live blues band business. Faithful, technically decent, but I’m sure you can find better blues records without even trying. I welcome anyone else who knows anything about blues to add their opinion. (2.5/5)

The Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears E.P. was released on January 27th. Here is their Myspace page.

Lily Allen, It’s Not Me, It’s You

Witty, well-produced pop that makes you think. Synth-heavy. Allen’s vocals are unprocessed, for the most part.  There are a lot of different musical styles to keep the record interesting. The lyrics have realistic, relatable takes on romance, but also some clever social commentary (as I wrote earlier). Highlights include “Not Fair”, a rockabilly (wtf) style track about a sweet guy who’s a cad in bed, and “Who’d Have Known” a touching (I am embarrassed to admit) song about the awkward start to a relationship. This record is fun, easy to listen to, and intelligent. Lily Allen seems to be a force for good in the normally vapid, shallow world of pop music. (4/5)

It’s Not Me, It’s You will be released on February 10th, but you can listen to the whole album on her Myspace page.

Monumental Sonic Architecture, Monumental Sonic Architecture E.P.

Pensive, soundtrack-style electronic rock. Sequenced synths and a crunchy guitar over drum loops. Slightly tone deaf male vocalist. Thin, demo-quality tracks in need of a producer. Weak lyrics. (“Bullshit’s piling up so high / Up so high with me / Bullshit’s piling up so high /Up ’til I can’t  see.” Repeat.) Monumental Sonic Architecture knows a few cool tricks, but overall, their music needs too much work to be worth your time. (2/5)

Monumental Sonic Architecture E.P. was released digitally on December 16th. Here’s their Myspace page.

That’s all for now. Hope you’re doing well.

Reviews from January

Hello, friends. In this post, I review the latest singles from Morrissey and Blue October, some tracks from Lily Allen’s forthcoming album, and Maroon 5’s remix album from last year. I also had a review of White Lies’ single “Death” lying around, so I’ll post that, too.

Blue October, “Dirt Room”

Angry alternative rock. Good guitar and bass. Scratchy, screamy male vocalist with rapid delivery. Random violin. Lyrics about a violent revenge for an unknown transgression. Listenable and lots of energy, but some poor choices (backing vocals, whispers) and sort of senseless, generic lyrics. (2.5/5)

Dirt Room” was released on December 23rd. The album Approaching Normal will be released on March 24th.

Lily Allen, It’s Not Me It’s You [Sampler]

Pop. Heavily produced. Mostly synth. Danceable. Clear female vocals with a London accent; Plainly sung. Sarcastic pop songs with something to say. Lyrics critical of anti-depressant culture, consumerism, superficiality, and religious intolerance. Maybe the production’s a bit too slick, but it has some soul. Intelligent pop with a sense of humor. Pretty good. (3.5/5)

This sampler included the tracks “Everyone’s at It”, “Fuck You”, and “The Fear”. “The Fear” was released as a single on December 9th. It’s Not Me, It’s You will be released on February 10th.

Maroon 5, Call and Response

Pop/Dance/R&B. Bumper collection of remixed tracks. Fairly standard-sounding dance music. Some tracks have an R&B edge, others lean towards techno. Uninteresting unless you like the band, the remix artist or general dance music. Not terrible. (2.5/5)

Call and Response was released on December 9th.

Morrissey, “I’m Throwing My Arms around Paris”

Wistful (adult?)-alternative pop. Guitars. String section during the chorus. Morrissey’s clear, bold croon. A short, simple song with a sweeping chorus about facing rejection with pride. The singer resolves to love cities instead, because “only stone and steel accept my love”. Probably written in an hour. Almost too simple, but damn it, it works. (3.5/5) [Used to be 3/5, but it’s really a better song than that.]

I’m Throwing My Arms around Paris” will be released on February 9th. The album Years of Refusal will be released on February 16th.

White Lies, “Death”

Positive-sounding, upbeat indie rock. Steady bass-driven rhythm; backing synth strings; bold male vocalist with a thoughtful delivery. Imagine if The Killers’ Brandon Flowers were gentler and sang better. The song deals with the existential dread the singer feels even during times of great happiness and contentment. This is done in a very mature way, and is not bleak or gloomy. Musically unimpressive but lyrically profound. (3/5)

Death” was released on September 22nd. The album To Lose My Life was released January 19th.

That’s all for now. Next week, I review material from Monumental Sonic Architecture, Alabama indie rockers Vulture Whale, and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears (who appear to have turned blaxploitation into a musical genre). Hope you’re doing well.