Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Sun Is Only Getting Hotter

>> Featured Artist: Get Him Eat Him

Clocking in at No. 73 in 2005's Toaster countdown, "Mumble Mumble" put Get Him Eat Him on my radar. The guitar-driven pop song is so chock full of hooks that I wasn't sure if it was a fluke - something that could be repeated. Or worse, a formula - something that would only be repeated.

The band prepares to launch its sophomore album next week, and I'm still withholding judgment. The leaked song from Arms Down is once again peppy and poppy - and full of those catchy hooks. While I admittedly really know only two songs by the band, it seems a little strange that both sound remarkably similar - especially in the use of the distinctive warbly vocal effect that lends itself so well to high harmonies. I hope I'm off on this, because I really like both songs outside of the context of the other (and who doesn't like that band name?). I just need to hear more, folks.

>> Album Lookout: Memory Almost Full

Paul McCartney - Due Out: June 5, 2007 (Starbucks)

God, I love Paul McCartney.

The one guy that I would never criticize for signing to Starbucks music label, Paul seems to never have lost his touch for crafting effortless-sounding melodies. The launch of Memory Almost Full, the first Starbucks album for Sir Paul, was kicked into high gear last week when the video for the lead-off track hit YouTube - "Dance Tonight" (YouTube).

This song - the only I've heard from the LP - isn't going to change anything you already think about Paul McCartney. For folks like me, though, it's just nice to hear his voice. The lightness of the tone, the catchiness of the lead, the choice to let Gondry direct the video (and is that Natalie Portman's ghost?), not to mention the cute sketch at the front - all heap on scary reminders that at 64 (going on 65), Paul still has a lot of whatever made him one of the greatest pop musicians of the 20th Century.

>> Reverting to: 1964

Yet another Beach Boys comp hit stores last week just in time for the pools to open. To my relief, though, it's MUCH heavier on the lesser-known, post-Pet Sounds stuff, which has long been my favorite Beach Boys era. Owning all the tracks already, I'm not sure I'll pick up The Warmth of the Sun (except for the odd, too-obvious cover of "California Dreamin'"), but it'd be a great introduction to anyone who's only heard the amusement park-boardwalk hits.

Fittingly, it ends with the title track. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bridging the Atlantic

>> Featured Artist: LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem proved their worth on "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House." The equation seemed pretty simple: fun hipster rock that is not just danceable, but also pretty funny. In fact, AllMusic reports that frontman James Murphy turned down an opportunity in the 90s to write for Seinfeld. Wow.

Heading into the band's 2007 release, Sound of Silver, it's not a surprise that LCD Soundsystem had a lot left to say. Chief among them, that they were from North America. Getting right to the point on "North American Scum," Murphy puts it all on the table: "And for those of you who still think we're from England. We're not. No."

The song somehow injects pride into the term "North American scum," an accomplishment that in itself should pretty much solidify the song's anthemic merits. And with another winner from LCD Soundsystem comes another summer of all-night dance parties.

>> Album Lookout: Victory

Let's French - Released: May 19, 2007 (self-released)

D.C.-based foursome Let's French won me over with their live show long ago. The band's first full-length was released this weekend at a well-supported Black Cat show (These United States, Death By Sexy), and I'm still digesting it. (I'm also still trying to get that goddamn stamp off my hand.)

But just on the mere strength of the band's songs and sound, Victory is sure to be a winner. Still, there's something that doesn't translate onto the recording. It's a come-down from the live, for sure. Perhaps it's absence of the daddy-long-legs drumming of Matt McCoy. Or maybe it's the sheer intensity of lead guitarist Max Sorenson, who treats McCoy's kit like a jungle gym that's missing.

Whatever it is, the album recordings are a little more polished - and just a little less visual (thanks to bassist Tim Gibbon's incredible album art). What does come out are the complexity of the song structure and the nice background vox - two things that separate them from other indie-cool bands on the scene these days. They're recipes for bigness. For now, I'm happy to see them for $10.

I suggest "Start a New Life" as a good follow-up to the "Boys and Girls" demo I posted a while back.

>> Reverting to: 1965

The between-set music at the Let's French show brought me once again to the Ringo Starr debate - for regular Toaster followers, you'll know I find myself embroiled in an end-the-world argument over the Beatles' drummer's value.

I'm pro-Ringo. Of course.

For those of you who might be skeptical, I submit "Ticket to Ride," which isn't just a classic Beatles tune, but one with a fantastic drum part that takes the song from pleasant to brazen - something that stood out among its contemporaries and still stands out today.

Bring it on, betches.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hearing Voices

>> Featured Artist: Blonde Redhead

Blonde Redhead were big in my ACRN days, and yet it never really caught my ear or break out from among the other college rockers.

But there were quite a few Lobsters who made the leap and fell in love with this band. I guess I always expected they'd finally get me.

On "23," the song that has alll the cool kids swooning these days, they might have finally done it. The melody soars above an urgent drum riff and takes a lot of really amazing turns before it hits its "nah nah nah nah nah" section.

Still, I can't tell if it's an angel singing - or a four-year-old. And the only words I can make out are the occasional title mention. It sounds important, if that counts.

So let "23" be one of the first summer songs of 2007. And let's see what this band can do.

>> Album Lookout: Boxer

The National - Due Out: May 22, 2007 Beggars Banquet

As promised, I'm giving The National yet another turn in the Toaster. And here's yet another song that seems to be more of a departure from what I expect from this band.

"Start a War," probably the centerpiece of Boxer, finds The National channeling Dire Straits. It's good enough for a West Wing emotional moment, for sure.

The song builds from a beautiful acoustic guitar hook, which is good enough to be repeated. This isn't a band that opens for Arcade Fire just to sing its fun and filthy "Mr. November" chorus. This is a band that, with the songwriting prowess exhibited here and in last week's post, has the potential to be one of the best bands of 2007.

>> Reverting to: 1956

They called him "Frogman." Clarence Henry's smash hit "Ain't Got No Home" might have helped earn him that nickname, you know, with his matter-of-fact statements that he can sing like a girl and he can sing like a frog. Then he proves it by belting out the 3rd and 4th verses with his best falsetto and croak.

But it's the "woo" intro and bridge that gets stuck in my head. And it will get you too.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Bunch of Beggars

>> Featured Artist: The National

Since "Mr. November" took The Toaster Talks by storm a year an a half ago, I've been a little eager to hear if The National's next effort would would live up to its anthemic beginning. After all, they did promise pretty clearly not to fuck us over.

I found myself stumbling on a track from 2004's EP Cherry Tree that caught my ear first. While I promise to double back and cover the band's May 22nd release Boxer in the coming weeks, I wanted to give credit first to a song that truly wowed me.

ON "All Dolled Up in Straps," the band shows some impressive depth - and not just in its lead vocals. The low-voiced verses are almost menacing, considering the repeated line is "Don't interrupt me" - and the bridge that finds its way into the song about a minute and half in is doubly so, with a breathy, creepy harmony. The chours - sigh - the chorus is as pretty as indie rock songs come these days. The chord change catches you off guard and as it switches into a major key. And, as a subtle piano part and simple lead riff bring the song to its intended fruition, the melody is conservative and intelligent. It's near perfect.

With these high expectation, I look forward to reporting on Boxer.

>> Album Lookout: Voxtrot

Voxtrot - Due Out: May 22, 2007 Playlouder

Speaking of high expectations, I believe I referred to Voxtrot's self-titled debut LP as one of the most anticipated albums of 2007. The much-celebrated EPs the band peppered the blogs with over the last few years have whetted everybody's appetite. Oops.

Initial response to the leaked MP3s from Voxtrot did not necessarily get the glowing reviews the previous songs had. Some of the less-polite bloggers actually seemed disgusted by the band's alleged downturn.

I dug in prepared to be disappointed, and - to be honest - I too wasn't impressed. Initially, that is. One song in particular sounded a little too easy (and maybe a little too precious) and some of the lyrics failed to wow me in the way I've come to expect Voxtrot songs.

Still, this band has never been about the details - at least not to me. They've been about excellent - and interesting - song structures, propelled by an excellent ear for melody and a consistent, cohesive sound led by the front-and-center vocals of frontman Ramesh Srivastava. The songs, they grow on you.

On "Introduction," I found the band in what I imagine is an intentional growth mode, starting from the introspective simplicity it had always been successful with - and growing into steady rock song. I really love the lead guitar work here, and I'm comfortable issuing an endorsement of this track - no matter what those other bloggers say.


>> Reverting to: 1982

It's that time of year again. Kickball season is off and running, and I find myself wanting to hear the songs I always liked to mock. Back in the weight rooms in my high school baseball days, Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" - a song that already had been abused and correspondingly mocked for 18 long years THEN - became an ironic anthem for me. I'd listen to it before final exams just to get a good laugh in to shake off some of the stress.

At some point, my sense of irony became ironic (or something else philosophical-like) - and it actually started to work.

And so now, as we head into Week Four of the DC Kickball season, it'll once again be all about the eye of the tiger.

It's a sad existence, indeed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Ease of Spring

>> Featured Artist: Rufus Wainwright

Every time I put it on for people who have never heard the Rufus, I get antsy. His voice isn't made for modern pop music, and it grates at first listen - even though his voice is spectacular. As I heard somebody put it, he sings like a string instrument.

That said, I've been in a Want One mood lately, and I couldn't get "I Don't Know What It Is" out of my head today. With the upcoming release in two weeks of his fifth full-length, Release the Stars, it's good timing. After taking a pass on Want Two, I'm actually leaning toward picking up this one.

The track released, "Going to a Town," isn't shy about its politics. The words aside, the melody structure and arrangement sounds like one of Paul McCartney's darker numbers. At times, he even takes on a little Elliott Smith's phrasing. And, of course, he piles it on - especially at the end - as Rufus is wont to do.

It's a tough life decision, to be sure.

>> Album Lookout: Sky Blue Sky

Wilco - Due Out: May 15, 2007 Nonesuch

Honestly, I'm not a Wilco-head. I've enjoyed about half of what the band has put out, but never seeing the second-coming in Jeff Tweedy that everyone else sees. As long as we've established that, and you're still with me, we're going to be fine.

"What Light," the first single from the band's follow-up to 2004's A Ghost Is Born, caught me a little off guard at first - as Wilco's spiritual illusions have apparently climbed to the next rung. I can even get past Tweedy's mostly harmless Bono-esque hopeful preaching, because the song's musicianship and structure is top-notch. The chord changes and bright melody lifts are reminiscent of The Band, which usually means Wilco has hit its stride. And it bodes well the band's six album.

>> Reverting to: 1966

The Lovin' Spoonful is a weakness. The apparent ease of John Sebastian's pop melodies and the feel-good nature of the band's sound strikes some sort of chord in my musical palette, and it's exactly how I want to feel this time of year.
"You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" is a little heavy-handed in the last verse's backup vocals, but everything else is just so dang pleasant.