February 11, 2009 | Comments ()

By TK | Music | February 11, 2009 |


Welcome back to Wednesday music reviews. Again, a little bit of everything, including one artist who made the top of the Pajiba readers’s Favorite of 2008 list. Read, and enjoy.

franz.jpgFranz Ferdinand: Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
[Domino Records (Epic)]

Franz Ferdinand is a fascinating collective animal. The mainstream consciousness seems to act as if they only released one album in their career, a rollicking disco-rock splash, a flash-in-the-pan blend of sexual promiscuity, lyrical nonsense, and tight hi-hat backbeats. They were fun to dance to, occasionally brilliant, but mostly forgettable for the general public. But for me, Franz Ferdinand continues to be defined more by their second album, the more-than-promising You Could Have It So Much Better, in which the band seemed to grow out of themselves. It outfoxed the so-called “sophomore slump” (blech to that term) by switching gears to rock jams, occasionally getting downright quiet for some old school psychedelia. It was a step in a direction that few other dance-rock bands like to go (I’m looking straight at you, The Bravery!), but they took it without sounding pretentious or blatantly ripping off other people’s work (now I’m looking at you, The Killers!).

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the band’s hotly anticipated third release, was supposed to come out last Spring, and was billed as Franz Ferdinand’s return to the “dance record.” Personal feelings aside, I waited anxiously to hear what the band had been doing in their nearly four year absence. Then, the band released an early version of a song called “Lucid Dreams” on their website, and, frankly, it fell totally flat. Critics and fans alike bemoaned the same-old, same-old feel of the song, the chorus that didn’t seem to make any sense at all (“There is no nation of you/There is no nation of me”…wtf?). People braced for disappointment. The release day came…and went, without fanfare and, more importantly, an album from Franz Ferdinand. Word got out that the band wasn’t happy with their product, and wanted to completely retool their sound.

As the new year prepared to dawn, a surprise leaked out: A new version of “Lucid Dreams”, now topping 8 minutes, which blew people away. Excitement and chatter began to build all over again. Would this newly redone record sound like their debut, or their sadly ignored follow-up? Essentially, are they disco or rock?

At the album’s best, the answer is neither here nor there. “Twilight Omens” features a keyboard-heavy loop straight out of the 80s, but the thick guitars keep it grounded and fairly rocking. Meanwhile, “What She Came For” begins as pure disco, synthesizers on full blast, but amidst it all, singer Alex Kapranos practically growls the lyrics like a grungy sex-god, building the song to a rock bombast at the end. You see where this is going? The point is: Some of the songs on this album see Franz at their best, finally synergizing the two genres they’ve been struggling against their whole careers. The absolute epitome of this blend is the aforementioned “Lucid Dreams”, an ever-changing soundscape that rushes from tenderness into fire and back, transforming a once bland disappointment into an opus, a career-spanning track of epic proportions.

Unfortunately, not every song fares so well. Franz Ferdinand continues to be hung up on the party scene, a romanticized world of promiscuity and illegality in which people lose their creativity as they lose their minds. “Ulysses”, the album’s opener, is Franz 101, “Take Me Out” only with more un-clever drug references. It seems to be a satire of some sort, but any meaning is lost in a catchy chorus and a danceable beat. Songs like “Turn It On”, “No You Girls”, and “Bite Hard” just continue a needless trend of banality. They squander disc space on songs that should have been relegated to a b-sides collection.

The album ends with the soft and slightly thought-provoking solo acoustic “Katherine Kiss Me”, and it’s a striking contrast with any other song in their body of work. If only the whole of the album could outmatch the sum of its parts, moments of excitement and brilliance tempered with too many reminders that we’re listening to the same band that broke big and made it to Guitar Hero, and then was all but forgotten. Hopefully next time, Franz Ferdinand will leave the sex and drugs at the door, but keep the rock and roll thriving.
Christian H.


grand.jpgMatt & Kim: Grand
[Fader]

Face it. You like cute things. That unkempt beard, that critical disposition, they’re not fooling anyone. I mean, despite his blatant misanthropy and internal writhing, even Pookie has an adorable moniker, offsetting those axioms of detestation that pervade his attempts at “socializing” with fellow Pajibans. And while yes, part of such a creature’s appeal is his indelible rancor, sometimes all we want is pure unadulterated sweetness - especially when it comes in through our headphones and we find ourselves at a crossroads with the timeless dilemma: “to bob the head or to not bob the head.”

It’s impossible to resist the affirmative option when listening to the sophomore effort from the Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim, despite how we may look on public transportation, at our cubicle, or walking through campus. What’s amazing about the twosome, however, is that their sugared-up keyboards and ADHD drumming is consistently precious and pleasing without ever over-saturating the listener with their never ending positivity. From the sunny but never overbearing opener “Daylight” to the mid-tempo penultimate organ-driven “I’ll Take You Home”, they never get so out of control with their warmth and perkiness that it makes you want to take a break from the affability and go toward something more challenging or angst-addled (cough cough Mates of State).

And yet, while it all goes down smooth like an anthropomorphic, smiling pad of butter on the proverbial musical toast, there’s always a problem with that kind of straight line mentality when listening to a record. Also, certainly one that sounds on the surface like it should be founded on unbridled energy and ecstasy but ultimately only comes across as pleasant and ineffably likeable. When you find a pop album by a band known for its sweaty and animated live shows has a short ditty fueled by handclaps (“Spare Change”) but it turns out to be one of the disc’s throwaways, it’s kind of disappointing. Similarly, the band also isn’t able to expand into ballad territory with Matt’s nasally yelp on “Turn This Boat Around”, which just wastes time between the more engaging numbers.

Luckily, those missteps don’t hurt the listening experience that much. “I Wanna” recreates the propulsive magic that brought M&K into the limelight in the first place and the quasi-instrumental “Cinders” is a beatific translation of 8-bit video game music if 8-bit video game music actually made me grin and dance with glee. The record’s other tracks are all equally accomplished as well, putting these two youthful sprites on par with other minimalist modern pop icons like The Kills, who have gotten better with every record they’ve put out. Maybe next time we’ll get both consistency and the wow factor from Matt & Kim, rather than just some of each.
Chris Polley


bloodbank.jpgBon Iver: Blood Bank
[Jagjaguwar]

Pajiba favorite Bon Iver is back with an EP called Blood Bank, the follow-up to one of my personal favorite albums of 2008, For Emma, Forever Ago. Bon Iver is the stage name of Wisconsin native Justin Vernon and his debut album garnered tons of positive reviews from both critics and assholes like us here on Pajiba. For Emma, Forever Ago stood out partially due to the fact that it was recorded while Vernon was isolated in a Wisconsin cabin in the middle of winter. Instead of shooting himself in the head, like I would if I were left in cheese-head country all alone, he turned out an instant classic. Blood Bank is a short and sweet four song set, and seems to be a partial extension of that long winter at the cabin. Vernon’s falsetto, vocal layerings and themes of love and heartbreak continue on this EP, but he also reaches ever so slightly outside of the box and uses some experimental methods.

The opening song, “Blood Bank” starts off with a story of love while donating the very thing that makes our own hearts beat. The uncharacteristically uptempo beats provide a backdrop for Vernon’s familiar heartfelt lyrics. This song is best served on a cold snowy day whilst gazing out your frosted window with old film footage of you and your lover frolicking through your head. I can also see this song used in a movie scene of a guy storming off after a fight with his lady and driving on a deserted highway while he thoughtfully reminisces about better times. But that’s just me.

“Beach Baby” revists Vernon’s falsetto and is very reminiscent of For Emma, Forever Ago. I’m not totally sure if this is correct, but it sounds like a steel guitar is used in this song. It’s a departure from the winter-like feel his music gives off and reminds me of a hot Hawaiian day on the beach. Hence the name “Beach Baby,” I would guess. God, I’m a freaking genius.

“Babys” is probably one of the most irritating songs I’ve heard in a while. I’m not sure if this is what Vernon would describe as experimental for him, but it consists of almost a minute and a half intro of piano banging. I thought my brain was going to explode and not even the vocals can make up for it. There is a slight relief smack dab in the middle, but it’s short lived. The base of the whole song is the piano banging which eclipses the other layers. By the end you will wonder whether you are really listening to Bon Iver or if you’re standing on train tracks waiting for a train to hit you.

“Woods” is by far the best song on this EP. Honestly, I was hesitant upon first listen because it’s evident that Vernon is using an Auto-Tuner. I automatically wondered what the hell he was doing messing with something that rappers use to cover the fact that they can’t actually sing. The difference between Kanye West using Auto-Tune and Justin Vernon using Auto-Tune is that Justin Vernon can actually sing without it. He doesn’t need it as a gimmick to pump out “experimental” music that he only wants one person in the world to like. This song is Auto-Tune done right. Take a listen for yourself and try to hate it.

It was also just announced that Bon Iver is on the line-up for Bonnaroo. So all you dirty camping hippies can get your asses to Tennessee and have a chance to see him live.
Felicia

franzferdinand.jpg

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