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Kinnie Star - Anything
by Jacob_Gehman; 05.17.07
AnythingArtist: Kinnie Star
Album: Anything
Label: Violet Inch Records/ MapleMusic Recordings
Tracks: 11
Length: 40:38
Review By: Jacob Gehman

Opening tracks are important for an album. An opening track is where a listener's initial impression is formed. Selling a listener right off the bat gives you wiggle room later in an album for some mistakes. A weak opening track is like a straightjacket the rest of the way through.

The first track for Anything, Kinnie Star's fourth album, is a killer opening track. Called "Step Back," it combines a really catchy chorus with edge and texture into a glorious listening experience. Right off the bat the listener is captivated. It is a pop song trying to masquerade as a hip-hop track. Beats are present, although not overpowering, with just a hint of a Bubba Sparxxx country shuffle. Kinnie Star's vocals easily slide in and out of a relaxed rap and a nice singing.

Despite the frequent presence of hip-hop elements in the album, it is delivered in such a way that makes it feel more like the product of a poetry slam than gangsters on the street. It isn't hip-hop for hip-hop's sake. It is hip-hop because the music feels right with it.

The album, despite the strong opening couple of tracks, has some duds. "Up In Smoke" is such a track. The instrumentation is boring while feeling out of sync with Star's vocals. The song, unlike some of the other tracks which start off questionable, never evolves in any way to surprise the listener. With some vocalists this wouldn't be quite the death sentence, but Kinnie Star is nowhere near a strong enough singer to carry a song without any interesting instrumentation.

Star does many different things on this album from a vocal standpoint. The variety is good because, as mentioned, she isn't a stellar vocalist on her own. Mixing up her style from song to song or verse to chorus is a nice way to keep the listener from focusing on the raw qualities of her voice and instead on her strengths.

Her biggest strength is in creating a good groove, writing a good pop chorus, and then mixing things up before they get boring or predictable. It works well, at least for the larger half of the album. The rest of the tracks are nice filler that don't distract too much from the overall scope of the album.

Kinnie Star is kind of like Bjork without the crazy vocals, mixed with some Ani DiFranco. There are definitely some stumbles on this album, but there are enough great songs to forgive them if you're into the afore mentioned artists.

              
Voicst - 11-11
by Jacob_Gehman; 05.17.07

11-11 Artist: Voicst
Album: 11-11
Label: Duurtlang Records/Intrigue Music
Tracks: 14
Length: 40:38
Review By: Jacob Gehman

It maddening when bands pick names that are hard to pronounce. Sure, the word voicst means "manic energy" in South African slang, but that doesn't mean the American tongues will be able to wrap themselves around it without adding other vowels. Even though that doesn't play into how the music sounds, it can play a large part in how the band is viewed. That said, the only people who should be turned off by having difficulty pronouncing their name will be the same people who have no interest in the high energy pop-rock area of the musical spectrum. It is somewhat geeky and would be right at home in a Weezer collection. Yet it is more than that, too.

The thing that immediately separates Voicst from Weezer would be how the songs evolve. They are not as straightforwardly executed, relying less on pure charisma and personality (although those are present, too.) The changes that happen to keep a song interesting from beginning to end vary. On one song it might be adding an extra riff here and there. On another it might be soaring background vocals 2/3rds of the way through the song.

This ability to keep things from getting monotonous is a big plus for the band, but it would be irrelevant if Voicst didn't execute the regular parts of song execution so well. The instruments are all on target and adeptly performed. No one would suggest that they are incredible musicians, but they use what they can do very well.

The only thing that gets annoying while listening to this album is their one vocalist. Both Tjeerd and Sven share in the vocal duty. The one is an excellent lead singer for this type of band. The other is good about 50% of the time. The other 50% he slips into this annoying way of enunciating that is way too reminiscent of Weezer to be too palatable.

People really into the power pop-rock branch of music should dig 11-11 (pronounced "Eleven to Eleven.") Just don't expect a re-invention of the wheel. Those who don't really like the genre may enjoy parts of the album, though would likely go a little bit crazy midway through the album. However, for the first group Voicst comes recommended.

2.5 stars out of 4


              
Destroy the Runner- Saints
by Mark_Fisher; 02.11.07

SaintsArtist: Destroy the Runner
Album: Saints

Label: Solid State

Tracks: 13

Review by Mark Fisher

 

Solid State Records seems to be on the verge of another high profile run with a string of strong bands in their lineup, including both heavyweights like Norma Jean and Underoath and talented newcomers like He Is Legend, Inhale Exhale, Twelve Gauge Valentine, and these guys. With Saints, San Diego based Destroy the Runner are set to put themselves on the map.

 

One of the more striking things about this album is its production. While many bands in this vein tend to have a rough time through their debut and sophomore releases, Saints is an album that goes for the throat right away, coming at you like a brick wall on wheels. The soaring production carries the songs through pretty well. The band is capable and talented for sure, but the far from original sound of songs like “My Darkness,” “From the Red,” “Sound of Reason” and a few others causes the album to blend together a lot more than it should. It’s not that the songs are forgettable; it’s more like you forget who is playing them. These songs could easily be being performed by Underoath, Killswitch Engage, Inhale Exhale, The Haunted, or any number of bands that play extreme music with big catchy choruses. Destroy the Runner fit the bill to a tee and have the talent to pull it off though, making it slightly less bothersome that the sound is so familiar.

 

Overall this is a strong metal record. If you go into it expecting it to be the music you like and not something that is going to form its own genre then you’ll get a lot of love from Saints. It’s a great album to put on when driving down the interstate because it runs at full speed ahead without requiring too much of your concentration. All in all though, it serves as notice that Destroy the Runner have arrived and makes you look forward to what could possibly be next.


              
Jamie Randolph - Villains
by Trevin_Shirey; 02.08.07

Artist: Jamie Randolph
Album: Villain
Label: Marauder
Tracks: 12
Length: 54 minutes
Review by: Trevin Shirey

After listening to Villains three or four time through, I was still having trouble finding the right words to fit Jamie Randolph’s style of music. I thought of a couple different metaphors and created a few new sub-genres, but they didn’t seem to fit. After browsing the internet, I finally found the perfect way to describe Randolph’s unique style from his website (ironically enough). “[Jamie Randolph] relentlessly weds alt-country, theatrical indie-rock, and life-worn lyrics in a cathartic purge to rid hard memories by making them trophies of aesthetic cadence.” In terms of genre and style, this sums the album up greatly.

That’s the best part of Villains for me. Both Randolph’s musicianship and vocals are packed with genre-bridging range. The best part about Villains is the mysteriousness and variety of the album. At times, you hear Randolph belting out deep vocals with a beautiful raw edge. Then a few tracks later he’s singing softly with the sound of piano and violin in the background. All of Randolph’s strengths come together on the standout track Professional Time Killer. The best part on the song, and the album, is when Randolph belts into a duet with Annalisa Zellner.

The title of the album, Villain, reflects a dark theme that Randolph carries out well throughout the entire album. The lyrics remain dark, which is a great contrast to the mostly upbeat ballad-type melodies in the disc. Recurring themes like doubt and denial come together in the closing track Chanson Du Vampire, which is every bit as dark as is sounds. The song starts out like an upbeat acoustic pop sound, but once the chorus is booming and Randolph is singing “I am the villain of all this/I am the devil that you kiss” the villainous theme he displays throughout the album breaks out.

I haven’t found any weak spots on this album at all. The music and lyrics prevent itself in a genuine and sincere way that pulls the listener in right away. Jamie Randolph has created a disc in Villains that is good art at its best. He keeps the theme clear and delivers it with deadly accuracy through lyrical punchlines and innovative music. 


              
Love and Loathing: A Valentine's Day Compilation
by Cal_Callison; 02.06.07

 

Artist: Various

Album: Love and Loathing: A Valentine's Day Compilation

Label: Lujo Records

Length: 23 tracks, 76:57          

 

 

          It’s sometimes difficult to review a compilation disc due to the fact that there are so many different artists involved.  The goal of the disc can be two fold.  One: It provides a sampling of different bands that the listener may not have heard before. Two: It can, through theme and song selection, carry it’s own cohesiveness and fit together much like a good album.  An amazing compilation would do both. 

Love and Loathing from Lujo Records was released about a year ago as a Valentine’s Day compilation.  From the title alone, I knew I would be in for an interesting ride.  I have enjoyed Lujo artists in the past and was excited to see what they brought to the table on this lover’s day mix tape. 

          There were a lot of songs that stuck out to me as being very memorable.  The album is chock full, with 23 tracks and over 70 minutes of music.  The fantastic new band, The Dark Romantics appear early in the compilation with their track, Hey Love.  I already have a bit of an affinity for the band and this song just continues to impress me.  Several bands on the disc were previously unknown to me but bent my ear to the point that I want to find out more about them.  One of those bands is The Broadway Hush, who contributes their song, Mr. Valentine.  This band has been much touted on the internet but I have yet to get my hands on anything they have done.  This song is so sugary sweet and bouncy that I have to wonder if it mimics any of their other work or if it was a special creation for this compilation.  Either way, I like it.   

          Borderline Breathers by Baby Teeth stands out from the rest of the disc for just being strangely different.  It starts out with what sounds like a 1930’s chain gang chorus, howling at the moon as they work.  It’s got a lot of soul with only an organ backing this vocal prominent song.  The following song, for me is the highlight of the entire disc.  It’s Nigel Evan Dennis’s banjo inclusive cover of my beloved Starflyer 59’s Next Time Around.  It’s a great take on what I view as an indie rock classic.  This particular cover is worth the price of the disc.  Speaking of covers, this album contains 8 covers of such artists as Richard Swift, Neil Young, Hank Williams, Birthday Party, The Smiths, Nico Stahl, the aforementioned Starflyer 59, and ends with the oddest rendition of Cher’s Live After Love that you are likely to ever hear.  I love the beat that Such, Broken Glass used in their cover of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.  It’s danceable without being cheesy. 

          Overall, the songs on this disc work well as songs of Love and Loathing.  Not every song is fantastic, but you’re going to get that with any compilation.  With this many artists it takes several listens to fully digest the content but your ears will be rewarded with repeat listens.  It seems that something new always jumps out at you with each addition spin.  Is Love and Loathing an amazing compilation?  No, not amazing.  Just really good and worth your time and money.


              
Sonic Youth - The Destroyed Room
by Jacob_Gehman; 02.03.07

Destroyed Room: B-Sides and RaritiesArtist: Sonic Youth
Album: The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities
Label: Geffen Records
Tracks: 11
Length: 76:51

Sonic Youth have achieved that awkward position in the music world of being a household name in the rock scene without actually having a lot of people actually listen to them. Their popularity peaked with the trio of albums, Daydream Nation, Goo, and Dirty. It was the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s and grunge was just starting to grip the underground scene. Sonic Youth (who was heavily responsible for getting Nirvana signed) never released a real grunge album, however those three albums are often cited as being influential landmark albums for the genre. Thus it is no surprise that with the popularity of grunge and it's rise into pop culture and the mainstream that those three albums have been enshrined as the classic era of Sonic Youth, a bygone day that rock fans pine for. Sonic Youth has never limited themselves to just one sound or mindset for creating music. So when they released the ambitious album Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, fans quickly jumped ship, only checking in with new releases to see if Sonic Youth would ever "return to form" and make "another Daydream Nation." Instead Sonic Youth kept doing what they wanted, making music they (and a small segment of underground fans) found compelling. What most of the pop world didn't know is that for as experimental as Sonic Youth's full length major label releases were (to varying degrees) the band also released a lot of noise albums on homegrown labels. The SYR series is most well known, and even got major distribution, but nary a mention of them can be found in major music publications.

Then 2006 came. Rather Ripped was their well known release. It is the only album Sonic Youth has made since that unintentional trilogy that those fans could identify with. It is a shockingly rock album that tears through the set of songs like it's 1990 all over again. People who swore off the band are suddenly saying things like "It's no Daydream Nation, but it's pretty good."

Not quite a half a year later we get The Destroyed Room. It is a b-sides and rarities compilation that will take those who re-discovered Sonic Youth with Rather Ripped and isolate them even farther than they could have with Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star. Those who are into the rest of the band's 90s output, including the various noise projects, will, on the other hand, find this release quite exciting.

The Destroyed Room is Sonic Youth's most experimental and off-the-beaten-path major label release. Most of the tracks are instrumental. They meander around crafting sonic soundscapes that were probably created without the intention of being released. For many bands that would be a kiss of death, however, with Sonic Youth that doesn't mean that they didn't do interesting or talented things with the songs.

Some of the tracks appear to be sketches that they later fleshed out into actual songs. Others seem like the jams they do live to delay the ending of songs. Sonically the tones would fit best on albums like Murray Street and Washing Machine, although other tracks like Campfire would be more at home on a SYR release.

The album opens with Fire Engine Dream, a ten minute instrumental track. As the liner notes explain the track is placed first to "see who's here and who's not." If you can't make it through the first track, there won't be much the rest of the way out to appeal. The album then ends with a 25+ minute version of The Diamond Sea, a song that originally appeared on Washing Machine (in a much shorter 19+ minute version.)

The Destroyed Room is probably mostly for the hardcore fans. Not because the quality is lacking, but because the material will be too challenging for most fans. For anyone who only has Sonic Youth's major studio releases and likes The Destroyed Room, I highly recommend they start digging into their SYR releases and the other independently released noise recordings.


              
Leigh Nash - Blue On Blue
by Jacob_Gehman; 02.03.07

Blue on BlueArtist: Leigh Nash
Album: Blue On Blue
Label: One Son Records
Tracks: 12
Length: 47:57
Review By: Jacob Gehman

My obsession with Sixpence None The Richer, the band Leigh Nash used to be lead singer for, started when I found a pre-release copy of their self titled album at a used book sale curated by our local library. I was probably 13 or 14 at the time and, for whatever reason, bought the album. While I was mostly listening to Christian music like Five Iron Frenzy and the OC Supertones at the time, I would put the album on and think that the album was exceptionally sad sounding. As the years passed I became a hardcore fan and collected all of their full length albums, their EPs (including their early demo), compilations, and any single I could find that had exclusive material on it. My fervor was probably matched and exceeded by a handful of people, but without doubt I was in the upper echelon. The day in 2004 that Sixpence None The Richer broke up was very dark for me. I was distraught and, even worse, had no one with whom to share my misery with. I told some people, who shrugged their shoulders and said something to the effect of, "Didn't they do that kissing song?" Life was bleak.

Then 2006 brought a ray of hope. Leigh Nash brought herself to write and record a solo album. I was apprehensive. Because while Nash was the voice of the band, Matt Slocum was their main songwritter and it was his blood that flowed through their work. Could Leigh Nash be successful on her own?

The answer is yes. It surprised me, but in a good way. It was pleasant to realize that Nash could write some very good pop songs on her own. A whole albums worth, even. While there is little on the album that hints at the greatness of Sixpence's self-titled album, Blue On Blue stacks up quite well with Divine Discontent, the last Sixpence full length album. "Nervous In The Light Of Dawn" is the immediate standout track. But that is followed by the catchy "My Idea Of Heaven" and "Ocean Size Love."

Nash's strong point is, and has always been, her crystal clear voice. Her voice is undoubtedly feminine sounding, with a hint of breathiness. However, she doesn't sing in the weak way that is common of breathy singers. Instead she strikes the balance between softening her tone and still standing strong.

The song compositions on this album are mostly fairly basic. No curve balls are thrown to disarm the listener. However, when you can sing  as sweet of a chorus or as engaging a bridge as Nash can, composition becomes less important.

If you were a Sixpence None The Richer fan, particularly of Divine Discontent, then Blue On Blue is definitely an album to acquire. While Slocum's beautiful arrangements are missed, the album manages without them. It is good to see Leigh Nash making a good, strong album showing that her job with Sixpence was more than just the pretty face and angelic voice.


              
Hem - Funnel Cloud
by Jacob_Gehman; 02.03.07

Funnel CloudArtist: Hem
Album: Funnel Cloud
Label: Nettwerk Records
Tracks: 14
Length: 46:27
Review By: Jacob Gehman

Hem has released a lot of music over the past six or so years, starting with their debut, "Rabbit Songs." There have been full length albums, EPs, and b-side/live compilations. "Funnel Cloud" is their 3rd studio full length. If you look at the albums chronologically there has been great growth from album one to album two, "Eveningland." It still felt like the same band, but a much better version. The differences, however, between their second attempt and this, their third, are much more miniscule.

The constant to Hem's appeal rests in the lap of Sally Ellyson, their lead vocalist. Her vocals are strong yet textured. They guide the music through it's folk/pop twists and branches, giving some songs a strong country drawl, and making others into lush lullabies. It is a voice that any connoisseur of great female singing can appreciate. She is hands down the reason that people continue to purchase Hem albums. The other seven members of Hem are talented at conjuring a proper musical carpet to show off Ellyson's singing. They lay it down and she breathes the life into the songs. The instrumentation doesn't venture too far from expectations, there is no confusing Hem for anything but what they are.

Music that doesn't throw any surprises is in danger of being boring. Some of Hem's past songs have succumbed to that beast. Some of the songs on this album do, too. Songs that cause people to state patronizingly, "That was nice." Which is generally the last phrase a band is looking for. After all, "That was nice," will mean that the song didn't make the listener feel anything or think anything or challenge them in any way. Unfortunately, a few of those songs are present here. Ellyson's vocals keeps the music from being unpleasant, but there isn't anything to some of the songs.

Those tracks are more in the minority, however. The better percentage of the tracks manage to create a sense of anticipation or mystery, or just generally stir feelings in some way. Which is why a song like "Funnel Cloud" (track four) is captivating as we journey through the song's details and moods. And in the end the journey won't be regretted.


              
Copeland- Eat, Sleep, Repeat
by John_Durkee; 01.22.07
Artist: Copeland
Album: Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Label: The Militia Group
Tracks: 11
Length: 42 minutes
Review by: John Durkee

Eat, Sleep, Repeat
, Copeland’s new album echoes ambition. Copeland dampens the subtle rock and catchy pop elements in order to showcase expansive use of instrumentation and organic production. This brings a warmer, intimate and inviting sound to better suit the vulnerable vocals. With new audio technology to program sounds and moods synthetically, organic methods are usually left by the wayside, leaving painstakingly recording artful and emotive songs to be the road less traveled. Copeland walks this road.

Lyrically Copeland continues to be idiosyncratic, yet losing the juvenile delivery of previous efforts, encompanding their new maturity. Controlled and precise song structure is obvious, adding to the overall value of Eat, Sleep, Repeat. The album pitfalls when the thematic feel is so strong, it is almost a detriment, as casual listens lend to songs blurring together. Careful listens allow one to hear the various flourishes of vibraphone, flutes, and fret noise of guitars, producing more satisfaction Lack of rhythm guitars helps showcase the vocal melodies and display the use of other instruments.

Eat, Sleep, Repeat
may not satisfy all of Copeland’s fans as it departs from its rock sound, but will surprise more mature audiences with a new, more mature ambience.


              
Showbread- Age of Reptiles
by John_Durkee; 01.22.07
Showbread - Age of ReptilesArtist: Showbread
Album: Age of Reptiles
Label: Tooth & Nail
Tracks: 10
Length: 42 minutes
Review by: John Durkee

Blood and guts are too cliché anymore, so Showbread has vied for reptiles, amphibians, scales, insects and vomit to describe the relationship between human depravity and Christ's atonement. Throughout Age of Reptiles Showbread speaks of this disparity and seemingly contradictory fact. God's grace triumphing over our disgusting sins in ways that many of us can never truly understand is the theme of the whole album. So, in a sense the album continues the same sort of lyrical themes as their previous works that use metaphors and symbolism that is generally understandable while here and there remaining an enigma.

Musically, Showbread has dropped their more hardcore elements and fused their sound with more clandic rock and old school punk elements. Basically, it's Showbread with almost no screaming, with some faster songs here and there and a continuation of their anthemic power ballads, exemplified most by "Age of Reptiles," perhaps the band's best song to date. Other songs are catchy and good, but overall aren't quite as memorable as that one or many of the better songs on their previous album No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical.

This record was obviously made by boys, with topics like vomit and reptiles, although not by typical boys, as Age of Reptiles discusses vomit and reptiles as metaphors to describe theological principles. Overall Age of Reptiles is a great, fun rock album.


              
2006 Top 10 Lists
by Conrad; 01.14.07

Here a few 2006 Top Ten Lists from a few of the Decapolis Reviewers.  Enjoy.

 

Jacob Gehman

 

10. Krystal Meyers - Dying For A Heart
This is my major guilty pleasure of the year. Yes, I know Krystal Meyers is a Christian pop singer who was signed for the sole reason of being a Christian alternative to Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, and so forth, but the results are just too catchy for me to ignore. I listened through the album several times (getting a free copy through my job) but nothing really stuck out. Then on the day the album released I just put the thing on repeat for background music. It was then midway through the day that I realized how incredibly catchy the album is. I became a believer when I realized that if this was the new Kelly Clarkson album (who I absolutely adore) I would be extremely excited. Like, album of the year excited. So here we are. I've continued to play the daylight out of this CD and can't grow tired of it. (Essential Records)

09. The Residents - Tweedles
Tweedles is the result of a band who has worn several different facades in the past couple of years. There is the smooth sound that we grew to love from Animal Lover, there is some narration and female choirs as found on the River of Crime audio dramas, as well as some new elements in the way an orchestra is used (to great effect.) The first track sets up the album perfectly with it's complex orchestral composition, some refreshingly normal singing from the lead Resident, and a world music feel to the background singer. It eases us into the dark, twisted world of Tweedles. It's not an album for the faint at heart. (Mute/Cryptic)

08. Miss Violetta Beauregarde - Oki Profanum Volgus Et Arceo
I discovered Miss Violetta Beauregarde when I turned on XPN on my way home from work. They played an awesome track from the album. It was short but sweet and displayed a cut-and-paste mentality that, combined with Beauregarde's punk shout and avant garde compositions, was a must-have. The only downside? 16 tracks ringing in at only 20 minutes. We need longer songs, girl! (Temporary Residence Limited)

07. Matthew Friedberger - Holy Ghost Language School
Yes, The Fiery Furnaces released a CD this year. Yes, Matthew Friedberger, their main songwriter/instrumentalist, released a double disc of his own. Yes, he is threatening his career by massively overexposing himself. Everyone says that of his two discs one is great and the other terrible. They are right. However, most of them have it backwards. Holy Ghost Language School, disc two of his set, is not the throwaway. It is instead the rightful heir to Rehearsing My Choir's throne (and considering that is my favorite Fiery Furnaces album that is saying something.) It is another CD driven by a vague story line, and the music reflects the random shifts in mood and tone. While the album feels a bit empty without the grandmother lending her powerful spoken word, the album shows the Friedburger hasn't lost his touch. (859 Recordings)

06. Danielson - Ships
Daniel Smith might be the most creative person to ever release a CD on a Christian label (the only possible exception being Terry Scott Taylor.) His quirky, avant garde vision is usually incomprehensible by most people, even those in the indie scene. His songs are anthems, dressed in a high pitched falsetto and banjos, xylophones, keys and a host of backup singers. The effect is rather insane, which is an interesting contrast to the way Daniel Smith appears when not wearing the Danielson (Famile, Brother) hat. While ultra indie Christian kids and super cool indie magazines have long hailed Smith's genius, only recently has he surfaced into the consciousness of the indie scene on a larger scale. I don't think it is possible for anyone to be so quirky and catchy all at the same time. (Secretly Canadian)

05. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
Rather Ripped a return to the pop that people fell in love with on Goo and Dirty, while adding a more prevalent rock n roll edge that was tempered on those albums. Yet it also manages to feel like a natural progression from their prior two albums. While pop culture tends to view Sonic Youth harshly, mostly undeserved, this album has mostly rallied the critics and casual fans. In fact, the harshest critics are generally fans like me who see this album for what it really is: 3-4 minute shiny pop rock songs with rather empty lyrical content. This is not the Sonic Youth we know and love. Yet I still really enjoy the album despite it's flaws, due in no small part to having seen them live a month after the album's release. (Geffin)

04. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
Hype is a cruel mistress. I learned that several years ago after getting burned on multiple hype machines (Sigur Ros, GY!BE, Bright Eyes, and more) that it really doesn't pay to pay attention to hype. So instead I've been a hype creator. That Sufjan Stevens thing? That was all me, baby. While he's an extreme example, I've gotten into judging music based on what I think of it... not what I should think of it. So that said, when people started jumping on the Gnarls Barkley bandwagon I didn't really pay attention. I didn't even hear the song Crazy until I bought the album. Whatever the case, I picked it up and, yes, Crazy blew me away. But what was even more impressive to me was that the whole bloody album was chock full of songs I liked just as good as, if not better, than Crazy. It was an album I could put on and listen to from beginning to end and just groooove. Granted, Crazy is the song that is easiest to rip from the context of the album and it still make sense ( e.g.: a mix tape) but it is not the song that I look forward to reaching when I hit the play button. Great album. (Downtown)

03. Make Believe - Of Course
I was lukewarm on Make Believe's first full length when I reviewed it for Decapolis last year. And while I think my complaint about it was valid, seeing the band live brought things into perspective for me as they put on a superb set. I was impressed with how well they could pull off the insanely technical guitar work and vocal gymnastics live. While I grew a greater appreciation for their first full length, it still won't enter any of my top-whatever lists. Of Course changed that completely. The album is massive. It is chock full of frantic guitar work, stop and go percussion, and stream of consciousness vocals. Not to mention the songs have gotten really catchy. Make Believe made me a huge believer this year. (Flameshovel)

02. mewithoutYou - Brother, Sister
I got a pre-release of this album over a month before the release date, something I lorded over all of my mewithoutYou loving friends. I talked about mewithoutYou without cease, even to my friends who had dismissed the band. I called it the band's greatest statement to date. I called it album of the year. I called it a masterpiece in a Christian market devoid of such works of art. Brilliant, raw, textured. It was everything I expected out of the band and more. It shows what happens when a band writes the kind of songs they want to write without feeling the pressure to write the album their fans want. The album opens up with the sound of rain and Aaron Weiss mumbling for a minute or two before the chorus hits and a backing chorus (a brilliant re-occurring theme) sends things to spine tingling heights. Wolf Am I! (And Shadow) starts off like a standard mewithoutYou tune, but starts upping the ante. At one point Aaron's voice goes hoarse at the end of one of his shouts, so intensely he was singing. Then comes a bridge where the guitars throw in some great, noodling lines that are totally unexpected. Epic. (Tooth and Nail Records)

01. Gomez - How We Operate
When I reviewed this album for
Decapolis, I was fairly sure it was going to be my album of the year. When I acquired the new mewithoutYou I re-thought that for a month and a half. But as both albums grew older, it became obvious that while both are stellar, How We Operate is the one that caused a total 180 degree turn in my thinking. It was my album of the year. And five, ten, or twenty years from now when Brother, Sister is counted among the best of the decade and people barely remember Gomez I will still say I made the right decision here. Gomez is my reminder that as much as I want to pigeon hole a band, or make assumptions based on the label they release music on, it all boils down to the music, which should not be labeled until it is heard. I wanted to hate it. I knew I was going to hate it. I started composing the negative review in my head even while I dreaded writing it. I listened to it. Then I listened to it again. I said, "Those are some fine songs!" I listened to it voluntarily, without thinking about writing the review. I listened to it to drive, while just fiddling around on the internet, before bed. I said, "This album is stunning." Not only is it album of the year, but it is also the most underrated album of the year. No one is talking about it, no one cares. But I am. And I do. (ATO Records)

 

Luke Kruse

10. Islands - Return to Sea
While a bit cutesy, this group of ex-Unicorns made one of the most fun albums I heard this year.  Great music for a blue-skied spring day.

9. Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
It is quite remarkable that a collection of outtakes can appear on my Top 10.  About half the songs on here could rival almost anything on his opus from last year, 
Illinois.

8. Destroyer - Rubies
The wordplay and lush musicianship found on Rubies make for hours of listening potential.

7. Joanna Newsome - Ys
The five lengthy harp-based compositions on this album reveal more with each listen.  One needs patience to fully appreciate the specialness of this work of art.

6. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up, I am Dreaming
I prefer this set of obtuse pop songs to songwriter Spencer Krug's more well-known project Wolf Parade's critically acclaimed Apologies to the Queen Mary.  This guy knows how to write great songs. 

5. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
While not earthshaking in terms of originality, I found this set of indie rock tunes to be endlessly replayable and possessing of an uncanny way to stay in my head. 

4. Bob Dylan - Modern Times
While certainly not anywhere close to his best album, a good Dylan record is still better than just about anything else.  The cranky old bastard still has the goods on this timeless set of tracks.

3. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go
Bonnie 'prince' Billy came up with a collection of haunting folk songs on The Letting Go that nearly rival his masterpiece I See a Darkness in depth and emotional pull. 

2. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
This woman has a voice that needs to be heard to be believed.  It is the mark of a great album that every time the last song on this near flawless collection of folk/country songs ends, I wish the album would last just a little bit longer.

1. mewithoutYou - Brother, Sister
My favorite band continued to grow by leaps and bounds as artists on this outstanding album.  Aaron Weiss's words once again made me think and feel things that no other lyricist can, and a guest appearance by legend Jeremy Enigk on "O Porcupine" continues to give me chills with each listen.

Cal Callison

It seems like just yesterday I was preparing this list for the year 2005.  Alas, 2006 has come to a close.  The year of my second child's birth was also a great year for music.  I was all over the board with my genre choices this year and it caused me to experience some really great tunes.  Here are my top ten for 2006.

10. Dave Barnes - Chasing Mississippi
A friend introduced me to Dave at the Exit In in Nashville a while back.  In addition to being a stunning guitar player, this is one of the nicest and funniest men alive.  He is truly a talent and the songs translate well in the live setting.  If you missed the Dave Barnes train, it's time to play catch up.  Don't miss this guy.  A perfect summer road trip disc.

9. Over the Rhine - Snow Angels
Though technically a Christmas album, this one is so good it deserves play all year round.  They continue to amaze me with disc after disc of stellar work.  Karin's voice is so emotive on this album.  I can actually feel their Christmas memories.

8. Rascal Flatts - Me and My Gang
You can say what you want about this group but they have sold more albums than anyone else this year so it's worth at least looking into.  The reason they sell a lot of product, besides being marketed heavily, is the quality of the songs that they pick.  The songs on this album make you feel.  They speak to some of the deepest places of human emotion, both sadness and elation.  This isn't some grand piece of art to be examined and held up as such, it's just a solid album of good human songs.  People identify with this music.  Gary is one of the best at being able to translate a song vocally, even one that he hasn't written, into the life of the listener.

7. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
I only recently got into Neko.  She has a beautiful voice and this album is chock full of it.

6. Rosie Thomas - These Friends of Mine
A lot of people probably haven't heard this album yet, as it came out just before the end of the year.  For those of you uninitiated, it's Rosie, Sufjan Stevens, and Denison Witmer doing an entire album together.  How could this not be good?  The killer track is their cover of REM's "The One I Love."

5. Mat Kearney - Nothing Left to Lose
I am not a fan of hip hop.  This album has tinges of hip hop mixed with acoustic stylings and that smooth, nearly Chris Martin, voice of Mat Kearney.  The disc is laid back and smooth like a frappocino.  He has gotten quite a bit of attention and play via television.  This quality pop that should be taken seriously.

4. Hillsong United - United We Stand
I have this on my list for a couple of reasons.  One being that I listened to it all the time after I got it.  Two being that I like the fact that this church youth ministry is writing their own music. After viewing the DVD that accompanies the disc it is apparent that the focus of these folks is in following God and writing songs that come from their journey with Him.  They aren't writing these to sell and from that comes some really great stuff.

3. Anathallo - Floating World
Anathallo is a live band.  With that said, this album is almost as crazy as their live show.  They have managed to capture something on record that most bands couldn't pull off without sounding contrived or sloppy.  For this I give them my respect and money.

2. Jeremy Enigk - World Waits
I feel hopeful when I listen to this album.  It makes me want to dream big dreams. It's romantic and full of the kind of art that Jeremy is famous for.  As long as this guy is still making music, we can always hold out hope for something fresh and new.

1. Mewithoutyou - Brother, Sister
I feel confident that this album will probably make most Decapolis top ten lists.  The thing that sets this album apart is that it stands head and shoulders above most of what anyone else has done musically in the last couple of years.  This might be the best thing I've heard in the last five years. Musically they do things that other people hint at but don't fully realize.  Lyrically they just hammer the nail on the head.  It's uplifting when so many others just end up being cheesy.

I have to give some honorable mentions to: Fair, Jonezetta, Gnarls Barkley, and Starflyer 59.


              
The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players - Off and On Broadway DVD
by Jacob_Gehman; 01.13.07

Off and On BroadwayArtist: The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players
Album: Off and On Broadway DVD
Label: Sarathan Records
Review By: Jacob Gehman

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players have become an odd phenomenon in the world of music and art. They are actually a family: Jason Trachtenburg (who writes the songs, sings lead vocals, and plays guitar and keyboard), Tina Pena (his wife, who operates machinery and visual conception), and their daughter Rachel (who plays drums and does back-up vocals.) And they actually use slides in their songs. Which might at first make a person shrug and say, “So what? A lot of bands use visual materials in their live shows. The Flaming Lips set up a big screen and show various images and films while they perform. So did Sufjan Stevens on his last tour. It’s hardly a new concept.” No, not put like that. But here’s the thing.

With The Flaming Lips and Sufjan Stevens (and really any other artist who uses a screen during a performance) the visuals are merely complimentary to the music. The music was written first, the music stands alone, and could get along just fine without any photo or video accompaniment live. Not to mention that the visuals were found or created specifically to go with the music. The Trachtenburgs, on the other hand, turn that all upside down. Jason Trachtenburg starts off with the slides (which they find at state sales, rummage sales, garage sales, or wherever else you can randomly find old slides no one cares about) and then writes music to tell a story with them. Thus the slides become an integral part of the music because they show the tale that otherwise becomes incomprehensible gibberish in the song.

This becomes a double edged sword as it makes the Trachtenburgs unique and individual also limits them to visual media (live shows, DVDs) because just listening to the songs without the slides is kind of dull. Which makes Off and On Broadway such a key release for the family. For the first time those who couldn’t catch a live show can see what is going on.

The DVD is a mixture of live songs, interviews, watching the Trachtenburgs in their everyday life, and an explanation of how they operate. In the actual feature there is enough songs to qualify as a regular length set, but they’re interposed with the interviews and other segments. Often in DVDs like this I would be upset at that kind of thing, however here the segments serve to get acquainted with the Trachtenburg Family to where they feel like kin. It is all shot very well, there isn’t any of the grainy or badly lit footage that you often get with these kind of projects. The special features are very good for such a scattered DVD. Quite a few music videos and some interesting Jason Trachtenburg solo performances on a talkshow.

All in all this DVD is essential for the active Slideshow Players fan. While live is probably the ideal setting, this DVD is a worthy second best.


              
Dan Melchior - Fire Breathing Clones On Cellular Phones
by Jacob_Gehman; 01.13.07

Artist: Dan Melchior
Album: Fire Breathing Clones On Cellular Phones
Label: Plastic Records
Tracks: 15
Length: 54:53
Review By: Jacob Gehman

Mistakes are inevitable. They happen. It all depends on the kind of mistake as to how tragic it is. There are albums which have multiple mistakes, yet are pretty good. Others all it takes is one misstep and the whole thing experiences not just an instant drop in quality, but utter oblivion. Melchior makes one almost-tragic mistake, but thankfully pads it with some respectable songs to keep the album from totally tanking.

The album opens up with the haunting “Sparrows and Starlings,” which is without  a doubt the standout track on the album. Unfortunately, it is also totally unlike any of the other tracks. It gets stuck in your head and repeats two lines over and over, causing time to slip by at an immeasurable rate. It’s cool, it’s great, and it doesn’t rear it’s head again on this album.

After that the majority of the album is rock as played with a cowboy hat and cigarette. The listen reminds me a bit of some of The Mekon’s albums. There are also places that bring The Fall to mind. It’s not a rock styling done by many artists anymore, and despite the mediocre aspect of the vocals (a flaw found in the prior mentioned bands, too) there are just some great tunes here if you’re into that style of rocking.

Melchior’s major mistake happens twice. They both happen on the only two tracks to go over 7 minutes (and considering most of the other songs are under three and a half minutes that’s a fairly big discrepancy) and drag the overall quality of the album down. Those two tracks feature about three or so minutes of decent song, where Melchior sings and all that jazz. And then just when you’re prepared to go on to the next track he does a long, extended soloing session. There is nothing really wrong with guitar solos, nor with having long ones. However, it is the boring, mundane way these are executed that makes the listening mind-bogglingly tedious. They might be ok in the proper live setting, but on cd the effect is tragic. There is just no reason to listen to them.

The memory of those two tracks just clouds the entire album, making it hard to get enthusiastic about listening to it. This is probably someone’s cup of tea, but it definitely won’t be for everyone. So while Melchior’s mistakes haven’t caused the album to totally buckle under their weight, the album feels severely crippled. If this is a malady of his past albums, present fans won’t bat an eye. Everyone else will want to tread cautiously.


              
La Rocca - The Truth
by Jacob_Gehman; 01.13.07

The TruthArtist: La Rocca
Album: The Truth
Label: Dangerbird Records
Tracks: 11
Length: 46:51
Review By: Jacob Gehman

It can be a mistake to release an EP, then lift songs from the EP for your full length album. It often results in a fragmented listen that is disappointing for the fan who has hung out with the band through their EPs. Eisley comes immediately to mind, who’s full length is composed of at least 2//3rds of material they had released on EPs before. ActionReaction did something similar, only without the grace of re-recording anything. La Rocca’s prior release, the Sing Song Sung EP contains four pretty good songs, two of which made the full length album.

However, two songs out of eleven isn’t so bad, it’s only a small fraction of the whole album after all. They kick the album off with an EP number, “Sketches (20 Something Life)” which lays out the target age group of The Truth. The jangly pop rock that La Rocca has perfected will appeal mostly to young adults in their twenties.

The vocals (performed by Bjorn Baillie) are reminicent of Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and would sound right at home on a rootsier rock band like Goldrush. They are undoubtely the highlight of what La Rocca does. Without the vocals (and the pretty good melodies they traverse) La Rocca would be little more than a wanna-be band. While his vocals on some music that was more adventurous would be amazing, The Truth is still an engaging listen.

If you think a pop rock band like the U2s, Coldplays, or The Frays of the world with Wilco-esque vocals would be up your ally, give La Rocca a spin. The songs they write are strong, especially when steered by Bjorn Baillie’s vocals. On the other hand, if you had hoped to never read a band comparrison to U2 or Coldplay again in your life, you won’t be missing out on a hidden treasure by saving your money.


              
All City Affairs - Bees
by Jacob_Gehman; 11.29.06

Bees Artist: All City Affairs
Album: Bees
Label: Lujo Records
Tracks: 10
Length: 37:40
Review By: Jacob Gehman

Peter Andreadis, the man behind All City Affairs, must have the guts of a great white shark. Many people can perform in a band. Many people can even perform all by their lonesome if they are playing some kind of instrument. Andreadis, on the other hand, performs on stage to a recording with all of the background music on it while he sings. Which is bad if it's just a person standing a a mic, crooning. However, as a quick Google image search will tell you, Andreadis doesn’t just stand there and sing. No, instead he evokes images of vaudeville performers of years past, often sprawling on the stage in a theatrical manner. Which is interesting because you can’t tell from the music that theatrics might be a direction he might go. You can imagine it from an artist like Antony & The Johnsons, who’s overly dramatic music would fit well with that idea of a stage show.

All City Affair is fun, light-hearted music that borrows heavily from The Beatles and other oldies pop rock icons, while adding more contemporary influences like The Flaming Lips at the same time. Nothing about the song’s sound will bowl you over initially. But after several plays you’ll pick out some of the great details, either compositionally or vocally, that stand out and make the song excel.

The vocals are generally great. He has a voice that can sound sensitive without sounding emo and powerful without being overbearing. But the best parts are when he has harmonies going by layering the vocal tracks. His ear for a captivating harmony is what drives this album.

Andreadis has a sixth sense for knowing when to add new elements to a song to keep it from feeling like it’s being too repetitive. A good example of that is the song “Accidental Death Of A Highschool Football Player” which is the only track to go over 4 and a half minutes. He builds  up the ending, first throwing in a great guitar part, then slowly adding things like bells, cello, and so forth. Anyone can add bells, but it takes good songwriting to know the best time to add them.

If you’re just looking for good pop rock songs, Bees is a pretty fantastic album to check out. There will be moments where you might have to double check your stereo to see what artist you’re really playing, but it’s just done so well that I find it hard to fault him for that.


              
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