Writing a Review: Obligation to the Artist?

Recently, a group of us at work listened to the album Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons. The opinions ranged from decent to current favorite of the year. As we have read other reviews coming out from publications, we saw that many of the reviews echoed our sentiments. The album is not groundbreaking, nor does it ever try to be. What it is is well-produced, with solid music and (again) at the very least decent vocals/harmonies. However, one publication blasted the album with an extremely low score that actually caught a coworker's surprise, and he emailed the link for us to read. Ultimately, the low score seemed to be based on the fact that the group sounded like other bands, was not original, and was pointless.

I am not going to name the publication, nor am I going to review the album anymore than saying that I have enjoyed the album so far. What this review did was raise an interesting point: If you really hate an album (regardless of whether your opinion is "correct" in the view of others), should you really review it at all? Reviews both positive and negative can have a tremendous impact in the success of an album, and a band. Positive reviews, whether justified or not (like an album by Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Dylan, Kings of Leon in Rolling Stone) means only good things, but a negative review can mean the beginning of the end. Since there are so many blogs and music publications out there, how many are affected by the other? How many reviewers may be basing some of their opinions on what they have already read, and in turn how many readers form opinions before even giving the music a chance?

We'd like to think all of our opinions are freely formed, but we know this is not the case. With a positive review, we may buy the music, realize later we don't like it, and that's the end, but at least the band achieved the sale. A negative review means no sale, no concert, maybe no new and dedicated fans. It's exponential loss.

What I have enjoyed about this blog is the fact that we generally focus on music we like; music or albums we don't care for may be mentioned in passing, but we don't drag them through the mud. This frees people to make their own decision, and not perhaps cause a chain reaction that severely limits a group's chances. I often think of movies not screened for critics: Usually this is because they are awful but often they end up having a decent opening weekend, then putter out once the collective masses discover the general suckiness. If an album is bad, people will ultimately find that out, and a truly bad artist will disappear.

So, a few things: Should a critic review an album they hated, or just ignore and focus on the ones that they WANT to talk about? What albums have you bought based primarily on reviews, or have avoided based on bad ones?

A final side note: My Old Kentucky Blog provides an interesting counterview to Mumford that we thought was very perceptive and fair, without the anger and spite of the "other" review.


Midlake Cancel March 13th Lawrence Show


No word on why they are canceling and no word on when/if they might reschedule.


Concert Announcement: Public Image Ltd

Johnny Lydon has gotten some of the original lineup of Public Image Ltd back together for their first tour in 18 years. They are headlining Coachella and soon afterward will have a stop in KC at the Midland Theater on April 26th. Lydon is most famous for being the lead singer of The Sex Pistols when he was known as Johnny Rotten. If you haven't heard PIL before check out the video below for their most famous song, 'Rise':



New Music: Phantogram - Eyelid Movies

Hailing from the small town of Saratoga Springs, New York, the duo known as Phantogram certainly sound like they're from the big city. The band is self-described as "street beat, psych pop" which is a term coined by a fellow Saratoga Springs musician after seeing them open up for Yeasayer.

The term "street beat, psych pop", albeit a horrible name for a genre of music, is a pretty apt description. They mix hip-hop and electric dance beats with vocals reminiscent of something out of the shoegaze scene. Their debut album, Eyelid Movies (out now on Barsuk Records), is pretty fantastic from beginning to end. Many times with these beat driven albums, they can get boring and stagnant by the end of the album...that is not the case here.

I'm a little surprised there already isn't more hype around these two, considering the album has been out for almost two weeks now (hell, maybe there is and I just don't realize). The album is ripe to be played at hipster dance parties nationwide. I'm hoping Phantogram will get a bit of press for this record, because it really is great. Here's hoping they come through town as well, i'll keep you posted.

Here's a video of the band playing the album's opener, 'Mouthful of Diamonds' on KEXP:

Phantogram Myspace



Concert Announcements: Julian Casablancas, The Whigs, Gossip & More

Until there is a new album from The Strokes, singer Julian Casablancas released a pretty good solo record to tide fans over with Phrazes For The Young. Julian will be in KC on Saturday, April 10th

On April 22nd Portland band Gossip will be at The Bottleneck. That's the same night as Sigur Ros frontman Josi plays at Liberty Hall...tough choice.

Also, The Whigs will be back through town. This time they'll be in KC at The Riot Room on April 12th. This is another band in the category of The Hold Steady & Drive-By Truckers as a band carrying the classic rock n roll torch proudly.

Here's a few other shows worth seeing:

03/22 The Bronx/Japanther @ The Riot Room, KC
03/26 The Wailers @ The Voodoo Lounge, N. KC
04/05 Nebula/The Willowz @ The Jackpot, Lawrence
04/05 Fanfarlo @ The Record Bar, KC
04/07 Caspian/Arms and Sleepers @ The Record Bar, KC
04/08 Dead Meadow @ The Riot Room, KC
05/02 Cannibal Corpse/1349/Skeletonwitch/Lecherous Nocturne @ The Granada, Lawrence
05/07 Gil Mantera’s Party Dream/Harlem @ The Riot Room, KC
06/05 John Butler Trio @ The Crossroads, KC



Video: Liars - 'Scissor'

New York band Liars are getting ready to release their solid new album, Sisterworld (out March 9th on Mute records). The song is called 'Scissor' and it's the first track off the album. I'm not sure how they did it but somehow the band managed to make a video as creepy and captivating as the song.

Liars Myspace



Favorite Songs of the 2000's:
Stars - 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead' (2005)

When figuring out what songs I was going to do this feature on, some of them I've gone back and forth on. In fact, some of the songs on the list I have for these Favorite songs of the decade are still in question as to whether they'll make this final cut. This song, however, was a given.

When I heard Canadian band Stars third album, Set Yourself On Fire, I knew it was a special album. I haven't started making this list yet, but I'm guessing that album will find it's way in the top half of my favorite records of the decade, it's that good. The best track on this great album is definitely the album opener 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead'. I read a magazine in early 2006 that asked musicians which one song of 2005 do you wish you could have written. If I remember right there were more than one person that named this song. That's a good sign.

'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead' is a different spin on the classic break-up song. It seems to be about a former couple seeing each other randomly for the first time in a long time. Some of the lyrics are just fabulous and somewhat heartbreaking. My favorite part of the song is definitely the end, where both singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan sing the final verse together. It's a rare instance for me when I can sense the emotions of a song and put myself in the writer/singers place, but 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead' I always do.
"There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave
You were what I wanted
I gave what I gave
I'm not sorry I met you
I'm not sorry it's over
I'm not sorry there's nothing to say

I'm not sorry there's nothing to say..."

Here's the video for 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead':



New Music: Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Mumford & Sons are the latest band to come out of the now fairly notable English Folk scene along with bands like Noah & the Whale and Laura Marling. I know I mention many albums on these pages as being great and the "next big thing", but not all of them had staying power or maybe just didn't really quite deserve it. That's not the case with Mumford & Sons debut full length album, Sigh No More (out now in the UK; out February 16th in the US), because it's really one of the best albums I've heard in a long while.

Mumford & Sons are a folk/rock band with lots of strings, fantastic songwriting and one of the best debut albums in recent memory. So many of the tracks build up slowly throughout the song to a big epic swell of a grand finale (a la Arcade Fire), which is something I've always loved. Songs like the title track and 'Little Lion Man' are perfect examples of songs that build to a chaotic end and, frankly, just rock. Even a song you think might seem like a more mellow tune in the beginning like 'Thistles & Weeds' has one of the most emotional and powerful endings on the album.

I really can't speak highly of this album enough. Time will tell if anything else in 2010 is better, but so far, nothing else is really close (maybe Beach House). If you know me and we like a lot of the same music, you need to get this album. If you read this site and you like what I recommend, you need this album. If there is anything right with the world, these guys will get all the hype and accolades an overrated band like Vampire Weekend seems to get.

Currently their tour dates in the US are limited, but I'll be sure to post something if they come anywhere close.

Here's the video for the first single, 'Little Lion Man':

Mumford & Sons Myspace


March 15 Liberty Hall- Ray Davies

If you haven't had a chance to catch Ray Davies, singer/songwriter of The Kinks, on his previous trips into the KC area, you may want to set aside Monday, March 15. He'll be playing once again at Liberty Hall in an acoustic performance with Bill Shanley accompanying. In light of The Who's dinosaur performance in the Super Bowl, you may find Davies quite refreshing (seriously, after watching old concert film of them in the early 70s, it was really depressing).

Although still releasing material associated with The Kinks (he just released the Kinks Koral Collection, a reworking of songs with a full choir that is much better than it sounds), he hasn't stayed stuck in his own past, releasing two quality solo albums in the past few years, as well as working on musicals and other artistic endeavors. His acoustic performances are what directly lead to the set-up for Vh-1's Storytellers- part performance and part monologue, relating his personal experiences with the songs' origins. In some ways it's scripted: if you've seen him before he may read the same passage, tell the same the joke, but in some ways it's like a musical, and the experience is in the performance of the songs, not the spontanity of the dialogue.

The music of The Kinks has enjoyed a quiet revival in the past few years, especially when the likes of Franz Ferdinand, The Kaieser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, and The Libertines hit the scene, and as a lifelong fan (they have been my dad's favorite group since I can remember, and we played two of their songs for his retirement party) I have appreciated their placement in music history while not embarassing themselves currently by still trying to be what they can never reclaim. There was talk of a reunion, but due to Dave Davies's health issues following his stroke that seems unlikely, and that may be for the best. This way, their legacy remains untarnished, and that's pretty hard to maintain these days.

Check out Davies' site to find out more.

Ray Davies - The Kinks Choral Collection
by Vivalabeat



New Music: Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Yeasayer has been a favorite since the first time I heard their debut album, All Hour Cymbals (it was my #8 album of 2007). I wrote about that album HERE when this blog was only a few months old and I've been following what they've been up to ever since. Since the debut album came out, they've toured endless and have been correctly labeled as one of the greatest live bands around right now. I was lucky enough to see them twice at Lollapalooza in '08....once at the festival and once at an aftershow opening for Broken Social Scene and I can confirm their greatness live). They also contributed one of the best tracks, 'Tightrope', to an absolutely stunning charity compilation Dark Was The Night.

Now, they are back with their second album, Odd Blood (out yesterday on Secretly Canadian). After spinning it 2 or 3 times immediately after getting it, I knew that if anything this album was going to be extremely polarizing. It will certainly win Yeasayer a lot of new fans, but I'd imagine there will be a bit of a backlash from fans of the debut. That's too bad though because this album is really fucking good.

Listening to it straight through almost reminds me of listening to vinyl. It seems like it was clearly designed to have two separate sides to the record. While the lead track 'The Children' is as weird as anything they've recorded, the rest of side one contains the most pop sounding tracks they've done.

Songs like 'Ambling Alp' (the lead single) and 'One' (Yeasayer's dance jam on the album) would have fit nicely on the debut album. However tracks like 'Madder Red' (the most mainstream sounding song on the album) and 'I Remember' (one of the sweeter love songs I've heard in a while) are pretty different from anything they've done previously. As much as I love the first half of the album, the second half is just as good, in fact 'Rome' and the final track 'Grizelda' could easily compete for best track on the album.

Pitchfork hasn't reviewed the album yet, but they did put up this really cool video of Yeasayer recording Odd Blood in the studio. Check that out HERE.

Finally, here's the video for the first single, 'Ambling Alp' (warning, it's NSFW...there's some naked people running around):

Yeasayer Myspace



Concert Announcements: Mastodon/Baroness,
Arctic Monkeys & more...

Another fantastic Spring show in Lawrence as my two favorite metal bands around right now will be heading through town on tour together. On Sunday, May 16th Atlanta's Mastodon will headline a show with Savannah's own Baroness opening. Both Georgian metal monsters landed in the top 20 of my Top 50 Albums of 2009 list, with Baroness' Blue Album landing at the #3 spot. Valient Thorr and The Buried And Me will also open the show.

That's not the only metal show of note announced recently, and this time the bill features Lawrence's own Coalesce. They'll be opening for another great metal band in Converge at The Bottleneck on May 10th in Lawrence.

Finally, Arctic Monkeys will also be making their way through Lawrence. They will be at Liberty Hall on April 12th.


St. Vincent and Thunderant

Anyone who has read a couple of my posts is probably aware that I am a big Sleater-Kinney fan. Carrie Brownstein, guitarist for the band, has a blog on NPR called Monitor Mix, which I highly recommend. She also is in a video sketch group with Fred Armesian, of SNL and various punk bands in the 90s. They recently were asked to do a video for St. Vincent featuring their recurring feminist bookstore characters. So, if you like comedy, St. Vincent, Thunderant, Sleater-Kinney or SNL, then this is for you.

St. Vincent: "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood"

St. Vincent - "Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood"

st. vincent MySpace Music Videos


One for Monday

I think I am already behind on my resolution to do a post a week, so here's a quick one: Apparently, Superdrag, one of my favorite "critically adored/publically ignored" groups from the 90s reunited earlier last year to release a new album- Industry Giants. Most people know them from their only commercial hit "Sucked Out" and the lesser-known "Destination Ursa Major" off of the album Regretfully Yours. They went on to put out three more great albums (two after being dropped by Elektra and moving to Arena Rock), but never caught on big with the public, despite being a rock-pop outfit with an endless supply of hooks and great lines.

I first saw them opening for Weezer's Pinkerton tour at The Granada in 1996, and provided a great example of why you go catch the opening act, at least for touring shows: Despite being a little annoyed by "Sucked Out", I bounced to their set, found John Davis (lead singer/songwriter) to be a fantastic frontman (dressed in a red tux shirt, cigarette at the end of his guitar, and at one point telling some over-anxious Weezer fan calling out for his band "Patience, little man. Your band will come."), and I found their songs to be catchy to the point that I remembered them a few days later when I bought their two albums out at that time.

The career arc Superdrag took, or more directly that Davis took, is pretty standard: Depsite the critical success the constant touring of smaller venues, dwindling chances at retaining that brief success, and druggy excess-turned-additction burned the band out. In the early 2000s, Davis lost is grandfather, who was a supporter of his music, and Davis "felt the weight of God" on his chest while he was driving down a highway one day. He became a born-again Christian, and finished his contract for one more album with the band, and parted ways. He released two Christian rock albums that still carried over his ear for Beatles harmonies and solid songwriting.

Aside:I own the first (self-titled), and it's a great album, and also the only Christian album I own, mainly because other than some occasional specifics, the lyrics stay vague enough for interpretation and the recording is not done over like really bad modern pop-country, which is usually not the case with Christian music. It actually still sounds like rock that has a Christian theme, not crap on a Crucifix.

Anyway, the band got back together for a "reunion tour" ion 2007, and have apparently decided to stay together, resulting in a new album. I have listened to it once and already believe I will enjoy it. I think it's nice that we are seeing a lot of bands that are reuniting really doing it because they loved making music and playing together, not because it will equal a ton of cash (The Pixies, Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr.). We fans are all the luckier.

Sucked Out

Superdrag "Sucked Out" (Music Video)

Superdrag MySpace Music Videos




Favorite Songs of the 2000's:
LCD Soundsystem - 'All My Friends' (2007)

There were actually a couple of LCD Soundsystem tracks I could have picked, but this is ultimately my favorite. Every time I make a CD for a someone for the first time, this song always ends up on it. Really there isn't a lot to the music. It's got a really nice drum and piano line through the whole song, with keyboards and guitar weaving in and out, but it's not the music that makes me love this song. James Murphy's lyrics are really what set this apart from the rest of LCD Soundsystem's best songs.

I'm not usually one to analyze song lyrics and meanings for the most part. In fact, many times I never actively think about what lyrics to some of my favorite songs mean. In the case of 'All My Friends' I take exception since they are so damn good. It could be interpreted to be a song about entering adulthood or possibly about looking back on a crazy past, but either way this song definitely has an air of nostalgia to it. I've listen to this song as much or more than any on this list of favorite songs of the decade, and I've never gotten tired of it yet....such a great tune.
"You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again"

Here's the video for 'All My Friends':


Concert Announcements: Deer Tick, Jonsi (Sigur Ros) and more

Rhode Island's finest country/folk outfit will be in Lawrence on April 11th. This time headlining their own show at the Jackpot (previously they were in Lawrence opening for Jenny Lewis). This is the same night as Megafaun at the Replay and this will be a tough choice for a few people as both bands could be thrown into the same "indie folk" category. Opening will be Those Darlins.

Also in Lawrence in April will be Jonsi (from Sigur Ros) at Liberty Hall on the 22nd.

Here's a few other dates you might be interested in:

03/14 Vivian Girls @ The Jackpot, Lawrence
03/15 Ray Davies @ Liberty Hall, Lawrence
03/27 Patty Griffin @ Liberty Hall, Lawrence
04/14 Rogue Wave @ The Bottleneck, Lawrence
05/21 Martin Sexton @ Crosstown Station, KC
08/23 Slayer/Megadeth/Testament @ Sandstone, KC

As always, check out the full concert calendar HERE.



The Appleseed Cast to play Low Level Owl Vol 1 & 2
in their entirety on tour

As if there wasn't enough of a reason to see The Appleseed Cast play at The Record Bar in KC on March 21st, now you have more. The Cast will play their (in my opinion) masterpiece double album, 2001's Low Level Owl Volumes 1 & 2, in it's entirety on the whole tour.

If you haven't heard the albums before, you're are in for a treat. It's sprawling and sometimes atmospheric rock at it's finest. The Cast have been great on record since Low Level Owl, but they certainly haven't been much better than that.

Here's one of my favorite tracks from the Low Level Owl 1, 'On Reflection':

The Appleseed Cast Myspace