She Wants Revenge – Valleyheart

So, I really didn’t discover She Wants Revenge until they covered “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” on the Nightmare Revisited album, but promptly got their two, full-length albums, She Wants Revenge and This is Forever, afterwards.

Unfortunately, those two albums got lost in the mess of music on my computer and sort of fell to the wayside. Well, they’ve certainly returned in full force in conjunction with their first full length album in nearly five years, Valleyheart .

Apparently, there is some sort of argument as to what genre She Wants Revenge actually falls into, which is a good thing. Too often, bands lump themselves into an incredibly limiting “genre” and do little to expand their horizons. Well, not this Californian duo. “Darkwave”, “Goth Rock”, and “Synthpop” get tossed around a lot, but you’ve gotta add “Dance”, “New Wave”, “Post Punk”, and plain ol’ “Rock and Roll” to that listing.

This album seems to be the magnum opus, thus far. Sexy and dark, it’s really a mood album more than anything. Pulling inspiration from bands like Interpol, Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, and even the Killers, they provide an eclectic yet cohesive sound across the board. Singer, Justin Warfield, describes their sounds as “dark dance“, which I can totally get behind.

This album has everything from sultry, goth tracks like the opener, “Take the World” to stadium rockers like “Up in Flames”. And while certainly clean and well-produced, there remains just the slightest splinter of raw, gritty edge to it. They’re taking a well traversed path and twisting it to get to their own destination, which is pretty cool considering how many cookie cutter artists are out there these days.

The only for-sure, skip-able, track on this album is “Must Be the One”, an almost sickeningly sweet, U2 inspired, flop. Other than that, in comparison, I think that this album is by far their most upbeat, their most electronic, and their best.  Here’s to hoping that their next one’s even better! B

Check it out for yourself, streaming for free on their Myspace. You can also get your She Wants Revenge fix on Twitter, Facebook, and their site.

Have a good weekend everybody, and wish me luck, because it’s that time of year again!

“Take the World”

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Owl City – All Things Bright and Beautiful

You know, it’s hard to blog about music when you’re constantly bombarded by mediocre crap. Seriously. I’ve gone so long without blogging because there simply hasn’t been anything good to blog about. Where’d all the good music go!?

Case in point: Albums like Owl City’s new catastrophe, All Things Bright and Beautiful. It’s a ninth-grade notebook full of terrible, emo, poems, autotuned and overproduced. This is the kind of stuff that emo kids get made fun of for. What’s more than that, is that it tries to sound like Adam Young’s previous efforts, but falls decidedly short. At least Ocean Eyes had “Hello Seattle” and “Fireflies” (…and “Umbrella Beach” and “Saltwater Room”. Half of that album actually wasn’t too terrible). There is no definitive “hit” on this album, and while that’s not necessarily always a bad thing, in this case, it just means that you get 13 sub-par songs that all sound exactly the same.

I hate to say it (okay, maybe that’s a lie), but I think I was right with that whole “15 minutes of fame” deal. While a generally uninspired album as a whole, the song “Honey and the Bee”, in particular, makes me want to stick pens through my ears and directly into my brain. Breanne Duren’s voice in combination with the copious amount of autotune seriously gave me an instant headache. I hate that song so much, it seriously makes me physically ill. It also doesn’t help that it’s followed by “Kamikaze”, a track that almost sounds like Young trying to remix The Offspring. Yeah, it’s totally as awkward as it sounds.

Between the nausea, the headache, and the brain cell loss, this is about where I gave up on the album. The end of the album may be good, I doubt it, but I will never know. This album gets a big, fat, F. I don’t even know how anyone let this go to production.

I’m gonna go put Fitz and the Tantrums back on, take some Ibuprofen, and try to forget that this album even exists. 😦

Owl City – “Honey and the Bee”

Mikey Shanley – “Vampires Unite” + Rolling Stone!?

Well, Mikey Shanley is back at it again! If you’re not familiar with Shanley, he’s the coast-to-coast Golden Child of house music. Seriously, from Key West to Toronto, Pittsburgh to Seattle, he’s rocked the entire damn continent. (For more info, just go check out his damn site  already and get it over with. And while you’re there, you might as well check out his free, monthly podcasts as well.)

Make sure to check out his latest track, “Vampires Unite”. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon, as well as a few other vendors (ihearmusic, Spotify, and eMusic), but if you buy it before August 13, 2011 on Amazon, you’ll get six months of Rolling Stone for ONE DOLLAR. So seriously, you’re getting 6 months of a magazine and an MP3 for a grand, whopping total of $1.89. In times like these, what better way to get your music fix? Now, I did buy mine while I was logged into my Amazon account and got an email with the offer a few days later. It’s not an immediate thing, but you’ll get a code and a link in your email and you can take it from there.

As for the track itself, it’s certainly out of Shanley’s usual realm of bumpin’ house tracks and even the early days of hardcore. Delightfully creepy, it’s mere inches on the correct side of that fine line between industrial inspired, dark wave electronic and campy, Halloween music that you find on 99¢ CDs at the Halloween stores in the fall. We also get a little taste of Shanley himself on the vocals (oops! Am I supposed to tell you that!?) which brings me way back to the good ol’ days when he still fronted local bands and before the infatuation with electronic music even began.

It’s not just Halloween appropriate though… It’s ear candy to all deep and tech house aficionados and even trance fans alike. It’s got a hypnotic, down-tempo groove with a deep, dark side that lingers right there. Ready to jump out and get you at any given moment.

In the meantime, check this shit out from Ultraviolet in Pittsburgh back in June. If you ever doubt Shanley’s capabilities, keep in mind that it was about 110° in that tiny, tiny little club, and he still manages to rock the fuck out. (Sorry for the sound, guess you’re just gonna have to go download the track for better quality!)

Mikey Shanley @ Ultraviolet 6/18/11

Insert Coin to Play: Pinball Life

One of my personal faves from last year.

In case you forgot about my insatiable love for pinball (or Mike Budai, or Brian Holderman, for that matter), well…I love it.

Usually sometime around my birthday, PAPA comes to town. This ends up with me playing pinball and drinking margaritas. Two of my favorite things in life. Well, this year, my birthday comes a little early with Insert Coin to Play: Pinball Life at Wildcard in Pittsburgh. Starting this Friday, it’s a great way to kick off the summer pinball season here in the ‘Burgh. Check it out:

Announcing their presence with an explosion of sound, lights, and design, pinball machines are a unique part of pop culture that combine gaming, skill, and art into one colorful package. To celebrate the machine’s presence as both art and an inspiration to artists, Wildcard is proud to present Insert Coin to Play: Pinball Life from July 15 to August 21.

Pinball Life is timed to coincide with the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) World Championships (August 11-14), held each year in Scott Township. This group show includes original work from local and national artists and also features vintage backplates of old games (on loan from PAPA).

In addition to the vintage pinball machines at Wildcard and a third on loan, Pinball Life includes the debut of the new Lawrenceville-themed pinball machine, featuring art by local artist Andy Scott. In addition, Wildcard will be hosting its annual Wildcard Pinball Classic on Friday, July 22. The competition will feature four tournaments on four separate machines, as well as a playoff
for a grand prize. Free to enter. In addition, 50% of the proceeds from the show and tournament will go to local bicycle advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh (www.bike-pgh.org/).

A complete list of artists follows:
– Dan Burfield works with sculptural and metal elements (www.notionpotion.com)
– Andy Scott draws and paints on different mediums (www.aplace-forall.blogspot.com)
– Cryss Stephens photographs pinball machines in extreme close-ups
(www.csstriker.deviantart.com)
– Elizabeth Klevens creates pieces out of metal and glass (www.elizabethklevens.com)
– Doug Cooper uses charcoal and other paints to create murals and video pieces
(www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/dcooper/)
– Brian Holderman is an illustrator/artist whose custom pinball machine appeared in the
Funland exhibit at the Warhol (www.bholderman.com)
– Rafael Colon uses sneakers and skateboards as his artistic medium (www.brolicdesigns.com)
– Mike Budai’s illustrations appeared on a custom pinball machine in the Funland exhibit at the
Warhol (www.crayondracula.blogspot.com)

Insert Coin to Play: Pinball Life runs from Friday, July 15 through Sunday, August 21.

I know what Iiiiiiiiii’ll be doing Friday night! And for the next month! Hooray for pinball season!

Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness

Wow. When I first heard their new album, Speed of Darkness, I originally thought that the Celtic punk troupe, Flogging Molly, had found themselves a new singer for a few of the tracks. Apparently that really IS Dave King. I don’t know what to think about that, actually.

Let me start with a little background of Flogging Molly and I. We go way back. I first got into them with their debut album, Swagger, back in 2000. Once I heard that album, I was hooked. I’ve seen them somewhere around 30 times, now, and I’ve seen them at their best and at their worst. The particular show that comes to mind, the vast majority of the band had terrible food poisoning. George Schwindt straight up passed out and fell off of his drum set, Bridget Regan even had to take a break, but the plus side to all of this is Dave King coming out at the very end, sick as a dog himself, and doing “Grace of God Go I” a capella. Seriously, probably one of the best shows I’ve seen, considering the circumstances. At their shows, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve been bitten, I’ve had Tony Duggins’ (The Tossers, and seriously, I’m going to go home and track down some of these pictures! Pics or it didn’t happen, right?) tongue in my ear, I’ve met (ex) boyfriends, and generally had a pretty awesome time all around. They hold a very special place in my heart…a place usually reserved for fist fights and whiskey, but I guess they kind of go hand in hand.

Speaking of Dave King and Bridget Regan (the fiddle player), I found out today that they got married in Tokyo while touring for Float. And now they live in Detroit. Pretty awesome, akshually.

As for the album, I think it’s mostly “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down”, a radio-friendly (in the most grievous usage of the word), punk-pop catastrophe that throws me all off-kilter. It sounds absolutely, positively, undeniably, NOTHING like Dave King. It’s actually a little frightening when you’re not expecting it. Coming in a close second for the worst song is “Heart of the Sea”, a weird, pseudo folk-inspired track with almost indescribably bad lyrics. Seriously, “don’t fornicate with the one you love to hate”? I’m disappointed in you Flogging Molly. For every listen of those songs, though, I also get a slew of good ones. Trading in their tales of being “seven (drunken) pirates, they’ve gone for a more mature and modern approach, giving us tracks like “Revolution”, their take on the economical issue, whose chorus is worthy of chanting fans worldwide and “The Power’s Out”, in a similar vein as “Revolution” on subject matter, but a little more home-grown with King singing about Detroit and the fat-cat CEOs with their bottomless greed. It’s got a lo-fi, blues aspect to it and this is one of the very few times where you will see me refer to something as “lo-fi” and not following it up with “pretentious”. Perhaps it’s was the move from sunny LA to, well, Detroit. What can you really praise in Detroit besides (and, god, I hate to say it) hockey?

The shining example of classic Flogging Molly is nestled right in the middle of all this mayhem. “So Sail On”, with its harmonized chorus, classic fiddle, and feeling of traditional Ireland, this is what I think of when I think of Flogging Molly. Despite all of those heavy, punky, hard tracks, this is what the band does best. Another delightful unexpected track on the album is “A Prayer for Me In Silence” with a rare Bridget Reagan lead. Well, I suppose it’s a duet, but she really takes the cake for this one.

The album does have a balanced mix of the usual traditional Irish-inspired songs, slow tracks, and upbeat, punky numbers, the latter of which is the only vein in which they fall flat. Perhaps it’s my love for the band speaking, but it’s a pretty good album when all is said and done. I was more disappointed in my first listening, but upon repeated listenings, it’s beginning to sound more and more like the Flogging Molly I’ve come to know and love. It gets a B.

Check it out for yourself, streaming for free over on their Myspace. You can also check out all the latest news over on their site, Facebook, or Twitter.

“Speed of Darkness”

“Revolution”

“A Prayer For Me In Silence”

Patrick Wensink – Black Hole Blues

If there was ever an author to combine physics and country music into one book, it’s Patrick Wensink.

In Black Hole Blues, Wensink ditches the short story in favor of a proper novel. The estranged Caruthurs brothers (hah) have surely made complete messes of their lives. J. Claude is a washed up, broken down country singer on a quest to write a ditty for every woman’s name on earth, including his (also estranged) sister, Zygmut. Have you ever tried to rhyme something with Zygmut? Well, it’s lead to a lot of sleepless nights and turkey clubs for the self-proclaimed “Nashville’s Shakespeare”. Ohhhh, almost forgot about the nasty rivalry with that pansy ass, Kenny Rogers. Jerk. Meanwhile, brother Lloyd is busy trying to stop the black hole that he created from slowly (and I mean slowly) enveloping the earth.

Remember that whole, “…I have a feeling that Wensink’s only going to get better from here” situation? Well, what can I say? I was right. Hilariously written, you get the story through a kaleidoscope of characters. From J. Claude’s trusty guitar, Rusty, to a smoker (like, the meat kind, not the cigarette kind), to a vulgar proton, to a sandwich, to a bus, to the chef, to all of the main characters and more. It adds a depth to the story and a humor otherwise unmatched.

While certainly preposterous, the book itself is easy to follow, considering that county music and physics are certainly not two of my strong points. It’s not that it’s “dumbed-down” either, though. It’s simply an engaging story. Underneath it all, it all comes down to goals, love, identity, and what we would all do if we knew if the end of the world was coming. Universal themes hidden beneath a Wentastic layer of absurdity.

It’s also a serious page turner. Between the Jasper Fforde books I’ve been reading and this one, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go back and re-read the last few pages because I get way too excited about what’s going to happen and just want to get there already! Trust me, though, whatever you think is going to happen next in a Patrick Wensink book, you’re going to have to guess again.

Check it out for yourself. You can pick up a copy for less than $11 over on Amazon. It gets a resounding A here on That Girl With A Blog (two for two!).

Also, in honor of the 4th of July, watch this classic video of Cox & Combes’ George Washington. Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

George Washington

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

*le sigh* I just don’t think I’m hip enough to like The Fleet Foxes. I got their EP, Sun Giant, and their first full length, self-titled album back in ’08 on the recommendation of a friend and didn’t really “get it” then, and I certainly don’t “get it” now with their sophomore album and newest release, Helplessness Blues.

From what I’m gathering, people are considering this album a masterpiece of sorts and I’m not sure why, really. Perhaps it’s the “cool” thing to do. Frankly, I don’t find wasting $60,000 dollars on studio time, then scrapping it because it wasn’t imperfect enough a reasonable thing to do.

From the Wikipedia:

“They got together to rehearse new songs in February 2009 in a rented house outside Seattle, but the sessions were mostly scrapped. As a result of those wasted sessions, the band lost $60,000 of their own money.”

Then, from a late 2009 interview with The Guardian:

”I want the recording to be really fast. I want to do all the vocal takes in one go, so even if there are fuck-ups, I want them to be on there. I want there to be guitar mistakes. I want there to be not totally flawless vocals. I want to record it and have that kind of cohesive sound. [Van Morrison’s] Astral Weeks, to me, is the best-sounding album because it sounds like there were only six hours in the universe for that album to be recorded in. So I want it to have that feeling.”

Doesn’t really make sense does it? Robin Pecknold lost SIXTY GRAND of his own money, his girlfriend (apparently when she heard the “brilliance” of the album, they reconciled), and apparently pissed off a lot of other people just to make this album, which I think is just a little bit ridiculous, especially the girlfriend part. Seriously, she leaves you while you’re completely invested in making this album, but now that she sees that you’ve hit the gravy train, she’s back on board? In the words of Dan Savage, “DTMFA”.

Anyway, as for the album, it’s pretty boring, actually. In comparison to their relatively sunny debut album, I guess this is supposed to be “deeper”, but it just comes across as melodramatic and self-indulgent.

I mean, check out the press release:

“Hey, my name’s Robin and I’m a singer in and songwriter for Fleet Foxes, here to write the promotional biography meant to accompany and explain Helplessness Blues. I’m just going to write down some thoughts I have about the album and give you some context. Let’s do this.

So, for a bit of background: we’re from Seattle, and the members of the band are me, Skye Skjelset, Josh Tillman, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, and now our buddy Morgan Henderson, who helped out on the album and will join the band on tour. The band began as just me and Skye in Junior High, playing songs in his bedroom, until we moved to Seattle, settled on a name, and began meeting other musicians and playing with different people until we met all the guys currently on board. Casey joined in 2005, Christian in 2007, and Josh joined shortly before our first album was released, but after we’d recorded it. So, that’s some background information. Good luck working that into something intriguing.
We released our first album in 2008, had a lot of unexpected support from people and the press and we ended up on tour until October of 2009 (we’d expected to do one or two U.S. tours and hoped to start our next album in the Fall of 2008!)

Recording started with demos at a building in Seattle that’s been multiple recording studios since the ‘70s, from Triangle, to Jon & Stu’s, to Reciprocal Recording, to the Hall of Justice. A number of incredible albums have been made in that building over the years, including Bleach by Nirvana. So we were lucky enough to take over the lease when Death Cab for Cutie moved out in October 2009, and I started writing songs more seriously again. A couple months later, Joanna Newsom asked me if I would open some shows for her. As a huge fan of hers, I was completely honored and flattered that she’d want me to open her shows, and I felt like I needed some new songs that I could play alone. So, a number of the songs that ended up on this album came from the writing that preceded those tours. Having to play the songs alone meant I was really focusing on having a clear lyric and a strong melody, which ended up being a great change of focus for me as a writer because I’d spent a lot of 2009 messing around with non-songwriter type music and not always finding it satisfying.

After the first Newsom tour, we all went up to Woodstock, New York, to record at Dreamland Recording, where our friends in Beach House had had a good experience recording their last album Teen Dream. We were there for twelve days recording the drums and acoustic guitars. As an aside, I think Josh did an incredible job on the drums on this record, writing really inventive parts without a lot of instruction, and having such good tempo and “feel” that we were able to record all but one song on the album without a click track.

From there began a long stretch of recording in Seattle, from May of 2010 to November of 2010, where a ton of shit happened at numerous studios including Reciprocal, Bear Creek, and Avast. I could get into it, but basically it took a long time due to illness, scheduling, creative doubt, reassessment, rewriting, new songs being written, etc., etc ., etc. It was at times difficult to make this record. We ended up mixing at Avast in Seattle in December of 2010, with the record finally finished, even though we were recording vocals and guitar and rewriting lyrics up to the 11th hour. Not even the 11th, more like the 13th. So here we are, almost three years after the first album, finally done with the second one. Now I’ll talk about the actual music a little bit.

I think this music draws influence and inspiration from popular music and folk rock of the mid ‘60s to the early ’70s, folks like Peter Paul & Mary, John Jacob Niles, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Neil Young, CSN, Judee Sill, Ennio Morricone, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Zombies, SMiLE-era Brian Wilson, Roy Harper, Van Morrison, John Fahey, Robbie Basho, The Trees Community, Duncan Browne, the Electric Prunes, Trees, Pete Seeger, and Sagittarius, among many others. I’d say it’s a synthesis of folk rock, traditional folk, & psychedelic pop, with an emphasis on group vocal harmonies. Astral Weeks was a big inspiration on this album, if not always in sound then in approach. The raw emotion in Van Morrison’s vocals and the trance-like nature of the arrangements were very inspiring for this album!

Musically it leans on country music a little bit more, in the slide guitar of songs like “Grown Ocean” and “Bedouin Dress” or “Helplessness Blues.” We used a number of new instruments including the 12-string guitar, the hammered dulcimer, zither, upright bass, wood flute, tympani, Moog synthesizer, the tamboura, the fiddle, the marxophone, clarinet, the music box, pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar, Tibetan singing bowls, vibraphone, along with more traditional band instrumentation.

OK! I think that covers most of it. The last thing I’ll talk about is the title. It’s called Helplessness Blues for a number of reasons. One, it’s kind of a funny title. Secondly, one of the prevailing themes of the album is the struggle between who you are and who you want to be or who you want to end up, and how sometimes you are the only thing getting in the way of that. That idea shows up in a number of the songs.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the record!
Robin”

That’s not a press release, that’s a novel. Instrumentally, I guess it’s impressive. Lyrically, it’s okay, too. There’s just something about the way that they put it all together that makes me cringe a little bit when I listen to it. From what I hear, it’s a “grower”, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to listen to it anymore. On the plus side, the cover art is neat and the one track, “Sim Sala Bim” isn’t entirely terrible. For the most part, the album is just pretentious, and I just can’t deal with pretentious. It gets a big ol’ “meh” from me. D

You can make your own, informed decision and check it out for yourself. You can also check out more news at their site (where you can also listen to the album), Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter (Robin Pecknold deleted his personal account…guess Twitter’s too mainstream now).

“Sim Sala Bim”