Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Strokes, The Oh Hello's

The Strokes
New Release: Comedown Machine
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Record Label: RCA Records
Sounds Like: Metric (NMT), Passion Pit (NMT)
Location: New York, N.Y.

The Strokes are commonly perceived as the leading edge of the garage band revival of the early-to-mid 2000s, their 2001 breakout single "Last Night" serving much the same role to the sub-genre as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" did for grunge a decade earlier. Other acts with short names preceded by The – The Hives, The Vines, The Shins, and to a lesser extent, The White Stripes – are often lumped together, although the genre's overall impact didn't last much longer than a few years in the pop music realm. Adding to the lower profile was The Strokes' own lackluster followups after This Is It – which spawned "Last Night" – and an extensive hiatus from 2007 thru 2011, creating a vacuum for mainstream, accessible rock that was ultimately filled by groups like The Kings of Leon and The Black Keys (NMT). Today, The Strokes return with their fifth full-length effort – Comedown Machine – whose very title seems to suggest the band's freedom borne by lesser anticipation. As a result, the collection offers a much looser vibe and greater playfullness than found on much of the quintet's previous catalog. (Check out all the tracks streaming here; individual links added after release)

Come for: "All The Time" (arena rock spectacular; beefy hooks from guitarists Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi and hearty chorus refrain from frontman Julian Casablancas)
Stay for: "Tap Out" (opener is bouncy and fun, with fantastic bass lines from Nikolai Fraiture and disco-ish beats from Fabrizio Moretti)
You'll be surprised by: "One Way Trigger" (synth-heavy, but sufficiently lighthearted; Casablancas' falsetto is spot-on and a nod to synth rock vocalists like Passion Pit's Michalel Angelakos; keyboard highlights from Hammond are well-executed; might be a tad long at 4:03, though)
Solid efforts: "Welcome to Japan" (although I don't typically associate funky numbers with Japanese culture, this one seems to hit the right note of international intrigue); "50/50" (briskly paced and Casablancas' distorted vocals that defined the band's early career are a welcome return); "Partners in Crime" (cracking percussion from Moretti defines this number, one that's fairly close to the heart of the group's signature sound; warbling keyboards in the chorus background are enjoyable); "Happy Ending" (there's a bunch of studio gimmicks here, but they're orchestrated nicely on the bones of an already solid song structure); "Call It Fate, Call It Kharma" (don't read much into this description, but the combination of the hazy organ and Casablancas' surreal vocals yields cursory glances of The Doors) 
Meh: "Slow Animals" (I'm mixed on this one: the chorus is bright and has a nice kick of power, and there's some very nimble guitar work from Hammond and Valensi in the verses, but the verses themselves don't hold your interest very well); "Chances" (its alright, but the drum samples are distracting for a band that doesn't do ballads all that well to begin with)
Skip to next track: "80s Comedown Machine" (too slow, moody and repetitive for this band; Casablancas is fairly monotone much of nearly six-minute track)

The Oh Hellos
New Release: Through The Deep, Dark Valley
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Record Label: self-produced
Sounds Like: The Last Bison (NMT), Hey Marseilles (NMT), The Head and The Heart (NMT), Southeast Engine (NMT, NMT)
Location: San Marcos, Texas

Add another entry to the indie-folk parade that shows no signs of slowing down. Readers need look no further than the cascade of reviews in this space over the last year or so of the proliferation of the genre. Here, brother and sister tandem of Tyler and Maggie Heath present a conceptually liberal concept record containing connective themes and tempo, but not a liner plot line or recurring characters. Like most other indie folk troupes, the siblings are joined by a crew of guest musicians contributing instruments such as banjos, accordions, violas and cellos. The result – like that of The Last Bison in our previous profile – that stresses consistency over spectacle across 11 well-composed tracks.

Come for: "The Valley" (thundering drums and gang vocals are no shy introduction)
Stay for: "Second Child, Restless Child" (fieverishly paced and fantastically urgent; Maggie Heath sets the standard for the record here; recalls the raucous energy of the Great Big Sea (NMT)/Russell Crowe collaboration "Hit the Ground and Run")
You'll be surprised by: "The Lament of Eustace Scrubb" (while the intro starts off incredibly drab, after the :50 mark, it gradually builds speed to a full-on Celtic reel)
Solid efforts: "Like the Dawn" (Maggie Heath displays a wholesome mix of blues and country vocals in taking the lead here, similar to the style of The Head and The Heart's secondary vocalist Charity Rose Thielen; nice alt-country flavor between the gentle acoustic guitars and fiddle from Matthew Hagerman); "Eat You Alive" (this Tyler Heath-fronted number resides somewhere between the hardscrabble tales of Southeast Engine's Adam Remnant and the full-throated, foot-stompers of agesandages (NMT) and The Head and The Heart); "Wishing Well" (Maggie returns to the restlessness theme that leads to a deal with the devil; the slower-paced ballad is a welcome change of gears, although it does pick up intensity over its closing third); "In Memoriam" (a love-amongst-poverty ode bereft of odiousness); "I Was Wrong" (the closest thing to a rock number here; find a spot for it on a playlist between Oh, No! Oh, My!'s (NMT) "You Were Right" and Onward, Soldiers' (NMT) "Cinder Blocks"); "The Truth Is a Cave" (another stomp-and-sing-along with some punchy percussion and jangly guitars); "Valley (Reprise)" (wraps up the collection back where it began)
Meh: "I Have Made Mistakes" (this one from Tyler doesn't quite have the same punch as the rest of the record, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it, and its quite lovely at points)      

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