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Gin Wigmore’s Holy Smoke reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On October - 23 - 2010

Gin Wigmore
Holy Smoke
Universal Music, 2009

By Sheryl Normandeau

New Zealand’s Gin Wigmore may be casually dismissed as yet another young, trendy female singer with an unusual voice and an album of retro-sounding tunes, but while she’s certainly not as crass and deliciously unstable as Amy Winehouse, she’s definitely not Duffy-esque lite. Showcasing a nasal rasp that ranges from cute to vaguely annoying, Gin Wigmore’s first full-length album, Holy Smoke, is clearly a manufactured throwback to decades before she was even born. Wigmore nonetheless manages to jump on the bandwagon with a gutsy amount of sincerity and spirit.

The opening track, “Oh My,” is a gigantic crowd-pleaser: a hand-clapping, harmonica-drenched blues-rock ditty in which Wigmore expresses utter astonishment at “being beaten in the game of love.” Continued pleas to a higher power for a new direction resolve nothing, but the result is pure sing-a-long fun, and a rollicking good start. Recent single “Hey Ho” follows, leading the listener into the smoke-filled rooms of some old jazz club while the sultry beat and heavy horns belie the singer’s sinister, threatening lyrics. It’s a carefully calculated, elaborately smooth production, and the usually whiskey-voiced Wigmore delivers her lines with a cold deliberation that isn’t found on the rest of the record.

The ponderous slow beats of “Golden Ship” and the ivory-tinkling intro to “New Revolution” truly unmask the wonder that is Wigmore’s voice. “Golden Ship,” in particular, is mostly stripped down to just the singer and a piano, exposing the utter strangeness of Wigmore’s vocals. Naked and unpolished, Wigmore’s voice is almost lazy in intervals, breaking down into near-speech as she tells her lover goodbye.

Wigmore takes a different tack in “Mr. Freakshow,” where she presses her voice into a hoarse shout above a dance-pop number reminiscent of Pink or Lily Allen (sadly, without the clever lyrics of the latter). A nonsensical chorus weak on actual words renders the tune either catchy or annoying, depending on the listener’s take, but a heavy bass line and a touch of circus organ at the end ensures a walloping party. Wigmore’s sloppy attempts at scatting continue on “One Last Look:” a fluffy pop number straight out of the 50s, complete with requisite “ooh ooh” background vocals (poodle skirts and lettered sweaters optional). It’s cutesy and boppy, and to her credit, Wigmore doesn’t once sound ironic or tired.

The current single “Too Late for Lovers” is Wigmore putting on Macy Gray, with smoky, cracked vocals over strings and acoustic guitar.  Expressing the heady emotional strain of a broken relationship that she is just “passing through,” Wigmore somehow manages to sound utterly convincing.

Indeed, this is the beauty of Gin Wigmore and Holy Smoke: no matter how manufactured or pandering the songs on the album may appear, the singer unfailingly gives it her all. Factor in her undeniably quirky, rich voice, and the combination is quite interesting.

Hawksley Workman’s Milk reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 16 - 2010

Hawksley Workman
Milk
Isadora Records, 2010

By Jake Shenker

Hawksley Workman’s newest album Milk, the euro-pop companion to January’s fiercely gritty Meat, is a polarizing record. While devotees of Workman’s less accessible (albeit genius) early work have dismissed his more recent forays into pop-rock – 2003’s Lover/Fighter and 2008s Los Manlicious, in particular – those who thrive on the songwriter’s mercurial nature have continued to support his flights of fancy, and relish in the surprising direction of each new release. Read the rest of this entry »

James’ The Night Before reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 8 - 2010

James
The Night Before
Mercury, 2010

By Sheryl Normandeau

These Manchester mainstays have been around since 1981, giving them plenty of time to molder on the shelf a little. That clearly hasn’t happened:  behold their latest project, a two-disc split called The Night Before, and its companion The Morning After, for later release. These are only mini discs, but there is no need to consider them as mere appetizers, when it is clear from the outset that the seven tracks on The Night Before can be relished as a very satisfying full meal. The feeling that the record is stand-alone and whole is even more astonishing considering the way the band recorded it: using a file transfer protocol site (FTP), each individual member added layer upon layer of music and ideas, sharing their vision virtually, while producer Lee “Muddy” Baker worked as sort of a web-savvy construction supervisor, putting it all together.

Read the rest of this entry »

Patrick Watson’s The Wooden Arms reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On January - 10 - 2010

Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms
The Wooden Arms

Secret City Records, 2009

By Sara Starkman

Patrick Watson and The Wooden Arms’ self titled album, The Wooden Arms, debuted in 2009. The Montreal based group consists of four highly skilled musicians who composed a collection of songs that can be described as none other than chilling. The overtone of the CD is ominous yet whimsical, and could, perhaps, make a great soundtrack for a Tim Burton movie. Listening to the album with my eyes closed feels much like Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole: fascinating yet arbitrary. At times I felt run off course: the tranquil sounds of harpsichord would often be sharply interrupted by abrupt, offbeat percussion. There is merit to this polarized tone: it steps outside of the box and causes you to rethink the journey you originally thought to have been on. Read the rest of this entry »

New Release Tuesday: September 8, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On September - 8 - 2009

Phish-Joy_bBy Jake Shenker

PhishJoy (JEMP Records)
With this summer’s inundation of 90s band comeback albums — some surprisingly excellent, many predictably forgettable — how could New England jam band Phish be left out of the equation? After a five-year hiatus – initially considered a full-fledged break-up — Phish have treated us to Joy, their newest studio album, along with a lengthy summer tour to promote it. While on first listen Joy sounds like a natural progression from where the band left off, subsequent hearings reveal the true nature of this 10-track opus: Joy is a review of Phish’s entire career, compressing their 25-year musical progression into one flawless set of songs. Album opener “Backwards Down the Number Line” takes a cue from 2000’s Farmhouse; “Kill Devil Falls” is reminiscent of Story of the Ghost’s “Birds of a Feather;” the latter half of “Light” plays like an updated “Bouncing Around the Room.” The unexpected focus of this relatively short disc is partly due to producer Steve Lillywhite, who ensured that Phish’s 5-year hiatus would not leave the band sounding scattered. With a perfectly apropos title, Joy is the product of an impeccably synchronized quartet at their best. Welcome back!

Beatles_Stereo_Box_SetThe Beatles’ Remastered Catalogue (EMI)
A refresh of the Beatles’ compact-disc catalogue has been on every fan’s wish list since it was initially released on lousy sounding CDs in 1987. An event several years in the making, September 9 will mark the release of The Beatles in Stereo and The Beatles in Mono, two box-sets containing the entire digitally-remastered catalogue in your desired format. If you’re any kind of fan, you’ve been following the avalanche of reviews hitting the web since June, so I’ll be brief: this release is good. Very good. Old favourites shine with astounding clarity, revealing detail that was lost in the previous format. Vocals sound crisp, bass and drums sharp, and layered instrumentation unambiguous. If you ever needed a reason to listen to more of the Beatles, this is it.

311’s Uplifter reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On September - 1 - 2009

Uplifter311
Uplifter
Volcano Entertainment, 2009

By Brian Last

When I think about the origins of bands that fuse rock, ska, rap, and punk, my mind immediately jumps to Southern California, the hotbed of that sound. But 311 hail from Omaha, Nebraska, and have become synonymous with this kind of musical fusion. This summer the fantastic foursome from the mid-west returned with their new album, Uplifter, whose sound holds true to its name.

311 took some time putting out this album, their first endeavor since 2005’s Don’t Tread on Me. Guitarist and lead singer Nick Hexum has expressed his satisfaction with Upliftter, comparing it to the band’s self-titled “Blue” album, which spawned hits like “Down” and “All Mixed Up”.

And 311 have a right to be proud. Uplifter brings the band back in touch with their founding sound: the rock/rap fusion that gained them notoriety and a legion of loyal fans. Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: August 25, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 25 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

It’s hard to believe, but they just keep coming back. This week brings us the absolutely unnecessary new release from Collective Soul. At this rate, I expect to see a Chumbawamba album drop in September.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Collective SoulCollective Soul (Roadrunner)
The new record from this 90s alt-rock band really does beg the question “why?” It’s really not bad, I guess — it sounds just like every other Collective Soul album. But two breezes through the entire disc left me with the same feeling I get after watching back-to-back cooking shows on the Food Network: what the hell have I been doing for the last 2 hours? Collective Soul has no standout tracks and no serious stinkers, no departures in style and no surprises. Fans will buy it (it’s selling for 10 bucks — clearly the record execs have high hopes); the rest of us will yawn and ask “who cares?”

Imogen HeapEllipse (RCA)
Ellipse is everything I want from a new Imogen Heap album: a full disc of staggering vocal harmonies, trippy synthesized beats, and damn fine songs. Beyond those superficial features, though, lies a flawlessly-conceived follow-up to Heap’s 2005 breakthrough album Speak For Yourself. Although songs like “First Train Home” would fit in well with Imogen Heap’s back catalogue, new gems like “Earth” and “Bad Body Double” establish the British singer’s uncanny ability to evolve.

MatisyahuLight (JDUB)
I’m over the shtick. Back when Youth came out, everyone was fixated on Matisyahu, the Hasidic Jew who rapped and sang reggae music about God and religion. Putting aside the persona, Youth was an impressive album with a chunk of memorable songs. But Matisyahu’s newest disc, Light, is a step in the wrong direction. Abandoning the minimalist reggae sound of Youth in favor of more polished in-da-club-style hip-hop production, songs like “Smash Lies” and “We Will Walk” are neither fresh nor catchy, and border on irritating. Matisyahu’s once endearing faux-Jamaican singing accent has been replaced with high-pitched rapping and monotone speech. Although standout tracks like “So Hi So Low” and “I Will Be Light” echo the favorable sound of Youth, Matisyahu’s own lyrics articulate the main problem with this disc: “I’ll say to you / this is nothing new.”

It’s hard to believe, but they just keep coming back. This week brings us the absolutely unnecessary new release from Collective Soul. At this rate, I expect to see a Chumbawamba album drop in September.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Collective SoulCollective Soul (Roadrunner)
The new record from this 90s alt-rock band really does beg the question “why?” It’s really not bad, I guess – it sounds just like every other Collective Soul album. But two breezes through the entire disc left me with the same feeling I get after watching back-to-back cooking shows on the Food network: what the hell have I been doing for the last 2 hours? Collective Soul has no standout tracks and no serious stinkers, no departures in style and no surprises. Fans will buy it (it’s selling for 10 bucks – clearly the record execs have high hopes), the rest of us will yawn and ask “who cares?”

Imogen HeapEllipse (RCA)
Ellipse is everything I want from a new Imogen Heap album: a full disc of staggering vocal harmonies, trippy synthesized beats, and damn fine songs. Beyond those superficial features, though, lies a flawlessly-conceived follow-up to Heap’s 2005 breakthrough album Speak For Yourself. Although songs like “First Train Home” would fit in well with Imogen Heap’s back catalogue, new gems like “Earth” and “Bad Body Double” establish the British singer’s uncanny ability to evolve.

MatisyahuLight (JDUB)
I’m over the shtick. Back when Youth came out, everyone was fixated on Matisyahu, the Hasidic Jew who rapped and sang reggae music about God and religion. Putting aside the persona, Youth was an impressive album with a chunk of memorable songs. But Matisyahu’s newest disc, Light, is a step in the wrong direction. Abandoning the minimalist reggae sound of Youth in favor of more polished in-da-club-style hip-hop production, songs like “Smash Lies” and “We Will Walk” are neither fresh nor catchy, and border on irritating. Matisyahu’s once endearing faux-Jamaican singing accent has been replaced with high-pitched rapping and monotone speech. Although standout tracks like “So Hi So Low” and “I Will Be Light” echo the favorable sound of Youth, Matisyahu’s own lyrics articulate the main problem with this disc: “I’ll say to you / this is nothing new.”

New Music Tuesdays: August 18, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 17 - 2009

thirdeyeblindursamajorBy Jake Shenker

This is definitely the summer of ’90s alt-rock comeback records, and here’s yet another new release I didn’t expect to see. This week’s Big Shiny Tunes-style nostalgia is coupled with piano-rock guru Christopher O’Riley, who has thankfully included some ’90s rock on his record and given me this beautiful tie-in. Enjoy.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Third Eye BlindUrsa Major (Sony RED)
It’s impossible to approach the first new album in six years from an arguably one-hit-wonder band without bias, so let me be the first to say it: Third Eye Blind’s new album surprised the shit out of me. I always dug the singles that ruled the airwaves in the ’90s, but I can’t say I ever Read the rest of this entry »

Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night Reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 12 - 2009

maxwell-blacksummers-nightMaxwell
BLACKsummers’night
Columbia Records, 2009

By Sara Starkman

Perhaps I shouldn’t have had a certain expectation before hearing soul singer Maxwell’s newest album, BLACKsummers’night, but it seems to come with the territory of an artist’s first new album in EIGHT YEARS. So I got into my car and cranked the stereo, hoping for Maxwell’s sexy voice and urban beats to surge through my speakers and trickle into my bloodstream, forcing my heart to pump just a little bit faster.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Although the album is definitely one I’ll reserve for the lovemaking shelf, it didn’t encompass the necessary spark or pizazz for an album intent on Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: August 11, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 10 - 2009

FLCR019By Jake Shenker

How is it possible that summer is two-thirds over and I haven’t been to the beach yet?

On a related note, here’s what’s new this week:

Black MoldSnow Blindness is Crystal Antz (Flemish Eye)
This record is what I would imagine music would sound like if I took dangerous amounts of hallucinogenic drugs. Black Mold is the new alter ego of Calgary-based singer/songwriter Chad VanGaalen, and his debut album is, in a word, trippy. Loaded with electronic soundscapes, Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz can at times be overwhelming: “Tetra Pack Heads,” for example, features a convoluted and disorienting percussive groove, punctuated by sweeping electronic pulses and African-inspired marimba melodies. But elsewhere, VanGaalen’s unique electronic cobbling succeeds in producing engrossing grooves and Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: August 4, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 3 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

Honestly, I’m sorry. Summer months are surprisingly busy, and though the new releases are less plentiful, they still pile up. Here’s a short selection of this week’s best, and a promise from me to keep bringing you new release reviews every week.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Bygonesby- (Sargent House)
Frankly, this album scares the crap out of me. Bygones — comprised of singer/guitarist/bassist Nick Reinhart and singer/drummer Zach Hill — have created an incredibly weird disc that escapes absolutely every musical category in existence. Tracks like “Cold Reading” and “Fool Evolved” are like a less heavy, more confusing grindcore, while “Click on That (Smash the Plastic Death)” bears a palpable resemblance to some of Frank Zappa’s heavier work. I haven’t yet formed an opinion about by- because, well, I don’t understand what I just heard. There are definitely some great performances on this album, but Bygones’ disordered style of songwriting definitely takes time to digest.

Tides of ManEmpire Theory (Rise Records)
There’s a nice musical alchemy going on with Tides of Man. Sure, they give off an emo-rock vibe — I cringed at the predictably dirty opening of “Not My Love” — but something in their sound is worlds above your average pop-rock act. Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: June 30, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 30 - 2009

mondo1By Jake Shenker

I generally like to review three or four new releases, but after listening to Rob Thomas’ new album, I had to destroy my stereo system.

WilcoWilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)
Really, is there such a thing as a bad Wilco album? Depending on your preference, sure there is, but I can’t imagine a music fan who won’t appreciate Wilco’s newest effort. Wilco (The Album) is a carefully crafted, painstakingly well-written record that shines within an already impressive body of work. These guys have always written great songs, but these eleven tunes are, without exaggeration, the best they’ve ever put forth. Add to that the impressive, glossy-yet-organic production (think In Rainbows) and the surprising (and welcome) addition of singer Feist on “You and I” and I wouldn’t hesitate to call Wilco (The Album) one of the best new records of the year. Seriously. Read the rest of this entry »

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