Buckingham rules! (And the rest of Fleetwood Mac are pretty good, too.)

If you’re a fan of Fleetwood Mac, then you no doubt got more than a little bit giddy at the tail end of 2008 when the band – still holding strong with the fab foursome of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie – announced that they’d be touring in 2009. Word on the street is that things have been going swimmingly thus far, and the tour will continue to roll on into June; you can check out the current dates rather easily, as they’re right on the homepage of FleetwoodMac.com.

In the meantime, however, if you’re on the fence about whether to go see them or not, take a gander at this clip of Lindsey Buckingham – recorded during a solo performance at Bass Performance Hall, which is available as a CD/DVD combo – as he takes “Big Love” and either makes you wish you could play guitar or makes you never want to pick one up again because you’ll never, ever be able to play it as well as he can.

Manchester Orchestra: Back With A Vengeance

Manchester Orchestra

April 21 marked the release of the second LP from Atlanta, Georgia rockers Manchester Orchestra. After four previous releases, Mean Everything to Nothing is a breath of fresh indie-rock air thanks much in part to producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket).
In place of their usual brand of mellow indie-pop, Manchester Orchestra has compiled a cohesive collection of tunes that echo the likes of Nirvana and Weezer. There’s a new grunge twist on Nothing unlike any of the band’s previous releases. It’s the perfect addition to the Manchester Orchestra catalog, and has the potential to be the band’s most commercial success. The Boston Globe talked about the album’s strong points saying,

“[Mean Everything to Nothing] is like a sonic form of whiplash: lullaby-like intros progress into fist-pumping choruses, pensive piano arrangements are followed by gritty guitar riffs, and front man Andy Hull’s vocals shift from folksy Conor Oberst-like warbling on power ballads (“I Can Feel a Hot One”) to breathless emo-wailing on anthems like “I’ve Got Friends.”

There’s really nothing to criticize about Nothing. The substance is there, more so even than the majority of Top 40 releases dominating the radio. The growth that’s evident on Nothing successfully bridges the gap between Manchester Orchestra’s early years, and the bright future they are sure to have thanks to the transformation. Bottom line, Mean Everything to Nothing is what indie-rock should sound like today so have a listen. You can even preview tracks on Manchester Orchestra’s MySpace here.

Silversun Pickups, Swoon

Silversun Pickups, Swoon

From Los Angeles rockers, Silversun Pickups comes Swoon, a purely alternative follow-up to their 2006 release Carnavas. This record runs long, most songs reaching past the four-minute mark, and although most critics agree that it’s a decent sophomore effort, they also agree a certain intensity is unfortunately absent from the record.

Without giving too much away, Rolling Stone wrote, “[this] band still has some growing to do, but it knows how to have fun with fuzz and where to find the beauty in noise.” I would argue that growth is a given, especially for a young band in today’s industry; without forward movement even the best of them fade into the background. With Swoon, however, the evolution is audible.

Silversun Pickups’ first record was constructed around a mellower, almost overly emotional sound that has been roughed up and built upon on Swoon. Although the Smashing Pumpkins influences are still quite audible, the added edge of Swoon alone proves this band is anything but a one-trick-pony. The LA Times elaborated on Silversun Pickups evolution saying Swoon, “chose not to go bigger but deeper…[and] the band keeps careful control over its humming, hissing distortion effects.” The Times goes on to compare the Silversun Pickups to Fleetwod Mac guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham, saying Swoon,

“suggests a more apropos reference in late-’70s Lindsey Buckingham…challenging fans with subversive new rhythms and ideas with the otherwise comfortable pop package…the Silversun Pickups just do it louder.”

The originality is there, separating Silversun Pickups from the barrage of wanna-be rock bands that just can’t get it together. Swoon is fun, and easy to listen to, and that’s more than can be said about half the music on the charts right now. SputnikMusic.com wrote, “what makes Swoon such an enjoyable album to listen to is its youthful exuberance. Though Silversun Pickups tackle the ‘difficult second album’ in a relatively serious manner, Swoon’s prevailing mood is nonchalant and confident.”

The overall feel of Swoon is definitely confident, but Blender.com makes another observation, writing, “SSPU salute misery as a kind of ideal, the opposite of love, but just as beautiful.” The heavier emotions that come through on Swoon are present in the opener, “There’s No Secrets This Year” and subsequent tracks such as “Draining” and the brooding “Catch and Release.” And while singer Brian Aubert’s delicate tenor is a bit out of place next to layers of guitars, the Silversun Pickups manage to make it work more often than not.

Not everyone is keen on Swoon, however. Spin.com called the record, “a trip best made with headphones”—a comment that could be taken either way—and Pitchfork.com wrote,

Swoon ultimately delivers the exact same results as its predecessor mostly because it’s written in nearly the exact same way. The problem all along for the Silversun Pickups isn’t that they sound too much like the Smashing Pumpkins. They just sound way too much like themselves”

While I would argue that Swoon displays just enough growth to differentiate it from previous releases, SlantMagazine.com trashed the record writing, “the Pickups have released an album with only two or three tracks to justify its existence” and goes on to write, “

“Brian Aubert’s unaccomplished vocals are another liability. His androgynous tenor sounds consistently strained, and though he clearly wants to write anthems, he lacks the range to deliver a compelling hook.”

SlantMagazine.com goes on to write,

“even [Swoon’s] best tracks tempt one’s finger toward the skip button, and the truly aimless fair that makes up the majority of the record will try the patience of even those listeners sympathetic to the band’s sound.”

Fortunately the bashing stops there. Silversun Pickups may not be on the top of everyone’s Top 10 list, but the fact of the matter is that, with Swoon, the band has created a worthwhile follow-up to their 2006 debut. Critics may not be able to see past Aubert’s softer tenor, or the layers of embellishments of Swoon, but the substance is there. Swoon is a thoughtful compilation of alternative rock tracks with an indie-edge that has Silversun Pickups written all over it. It’s the perfect sophomore record for a young band from Los Angeles, CA and only time will tell how far it will take them.

For more information on the Silversun Pickups check out the bands website, MySpace, or Facebook. And don’t miss the Silversun Pickups coming soon to a city near you!

Seen Your Video: Green Day, “Know Your Enemy”

We proles can’t possibly fathom the kind of pressure that Green Day must have felt when they were putting the finishing touches on 21st Century Breakdown, their first album since the multi-platinum – and game-changing – American Idiot. Perhaps that is why they played around with side projects like the Foxboro Hot Tubs (which was a damn good record, by the way), because it enabled them to get their yeah yeahs out without having to worry about commercial expectations.

Ah, but they could only put the world on hold for so long, and at last, they give us “Know Your Enemy,” the debut single from Breakdown. Does it raise the stakes of American Idiot? No, but that appears to be the point. There was no sense in even trying, so instead, they deliver something more akin to their “unplugged” album Warning, which is one of my favorites of theirs. Big choruses, hand clap-ready snare drums, and a no-nonsense performance video to promote it. It’s as if they’re asking us to forget that American Idiot ever happened, and while that makes sense, it’s just not gonna happen. Still, this definitely has me excited to hear the rest of the album. Only a couple more weeks…

Pilot Speed: Wooden Bones

Imagine Semisonic’s Dan Wilson fronting U2 at its most earnest, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Wooden Bones, the Wind-Up debut from Canada’s Pilot Speed, sounds like. Stacked with widescreen atmospherics and pleasantly bombastic arrangements – not to mention lines like “It’s time to rise up from your knees” and “Today I feel sure it’s them or me” – it’s the musical equivalent of a movie montage that ends with the main character standing on top of a mountain at sunset, arms outstretched toward the heavens. The overall effect is not at all unpleasant, nor as painfully self-important as you might expect from a band formerly named Pilate; in fact, if it weren’t for a couple of songs that drain the record’s momentum, Bones would be a must-hear album for anyone who misses the days when everyone from Simple Minds to the BoDeans was using the Joshua Tree formula. Still, even if it doesn’t quite succeed as a whole, this album offers a decent assortment of tracks worth plucking off Amazon’s mp3 store, particularly “Today I Feel Sure,” which makes good use of its martial drumbeat and siren-like guitars, and “Ain’t No Life,” which melds hooks with bombast as successfully as anything in the post-grunge era. “Our focus is feeling,” croons lead singer Todd Clark in “Where Does it Begin?” – and although his band could use more consistent material, it’s that focus that may just pull them through. (Wind-Up 2009)

Pilot Speed MySpace page

Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers: Songs in the Night

Sparked by critical kudos and two sensuous sets of songs, Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain has already carved out an impressive and well-deserved reputation, despite the fact she’s a mere 22 years of age. This beguiling follow-up, dreamily titled Songs in the Night, follows only a few months after her critically lauded debut, the Confiscation EP, but it represents a forward progress that’s all the more remarkable for the relatively rapid speed of its arrival. Unlike others her age, Crain leans away from a more insurgent stance, maintaining instead a decidedly lowered gaze. Yet, while she opts for unembellished arrangements, the delivery doesn’t belie her enthusiasm; the ebullient surge of songs like “Rising Sun,” “Long Division,” “Songs in the Night” and “Bullfight (Change your Mind)” makes her back country balladry all the more endearing. Don’t mistake Crain for some freewheeling folkie, however. There’s a sense of urgency infused in “Devils in Boston,” while the forlorn sprawl of “The Dam Song” and the skewered theatrics that drive “Bananafish Revolution” show her savvy. Songs in the Night may suggest the sound of nocturnal rumination, but in truth, it’s as bright and promising as daybreak over the horizon.

Samantha Crain MySpace page

Paleface: The Show Is on the Road

Following A Different Story, last year’s self-released comeback after an extended absence, The Show Is on the Road represents Paleface’s continued progress on the road to recovery. Once one of the prime movers in New York’s fabled Anti-folk scene, his journey hasn’t been easy; a decade ago, he collapsed and nearly died after being stricken by an onslaught of alcohol abuse, pneumonia and hepatitis. Those problems now well behind him, he opts for a rambling, ramshackle approach that’s both unhinged and unembellished, eschewing more sophisticated arrangements for a low-key, down home sound. The title track starts things off on a note of upbeat optimism, and as the album saunters on, songs such as “Try to Hold Your Own,” “Holy Holy” and “Pondering the Night Sky” maintain that jaunty lilt established early on. Yet, despite the nonchalant atmosphere and the DIY aesthetic, nods to the past are inevitable. “New York, New York” bids a wistful farewell to Manhattan, where he once resided before heading to a new life in North Carolina, while “Raise the Glass” offers salutations to past excess. No matter though; with the show on the road, Paleface procures a rollicking return.

Paleface website

Pat McGee: These Days (The Virginia Sessions)

Pat McGee has dropped the “Band” from his name and is going it alone, so to speak, in his solo debut and first effort for Rock Ridge Music, These Days (The Virginia Sessions). There is something breezy and easy to enjoy about McGee’s songs – they are delivered in a way reminiscent of ‘70s pop (think Jackson Browne) or akin to in more modern terms, Train or the Fray. McGee has a good, if not spectacular, voice; but as it’s always been, his songs are the driving force of his career, and he’s brought us another batch of good ones here. One of the only negative things you can say about Pat McGee is that much of the material, in melody, tone and arrangement, sounds very similar. But occasionally he steps things up, as he does on These Days with the stunning “Come Back Home,” a track originally written when McGee’s longtime drummer, John C. Williams, left the band, with the sentiment being how a military couple deals with separation during times of war. Sadly and somewhat symbolically, Williams’ younger brother lost his life in Iraq after McGee wrote the song last year. The Tonic-esque “The Hand That Holds You” is also a standout track. (Rock Ridge Music)

Pat McGee MySpace Page

This World Fair: This World Fair

It appears the next incarnation of Aware Records is here, in the form of Los Angeles-based Ping Pong Music. Ping Pong manages Epic Records’ Augustana, and they are bringing us the next wave of very talented baby bands such as This World Fair, the London, and Windsor Drive. The formula of Ping Pong’s bands is similar to Aware, which launched the careers of artists like Train, Vertical Horizon and John Mayer. And that formula is almost a no-brainer – finding talented acts with hooky, melodic songs – but it’s in stark contrast to today’s hipster-driven music industry that mostly relies on gimmicks and fabricated street cred meters. Still, there is always a demand for great bands like This World Fair, and their debut album is an absolute sonic gift to those who dig the likes of Augustana, Better Than Ezra or Keane. Chris Kalgren fronts the band with a smooth tenor that effectively delivers a balance of driving rockers such as “Can’t Stop Falling” and “Drama,” or dreamy tracks like “This is All.” But among ten tracks that are quite frankly straight A’s, This World Fair scores an A+ with the pulsing, stunning piano-driven “Seven Letters.” Despite where the music industry is headed, there is no good reason why This World Fair shouldn’t be as successful as the rest of the world will allow them to be. (Ping Pong Music)

This World Fair MySpace Page

Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After DVD 1

Better than the 2003 collection that bears his name, this michelgondry.com-exclusive set of music videos is simply staggering. The beauty of Gondry’s work is that his methods are surprisingly low-tech (Beck’s “Cellphone’s Dead” being this set’s exception). He uses reflective glass to create the ghosts that haunt Paul McCartney’s house in “Dance Tonight,” and Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man” is a brilliant stop-motion clip, using both real people and their string equivalents. Gondry assembles a couple of clever yet completely unique one-take videos with Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” and the White Stripes’ “The Denial Twist,” and his videos from the pre-CGI early ’90s, namely Thomas Dolby’s “Close but No Cigar” and Sananda Maitreya’s “She Kissed Me” (otherwise known as Terence Trend D’Arby to your older brothers and sisters), look as good as any video made today. The set comes with a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage, a couple films featuring Gondry solving a Rubik’s Cube with various parts of his body (feet and nose, to be precise), and they also added the parody of Gondry’s video of the White Stripes’ “The Hardest Button to Button” that appeared on a 2006 episode of “The Simpsons.” Genius stuff, across the board. If only he could replicate this consistency in the feature film arena.(ElektroFilm)

Click here to buy “Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After DVD 1

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