The Influence: Falling Objects


RIYL: Bush, Jimmy Eat World, ’80s modern rock

On their current album, the Influence have produced a collection of emotional guitar-driven rock songs that may have a lot of people recalling the glory days of Gavin Rossdale and Bush. For geezers like myself, it’s hard not to hear elements of early ’80s modern rock in the music of this band from Virginia. The Influence create a certain groove in their music. Although it contains driving guitars and a big drum sounds, it also have a beat you can shake your ass to.

Listen to “Falling Objects,” “Bleed Out,” “Torn” and “Break” and you’ll find your head unconsciously bobbing to the beat with your eyes closed and images of a sweaty dance floor in your head. Isn’t that the signature of a great pop song – one that tugs the heartstrings but also gets you moving as well? Bowie knows this; so do Springsteen, Prince and Madonna. Not sure I’d place the Influence in the pantheon of those icons, but Falling Objects is one heck of a catchy album.

This record is not an explosion of emo angst, like so many of this band’s contemporaries. Instead, lead singer Matt Stephenson controls his voice to serve the music. He may wear his heart on his sleeve, but he doesn’t make each track bleed like it’s his last thought and prayer, either. This isn’t Dashboard Confessional.

That doesn’t mean these guys don’t bust out some crunchy guitars when it’s called for. “Slippin’” is a nasty metal-driven number with some excellent harmonies. Toss in a thoughtful acoustic number (“The Sleep”) and a couple of power ballads (“The Following” and “Anisoptera”) and you have what constitutes a really good pop/rock album. (Flying Eye 2010)

The Influence MySpace Page

Jimmy Eat World: Invented


RIYL: Anberlin, Get Up Kids, Sense Field

By now, most of you are probably already familiar with Jimmy Eat World’s back story. Arizona band gets major label deal, then gets dropped, then gets signed by another huge label, and finally enjoys commercial success. 2001’s Bleed American was packed to the ceiling with one sun-soaked hook after another, and each album that’s followed it has provided plenty more. After the dissonance of 2004’s Futures, Jimmy Eat World honed in on their pop sensibilities on 2007’s Chase This Light. Although the album didn’t deliver the kind of sales numbers it deserved, it still features some of vocalist Jim Adkins’ finest performances.

Invented, Jimmy Eat World’s seventh studio album, doesn’t divert too far from Chase This Light. If there’s one thing that immediately stands out, it would be the subtlety in some of the arrangements. Outside of a few cuts (“My Best Theory,” “Action Needs an Audience”), most of the material on Invented doesn’t try and hit you over the head with a flurry of power chords. This is a nuanced batch of songs, and producer Mark Trombino (Blink 182, Rocket from the Crypt) does a bang-up job of capturing all the small details. Whether it’s an acoustic guitar being strummed faintly in the background, or a track of harmony vocals, Trombino brings the listener into the room with the band. After a couple albums without him, it’s great to hear Jimmy Eat World back in a recording studio with the guy.

Sonic triumphs aside, Invented isn’t without its faults. Like much of Futures‘ second half, a few songs are dragged down by weaker vocal lines and a darker tone that doesn’t necessarily work well with some of the material. Jimmy Eat World are at their best when both their guitar riffs and vocal performances are soaked in melody. We’re not suggesting for every track to be an upbeat radio-ready number, but when the group surrenders too often to the somber side of their sound, things get less interesting. We’re not sure if Invented will be remembered as favorably as some of the older albums in their fantastic discography, but there certainly are enough fine moments on it to warrant your attention today. (DGC 2010)

Click here to read our interview with Jimmy Eat World lead singer Jim Adkins

Jimmy Eat World MySpace page

The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish


RIYL: Pulp, Coldplay, The Wonder Stuff

To call It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish a debut album is technically true, but a bit misleading. In truth, it’s a Franken-album, culling the best moments from the Hours’ first two, import-only albums, 2006′s Narcissus Road and 2009′s See the Light, plus one new track (two if you buy the deluxe edition). Still, debut* album or not, it’s a doozy, filled with sky-high chorus after sky-high chorus, gorgeous octave-jumping piano lines and one of the most optimistic lyric books you’ll find outside of Christian pop (or Howard Jones). On the opening track “Ali in the Jungle,” better known here as the soundtrack to Nike’s “Human Chain” ad, speaks of how “everybody gets knocked down / How quick are you gonna get up?” In “These Days,” singer Antony Genn (think Miles Hunt of the Wonder Stuff, with better pipes) advises us, “If there’s ever a time we need to come together, the time is now.” In “Icarus,” he opines that “If you don’t shoot, then you don’t score.” They’re not deep statements, but they resonate in conjunction with the music.

The_Hours_04

The band admittedly runs at two main speeds. There are the upbeat, chugging skyscrapers like “Big Black Hole,” “Narcissus Road” and “Ali in the Jungle,” and there are the showstopping ballads like “Back When You Were Good” (a very gutsy song title in a snarky world) and the splendid “Come On.” The big exception to this is the closer “See the Light,” a slow-building, two-chord track in the vein of Pulp’s “Common People.” It’s arguably the best song here, though a thousand lashes to the person who decided to edit it down from its original seven-minute glory. This is beautiful stuff across the board, but a quick note to Genn: the people most likely to buy your music probably have kids, so let’s cut back a bit on the ‘F’ bombs, shall we? It’s unbecoming. (Adeline 2010)

The Hours MySpace page

Someone Saved My Life Tonight: Albums that got us through some heavy shit

Men don’t like to talk about it, but there are times in our lives where things are less awesome than usual, and by that we mean that life is complete and utter shit. Being men, we’re not supposed to show when we’re down, but as the poet laureate Geena Davis once said (using her pen name Charlie Baltimore), life is pain. Sometimes it’s hard to hide when we’ve been wounded by the loss of a girl, or a job, or a family member. And since talking about our feelings is not the first choice for most men, many of us find solace in music, where someone else is doing the talking and all we have to do is listen. In private. Remember, that whole ‘not supposed to show when we’re down’ thing.

This summer, a golden opportunity presented itself to tell one of the musicians who gave us the proverbial pat on the back about what they had done for us. The man: Glenn Tilbrook, front man for UK pop giants Squeeze. The album: Play, the band’s 1991 debut (and swan song) for Reprise, a literate and moving collection of songs about love, loss, and hope. Tilbrook’s reaction to the news that he helped us through a rough spot: “Wow.” Apparently, someone else had told him the exact same thing about Play‘s magical healing powers. He thought it a weird coincidence that two people would have such a strong reaction to the album…

…which is complete nonsense, if you ask us. A quick survey on Facebook revealed that several people had the same emotional bond to Play that we had, at which point some other staffers revealed they had their own tales of woe, and the albums that saw them through it. Behold, the albums that, while they didn’t literally save our lives, at the very least got us through some heavy shit.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough! (1987)

On the day after Christmas in 1986, mid-way through my junior year of high school, my family moved from North Carolina to central Pennsylvania, beginning a period of upheaval and ill will between me and my parents and siblings that took several years to address and heal. Music was my refuge, the thing that kept me on an even keel when all I wanted to do was either put my fist through something hard, or slip down into the fetal position and cry. What I really needed was some flat-out rock and roll, performed by a band that could play bee-you-tiff-lee or durrrrty, depending on what was called for.

In April of the the following year, Tom Petty and his merry band put out Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), a record I connected with on levels both emotional and visceral. It had moments of sheer beauty (“Runaway Trains,” “It’ll All Work Out”), pure pop (“All Mixed Up,” “Ain’t Love Strange”), and rollicking good fun (“One of These Days,” “How Many More Days”). It also had, in the single “Jammin’ Me” and the title track, amped-up Stonesy rock that I would turn up loud in my bedroom, loud enough to piss off my family, enabling me, however briefly, to give my tormenters the auditory finger now and again.

It was a small modicum of revenge, but it meant a lot. The music also helped me feel that everything was going to be all right, which meant even more. -Rob Smith

To see more life-saving albums, click here.

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses: Junky Star


RIYL: The Black Crowes, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Bob Dylan

Many know Bingham only from “The Weary Kind,” his deep country Oscar-winning song from “Crazy Heart” that he wrote with producer T Bone Burnett. But Bingham’s sophomore effort, 2009′s Roadhouse Sun, was a critically acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll album, and rightly so. That album – as well as his excellent 2007 debut Mescalito – was produced by ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford. It was clear that Bingham and Ford shared a taste for mixing rock and country elements into some tasty Americana sounds. Both albums were a mix of high energy rock tracks with some low-key, yet compelling country/blues tunes.

It’s therefore puzzling to see Rolling Stone’s Mark Kemp taking Bingham to task for not being more like Billy Joe Shaver, and giving Junky Star just 2.5 stars. Kemp should be immediately relieved of album review duties, because Junky Star is one of 2010′s best. It features Burnett in the producer’s chair, bringing his patented old school blues production techniques, so the sound is fab but it’s not quite as rocking as the first two albums. But this is still Bingham’s show and the album includes some of his best rock songs yet. Is he seeking to tap further into the country crossover market? Perhaps. But anyone who’s caught the live headlining show from Bingham and his Dead Horses knows this is a rock ‘n’ roll band at its core.

Album opener “The Poet” draws the listener in with a laid back vibe, with Bingham’s soulful voice backed mainly by just acoustic guitar and harmonica. It’s one of the most unique voices in music today, like a genuine cowboy (Bingham spent time on the professional rodeo circuit before moving into music) but with the soul of a hippie. The band kicks in for “The Wandering,” and a great band it is. The Dead Horses aren’t just sidemen, but a tight unit with chemistry. The uplifting, mid-tempo number features Bingham at his heartfelt best. “Strange Feelin’ in the Air” has a big bluesy Western sound, featuring slide guitar and more of those gritty vocals.

The title track delves back into “Crazy Heart” territory, with a bluesy, country-ish tune about love lost and feeling down and out. It’s on the somber side, but those heartfelt lonely vocals about “stumbling on the whiskey from the bar” remain compelling. “Yesterday’s Blues” and “Lay My Head on the Rail” delve into similar stripped-down country blues flavor.

A top highlight is song of the year candidate “Depression,” a gorgeously layered zeitgeist rocker about keeping it together after losing one’s job amidst the nation’s economic woes. “Hallelujah” is a highlight too, starting with rich textures before building into a mid-tempo blues catharsis. “Direction of the Wind” is another great zeitgeist rocker, an upbeat bluesy romp with slide guitar and politically-edged vocals that recall classic Bob Dylan. “Hard Worn Trail” features bluesy acoustic picking that recalls Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” before giving way to more of a Western soundtrack vibe. Bingham’s voice takes on a haunting quality that brings the song to life. “All Choked Up Again” closes the album with a slow but shimmering Western tune about a gambling man.

The last third of the album could use one more rocker, but there’s no one on the scene who is blending rock with country and western blues flavors like Bingham & the Dead Horses. Bingham has become one of modern music’s most intriguing troubadors precisely because of how his gritty soulful voice personifies the growing intersection between rock and country. Junky Star fuses the genres beautifully. (Lost Highway 2010)

Ryan Bingham MySpace page

Skunk Anansie: Wonderlustre


RIYL: Sevendust, Guano Apes, Muse

During their original run through the ’90s, Skunk Anansie was the alt-rock equivalent of “Beauty and the Beast.” When they weren’t breaking your heart with fragile, sparse ballads like “Secretly” and “Follow Me Down,” they were breaking your legs with political punk rock thrashers like “Selling Jesus” and “On My Hotel T.V.”

After a decade-long hiatus, the group is back, and for the first time they seem to be combining their penchant for romantic/lovelorn ballads and fast-paced mosh-friendly hard rock. Wonderlustre is the group’s most mainstream record to date, full of mid-tempo rock made for the radio. But Skunk Anansie playing for the pop crowd is still Skunk Anansie, and lead singer Skin’s powerful vocals and intelligent lyrics add depth to songs like “Over The Love” and “You’re Too Expensive,” which would be a bit too pedestrian and by-the-numbers without her. Skin also proves that her monopoly on beautiful-but-depressing songs about how much love sucks remains intact with the gut-wrenching “I Will Stay But You Should Leave” and “Talk Too Much,” two incredibly powerful songs that should be barred from the iTunes libraries of the recently dumped (trust me).

The music behind the lyrics needs some work, but its nice to see Skunk Anansie back. Even if they’re not at top form, Wonderlustre leaves little doubt that they soon will be once again. (V2 Records 2010)

Skunk Anansie MySpace page

KT Tunstall: Tiger Suit


RIYL: Sheryl Crow, The Sundays, Stevie Nicks

KT Tunstall catapulted herself to overnight success in 2006 with her debut album, Eye to the Telescope, which spawned the hit single “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” Her 2007 follow-up, Drastic Fantastic, was just as good, if not better, than the debut, and now Tunstall is back with Tiger Suit. As usual, Tunstall’s songs are mostly upbeat hook-fests, albeit with slightly less magic than before. With Tiger Suit, she’s regressed a bit, because these are good tracks that are structured well and have solid melodies and arrangements – but something is lacking compared to Tunstall’s previous work, be it soul or depth or that slight bit of alternative grit that was present on both Telescope and Drastic.

Tiger Suit opens with “Uummannaq Song,” an odd title but the familiar mid-tempo singsong style that is most closely reminiscent of her earlier work. That rolls right into “Glamour Puss,” a song that is catchy beyond belief but somehow not exactly memorable. The best tracks on here are “Difficulty,” a song that lends itself to some quirky but effective production, and “Lost,” which is slower yet but arranged nicely. “Come on, Get In” is her label’s attempt at having Tunstall re-create “Cherry Tree,” and it’s kind of a lame one at that. Still, let’s face it – Tunstall’s mediocre is far better than most female singer/songwriters’ work these days. It’s just that her die hard fans may come away slightly disappointed this time, especially after a three-year wait. (Virgin 2010)

KT Tunstall website

Rush: Classic Albums, “2112″ and “Moving Pictures”

The Classic Albums series gives the fans two albums for the price of one in this two-hour set covering the band’s biggest albums, 1976′s 2112 and 1981′s Moving Pictures. The band is extremely candid about how 2112 was a life-or-death album for them, and how they refused to give in to label pressure to write a hit. They even bring the band’s longtime producer Terry Brown (he and the band parted ways after 1982′s Signals) to break down the tracks, and explain the origin of the eerie synthesizer line that opens the “Overture” section to “2112.” Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson are also on hand to sing the band’s praises.

If there is one downside to this one, it’s that they had so much ground to cover that they tend to focus solely on the hits. Side II of Moving Pictures is ignored completely, and the song “Tears” – first power ballad ever? – is only discussed as an aside in one of the interviews in the bonus features. The content they do provide is damn good, though. And with the way they edit the Peart interview segments, we can’t help but wonder just how much talking he did that didn’t wind up on the final cut. (Eagle Vision 2010)

Click to buy Classic Albums: 2112 and Moving Pictures from Amazon

David Bowie: Station to Station (Special/Deluxe Editions)


RIYL: David Bowie, cocaine

Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station is one of his many masterpieces. It also serves as proof that one can not only function, but excel, on nothing but cocaine, milk and hot peppers, which was Bowie’s alleged diet at the time. One suspects the recording sessions for Station to Station would be legendary if anyone could remember them. The classic rumor being that Bowie was so high during the time that the entire year is blacked out from his memory.

Even with all the craziness that surrounds the record, Station to Station has kind of fallen to the wayside since its original release, eclipsed by both the Berlin trilogy (Low, “Heroes” and The Lodger) and his magnum opus of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). However, now it’s getting another chance in the limelight with a new special edition to commemorate…well nothing, aside from how awesome it is.

The new remaster is excellent, and does not fall prey to the Loudness Wars. Every snare is crisp and bass line clear. And thank God, because all six tracks on Station to Station are undeniable classics. The surreal imagery of the title track and ode to a heroin nightmare that is “TVC15″; the genuine love/lust of “Stay” and darkly comic “love” of “Golden Years”; the heartfelt balladeering of “Wild Is the Wind” and “Word on a Wing.” It’s all classic, it all sounds great, and it’s all a must-have.

If you already own Station To Station and need more than a new transfer in order to be persuaded to make a repurchase, the special edition reissue also includes an entire live concert from the Nassau Colosseum in 1976. If Bowie really was doped out of his brain during the late ’70s, it didn’t seem to affect his ability to perform here. He’s on fire at this show, and is probably the second-best Bowie live recording next to the Live at Santa Monica ’72 album. It alone more than justifies the double-dip.

But if you really want to justify the double-dip (and have 150-some bucks to spend), then go nuts and get the deluxe edition. This thing is insane. Not only does it include the remastered edition of the album and the concert on both CD and vinyl, but it also includes an entirely different master of the album from 1985 (which, in all honestly, sounds pretty much identical to the new remaster) and another CD with the single edits of every song on the album, save “Wild Is The Wind.” There’s also another disc, a DVD this time, that features even more mixes of the album, some in surround sound. All that goodness is packed in an beautiful box that includes new linear notes by Cameron Crowe, extensive information about the album itself, reproduced press and fan club materials and much, much more. Pretty much the only thing it’s missing is a bag of blow. (EMI 2010)

David Bowie MySpace Page

The Doobie Brothers: World Gone Crazy


RIYL: Bob Seger, The Eagles, Boston

51R3XNkkyPL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1] News of World Gone Crazy‘s existence is likely to elicit one of three responses:

1. “The Doobie Brothers have a new one out? Who knew those dinosaurs were still around?”
2. “The Doobie Brothers have a new one out? Hope it doesn’t suck as much as their last couple of records!”
3. “Hell yeah! Good rockin’ tonight!”

Responses one and two might seem to make the most sense, but against all odds, it’s the third one that most accurately describes the Doobies’ 13th album (and first in a decade). After scoring a gold record and a Top 10 single with their 1989 reunion album, Cycles, they limped through the ’90s and aughts, releasing a pair of weak albums (1991′s Brotherhood and 2000′s Sibling Rivalry) and wheezing into the “heritage rock” tour circuit like a band whose best creative days were long past. But World Gone Crazy isn’t just another piece of swag to sell at the concession stand during their next tour – it’s actually a helluva rock record, and easily the Doobies’ best album since 1978′s Minute by Minute.

Is that damning with faint praise, considering the unevenness of what came after? Perhaps. But World Gone Crazy is still a quality album – good enough, in fact, to serve as a template for the band’s peers during their own sporadic forays into the studio. It’s a record rich with nods to the past, including the band’s reunion with Ted Templeman and their resurrection of “Nobody,” a long-discarded track re-recorded for these sessions – but this doesn’t sound like a band trying to get back to its past. Instead, the Doobies simply sound comfortable with their legacy and their place in today’s music industry. It makes a world of difference – unlike a lot of new albums from bands of the Doobies’ vintage, World Gone Crazy never tries too hard. The Doobie Brothers are who they are, and while they’re willing to acknowledge their past (right up to inviting ex-Doobie Michael McDonald in for a guest spot on one track), there’s nothing self-conscious about these performances. They may as well have been performing for themselves.

Of course, it helps that the album is stacked with good songs. This is meat-and-potatoes West Coast rock ‘n’ roll, so you shouldn’t go in expecting poetry, but within the context of a genre that hasn’t seemed to have a creative pulse for far too long, World Gone Crazy is surprisingly vibrant. “Nobody” sounds like it was unearthed from a time capsule, which is understandable, given its age – but what’s surprising is just how seamlessly it stands up against everything else on the album. Open a beer – American, of course – and turn this up as loud as the neighbors will allow. Then ask yourself why bands like the Doobie Brothers ever went out of fashion. (HOR 2010)

Doobie Brothers MySpace page

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