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 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
Posted in: Alternative, Artists, CD QuickTakes, CD Reviews, Melodramatic, Pop, Widescreen
Tags: Headlines, It's Not How You Start It's How You Finish CD review, See the Light, The Hours, The Hours CD review
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