Miggs: Wide Awake


RIYL: Butch Walker, Matthew Good, Bon Jovi

Apparently Don Miggs has been making music and touring for several years, but as the bio for Miggs’ eponymous trio proclaims, they may be one of the “best bands you’ve never heard of.”  That’s a blessing and a curse, yet in today’s indie music scene, maybe more of a blessing if you can be heard.  Indie rock/pop label Rock Ridge was impressed enough with Miggs’ accessible, hard-edged alternative pop.  Miggs’ latest, Wide Awake, is 12 songs that ride as a roller coaster might – from addictive anthems like “Let the Games Begin” and the title track to Butch Walker-esque ditties like “Fire” and “Sincerity,” to balls-out rockers such as “Enemy,” with a positively stunning keyboard-driven ballad, “Crawl Inside,” to close out the set.  Miggs the vocalist sounds at various times like Jon Bon Jovi, Walker and Canadian rocker Matthew Good, and those are all guys with pipes.  Add in the production expertise of Ken Lewis (Fall Out Boy, Kanye West) and the rough edges of the band are captured on this release, yet effectively smoothed out as well. Intrigued?  You should be, because this is easily one of the best albums of 2010 that you….wait for it…..have not heard yet.  So do yourself a favor and go hear these guys.  (Rock Ridge 2010)

Miggs’ website: www.miggsmusic.com

  

My Chemical Romance: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys


RIYL: Queen, Cheap Trick, Oasis

My Chemical Romance have balls of steel. They shed their pissed-off jilted lover skin in favor of a full-blown rock opera (2006’s The Black Parade), even though they could have made millions mining teen angst for the next ten years. Then, perhaps to diffuse any overblown build-up over their new album, they release a breakneck rave-up as the first single, and gave it the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ title of “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na).” It’s a genius move, really – sneak in the back door, despite being one of the biggest bands on the planet. It makes them look like they’re still hungry, and God knows the pop world (and the world in general) could use a little humility.

The problem is, it may have worked a little too well. With Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys just now hitting shelves and e-servers, “Na Na Na” has already peaked at a slightly disappointing #10, and the label has moved on to the second single. Flash back to 2006, when “The Black Parade” dominated radio for months. You have to think that the label is a little nervous at this point, though they shouldn’t be: Danger Days is a powerhouse of an album, positively stuffed with potential singles and shows the band once again exploring new territory, both sonically (keyboards!) and musically.

The band has cooked up another gonzo concept for the album – a group of desert renegades fighting a massive company in 2019, accordingly to Wikipedia – but it doesn’t weigh down the individual songs. “Sing” is a reach-for-the-rafters singalong, while “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” out-Oasis’ Oasis. “Party Poison” is another power pop-ish rocker, and “Summertime” is downright tender, if bleak. The band’s reach had been a bit farther than its grasp in the past, but the songwriting steps up in a big way here.

It would have been easy for My Chemical Romance to shy away from the epic scale of The Black Parade and opt for a minimalist approach to the follow-up, so it is to their credit that they not only went for it on Danger Days, but pulled it off. For all the bashing that the major labels take these days, it’s nice to see one of them take off the reins and let their horses run free. (Reprise 2010)

My Chemical Romance MySpace page
Click to buy Danger Days from Amazon

  

The Macrodots: The Other Side


RIYL: Tears for Fears, Scandal, Matthew Sweet

When was the last time you heard a really good power pop record? When the last time recorded music compulsively dictated your feet to tap from the beginning of track one to the end of the last song? When was the last time you heard a disk that sounded fun, nearly flawless and still had enough of a left hook to knock you out? Boys and girls, that record has arrived and it is the brainchild of two music vets who absolutely and unapologetically have made a tremendous pop record.

Zack Smith is the founder of Scandal, which launched several tracks into the collective consciousness of the ’80s, including “Goodbye to You,” “Love’s Got a Line on You” and “The Warrior.” Cathy Richardson has released five studio discs, including the masterpieces Road To Bliss (2003), Delusions of Grandeur (2006) and Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty (2008) as part of Jefferson Starship. The collaboration here is nothing short of magically delicious (well, it may not be Lucky Charms but it is one hell of a record). Vocally, Richardson has always shifted in and out of styles gracefully with tremendous command and presence. The Other Side features her staying in the power pop realm from beginning to end. This is demanding material and she is up for the challenge. This statement is one that is difficult to make considering her tremendous reputation, but it needs to be said; this is her best vocal performance to date.

“Beautiful Girl” mixes two parts Beach Boys with two parts late-period Beatles with just a splash of Tears for Fears to create a powerful ambiance and a brilliant canvass for Richardson to blast out the dreamy lyrics. Much like the rest of the record, Smith and Richardson create arrangements that are devoured by the ear. “Everything” begins with a dreamy effects laced introduction before building into an arena-sized chorus and features some very clever guitar work. It is such a perfectly crafted song that it begs to be placed on permanent repeat status. The power ballad “If I Could” caresses your heart and kicks you in the gut at the same time. Studio vets Michael Lockwood and Jude Gold, along with Smith and Richardson, create enough guitar crunch to give the record the kick that provide the perfect complement to Richardson’s monstrous vocal talent. I am hoping that this is not a onetime project. This is a record that begs for a sequel. (Cash Rich 2010)

The Macrodots Website

  

Bleu: Four


RIYL: Jellyfish, Dan Wilson, Mike Viola

For a man as talented as Bleu (William James McAuley III to his mother) is, his solo albums were downright exasperating to listen to. For every sky-high pop classic like “Get Up” or “We’ll Do It All Again,” there were three songs that sounded like they were written to be a hit at that very moment, all post-nu metal ballad-y bluster (think Staind’s “It’s Been Awhile”) and no soul. His label refused to even release his second major album A Watched Pot, and once it finally dropped last year, we could see why – the damn thing was stuffed to the gills with more of those silly ballads. Between the songs mentioned above and Bleu’s efforts as ringleader of Alpacas Orgling, the Jeff Lynne tribute album from one-off indie pop supergroup L.E.O., it’s clear Bleu knows how to turn things up a notch. So why hasn’t he?

Amazing what a little creative freedom and a bunch of Kickstarter cash will do (dude raised over $30K in fan contributions), because Four, Bleu’s latest album and the first to be released on his own label, is decidedly more upbeat than its predecessors. Nothing here matches the dizzy heights of “Get Up” or “We’ll Do It All Again,” but it’s the most consistent and versatile album he’s released to date.

Four also has its share of ballads, but they feel less forced than the ones that clogged his previous two albums. He still can’t help his profane ways, though, taking a lovely Smokey Robinson-ish groove and calling it “When the Shit Hits the Fan.” (Note to aspiring songwriters everywhere: do not ever sing about whether or not someone’s shit does or doesn’t stink. Ever.) “How Blue,” however, could pass for a lost L.E.O. B-side, and “Everything Is Fine” is absulutely gorgeous, a pastoral acoustic ballad filled with strings and what has to be Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on backing vocals (our review copy was a download, therefore no liner notes).

The two songs from Four that will remain standards in Bleu’s live set for time immemorial are “Dead in the Mornin’,” a gospel rave-up where he bequeaths his possessions, and “B.O.S.T.O.N.,” a love song to his adopted home town. The best thing to be said about the album, though, is the absence of that trendy crunch that weighed down Redhead and A Watched Pot – that sound never fit his songs. The production on Four may not be as slick, but it’s more honest. It’s unclear if the solo career is still Bleu’s #1 priority or just something to play with in his downtime – and who would blame him if it weren’t, after penning songs with Hanson, the Jonas Brothers, and Selena Gomez – but better to see Four arrive two albums late than not at all. (The Major Label 2010)

Bleu MySpace page
Click to buy Four from Amazon

  

The Posies: Blood/Candy


RIYL: Big Star, Matthew Sweet, the Foo Fighters

The Posies deliver their first album since 2005 here, and it’s a mixed bag. There’s a handful of songs that rival the Seattle-rooted band’s best work on Frosting on the Beater, their 1993 alternative-era classic. Big melodic hooks, vintage gear, soaring vocals with depth, rich harmonies; these are great to hear in 2010. But there are other songs where it sounds like band leaders Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow couldn’t agree on which direction to go, and fused competing ideas together in odd ways that don’t quite gel. Either that or some of their mutual ideas were just weird. There’s an admirable effort at musical sophistication, but their best tunes tend to be the ones that keep it simple because these guys write really great hooks.

Posies_01

The first three songs all feature guest vocalists, but in subtle fashion. “Plastic Paperbacks” uses some low-end vocals from punk legend Hugh Cornwall of the Stranglers. It’s more of an embellishment than a major factor in the mid-tempo track, based around a melodic piano part and some atmospheric guitar. It feels like a bit of a misfire. But “The Glitter Prize,” featuring Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo, is a tune with the classic Posies sound. It’s upbeat with layered guitars, a groovy bass line and infectious vocals. It’s too bad that Hanley is buried so deep in the mix, because this power pop gem is the best song on the album. Lisa Lobsinger from Broken Social Scene is a guest on the Beatlesque “Licenses to Hide,” but the tune sounds like Lennon and McCartney had an argument while writing the song and neither would budge (the Lennon-esque parts are better).

“So Caroline” gets back to the melodic rocking that the Posies do so well. “Take Care of Yourself” is another good one in a similar vein, but goes in a bluesier direction. “Cleopatra Street” mixes in some heavier guitar sounds and has some interesting psychedelia, but feels disjointed. “For the Ashes” brings in some Sgt. Pepper psychedelic vocal effects, but doesn’t really soar. “Accidental Architecture” is all over the place. It probably felt very creative in the studio, but it won’t likely last long in the band’s live repertoire.

“She’s Coming Down Again” has the band’s upbeat sound, but with some darker lyrics about a girl’s apparent drug problem. “Notion 99” is a dynamic tune with big drums and various sonic counterpoints, but seems like it would benefit from some thicker guitars. “Holiday Hours” never really gets going, but “Enewtak” closes the album with some majestic rock momentum. It’s too bad the album couldn’t have been a little more consistent, but you can’t really fault the band for seeking to experiment instead of just re-hashing a tried and true formula. It’s a fine line, but the bottom line is that it’s still great to hear Auer and Stringfellow working together again. (Rykodisc 2010)

The Posies MySpace page

  

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