Zero 7: Yeah Ghost

RIYL: Radiohead, Jose Gonzalez, Sneaker Pimps

Zero 7 is a project more than a band – so while Zero 7 tours as a group and has actual band members, it’s still technically the brainchild of British producers Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns. And some of those “band members” are rotated out every album or so. Once you get a grasp on that, it doesn’t take much effort to like what Zero 7 is doing. And on their fourth album, Yeah Ghost, there is still the same electronica-driven pop, but with a few added dimensions this time around. In particular, singers Eska and Martha Tilston are new to the project, rounding out a lineup that includes a few regulars like Eddie Stevens, Tom Skinner and Robin Mullarkey. After a subtle opening instrumental, “Count Me Out,” there are some bouncy dance tracks, with Eska’s power-meets-soul vocal at the forefront of awesome tracks like “Medicine Man” and “Mr. McGee.” “Pop Art Blue” features Tilston’s folky timbre and there are some fine, if quirky, instrumentals, like the haunting “Solastalgia.” But the best track on here is “Swing,” an uber-catchy ditty that still has the Zero 7 “chill” trademark – and a song that immediately has the feel of an iPod commercial. This may not be the best Zero 7 album yet, but it’s not a huge regression, either. (Atlantic 2009)

Zero 7 MySpace Page


Jets Overhead: No Nations

RIYL: Snow Patrol, Keane, Radiohead

Dreamy, brooding alternative rock may have begun with Radiohead, but one thing is for sure – it’s never gone away. There are bands that have kept the torch burning, from Coldplay to Snow Patrol to Doves to today’s entry, Canadian outfit Jets Overhead, who have just released their latest, No Nations. If you have been a fan of any of the above mentioned acts, you’ll find something to like from Jets Overhead – pulsing bass, swirling synth and guitars, and that whole faux British accent that seems to be the perfect vehicle for the genre. But there’s more to Jets Overhead; the album is eclectic enough to keep you from getting bored, and the songs are catchy, too. There are tracks that are made for AAA radio, such as “Weathervanes (In the Way)” and “Heading for Nowhere,” and there are haunting, sparsely produced gems like the title track or “Fully Shed,” the latter of which features some psychedelic sounding harmonies. Somehow, it all works, and it keeps that dreamy, brooding, alt-rock train chugging along. (Vapor 2009)

Jets Overhead MySpace Page


Rip! A Remix Manifesto

A movie about the art form of mash-ups that features mash-ups of the movie within the movie itself? We’re pretty sure we just heard the space/time continuum begin to rip at the prospect. Director Brett Gaylor attempts to make sense of the intellectual property laws that allow some musicians to steal riffs and make millions (Led Zeppelin, the Stones), while other, more cutting-edge musicians are branded as criminals (Girl Talk), and the end result is “Rip! A Remix Manifesto,” a wake-up call to Big Media that, whether they like or not, the rules have changed. Gaylor declares Walt Disney to be the first mash-up artist, and absolutely pummels publishing company Warner-Chappell for refusing to let “Happy Birthday” to enter the public domain (it’s true: if you sing that song, ever, you’re a thief), and for suing Radiohead fans for mash-ups once W-C acquired the rights to In Rainbows. Truth be told, the doc isn’t quite a five-star affair – we were frankly surprised that he didn’t mention when John Fogerty was sued for ripping off one of his own songs – but we’re giving it an extra star because “Rip!” addresses an issue that needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later. Indeed, one could argue that the music industry’s very survival depends on it. (Disinformation 2009)

Click to buy Rip! A Remix Manifesto


Greycoats: Setting Fire to the Great Unknown

We love to see publicists promote records released in the previous year because they believe in them, mainly because it takes us back to a time when record labels had more patience with their artists, and would take the time to groom them, drum up some geniune buzz for a band rather than fabricate fake buzz, etc. (We’re well aware that those days weren’t as innocent as we might think, but they’re our memories, and we’re sticking to ’em.) We’ll see how this old-school approach works for Setting Fire to the Great Unknown, the debut album by Minneapolis quartet Greycoats. Their bio boasts comparisons to Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Sigur Ros, but a better point of entry might be a more guitar-oriented Keane. “Goodbye, Sweet Youth, Goodbye” sports a soaring chorus that the boys from Battle would kill for, and singer Jon Reine has nicked a few tricks from Tom Chaplin’s playbook in terms of vocal phrasing. It’s gorgeous stuff – Thom Yorke will surely mutter obscenities under his breath when he hears “An Echo in the Dark” – and, in an ideal world, the band is only a soundtrack or “Grey’s Anatomy” moment away from vaulting to the next level. (Greycoats 2008)

Greycoats MySpace page


Sonos: Sonos

A cappella music is supposed to be the domain of fun-for-a-minute novelty acts like the Nylons or the Blenders, and even the best of the genre often sounds as though it was recorded by the same grinning, finger-snapping, vest-wearing nerds you laughed at during spring assembly in high school. The last time anyone cared about an a cappella single was in 1993, when Huey Lewis and the News scored a fluke hit with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright” – and when a genre’s last taste of success came from Huey Lewis, you know it’s seen better days. Into this cultural vacuum steps the six-member Los Angeles outfit known as Sonos, and although their press materials contain all the dreaded buzzwords used by makers of terminally unhip music – “push the envelope,” “redefine a genre” – their self-titled debut is actually far better than you might expect, especially given their über-hip taste in cover selections (Bjork’s “Jaga,” Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” Imogen Heap’s “Come Here Boy”) and/or the presence of AAA radio pox Sara Bareilles, who contributes vocals to her own “Gravity.” It helps that they aren’t a straight a cappella outfit – many of the tracks incorporate light instrumentation, and they aren’t afraid to chop and twiddle with their vocals – but what really puts Sonos across is the ease with which the group manages to substitute a cool modern feel for the stereotypical Up With People vibe. No vests here, in other words – and if Sonos is still a novelty, it’s one that’ll take a good, long while to wear off. (Big Helium 2009)

Sonos MySpace page