Review of Untogether by Blue Hawaii.

It’s crazy to think that at one point in time there were only really a handful of viable and appreciated genres of music. It’s even more absurd that these genres became so versatile at some point in the last decade that bands like Blue Hawaii have made a name for themselves without having to subscribe to any particular style. Untogether is the Canadian band’s first official album, a careful blend of dreampop, dance music, and spacey, reverb-laden beats. Although the female vocals are breathy and sparse, they work well with the minimalistic production. If the beat were more demanding I would have found the vocalist to be underwhelming, but the genre (whatever it may be) does not call for Ellie Goulding-style powerhouse melodies.

If you’ve never strayed far from your musical safe zone, start by listening to the song “Try To Be,” as it is one of a select few tracks that does have some sense of order. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; “Sweet Tooth” and “Flammarion” bring beauty out of disarray by shifting the focus to the very impressive and unique sampling rather than the structure of the song.

This is not an album for everybody. In fact, the target audience for this album is probably smaller than most of your tutorials. Personally, I’m filing this one under “interesting.”

3/5

By: Brody Weld

Review of Bankrupt! by Phoenix

On Bankrupt!, the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix delivers an album that does not disappoint. Although Bankrupt! sees Phoenix reducing the role of their trademark guitars to expand upon the keyboard-heavy sound first introduced on Wolfgang, the transition, for the most part, seems natural. Songs like “The Real Thing” and “Oblique City” justify the progression, displaying an infectious combination of keyboard riffs and driving rhythms. However, what cements the agreeableness of this keyboard-driven style is its synergy with Thomas Mars’ voice. This is done best on “Bourgeois”, a song with a backing track that would sound right at home on a Daft Punk album. Mars’ voice perfectly accentuates the music, captivating the listener.

Although keyboards compliment many of the songs, the title track sees an excessive use of programming, creating a forgettable seven-minute interlude.  “Bankrupt!”, however, is an exception, and for the majority of this ten-track album the programming does not overwhelm the listener.

Keyboards may be the most prominent instrument on the album, but when Phoenix returns to guitar-driven music like on lead single “Entertainment,” the result is satisfying.  “Entertainment” shows Phoenix experimenting with an East-Asian sound, and when combined with the song’s strong hooks, the end result should remind us why we first paid attention to this band when they released “1901.”

4/5

By: Spencer Jones

Review of Reach Beyond the Sun by Shai Hulud

Eleven hardcore anthems comprise Shai Hulud’s newest full-length Reach Beyond the Sun — and what a fantastic eleven they are. The album is an exercise in consistency, with its first half being a particularly rock-solid collection of frantic guitar playing, breakneck drumming, and aggressive shouted vocals. And while this is certainly a heavy and intense record, it never fails to be catchy as well. Many of the album’s leads and vocal melodies will be stuck in your head for days.

At only 34 minutes, Reach Beyond the Sun is not a long album, but it doesn’t need to be. There is not a second wasted here, and while the record’s pissed off demeanor never really changes, there is enough variation in terms of songwriting and tempo to keep things from getting boring.

As of right now, this is my album of the year, and it’s going to take something pretty incredible to change that. Recommended for fans of Converge, Refused, Gaza, and the hardcore/progressive metal genres.

4.5/5

By: Alex Sallas

Review of Comeback Machine by The Strokes

For detractors of the Strokes — yes, they seem to come out of the woodwork whenever a new album is released — the jabs about the New York rockers’ latest offering write themselves (i.e. Comedown Machine isn’t a Comeback Machine). But what is perplexing is the number of reviews that turned into savage ad hominem attacks of the Fab Five. It’s been a while since Julian Casablanca, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture, and Fab Moretti released what were arguably their best works in Is This It and Room On Fire. The first of the two defined a generation who oozed antipathy towards an increasingly neoliberal society and vented their frustration, some of it sexual, on tracks like “New York City Cops” and “Take It Or Leave It.” The latter album saw them expound on their raw, unfiltered sound but with more finesse and wherewithal, cementing them as the music world’s darlings.

Suddenly, it became “uncool” to like the Strokes. Perhaps it was due to something inconsequential — maybe Julian snubbed Ryan Schrieber at a bar — but “tastemakers” (cough, cough) like Pitchfork have turned their backs on the Strokes, or rather have gotten off their knees and tried to dust their pride off.

Sure, the Strokes may have suffered some soap opera-like problems of late (Angles was made with Julian emailing vocals to the rest of the band, who worked without him in the studio). But it seems like the boys have let bygones be bygones and agreed to keep things professional. “Tap Out” is rousing piece of funk that challenges the media’s authoritative tone — “Decide my past, Define my life, Don’t ask questions, Cause I don’t know why” — and manages to sound inviting and foreboding at the same time. “All The Time” seems like a laboured attempt to reproduce the magic of their early heyday and appease naysayers, but it falls flat. The song is interesting enough, with clever chord changes, a tight solo and a vintage Casablancas verse, but the band seems better off with their new sound.

Speaking of fresh sounds, “One Way Trigger” befuddled listeners when it was released earlier this year. It finds Casablancas indulging in his passion for retro synths and even features the frontman singing in falsetto. The track wouldn’t appear at odds with the lead singer’s solo work, but Fraiture’s distinctive bass acts as a constant reminder that this is indeed a Strokes song, and a good one, even if it does demand an acquired taste.

“Welcome To Japan” is a standout that captures the rawness of the band’s old days with its loose rendition. Even though Casablancas has a fairly limited vocal range, the same can’t be said for his creative lyrics and the manner in which he manages to alter the inflection of his voice to evoke emotion. And how can you not nod in agreement when Casablancas at his sardonic best ponders, “what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”

The Strokes don’t need to be making music, but the laughter that punctuates the end of “Slow Animals” reveals that at least they’re having fun doing it. The same can’t be said for some of these miserable, sadistic music critics whose writing perspective has been jaded by what seems like a hatred of the world. Besides, maybe we should all take a cue from Julian, who sings “we don’t have to know each other’s names” on “Tapout” and just listen to what we like without judging its makers’ personality (except for Chris Brown – be ruthless with that scum).

4/5

By: Tomi Milos

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