Thursday, April 30, 2009

Camera Obscura... My Maudlin Career

Camera Obscura is a band that hasn’t changed much since 1996 and for once, that’s a good thing. From their echoing guitar riffs to their whimsical string arrangements, they’ve managed to keep their chipper soda pop shop melodies bound tightly to singer Tracyanne Campbell’s lyrics, which are full of calamitous heartbreak. After all these years and with the release of their fourth album on 4AD, their ironic tunes have yet to get monotonous.

The music on this album was a little predictable, but still is very haunting. The jangly guitar of Kenny McKeeve and the consistency of Lee Thomson’s drums keep the energy up through out the album. Carey Lander adds her piano, organ, and backup vocals on most tracks, which gives the album a ‘60s vibe. Sadly, Gavin Dunbar’s bass gets lost within some tracks due to things like Nigel Baillie’s trumpet and extra percussion.

It’s obvious that most of Campbell’s songs are about heartache, but she comes up with clever ways to express this without being cliché. Her voice executes her wispy feelings of love in “My Maudlin Career,” when she sings how a past kiss on the forehead is now giving her a concussion. In the upbeat single “French Navy,” Campbell takes listeners on a journey from seeing someone in a dusty library to being with them on a silvery lake only within the first verse of the song, showing how quickly she falls in love.

The rest of the 10 tracks have an early Sunday morning feel to them, but it’s hard to see the individuality between certain songs. The tracks that have a country vibe to them, like the song “Swans,” allow Campbell to become more like a modern day Patsy Cline with the sliding guitar in the background.

While hopeless romantic fans probably play Camera Obscura alone in their bedrooms, they depend on Campbell never to find her true love so the band won’t lose their morose charm they are known for.

My Maudlin Career
is an album that couldn’t have come out at a better time than now. While spring pushes up life from dirt, Camera Obscura does the same thing; they make simple pop music, put some life into it, and make rich catchy songs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Depeche Mode: Sounds of the Universe

original article in the montclarion

When it comes to bands from the '80s, it's almost impossible to forget to mention Depeche Mode.
After forming in 1980 in Basildon, Essex, England, they have become one of the most triumphant and influential bands from that era.

After close to 30 years, David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher are still making their unique mark in music with the release of their 12th album, Sounds of the Universe.

Though Depeche Mode has always had a futuristic tone with their synthesizers and industrial clangs, Sounds of the Universe takes their darkwave roots and mixes it with outer-space-like music.

The album begins with "In Chains." The song starts with long, droned out tones that get louder and resemble a futuristic car revving up its engine. One would think this album would start out with a big bang after the climax of these notes, but it's quickly lowered to minimal drum beats when Gahan begins to sing. His echoing, reverberative voice entices ears to listen to each word he sings, making one's mind hang on to them. With Fletcher's synth chords holding the song together and Gore's melodies, they both keep with the intergalactic theme of the album. Though this song is one of the best on the album, it wasn't the right choice for an opening track.

"Wrong" is definitely the one track that stands out in this album. Having a sensual slapping beat accompanied by Gore's composition of heavy old school synthesizers, the music screams out "sexy." Gahan's voice sounds like it did in their song "I Feel You" from their 1993 album, Songs of Faith and Devotion, with his powerful shouting yet soothing voice. Though the lyrics talk about being repetitively wrong, Depeche Mode couldn't be more right with this track. No wonder this is the first single to come out; it takes elements of each album and puts them into one song perfectly.

"Come Back" has a shoegaze feel when it comes to the guitar sound in this track, which resembles legendary band My Bloody Valentine. The high reverb and distortion in the guitar creates a dream like symphony of music that is perfectly accompanied by Gahan's voice, which is higher then his usual baritone voice.

"Jezebel" is the only total disappointment when it comes to this album. Gore sings on this track, and it sounds like music one would hear in an elevator or lounge. This track doesn't fit in with the others. Sorry Martin! I usually like the songs you sing!

The deluxe box set of this album includes never-heard tracks, photo books and films, showing that Depeche Mode is all about pleasing their fans.
Though this album doesn't have the classic and catchy synth-pop sound that Depeche Mode is infamous for, it still manages to get people up to dance. It adds to their eclectic variety of music on their albums, and shows how far Depeche Mode has come. From band members leaving to Gahan's long-gone drug problem which left him dead for two minutes, it looks like nothing can stop this band from creating new innovations in music as they did years ago.

Depeche Mode's Sounds of the Universe tour already has sold out shows across Europe and the United States, showing that fans can't get enough of them even after all these years.

photo by

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Phil Spector = Jailbird!

original article in the montclarion

No longer wearing his sunglasses and overdone teased wigs, it's safe to say that legendary music producer and songwriter Phil Spector is done with his hypnotizing melodies, as he was recently convicted on Monday for shooting and killing B-movie actress Lana Clarkson.

After the shooting in 2003, Spector, at 68, was convicted of second degree murder and faces a minimum of 18 years in prison.

Though there was a history of Spector threatening women he has dated and pointing guns at artists while recording, let's try to put those aside (even if it's for a second) and remember the genius that was Spector.

Born in the Bronx in 1940, Spector dealt with tragedy at a young age when his father committed suicide in 1949. In his high school years, Spector became proficient in songwriting, and played instruments like guitar, piano and French horn.

He formed the group the Teddybears with high school friends in 1958. They became number one on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart with their hit, "To Know Him is to Love Him," which was inspired by words on his father's grave. After experiencing stage fright, Spector decided that he'd be better behind the stage, producing music rather than performing it.

Over the years, Spector had become a well-known name, producing and co-writing hits like "Spanish Harlem" by Ben E. King and "Uptown" by the Crystals. The early 1960s were when Spector made his signature "wall of sound" technique, including amazing multi-layered ensembles of instruments in his recordings.

His ear was known to recognize a hit, and Spector proved this, having close to 20 hits within only three years. Groups like the Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes and the Crystals have Spector to thank for the hits that brought them fame and fortune.

After not having much success in the mid -60s, Spector made his comeback when he produced the Beatles' Let It Be album, which topped music charts in England as well as in the United States. Spector also worked with George Harrison and John Lennon on their solo projects, which were very successful.

Not only did Spector collaborate with well-read musician and novelist Leonard Cohen, but he also took on producing New York's famous punk rock band, the Ramones, with their album End of the Century, showing that Spector had no borders when it came to genres of music.

Spector was to artists of the '60s what Timberland is to recent artists, guaranteeing a hit to whoever worked with him.

He has had a huge influence on music, and his songs are covered by many artists today, including Neutral Milk Hotel's cover of "I Love How You Love Me," which has simple lyrics about love that make hearts flutter along with the beat.

Whoever wrote or produced a song that's still being played close to 50 years later must have done something right for it to remain timeless in this generation of getting songs with just the click of a button.

Too bad Spector has washed away his praise and recognition from some fans with just the click of a trigger.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs... It's Blitz

original article in the montclarion

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have traded in their "garage rock" sound for synthesizers and dance beats on their third album, It's Blitz, released on March 31.

The new sound on the album keeps away from their traditional scratchy and loud guitar riffs to more mellow electronic melodies that would start an instant dance party.

The album as a whole has traces of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs mixed in with a new electronic pop sound that's similar to bands like Ladytron. Singer Karen O's voice glues Nick Zinner's buzzing guitar riffs and Brian Chase's strong beats together throughout the album, creating catchy earworms that will take days to get out of your head.

The first song, "Zero," begins by showing O's softer side with whispery vocals that build throughout the song; while Chase's drumming remains consistent during the song, Zinner's guitar is drowned out by all the synthesizers and goes unnoticed. This fallout is quickly forgotten when O's voice becomes stronger, and her repetition of "Oh's" at the end of the song leaves fans hypnotized.

The lyrics on the album are a little disappointing. While past Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs have never been in depth or had many layers to them, It's Blitz seems to have too much repetition. Many "Oooo"s and "Ahhh"s fill up measures where needed lyrics should be, making it feel like something's missing.

"Soft Shock" resembles their past hit "Maps" off of their Fever To Tell album that came out in 2003. With simple keyboards and O's whining, yet sweet voice, a bit of heartbreak is felt in the song when it ends with the repetition of the pleading lyrics "Don't leave me out."

The deluxe edition of this album has acoustic versions of "Soft Shock," "Skeletons," "Hysteric" and "Little Shadow," which leave all the complicated synthesizers out and replaces them with a rich accompaniment of strings.

While this album has been praised by some, it has left other fans wondering where the raw energy of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has gone. Has it been replaced by technology forever?

While it's great that this band is trying something new, one can only hope that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have not forgotten the roots of their music that match their powerful live show stage antics.

Anyone who is willing to give the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' new sound a shot will definitely appreciate this album, but for those who are looking for music that resembles their past albums, you'll have to wait and see for the next one.

photo by Guus Krol