Category Archives: Rock

The Heavy

Courtesy of MySpace

The Heavy MySpace

We live in a strange time. Whereas a performer once had to have actual talent in order to make a great album, the advent of Pro Tools and other computer programs of that nature have allowed even the worst of bands to sound surprisingly decent. Upon hearing what they perceive as a great new band, music fans must question whether it is the band’s skills or the technology that define the sound. Oftentimes, you can never aptly discern a band’s skills until you see the band live. Even then, however, it’s sometimes hard to know for sure.

Among the throngs of up-and-coming bands with songs and production as sterile and clean as a hospital room, The Heavy is a welcome shot in the arm.
Hailing from the small hamlet of Noid, England (a make-believe location as far as I know), The Heavy attack their listeners with a unique combination of soul, funk, rock, reggae and punk (sometimes within the same song). Founded by Kelvin Swaby (vocals) and Daniel “Dan T.” Taylor (guitar), their 2009 album The House That Dirt Built offers a raw and rollicking journey through the band’s unique sound. Sharp guitar riffs and Stax-era horns propel the dynamic single “How You Like Me Now.” With a voice drenched in rock-star confidence, Swaby coos “I’ve been a bad, bad man” with a lilt that suggests we should have no reason to think otherwise.
“Cause For Alarm,” meanwhile, has the band stripping down and strutting around their reggae skills with Swaby adopting the necessary cadences and reverb. “Oh No! Not You Again” screams with the urgency and fervor of a traditional blues song filtered through a punk mentality. Likewise, the soulful “That Kind of Man” and funky “Coleen” sounds like something straight out of a cool 1970s blaxploitation film.

Banishing polish in favor of grit, The Heavy more than proves their namesake. If such an unconventional band can teach us anything, it is this: if you want to make great music, you got to get a bit dirty sometimes.
—By Entertainment Editor Mark Rozeman

The Tunics

the tunics
Courtesy of The Tunics

“If it cuts like a knife I will kill you where you stand,” snarls Joe Costello, lead singer and guitarist of The Tunics in the chorus of “A Winter’s Tale,” a torrid tale of a love triangle that meets a violent end. Violent lyrically as well as stylistically, the fiery Britpop trio roars through the anthemic rock songs of its 2007 debut release Somewhere in Somebody’s Heart. Though the band has been relentlessly compared to the genre’s vaunted quartet, The Arctic Monkeys, it is more sophisticated, darker and scarier than even its chilly contemporary’s Favourite Worst Nightmare.

Rather than lamenting the failed love of fluorescent adolescents, The Tunics’ lyrics center on members’ experiences growing up amidst the rise of knife and gang culture in the dodgy underbelly of London. “But I know where I can came from, the land of weapons and fists / I understand the power of song, and that dreams are made of this,” croons Costello on the track “Shine On,” imparting his faith that music can overcome circumstance.

But the thematic frustration with gang violence comes to a furious head on the following track “In The City.” Costello takes out his exasperation on his guitar as he whips and thrashes through the opening power chords. As Costello’s voice cuts in, he describes the plight of a kid who goes out to the club on a Friday night only to be violently mugged at knifepoint. “What can you do when you know he carries a knife?” Costello asks in the chorus, and quips sarcastically, “But that’s the price you pay for having fun.”

Instead of the adolescent laments of unrequited love and growing pains that provide the fodder for the ditties of other Britpop bands, The Tunics conquer a more serious subject matter with feverish passion, sophistication and devilish wit.

—By Blog Editor Alex Blum

Plushgun

plushgun

Plushgun’s Myspace

The only things April showers seem to be bringing to Atlanta right now are gray clouds and cold winds. Although the Weather Channel appears to think this depressing gloom won’t be moving on anytime soon, you can go ahead and kick off the rubber boots right now. That’s because rising indie pop trio Plushgun has enough musical Vitamin D to make summer vacation seem only seconds away.

With sunny, synthesized beats and sweet keyboard melodies, Plushgun rose to fame out of frontman Dan Ingala’s pint-sized Brooklyn apartment. Originally a solo project, Plushgun, which Paste recently dubbed a “lush, bedroom dance pop wunderkind,” released its debut album Pins & Panzers in mid-February to rave reviews.

The album’s hit single, “Just Impolite,” showcases the band’s haunting knack for bringing together the wildly opposite emotions that often characterize real-life relationships. Barely surpassing a whisper, Ingala sings, “Are you frightened by perfection? / Is this who you are, not who you want to be?” to the beat of a sugary keyboard composition. The song is a desperate and — although lyrically denied — obsessive attempt to hold onto love, masked by a bouncy electronic sound.

In fact, lyrics about the loss of love pop up pretty often throughout Plushgun’s instrumentally upbeat songs. In the nostalgic “A Crush to Pass the Time,” Ingala laments being confined to the friend zone. Similarly, “Let Me Kiss You (And I’ll Fade Away)” begs for one last embrace to a background of brief banjo riffs, hand claps and uplifting acoustic guitar. “Dancing in a Minefield,” on the other hand, waltzes between emotional vulnerability and political commentary, themes highlighted by swelling synthesizers.

Plushgun’s variety affords the band a Death Cab meets The Postal Service meets MGMT sound that perfectly captures the conflicting emotions of love and loss. Astronomically, summer doesn’t start until June 21 this year.

Musically, Plushgun makes the season endless.

—By Entertainment Editor Franchesca Winters

The Bird and the Bee

birdbee
Courtesy of The Bird and the Bee

In The Bird and the Bee’s “Polite Dance Song,” the opening track of its 2007 EP, Please Clap Your Hands, Inara George sings “I try to be as coy as I can / But I wanna see your naughty bit / Would you be nasty with me?” Though most of the synth-pop duo’s songs are not quite so risqué, they do share a playful mischievousness that is invigorating.

Indeed, the band started as a playful experiment when, as members Inara George and Greg Kurstin describe on their MySpace page, they “met a few years ago, discovered a common love of jazz standards … nerded out for a couple hours playing every song they knew … and then wrote a record together.”

Kurstin brings a tremendous amount of musical nerdiness and skill to the table. Having written or produced tracks for the likes of Sia, Lilly Allen, Beck and even Britney Spears’ recent come-back effort, Circus, he has a wealth of musical experience that he employs in the masterful musical arrangements of The Bird and the Bee.

On “Polite Dance Song” Kurstin drops a funky, laconically sliding hip-hop beat that introduces George who sings with a with a slow rhythmic flow. The soprano’s upper-register rapping feels both ironic and refreshing.

They do this again in the track “F–king Boyfriend,” where Kurstin mixes frenetic electronic beeps and chimes with jaunty dance beats and synths that glissando kaleidoscopically through the song. In this song about an impatient lover, it sounds as if George stifles a laugh as she sings, “Would you ever be my, would you be my f–king boyfriend”

The key to the success of Kurstin and George is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, experimenting with different musical styles while still keeping their music consistently light and lively. They pepper mischievous humor onto every track, creating music that is perfect for celebrating the closing hours of a week dedicated to Dooley, the Lord of Misrule.

—By Blog Editor Alex Blum

Passion Pit

pit
Courtesy of Passion Pit

Michael Angelakos is a lover. He’s the kind of lover who sees romance in terms of techno beats and freakin’ on the dance floo’. He’s the kind of lover who digs on Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” and Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” simultaneously. He’s the kind of lover who professes his desire of a woman by shrieking out brilliantly feminine falsettos. But he is, nevertheless, a lover.

Angelakos, the lead vocalist of electro-pop up-and-comers Passion Pit, presented his then-girlfriend his musical project, Chunk of Change, as a belated Valentine’s Day gift. Chunk of Change, the four-song EP/ode-to-love, eventually leaked into the Emerson College community, developing Passion Pit a viral buzz and following around the Boston area.

Passion Pit slowly developed into a full band, reissuing its EP and touring with artists such as Death Cab For Cutie and Girl Talk. Its sound is boundlessly energetic, tightly focused and hook-filled.

On tracks such as “Cuddle Fuddle” (all in all, the poorest choice of song title on the EP), Passion Pit experiments with odd synth choices and ooey gooey lyrics such as “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair / Things are better when you’re with me.” Many of the keyboard instrumentals sound as if they are being tortured, with overly distorted xylophones and computerized pianos seemingly begging for mercy. Luckily, the band never strays too far from pop goodness, singalong choruses and hooky, Walt Disney-esque lyrics.

“Sleepyhead,” Passion Pit’s love note to dance floors and narcoleptics everywhere, shows the band at their best — and weirdest. The song contains samples of Irish harp playing by Mary O’Hara matched with the perfectionist keyboards of Angelakos and pianist Ian Hultquist. Angelakos’ extremely high-pitched falsettos fit in perfectly alongside MGMT-ish electronics and disco-influenced bass licks.

Passion Pit’s debut album, Manners, is due out May 18, promising to deliver more love to the world. The part of the world that grooves on eccentric techno, that is.

by Entertainment Editor Geoff Schorkopf

Company of Thieves

forest
Courtesy of Company of Thieves

Company of Thieves – “Oscar Wilde”

Sometimes when musicians try to look intelligent by making literary references, the attempt has the exact opposite effect. The first song that comes to mind is Taylor Swift’s crossover mega-hit “Love Story.” Somewhere along the line, it seems as if Swift failed to learn that Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers, meaning their lives are a string of tragedies, not happy endings. Unlike the uplifting tale told by the poppy country tune, the play ends with a lot of blood and tears. And for the record, Miss Swift, your line “You were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter” makes no sense. Hester Prynne – who, last I checked, was absent from Shakespeare’s classic – was an adulterous woman with a slightly demonic child, and that has very little to do with the message you’re trying to convey.

Enter Company of Thieves, a trio from Chicago that has a better grip on the literary world. “Oscar Wilde,” the single from the group’s debut album, Ordinary Riches, makes muted references to some of the same themes – including the inescapability of time and shallowness – as the author’s works. But lines about “porcelain teacups” and waltzing on front porches, especially when paired with singer Genevieve Schatz’s breathy, emotive voice, balance out the heavy tones and brighten the repeated line, “We are all our own devil and we make this world our hell.”

But this darkness doesn’t pervade everything by the group. “New Letters” gives a heart-wrenching account of someone who refuses to give up on a relationship, relishing its most simplistic elements. “I fell in love when you were brushing your teeth / Over my kitchen sink,” Schatz nearly whispers as the song opens. The track crescendos until its final note, when Schatz sounds as if her own determination might break her.

It’s the backing from guitarist Marc Walloch and drummer Mike Ortiz that really adds dimension to what could otherwise be classified as simple ditties. Just when you think you’ve figured out Company of Thieves, the band refuses to concede to your expectations. After a long pause in “Under the Umbrella” that seems to signal the end of the song, a rock riff on the guitar starts the whole thing up again and takes it in a brand new direction. The album includes three acoustic versions of songs, on which the group successfully experiments with soulful piano chords and violins instead of the traditionally rock-friendly guitar and drums.

Although Schatz usually sounds like a sweeter, less guttural Regina Spektor, she boasts a wide variety of vocal talent, nearly wailing over the drum fills and minor chords of “Old Letters.” Company of Thieves isn’t afraid to ignore the unwritten rule that the folk-pop-rock set should start out with short-and-sweet tunes. These shifts in vocals, instrumentation and tempo work to make each song an expansive landscape, and nearly half of the album’s tracks run past the five-minute mark.

The Windy City has become a sort of mecca for outstanding, intelligent people. Actor/director/producer/wonderman Zach Braff graduated from the city’s Northwestern University; Oprah Winfrey and President Obama call the place home. Schatz and co. may not be as well-known as any of these folks, but they certainly have the talent and intellect to someday join these prestigious ranks.

–By Entertainment Editor Ani Vrabel

The Submarines

submarines
Courtesy of Jon Bergman/Nettwerk Publicity

Generally speaking, I’m not a particularly sensitive person. I laughed my way through “P.S. I Love You,” only a handful of people has ever seen me cry and, in my opinion, the only redeeming quality of Valentine’s Day is the extraordinary amount of chocolate consumption. And as a rule, I prefer that the music I listen to reflects this side of me. It doesn’t need to be an extreme representation of this — screamo and death metal don’t really float my boat — but something a little on the dark side usually catches my attention. Some minor chords and lyrics that reflect disdain of any kind — for love, capitalism or whatever the complaint du jour seems to be — fit the bill.

And this is why I find it so bizarre that I have such a soft spot for the Submarines. The majority of the songs by married couple John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard are as sweet as the title of their sophomore album, Honeysuckle Weeks, would indicate.

Musically, the songs are sometimes bouncy (“Submarine Symphonika” and “Swimming Pool,” for example) and sometimes dream-like (“Xavia”), but they are always bright, with basic, steady beats that could easily sound at home on a children’s record if they were paired with lyrics about fairy tale characters.

And admittedly, many of the Submarines’ lyrics, mostly delivered by Hazard’s pure, clear voice, are simple and innocent. But the duo also boasts clever songwriting that gives its songs a distinctly adult feel. “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie,” with its juxtaposition of manufactured and pure love, would impress any Marx scholar.

Even on “Swimming Pool,” one of the duo’s sweetest and most playful tunes, Hazard and Dragonetti show off their writing chops with creative imagery (“When I asked you to throw me a line / That’s when you pulled me out by the heart strings”) and personification (“Never mind what logic says / I say logic’s a guy who oughta empty his pockets”).

By making music that is both smart and a peppy guilty pleasure, the Submarines can brighten up pretty much anyone’s day. Who knows — I might even give “P.S. I Love You” another chance one of these days.

–By Entertainment Editor Ani Vrabel