Thursday, September 6, 2012


Covering the major releases of Tuesday, September 4th......

This is roughly the scale I use when reviewing:

***** = Classic
****= Amazing
***= Good
**= OK
*1/2= Poor
*= Horrid

Night Visions
Imagine Dragons

            It’s not really my favorite format, but I’d sure as hell love to get Imagine Dragon’s Night Visions on vinyl.  Just imagine taking the thing out of its sleeve, popping it into a vinyl player, setting the needle down on the black plastic, and collapsing onto your bed holding the album sleeve above your head just as an ethereal instrument arrangement introduces “Radioactive.”  The album cover just fits the music so well. 
            If I were to take this image further (I am) I’d say that the lone figure in the center is the band and the pentagonal pillars of stone surrounding it represent the different kind of fans the band is destined to have. 
            See, the thing is Imagine Dragons’ debut has something for pretty much any listener of modern music, (save hip-hop/rap.)  Sing or hum along choruses for the Pop crowd, introspective lyrics for admirers of modern rock, atmosphere for the alternative crowd, drops and synths for listeners of electronic*, and something bordering between dark and light for the metalhead in us all. 
            The aforementioned “Radioactive,” in fact, embodies this the most out of anything on here.  The little touches and nuances the band give this three-minute track are just perfect, especially the strained gasp during the end of the first verse. 
            Other songs similarly shine with a complete atmospheric feel to them, particularly “On Top of the World,” a song adorned with jangling guitars, passioned whistles, and vocals that remind me oddly of Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis.  There’s a great folk-y feel to this song that just makes it very spirited and is one of those songs that will likely be unjustly overlooked.  “Amsterdam” has a similar feel, sans the folk, being more driven by a bass and vocal verse with a weaker, but still impressive, chorus.
            “Demons” is another strong introspective pop song about a loved one finding out about your dark side.     
            Meanwhile, “Tiptoe” is perhaps the best song that wasn’t previously released.  It goes in a similar vein as “Radioactive,” but it’s got stronger vocals and a very alt-pop chorus.  While it’s not an obvious hit, it has a fighting chance and there's just a very good feel to it. 
            Of course, the obvious hit is/was “It’s Time,” a great song driven by percussive claps and a chorus that would’ve been sung at High School Graduations across the country if it had caught on a month prior.  There’s something both mournful and hopeful about the band’s proclamation that “It's time to begin, isn't it? / I get a little bit bigger, but then I'll admit / I'm just the same as I was / Now don't you understand / That I'm never changing who I am.” 
            Lyrically, none of these songs break new ground, but they don’t retread either.  Even what is perhaps the most derivative track here, “Hear Me” is a good listen, though I cringe when the chorus starts and I get the dreaded temptation to sing Avril Lavigne’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” (C’mon, I dare you not to feel the same way.)  
Matched with the music, the lyrical content seems fresh, and perhaps goes a little deeper than does most popular music nowadays. 
            The overall result is, while suffering a significant dip in quality in the second half (I had a hard time making it through “Every Time” even once), a cohesive and powerful milestone for alternative music. 
Maybe this is just me, but I can’t shake the mental image of Imagine Dragons being some offbeat fusion of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay crafted in an alternate universe.  The former is one of my favorite band, while the latter I can’t help but cringe at.  Yet I definitely weigh this debut as a good, if not excellent, one, and I can’t imagine any fan of either band detesting of these guys.   
Imagine Dragons will be a surefire breakout band this year, but the question on the minds of anyone who already knows and loves the band will be if the album, as a whole, is worth getting.  After all, four of the five songs off the Continued Silence EP are represented on their debut, three of which are obvious single choices.  As one might’ve guessed, my resounding answer is yes. 

*I’ll count it as music though it’s arguably just noise….
**** Stars

Matchbox Twenty

            Y’know, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything about Matchbox Twenty’s “comeback” album if it came out two months ago, because I just got over their music being overplayed in 2002 right around then.  
            Yet since I am, and have been listening to them a bit lately, I was mildly excited to see if they would be able to turn up the guitars one last time for Rob Thomas’ swooning, “smooth” (Santana fans will get that pun) vocals to croon cliches of 90’s rock one last time. 
            Well, there is no “Push” or “Unwell” here, but maybe that’s a good thing.  As it is, songs like “She’s So Mean” won’t infect the masses, but sport a solid hook, and one of the group’s better lyrics; a similar analysis would apply to “Overjoyed,” except for “dumber” lyrics.
“Parade” is the conventional choice for a post-grunge band to open their album with.  An upbeat rocker with riffs fans will love but that will never make a commercial splash, the opener is certainly one of the better things on here. 
In the end though, MB20 in 2012 isn’t much different than MB20 in 2002: some strong melodies, some weaker ones, some filler, some meaningful tracks.  The only difference is that it is 2012, and post-grunge here reaffirms itself as one of the less endurable rock movements. 

** Stars


            …..But wait, MB20 isn’t the only 90’s rock band unexpectedly releasing an album!  Yup, Smashmouth are still alive, and they haven’t evolved much since the Shrek movies.  This album is pretty much what you’d expect, and therefore, I wouldn’t expect anybody to listen to it, unless you too get intrigued by Smashmouth still being around.  Which actually should be everybody. 
If you do, the seven year old in you will be filled with uncontrollable glee.  The poppy sentiment is very 2000’s, as a listen to opening track “Perfect Planet” will affirm.  It’s actually kind of a catchy song.  In fact, a lot of these are fun little romps back to the world in 1999.
 “Magic” is the would-be hit, but it is kinda enjoyable, and there was something doofily awesome about “Live to Love Another Day,” and ridiculously appealing to “Flippin’ Out.”    
If nothing else though, you have to give them credit for having the audacity to name a song “Justin Bieber,” in which they ironically insinuate he’s going to go out of style in between a chorus of “whoah oh oh oh oh oh oh whoah.”  This might actually be worth picking up if I ever feel like reverting to my childhood self.  So, sometime soon. 

*** Stars

The Sheepdogs

If you too are utterly and devastatingly perplexed by the prospect of a Canadian Southern Rock Band in 2012 called Sheepdog, don’t worry about it and just listen to the music.  It’s worth it.    
Overall, there’s actually a very garage-y feel to it, the thing having a “laid back” (first song on the album) feel, filled with guitar fuzz and psychedelia.  In an age where you can’t escape the computer’s influence on music, it’s refreshing to hear something like this, which is to say, raw, comparable to early Black Keys or any White Stripes. 
That’s not to diminish from it’s very 70’s feel.  Songs like “Feeling Good” or “The Way It Is” breathe and speak 70’s.  All punning aside, it really is a laid back album.  Sure, there’s much higher quality southern rock and boogie rock, and the production doesn’t feel that much different than what’s on this, but this is much more accurate a continuation of the style than modern Lynyrd Skynyrd or Country music. 
When it comes down to it, listening to this reminds me of my phase where I tried to find “sleeper” albums of the early 70’s, that is, Black Sabbath, Cream, and Deep Purple sound-alikes.  In the end, I enjoyed the ride, but there wasn’t very many songs I’d come back to. 

**1/2 Stars

Emerald Forest and the Sun
Swallow The Sun

            Admittedly, I find most doom and death metal offputting, so who knows what possessed me to listen to a song off the latest album of a doom/death metal hybrid group.  Regardless, it’s not at all what one would expect, the indistinguishable vocals and lyrics of death and the boringly heavy churning of doom being mostly absent from this release. 
Instead what we get is something oddly akin to sludge meets folk.  The first track “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” almost channels The Lord of the Rings, Celtic-ish chanting adding to the epic feel of the nearly ten minute song.  It’s certainly original, and not something you’d expect coming from an extreme metal band on either side of the genre.  Inevitably, it does go into full-throttle screaming, but never loses the melody and eloquence to it, kind of making me want to charge off into some sort of medieval battle with the thing on. 
There’s some odd, unexpected element to merely every song: melodic singing, acoustic jangles, chords more akin to power metal, whatever it may be, there’s definitely more to this band than their supposed label. 
A lot of the songs, however, never take wind beyond their sweeping set ups, showing a band with more than meets the eye that just can’t channel it all into one concentrated stream of music, but might someday.  In the meantime, I’m off to listen to some of their earlier stuff.

*** Stars


Screaming for Vengeance
Judas Priest


    Thirty years on and there’s still not many concert openers that can top “Hellion/Electric Eye,” but what makes it so great is that it also works tremendously well as an album opener.  The amount of energy built up in just 40 seconds by the dual guitar leads of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing is unparalleled, and that it’s followed up by the speed riffery of “Electric Eye” makes it all the more incredible. 
            They’re a perfect intro for Screaming for Vengeance, one of Priest’s most well-acclaimed albums.  Rob Halford’s screams and shrieks hint here at an Orwellian Society, the “electric eye” being Big Brother, whose part is played by Halford for chilling effect. 
            Though Priest don’t carry this energy through all ten songs, the next one certainly does, “Riding on the Wind” being another live standard for the band, and a furious one at that, being one of longtime drummer Dave Holland’s best performances. 
            Other tracks don’t have the same live energy as the first few, but remain high quality metal, such as the simmering “(Take These) Chains” or the Halford screamer “Bloodstone.” 
            Halford’s most impressive shrieker of the album, if not their career, is no doubt “Screaming for Vengeance,” a song embodied by the album cover and blaring into a red and seething intensity.  With a blaring, echoing chorus and a devastating riff, this too is Priest at their finest.
            Of course, the adrenaline-pumping “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” may be their best known, a song both prime metal and a showcase for Priest’s commercial sensibilities in the early 80’s. 
            In fact, the only bad songs on here are “Pain and Pleasure” and “Fever,” both a bit of an 80’s metal cliché with no hooks or memorable moments. 
            Priest choose a song with a decidedly AC/DC crunch to it to close out on, the superb “Devil’s Child.”  By the end of the song, metalheads were all the more enamored with the Priest, and this still stands as one of the better albums from one of the most influential names in metal. 
            The recent 30th anniversary edition couples the original album with five excellent (per usual) live performances of songs from the album, as well as the outtake “Prisoner Of Your Eyes,” a respectable song, not to mention adorning it all with an even cooler cover than the original. 

****1/2 Stars  

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