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by Rudy Klapper [29 Sep 2009 | 2 Comments | ]
THE CRITIC: Islands’ “Vapours” Full Of Endearing, Yet Unconventional, Pop Tunes

Nick Diamonds doesn’t give a fuck what you think. From his short-lived stint as Nick Thorburn, frontman of critically acclaimed but combustible indie group the Unicorns, to forming half of AM-pop/folk duo Human Highway, Diamonds has never been one to sit long in any one place, stylistically or otherwise, and he certainly hasn’t been one to follow the waves of popular opinion. No more so is this apparent than with Islands, the experimental-pop collective Diamonds formed following the Unicorns’ self-destruction and whose debut, Return To The Sea, was an eclectic collection of indie odds and ends. Their sophomore effort, last year’s Arm’s Way, was an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink gumbo of genres and instruments, the production bombastic and reveling in its excess, the band and Diamonds going balls-out in terms of ridiculous arrangements and bizarre lyricism. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that after the lavish results of Arm’s Way, Islands latest is almost like a comedown companion to that record, one that turns Islands’ sound in yet another new direction but retains the band’s strong pop foundations.

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by Rudy Klapper [6 Sep 2009 | No Comment | ]
THE CRITIC: The Black Crowes “Before the Frost…Until the Freeze”

Live albums are often a veteran band’s conceit, an effort to translate a group’s energy from the stage to the record player – an endeavor that, more often than not, just leads to an overly long disc of poor-quality tunes, bad between-song banter, and fans wishing they had invested that $19.99 in, say, an actual concert. A band’s decision to release a concert album may be just a mere record company ploy or an exercise in check-how-awesome-we-are-live smugness, but it pales in comparison to that conceit of conceits: the double album. And with the twenty-track Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, long-time roots-rockers the Black Crowes have committed not one, but two cardinal sins of artistic hubris in a single release.

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by Rudy Klapper [2 Sep 2009 | No Comment | ]
THE CRITIC: Datarock’s “Red” is a Musical Homage to the 80′s

The ‘80s live again (and again, and again) on Datarock’s second proper album, the ominously titled Red. With its dystopian album art and the crazed cyber-punk vibe of opener “The Blog,” one unfamiliar with Datarock might misconstrue Red as a twisted version of the future through the lens of Orwell’s 1984, where technology rules supreme and human emotions are in danger of dying out. A few more songs in, however, and it becomes clear that Datarock are the most reverent of ‘80s worshippers, taking all those glorious synthed-out romantic soundscapes and making their own millennial homage.

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by Rudy Klapper [21 Aug 2009 | No Comment | ]
THE CRITIC: Brendan Benson’s “My Old, Familiar Friend”

Being one of Jack White’s right-hand men certainly does have its advantages. Practically unknown outside of Detroit before he joined up with White and company for the Raconteurs in 2005, power-pop auteur Brendan Benson has been quietly making effortlessly catchy rock ‘n roll since the ‘90s. It’s a bit ironic that Benson finally achieved a modicum of commercial visibility assisting White in a band where Benson was merely the second fiddle, although Benson’s pop influences and golden ear for a hook were a major reason for the Raconteurs’ radio success. Then again, those Raconteurs paychecks have gone a long way towards buffing out Benson’s inimitable pop-rock stylings, and My Old, Familiar Friend features Benson’s most tricked-out studio effort yet, along with the requisite mammoth wall of hooks and lyrical charm he’s been praised for all these years…

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by Rudy Klapper [16 Aug 2009 | 2 Comments | ]
THE CRITIC: Self Titled Debut Album From Jessie James

Let’s get this straight right off the bat – Jessie James is not a country singer. Yes, the marketing campaign paints her as Nashville’s newest painted-on jeans vixen, and her powerful vocals do tend to have a sort of twang about them, but James is a dyed-in-the-wool pop singer through and through. Her debut self-titled is country in the same way Taylor Swift’s latest could be billed “country” – it pays lip service to strong-willed women in the Carrie Underwood vein and throws the occasional banjo lick in here and there. That being said, James’ apparent crisis of identity makes Jessie James a hit-or-miss affair, where the singer vacillates between radio-ready Top 40 smashes and dead-in-the-water balladry or misguided genre affairs.

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by Rudy Klapper [27 Jul 2009 | No Comment | ]
Tisdale’s ‘Guilty’ Album is Hardly a Pleasure

Guilty Pleasure is, indeed, guilty of many things, most obviously taking a grab bag of the most popular female stars in the game today, tossing it into a blender, and adding some half-baked lyrics for good measure. Opener “Acting Out” starts off with some seriously pompous strings before Ashley comes in with lyrics that rival Miley Cyrus’ 2008 Breakout: “up above the surface / I was just a perfect child / but underneath it all, I was craving to be wild.” The hooks come hard and fast, and Tisdale’s vocals contain just the perfect note of frantic urgency to sell enticing lyrics like “this is what I need, it’s time to get dirty.” But the promised “dirty” never really materializes, and throughout Guilty Pleasure, Tisdale comes off as just another teenybopper when she should be acting her age (24, believe it or not)…

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by popfix [19 Jul 2009 | No Comment | ]
Not Another One of These Stupid Songs…

It looks like a new trend in songwriting has emerged, parents beware! Another young singer has penned a cry out for attention by making a song about why they hate the people who brought them into this earth. Joining the ranks of singers like Lindsay Lohan, Brooke Hogan made a parent-hating song about her mom, and The Hulk’s ex-wife, Linda Bollea. Truth be told, I feel bad for Brooke, she has had one tough year with her highly publicized family drama. But did she need to make a song about it? And a bad song at that, complete with a “monologue” in the beginning and ending with a faux/mock conversation.

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by Rudy Klapper [9 Jun 2009 | 2 Comments | ]
THE CRITIC: “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” Boosts Phoenix to a New High

Phoenix has been chugging along dutifully for years ever since their taste-making role in Lost in Translation’s soundtrack, but fame has continued to elude the French foursome. Lost in Translation wasn’t Garden State, and Phoenix certainly isn’t the Shins, but despite Phoenix’s ability to churn out irresistibly catchy pop singles, those same singles have never managed to translate into pop success. Maybe something was lost in translation over the Atlantic (sorry, I had to), but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their 4th major label effort, offers more than enough quirky synth-rock to finally give the band a hit on American shores.