Friday, November 13, 2009

Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg

Wolfmother exploded onto the music scene in 2005 with their self titled debut album, creating a buzz that spread across the world and forever embedding the song "Woman" into my subconscious. The album eventually went platinum and Wolfmother went on to win a handful of awards, including a grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance in 2007. Four years later the weight of success started to take its toll and bassist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett left the band citing the old standby 'irreconcilable differences', we see this all too often with musicians burdened with fame too early in their careers. Lead vocalist and guitarist Andrew Stockdale was left holding the bag.

After a brief hiatus, during which Stockdale almost renamed the band White Feather [insert eye-roll here], Wolfmother returned with three new members and a new album, Cosmic Egg. I'll be the first to admit that when news of a new Wolfmother album surfaced I was, to say the least, a bit skeptical. While Stockdale is a great singer and guitarist I was not at all convinced he could hold together the shattered pieces that were Wolfmother. Well I am happy to report that Wolfmother is alive and well, still assaulting your eardrums with the same stadium sized power riffs and gritty baselines we have all come to love.

Newcomers Ian Peres (bass/keyboard), Aidan Nemeth (guitar) and Dave Atkins (drums) slip seamlessly into the band, picking up exactly where the original trio left off. In fact the new Wolfmother sounds so much like the old Wolfmother that most people wont realize the line-up has changed. While this could be the death toll for some bands it works nicely in this case, everything you liked about Wolfmother is still here and in some cases slightly improved. There are still power ballads and guitar shredding, but the acoustic guitar also makes some appearances along with with a handful of great slow-burning tracks.

But enough of the back history, on to the music. Cosmic Egg starts out in familiar territory with "California Queen" and "New Moon Rising", classic Wolfmother guitar riffs and pounding bass lines. With a quick tempo and heavy drumbeat "Rising" seems especially primed for heavy radio play. Things ease up a bit with "In The Morning", a great rock ballad begging for an arena full of fans holding lighters and swaying to the music. The title track "Cosmic Egg" throws some welcome bluesy guitar licks into the mix adding another weapon to the bands already expansive music arsenal.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is the slow-burning "Far Away", another great ballad utilizing an acoustic guitar paired with heartfelt lyrics. "I believe that love is gonna last forever", Stockdale sings, "but it's all within my mind". A surprisingly deep song that deals with the subjects of loss and the girl that got away. The six minute closing track "Violence Of The Sun" is another high point on the album. A slow building epic full of melodic keyboards, distortion and lofty guitar riffs that end the album in style.

In other news, Stockdale recently recorded a song with Slash for the guitar god's forthcoming solo record. He is in good company with Dave Grohl, Iggy Pop, Nick Oliveri, Flea, Fergie and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine also featured on the album. And as for Wolfmother, they are currently on a U.S. tour through the fall with a European tour following this winter.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

White Denim - Fits

The Austin trio that is White Denim has done it again with the release of their third full-length album Fits, a dizzying collection of pulverizing drums, screaming guitars and howling vocals... and that's only the first 5 tracks. The band experiment with changes in song structure, pace and style creating a dizzying array of sounds and influences leading the listener on a musical journey full of genre hopping, mind bending fun. White Denim stitch together tidbits from every musical genre and time period, combining the experimental pop of the 60s with the blues-rock of the 70s, and create something new in the mix. A down to earth band, White Denim still record in drummer Josh Blocks' caravan instead of a recording studio, creating a full on garage jam session feel.

The album is basically a 50/50 split, with the first part comprised of swirling, fuzzed out rock and the later reflecting a mellower, restrained take on White Denims' genre twisting music. "We saw a pretty clear division emerging in the songs we were recording for this album", says front-man James Petralli, "From that came the idea to sequence it like an LP with a 30-second pause in the middle where you could imagine getting up to flip the record over".

The band kicks of the album in high gear with "Radio Milk / How Can You Stand It", a 60s flavored psychedelic whirlwind of bluesy guitars and vocals overlaid with a killer bass line by Steve Terebecki. This track is a good indication of the direction Fits is going to take you, with multiple genres and time shifts layered over turbulent guitar rhythms and pounding cymbals. The album continues with the swirling distortion of "All Consolation" before presenting the listener with the hard blues vibe of "Say What You Want", a good contender for 'Best Song' on the entire album. Keep an ear out for Josh Block dishing out some seriously great drum work throughout, definitely the most proficient member in the band.

Things slow down some on the second half of the album with the beat poet lyrics of "Paint Yourself", keeping a nice jazz vibe with some hand claps and percussion rolls. "You're always looking at yourself", Petralli howls, "deciding what you do not want to see". While not a band known for terribly creative lyrics, White Denim take some big steps forward with this short gem. The jazzy waltz of "I'd Have It Just The Way We Were" keeps the mellow feel going before jumping back into some vintage funk-rock with "Everybody Somebody", a near perfect piece of garage rock.

If you've made it this far your reward is the slow and soulful 70s inspired "Regina Holding Hands", one of the most polished songs on the album. Complete with smooth guitar rhythms and warm background vocals, "Regina" feels like it was plucked out of some 70s lounge. An impressive track from a band that never sounds like they are trying to be 'retro'. Of all the songs on Fits, this would be the one track that could hook potential new fans. The album ends with the lo-fi acoustic finger picking of "Syncn" and the great guitar hooks of "YoYo", leaving the listener with the uncontrollable urge to start all over again from the beginning.

One of the more adventurous bands out there, White Denim has been creating their own brand of retro garage rock since early 2005. Slowly gaining attention through word-of-mouth and extensive touring, playing with no obvious agenda beyond having a good time. There is some great music to be found with White Denim, if you have an open mind and can handle the abrupt style shifts. "We set the tempos high," says Petralli, "and set off."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Malajube - Labyrinthes

Malajube are a four piece french/canadian indie-rock group hailing from Montreal who have been slowly building buzz in the U.S. for their instrumental interludes and stylistic mash-ups. They already have a large following in the UK after 2006's multi award-winning album Trompe-l'Oeil and despite commercial pressure they continue to make music only in their native French.

The band shifts between psychedelic rock, indie-pop and 80s synth creating an eclectic mix of beautiful tracks that make Labyrinthes an album that easily transcends the language barrier. This is an album full of addicting guitar tone and swirling keyboards that will easily pull the listener in. The music, according to the band's keyboardist Thomas Augustin, "talks to people".

A good indicator of where this album is going to take you is the opening track "Ursuline," a six-minute epic full of all the quiet piano and experimental guitar riffs the rest of the album will soon throw at you. Vocalist Julien Mineau uses his melodic voice and addicting guitar tone to great effect creating an incredibly enjoyable sound, even if you don't know exactly what he's singing about.

As you will soon discover keyboards and pianos are an important part to Malajubes' sound, humming in the background of tracks like "Porte Disparu" and "Luna," giving their sound a hint of ELO at times. While most of the album is very mellow, songs such as "Casablance" and "333" ramp things up a bit giving the album a good balanced feel.

According the frontman Julien Mineau the album is knotted with a "ribbon of religious imagery" which explores the continuing cultural presence of Catholicism in Quebec. The province of Quebec is about 83% Catholic and Malajube do not seem to be big fans of organized religion. "You rent and sell your soul / because you want to live forever", translated from the hard hitting "333", "I know that one day / I'll be eaten by bugs". Not that you need to know the meaning to enjoy this great album, but it adds another dimension to the music and for me helps understand these four musicians a little better. To be sure this is a band I will be following for some time to come.

Bonus: The video that launched Malajube into indie-rock stardom in 2006. "Montreal -40°C".