The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (2007)

The Cribs are an indie rock band from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England. Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever is their third studio album. The Cribs are made up of three brothers: Gary Jarman and his twin, Ryan, and their younger brother Ross. Right off the bat, The Cribs reminded me of Franz Ferdinand. Surprisingly enough, Franz Ferdinand’s lead vocalist Alex Kapranos produced this album.

Despite being produced by such a big name, I don’t feel like this album is anything spectacular. I had a hard time telling when one song ended and another one started. After signing with Warner Bros. Records, The Cribs took a shot at having a minor story arch through the semi-conceptual tracks “Men’s Needs” and “Women’s Needs”, shared in the album’s title. The majority of the album is held together by quickly-strumming guitar and bass riffs and garage-band vocals, broken up only by “Be Safe” and the acoustic “Shoot The Poets”. The different tracks are incredibly effective, partially because they’re such a breath of fresh air.  I wish the lyrics shared the depth that “Be Safe” featured in Lee Ranaldo’s spoken-word poem.

I felt that at times the vocals were drowned out by the accompanying guitar and bass. That being said, there were some moments on the album that worked well vocally. There were some nice vocal effects and harmonies – namely on “I’m a Realist” and “Women’s Needs” –  that I wish the band used more often.

“Women’s Needs” is my favorite track, although I feel like it would work really well if it was acoustic. This track has some sections in 7/4, a nice rhythmic change. There are some really nice vocal parts in this song that are unfortunately drowned out by the guitar. If the guitar wasn’t so heavily distorted, this track could be really solid.

Another notable track is “Shoot The Poets”, the only acoustic track on the album. This song takes the listener from a loud and crowded underground rock club to a cozy coffeehouse (much more my scene).

There were parts of this album that I really liked, parts that I almost liked, and parts that I didn’t like. As I said before, I wish The Cribs used more vocal harmony, didn’t drown out the vocals, and varied the sound and style periodically. I liked some parts of Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, but for the most part, it wasn’t for me.

Favorite Track: “Women’s Needs

The Cribs - Mens Needs Womens Needs Whatever

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Princess Chelsea – Lil’ Golden Book (2011)

Princess Chelsea is the moniker for New Zealand-based indie/baroque pop artist Chelsea Nikkel. Lil’ Golden Book is her first album released under Lil’ Chief Records. Princess Chelsea’s music is often described as being indie/baroque/synth pop. For the most part, this album can be categorized as baroque pop because of its orchestral instrumentation and songwriting style. A lot of Nikkel’s musical inspiration and style comes from her classical training. The album art, depicting Nikkel as a more shadowy Snow White, acts as the keystone for the style of music that Nikkel makes; a dually dark yet charming collection of tracks that pair all things cute and creepy.

The first track in Lil’ Golden Book is “Machines Of Loving Grace,” a dark and mysterious waltz. This track opens with a minor chord arpeggio on a synth keyboard. As the chords change, subtle bell tones ring in sync with the start of every chord. Vocals and pizzicato strings enter together. In addition to having a paradoxical duality of cute and creepy, this song combines magical and mechanical sounds. The bell tones are precise, while everything else sounds mystic. Towards the end, everything becomes gritty and distorted, eventually settling down to a single sustained bass tone.

The following track, “Yulia,” is also nice. The low notes of the upright bass paired with the high register of the bells and piano make for a really pretty sound.

“Monkey Eats Bananas” continues the motif of mysterious bells. This time, however, the backing is a steady jungle beat. The lyrics are cute, simple, and to-the-point: “Monkey eats bananas that he stole from your house.”

“Frack” is really neat, standing out as one of the more predominantly synth-based tracks on the album. While this track is heavier on synths, it still has the baroque motif that is carried throughout the album, namely strings and bells. Towards the end of the track, there are some really neat industrial clicks, hits, and gunshots that add a dark percussive element to the track.

I really enjoyed listening to Lil’ Golden Book. Its dark mood paired with Chelsea’s light vocals make for a really interesting sound.

Favorite Track: “Yulia

Princess Chelsea - Lil Golden Book

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

Guns N’ Roses is a hard rock band formed in 1985. Appetite for Destruction is their first studio album. My reaction to listening to this album can be described accurately through Back to the Future quotes: “Whoa. This is heavy,” and “Great Scott!” This album is really intense and heavy. I also listened to most of it around 11pm so that sort of amplified how loud it was. That being said, Appetite For Destruction makes one hell of an entrance as Guns N’ Roses’ first album.

Appetite For Destruction has a handful of singles, namely “Welcome To The Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” It’s really impressive that Guns N’ Roses’ most popular tracks are off of their first release. Sometimes, bands will start their discography with an eponymous album that groups together a handful of experimental tracks because they haven’t quite settled on what sound they’re going for. This isn’t the case for GnR. They start their first album with a bold, loud anthem, “Welcome To The Jungle.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Mr. Brownstone,” written by Slash and Izzy while they were sitting around complaining about being heroin addicts. The lyrics reference heroin use, tolerance, and addiction: “I used to do a little / but a little wouldn’t do / so the little got more and more. I just keep trying to get a little better / said a little better than before.”

For the most part, this album is an upbeat, hard rock album. In “Think About You” there’s a really nice change of pace and texture through the use of a 12-string guitar. As much as I like the grittier songs on this album, I wish they used this more throughout the album. On a similar note, some songs started out deceptively like a ballad or a slow rock song but then spiraled into another upbeat track. While I don’t dislike most of the tracks on this album, some variance in texture and tempo is always nice.

As I said before, Appetite For Destruction made a really big mark for Guns N’ Roses considering it was their first album. It still holds up today as a relevant milestone in hard rock history.

Favorite Track: “Think About You

Guns n Roses - Appetite For Destruction

Mndsgn – Yawn Zen (2014)

Mndsgn (pronounced “mind design”) is the recording name for Los Angeles-based abstract hip-hop artist, beat maker, and producer Ringgo Ancheta. The album is named after the first and last tracks, “Yawn” and “Zen”, respectively. As he puts it, “Yawn Zen comes from a very neutral place that we, sometimes, are too busy to realize is there.”

“Homewards” is a really nice track. It has a steady acoustic beat with static crackling in the background. Everything ducks out on the bass drum hits for a fraction of a second. A bell rings and sustains a pitch for a while, quickly pitch-shifting down and panning left to right.

One of my favorites is “Exchanging” This track has a mellow guitar melody with soft vocal oohs and muffled vocal accompaniment. Overall, the track has a really relaxed tone. The few sounds that are layered on top of each other make for a really peaceful song. The vocal melody reminds me of Real Estate’s “Past Lives

As a throwback to December’s Album-a-Day project, “Convert” really reminded me of some of aNTOJE’s work on TAPE #1Really nice lo-fi beat.

Another one of my favorite tracks is “Camelblues” I love this track because of how minimal it is. The beat is simple, and the chords are reserved and jazzy. The music video for “Camelblues” is really interesting. Mndsgn walks into a thrift store lazily sifts through a rack of shirts before settling his gaze on a small boombox with a keyboard on top. He then proceeds to play the keyboard and quietly sing. One neat thing that I noticed is that he changes shirts, if not entire outfits, in just about every camera cut there is. He also frequently changes his location as well as the keyboard he’s playing on. The video for “Camelblues” parallel’s Mndsgn’s philosophy behind the creation of Yawn Zen: Lots of intricate details and beauties are often hidden in the seemingly mundane drone of our everyday lives. If you blink, you might miss it.

Yawn Zen is a really fantastic album. It’s full of relaxing, interesting, and fresh compositions and beats. It runs just over 30 minutes so if you’ve got time, check it out.

Favorite Track: Homewards

Mndsgn - Yawn Zen

Courtney Barnett – The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas (2014)

Courtney Barnett is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Melbourne, Australia. Her 2014 release, A Sea of Split Peas, is her third studio album with Milk! Records. Throughout all of her songs, Courtney’s vocal style is partly sung, partly spoken and rambled. Hence, the song title “Avant Gardener”. Her lyrics always catch me by surprise. They’re witty, clever, and brutally honest. A Sea of Split Peas is an album full of well-written songs, psychedelic textures, and clever lyrics.

“Avant Gardner” is one of my favorite tracks. While the lyrics on the rest of the album are good as well, Barnett’s lyricism really shines through in this track. This track is about Courtney Barnett having some sort of breathing problem. In one of her wittier lyrics, Barnett describes how her lungs feel: “I’m breathing but I’m wheezing / Feel like I’m emphysem-‘in. / My throat feels like a funnel filled with Weet-Bix and kerosene and…” She compares her ability to breathe with the dryness and flakiness of Australia’s least favorite breakfast, Weet-Bix (similar to USA’s Weetabix). Another one of my favorite lyrics references Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. (Spoilers) In the movie, Uma Thurman’s character overdoses on heroin and gets a shot of adrenaline in her heart. In “Avant Gardner”, Barnett says “I get adrenalin / straight to the heart. / I feel like Uma Thurman / post-overdosing kick start.”

Another one of my favorites is “History Eraser”, one of the more powerful and driving songs on the album. Other than the chorus, this song is entirely spoken-word. At one point, the instruments all stop for a second and sustain a chord while Courtney says “You said “I guarantee we’ll have more fun, drink till the moon becomes the sun, and in the taxi home I’ll sing you a triffids song!” Since there is no real vocal melodic hook, the song relies on the other instruments to carry the track tonally until the chorus.

“Anonymous Club” is also worth mentioning. This song is about separating one’s self from the frantic and stressful world of ‘real life’. There are some really psychedelic textures in this one, especially the sweeping guitar frequencies. This track sounds like a happier B-side to Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” I feel like this could have been alternatively titled “How to Disappear Temporarily”

Courtney Barnett’s double Ep is definitely worth listening to. Her music is incredibly accessible to most audiences. The lyrics aren’t strict in meter or rhythm, but they’re very relatable. This double Ep is a cozy, feel-good collection of songs. I highly recommend it.

Favorite Track: History Eraser

Courtney Barnett - Double Ep Sea of Split Peas

FKA twigs – LP1 (2014)

LP1 is the first full-length album by singer/songwriter/dancer/producer Tahliah Barnett, better known by her stage name, FKA twigs. This is the first major musical production by Barnett. She has released two EPs and has one planned for release in 2015. Previously, she has worked as a dancer for music videos. FKA twigs makes songs that are deceivingly minimal. It seems like there’s not a lot going on if you just scratch the surface. Underneath the reserved song structure and sounds lays a much more complex array of textures. The sounds backing her lush vocals are almost constantly changing.

One of my favorite tracks is “Lights On”. It opens with booming, quickly-moving bass and a music box (or other mallet instrument). Once the chorus hits, an upright bass joins the vastly complex mix. Halfway through, there’s a really neat instrumental break that uses church organ, reversed samples, and deep sub-bass tones.

Another noteworthy track is “Hours”. The opening sounds are a mixture of background noise from both natural and digital atmospheres. The paralleled imagery of man-made sounds and natural noises is really interesting, similar to the electro/acoustic mix of sounds throughout the album.

“Video Girl” is one of the more powerful songs on the album. Barnett used to be a background dancer. This song is written about herself, as she said in an interview: “They’d call my agent directly and say, “We want twigs to come in.” I had a reputation for being reliable. When the camera was on, I’d be the one-take wonder, so a lot of directors liked working with me.” In this track, she’s separating herself from her role as a dancer in someone else’s music video and is focusing on her own artistic visions.

FKA twigs has really made a name for herself with this album, despite the legal issues she’s dealing with regarding her stage name. LP1 is an astounding achievement in artistic prowess in the world of R&B art pop.

Favorite Track: Lights On

FKA twigs - LP1

Bern/hoft – Solidarity Breaks (2011)

Jarle Bernhoft, known by his stage name Bern/hoft, is a Norwegian vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Solidarity Breaks is his second studio album, although it is the first album to be recorded under his moniker, Bern/hoft. For the most part, this album falls under the category of soul or funk. The varying and atypical instrumentation for this style of music keeps this album interesting.

My favorite track is “Space In My Heart”. This track starts with a very faint piano (maybe an organ) playing a fast and ghostly atonal arpeggio, giving a backing of eeriness to the track. It sounds like something straight out of a musique concrète recording. Mellow electric guitar plucks out a contrastingly harmonic series of chords. There are some nice space-like synth textures during the chorus, giving the “Space” in the title two meanings. I love the textures that are in this song. This track features the first guitar solo on the album, lagging slightly behind the beat. The chords and ambient sounds add a sense of wonder to the whole track. Towards the end, there are some heavily vocoded robot-esque vocals.

Bern/hoft also covered a Tears for Fears classic, “Shout”, using different chords, higher vocals, and an overall more poppy feel to the 1980’s original.

Another notable track is “Prophet. Surprisingly enough, parts of this song remind me of Gorillaz. Very few artists have reminded me of them. To me, Gorillaz has a really unique sound and has maintained it throughout their career. The quirky chords, interesting bass, and emphasis on keyboards remind me of one of Gorillaz’s latest singles, “Doncamatic“.

Solidarity Breaks is a nice, modern soul/funk album that is full of interesting compositions and musical styles. Nice vocals, good instrumentation, and well-built textures. Check it out.

Favorite Track: Space In My Heart

Jarle Bernhoft - Solidarity Breaks