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Mechanical Bull | Kings of Leon

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Ethan and Joel Cohen once asked “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” And they got a cinematic answer. The music business phrased it a little differently: “O Brothers Followill, Where Art Thou?” And the biz, too, got an answer. The Brothers Caleb, Nathan, Jared, and Matthew Followill, the four members of Kings of Leon, are back with a new record, titled Mechanical Bull.

Mechanical Bull, KOL’s newest LP, marks a decade of professional (well, semi-professional – they are privy to dirty humor) music-making, and is an impressive anniversary album that draws on influences from each of their five previous full-lengths. Over the course of their career, KOL has evolved through various degrees of raucous Southern blues-punk, smoky folk, and more recently, styles of high-fi arena rock showcased on their breakout Only By The Night. In the void between Only By The Night‘s ubiquitous radio hits “Use Somebody” and “Sex On Fire” and the newest album, KOL released Come Around Sundown, which failed to live up to the expectations of the previous record. Mechanical Bull seems to have taken a different approach, seeing KOL move away from a militant political mode of songwriting, instead focusing on what they know how to do best: roots rock. Mechanical Bull sounds more like a well-produced combination of Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times, less interested in anthemic radio hits and more interested in an honest style of homespun rock ‘n’ roll. While the album opener “Supersoaker” does provide something by way of a radio single, the rest of the album pleasantly lacks a radio feel, as if the band made the record for the music and not for the primetime slots in the 90 and 100 frequencies.

That said, Mechanical Bull still features catchy songwriting, but in an endearing, understated way. This has the effect of not immediately making the album stand out until you listen a few times through. Midway through the album, “Temple” throws listeners back into the ’90s with an undeniably catchy four-chord indie jam. This ’90s vibe is replicated on “Wait For Me,” but with the powerful staccato drumming that is the signature of Nathan Followill’s style. “Beautiful War,” the fourth song on the album, sprawls out in a slow, warm waltz. “Family Tree” and “Don’t Matter” are both growling rock songs, dedicated to solid guitar riffing like their old material with a pleasant hint of Beck thrown in there. And then there’s “Supersoaker,” which features some of the best bass playing in pop music: not that it’s technically difficult, but it is catchy as hell.

On the whole, Mechanical Bull is succeeds in blending their styles from each previous album into one, without making a hokey or gimmicky musical patchwork quilt. Rather, it’s more like an iconic, tattered leather jacket that has a patch from each of their previous lives. The album picks up and ends where it needs to, not dragging too long or departing too soon. With repeated listens, this is an album that will grow on listeners. 3.8/5

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AM | Arctic Monkeys

You don’t have to believe an Al Gore supporter to see the ugly truth that global warming is real, and it’s affecting humans and our environment. But it also poses a particular threat to a certain rebellious and certainly misplaced species: arctic monkeys. With the icecaps melting, what is a band of arctic monkeys to do?

One such group of precocious primates from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, decided that the only thing to do is to release another album. They released “One For The Road,” so to speak, which is actually the third track on the new Arctic Monkey’s album, appropriately titled AM. Featuring a vocal cameo from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, one for the road is a fine way to describe the new record, as it both a departure from the sounds of their previous four albums, as well as being damn good driving music.

Whereas Arctic Monkey’s 2006 debut work Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was altogether a quaint, lo-fi, dissonant, smoky album for dancing in bars and house party basements, and 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare was an intense, jittery, and ambitious hour of power, AM displays an incredible musical growth and maturation from Arctic Monkeys. While there’s nothing wrong with an album that sounds like four dudes giving themselves carpel tunnel syndrome from zealously pounding on drums and snapping guitar strings from power-strumming, AM sounds like a well groomed piece of studio work. The opening track “Do I Wanna Know?” kicks off the album (in the most literal sense) with an expertly effected set of foot stomps and hand claps that hark back to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” but with a certain biting, badass hip-hop attitude in the style of old school Dr. Dre. And then it drops: that fuzzy, classic Brit-rock guitar crunch made popular by groups like the Sex Pistols, every downbeat striking heavily on the anvil of modern rock-n-roll, working out a song that can really cut like a broadsword. The same can be said of just about every other song on the album, including the singles “R U Mine?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” AM‘s sound features a pervasive, unyielding tightness that reflects the sonic journey that has led the Monkeys to this latest record. They’ve put themselves through the wringer to achieve what they’ve done on AM.

The twitchy punk of their early years has been traded in for a slicker, smoother, slyer style of rock-n-roll. You can see it in their haircuts, too. It’s straight out of Grease. In either classic suits or leather jackets, the Arctic Monkeys have restyled everything about themselves. And it works. And moreover, to their credit, they managed to do it without making every song on the album sound the same. “Mad Sounds” and “I Wanna Be Yours” are two standout on the album for the slow, rich, melodious vulnerability that sees frontman Alex Turner giving in to his own hopeless romanticism and embracing rock-n-rolls inherent imperfection, rather than jabbing at it, as was characteristic of their earlier, polysyllabic work.

Bottom line(s): There’s really no single compromising flaw with this album. That’s not to say it’s flawless, because rock-n-roll is inherently about one’s own flaws, and the Monkeys own it on this album. If there’s any one bone to pick, it’s that the album ends a little unresolved. Mais c’est la vie du rock. There’s no resolve for a rolling stone. There’s no cooling down in a heating world. So, to end with a timeless cliché: the Arctic Monkeys fought fire with fire, and it is hot as hell. 4.4/5.

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Repave | Volcano Choir

By KRUA Music Manager Oli P

Courtesy of boomingsmusicscene.files.wordpress.com

What has a bushy beard, a heart-breaking falsetto, collaborates with Kanye West, and has yet to release a third Bon Iver album? It is, of course, Justin Vernon. The Bon Iver frontman has just been having too much fun working with ‘Ye on Yeezus and playing bluesy garage-rock with his duo The Shouting Matches to return to the studio to release a third Bon Iver album. But that’s not all. There’s his other, perhaps most impressive side project, Volcano Choir. Unlike the simple warmth of The Shouting Matches or the backwoodsy cabin-music feel of Bon Iver, Volcano Choir is something of an electro-orchestra wunderkind. Imagine Bon Iver (Vernon’s characteristic falsetto) blended intriguingly with heavy drums and slightly glitchy synths and guitar riffs. The result is a beautiful torrent of varying influences that nonetheless retains Vernon’s ability to write poignantly about the trials of holding together as a band and holding together within oneself.

Opening the album with an organ so full of drawbars that the first thirty seconds feel like gospel in space, “Tiderays” quickly evolves into a steady march full of lush vocal harmonies that reminisce of “Holocene” off Bon Iver’s second, self-titled album. However, the element of Volcano Choir that really brings their sound into its own is prominent electronic production tactics. Vernon’s vocals are tactfully autotuned in sections to add flare (much unlike T-Pain’s signature robo-squeal); guitars are phased and glitched across the stereoplane; percussion moves between marching-band snare drums and extremely low pounding rhythms in the style of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

By the time the second track “Acetate” cues up, if the melodies and harmonies haven’t been convincing enough, the word play steps in to steal the show. Not only is the music tonally beautiful and impressive, but the lyrics are also subtly, understatedly brilliant. Rather than a song about being busted in the aftermath of a love gone wrong, listeners get a little oratory in chemical medicine and things not fitting where they fall. Following all this, the album’s single “Comrade” is the ballsy track that will cause those who doubted Vernon’s manly power (falsettos holding a certain softer connotation) to recant in full. The drums come crashing and the guitars incandescing as the chorus really rocks in a way that is both unexpected and delightful.

Not only is this a wholly good album, but Volcano Choir has made a relevant statement with their music: they can coexist. Not just with themselves, as has been made evident by a successful album, but also in blending several deeply rifted styles of music. Folk rock does not often blend with electronic music, probably due in part to stigmas that exist between folk and electronic purists – one is not “natural,” the other is not “exciting.” But Volcano Choir has made one of those artistic somethings that sounds both natural and exciting, which is indicative of a hopeful future of music. While dubstep will likely continue for a while, and while folk singers will stick to their four chords and wordplay, there’s a beautiful middle ground in their somewhere. A beautiful middle ground that’s not exactly no-man’s-land; rather, it’s more like all-humans’-land, since this is territory for all musicians and music-philes to explore together. And this land might be in the bubbling center of a Volcano.

Bottom line: Fantastic album, worthy of buying on vinyl.

4.3/5