2007

Mantaray – Siouxsie Sioux

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 9/10

Last year Gothic icon Siouxsie Sioux sent fans into a tizzy when she released her first new song in eight years. It was for the series finale of Hannibal and we haven’t heard anything since, but many are hoping it’ll lead to new material. Until then, let’s look at her debut solo album, which also had fans gushing about it when it first came out. Rather than sounding exactly like the Banshees, Sioux gives fans a musical experience they wouldn’t forget.

The album starts with the excellent “Into A Swan,” which establishes a different sound for the singer. The music is stark and gritty with buzzing noises and lots of dirty guitars. Fans will notice how this track, and many on the album, is more rock oriented than her previous material. But rather than being comfortable with the rock edge, bongos and some light synth come in during the bridge to pump up the energetic beat of the song. Something about the music and how Sioux sings “Feelings so strong can’t be ignored/I burst out /I’m transformed” makes you feel like a bad ass when you hear it. Since it deals with themes of transformation, it’s like this feeling was intentional.

About to Happen” is another great track that emphasizes Sioux’s new rock-electronic fused sound. It starts out really dirty with the guitars, but then has a dazzling synth riff during the chorus. It’s unexpected but it really spices up the song. From there the mood changes. Distorted guitars are replaced with thudding drums and stomping horns for the track “Here Comes that Day.” As she sings about someone who only wanted the good in life and is finally getting their comeuppance, the music turns into a slinky groove taking you back to the seedy jazz clubs of the 20s. As she croons “Oh here comes the day” you can picture her singing in a lounge with a stand up bass player right next to her. To make things even more tantalizing it has this sexy groove you can’t enough of. Sioux always had this sultry vibe to her and it comes out perfectly on this song.

This is a really stellar album as there isn’t a single disappointing moment on it. The way she purrs on “Drone Zone” is irresistible and her trance-like singing on the chugging Latin tinged “One Mile Below” is so much fun you can’t help but dance. While the album is full of her confidence and determination, like on “Loveless” where she sounds hungry for a lover, there are some moments that bring the mood down. “If It Doesn’t Kill You” is a somber ballad about fighting through all the bad things life has to offer and letting it make you a stronger person. Sioux offers to be a source of comfort as she sings “Don’t be afraid/don’t shed a tear/I’m here.” It’s a positive outlook, but the entire thing sounds pretty depressing.

They Follow You” is one of those hidden gems that shouldn’t work. The music is insanely upbeat and different from anything heard on the album so far. As soon as you get used to it, some tambourine and keys are tossed in changing the mood to an Abba song. You start to wonder where this is all going while Sioux coyly sings about scars that will always be with you no matter how hard you try to cover them. There’s even a hint of disco when it gets to the chorus. On paper the song sounds like a terrible idea, but in Soiux’s hands it’s a delight.

The closing song “Heaven and Alchemy” is downright chilling. It’s a haunting tune that starts out with her sleek vocals and a muted piano. Things don’t get eerie until the second verse where you can hear her ethereal wailing making her sound like an apparition. It does a great job at setting up this chilling atmosphere, but it gets more upbeat during the second half of the song when the jazzy beat plays in conjunction with the somber piano. Her delivery makes it sound like her swan song, which I guess makes sense she wouldn’t release new material for the next eight years.

Everyone knows solo outings don’t always work out for artists. Either no one cares about the music or it sounds too much like their main band. That’s not the case here; this album is phenomenal. Sioux manages to establish herself as solo musician instead of just the singer of the Banshees, which can be hard to do. Not once while listening to the album did I think “this reminds me of the Banshees.” Somehow she successfully stepped out of the shadow of her popular band. Let’s hope we get more new music from her soon.

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Icky Thump – The White Stripes

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 9/10

It’s been eight years since the White Stripes released what would be their final album back in 2007. And they couldn’t ask for a better way to say goodbye. Going back to their garage rock blues infused sound they left behind for Get Behind me Satan, the band rips, roars, and tears through 13 tracks that provide more of the insane riffage fans clamored for. Surprisingly, it’s also their most fun album in their discography and this comes out on most of the tracks.

The album kicks off with the wonderfully weird “Icky Thump.” Jack White takes us into this weird take of a tryst in Mexico with a cry of “Iiiee! Icky thump, who’d thunk/sittin’ drunk on a wagon to Mexico!” The music is kind of all over the place with the odd squealing keys and scratchy guitar solos bouncing around the song. You’ll notice there actually isn’t a chorus; instead the keys and guitars take its place giving it the White Stripes signature. Another thing savvy fans will notice are the references to the band’s staples like red head women and candy canes. The whole thing is full of energy and lots of fun. Things get more mellow on “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Do What You’re Told)” where Jack criticizes someone for letting other walk over them in a relationship. Even though it has this bluesy, country twang to it, it kind of sounds like a church hymn with the swelling organ. Still it’s classic White Stripes all the way.

Jack White said the connecting theme for the album is positivity and being happy. It may not be in every song, like “Martyr for My Love,” but many of them follow this thought. The most fun and upbeat track is “Rag and Bone,” which finds the duo as junkers looking for anything people don’t want. The Blues tinged song is has a jumpy rhythm that gets you moving. Between the verses, Meg and Jack provide spoken parts convincing people to give them stuff. Jack sounds like a Southern door to door salesmen, while Meg just sounds creepy as she whispers “give it to me.” Another fun track is “Conquest,” a Corky Robbins cover, that takes the classic Mexican stand-off rhythm and recreates it with a gritty guitar. The Latin flavor is kept in with the brassy horns that blare during the hook. There’s even a great part where the guitar and horns play off each other during the bridge. Even Jack’s singing is great; he sounds determined as he wails “Connnnonnnnquest!” You can tell he enjoyed recording the track, especially since he’s been wanting to cover it for 10 years.

For the most part, the album acts a return to the band’s garage rock/punk roots. Their previous effort was all about experimentation while this one has that comforting sense of familiarity. “Bone Broke” will take fans back to band’s first few LPs with the searing raw riffs, crashing chaotic music, and unchained vocals. “Little Cream Soda” is another old school throwback since it’s a re-recording of an older Stripes song. Jack completely let’s himself go on this track as he scares out scream and squeals from his guitar. Playing with the loud/quiet dynamic, the music during the verses sneaks along, fit for a spy theme. The way he lets those notes fly will leave you in awe; it’s that crazy good. “Catch Hell Blues” is very similar to tracks like “Aluminum” and “Instinct Blues” where the music does the talking. There are lyrics, but it’s the guitar playing listeners will be captivated by. You have to hear it for yourself to understand why it’ll leave your jaw on the floor.

The only time the band gets experimental here is on “Prickly Thorn, Sweetly Worn,” which is patterned after an Irish hymn. It features a weezing bag pipe along with a light guitar. The bouncing nature of the song makes it seem like some Irish jigs should be going on at the same time. It’s pretty odd for the band, how many bands do you know of that use bag pipes, but the chant of “Li de li de li oh” makes it catchy. I remember in an interview Jack said it was about exploring their Irish roots, but it’s just another tall tale he attributes to the band.

I’m Slowly Turning Into You” has always been one of my favorite tracks from the album. It’s sneering, snotty, and full of frustration as Jack sings “But your face is getting older/so put your head on my shoulder.” The verse gets more scathing as he points out how everything his lover does is annoying. Then we get that raw, sexy riff right before the chorus that makes your spine twitch. And the swelling keys emphasize the angry mood of the song. But it’s not all bad as during the second half of the song, Jack realizes it’s not so bad after all. I’ve just always loved the mood and music of this track, especially because it’s pretty playful. The album ends with the country jam “Effect and Cause,” which foreshadows the direction of Jack’s solo material. The twanging guitars, the down home raw vibe of the song makes it sound like a classic country tune complete with a bluegrass banjo. It’s not how you expect the album to end, but it provides a look at what Jack would do later on.

The album is really great, not just because the band returns to their garage rock roots. A big part of it is because the songs are so much fun and many of them are upbeat. Jack wanted the record to be about positivity and he succeeded on a number of the tracks. At the time, we didn’t know it would be the band’s last, but it’s very fitting. It shows why so many people fell in love with The White Stripes and even returns to the Blues style that made them famous. Sure, it would be great to hear from the duo again some day, but at least we were left with one of their best albums.

Year Zero – Nine Inch Nails

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Release Year: 2007

Rating: 9/10

While this LP did pretty well in sales, it still gets overshadowed by some of Nine Inch Nail’s essential records. This time around, Reznor made a concept album rather than turning inward for song ideas. Though it may take a while for fans to get into, it’s impressive with songs ranging from catchy and aggressive to down right bleak. Conscious lyrics, strong themes, and intricate instrumentation make for Nine Inch Nail’s most complex album to date. It takes more than one listen to fully understand it.

Things kick off with the heavy and bombastic instrumental “Hyperpower!”Setting up the tone of the album, intense percussion introduces the track while the other instruments come in one at a time. There’s this pounding rhythm that sounds like an army marching. This feeling is amped up when random shouting starts up. Things get more distorted and chaotic as the song reaches its end and gives way to the next track. “The Beginning of the End” sets up the Big Brother, dystopian theme that runs through the album. Paranoia runs rampant as Reznor talks about others watching you and listening to what you say. It’s definitely not the strongest song here, but it manages to have that distinguishable NIN sound.

Reznor pulls out the funk for “The Good Soldier.” The music is on the groovy side of things and makes you shimmy when it comes on. The throbbing bass is awesome, especially since it comes in when Reznor sings “When the bass goes ‘bomb’.” Midway through light xylophone music infiltrates like a glimmer of hope that’s buried underneath the distortion. Like most of the songs here, this one is pretty bleak. The lyrics describe a soldier who clearly doesn’t believe in what he or she is fighting for, but keeps “trying to believe.” It’s a provocative song that could be applied to thoughts on war. This track leads right to the torn and tattered “Vessel.” The music here is amazing. It’s rough, harsh, scratching, and full of noise. All throughout the music gets more violent and turns into something robotic and fuzzy at the end.

If there’s one really catchy, radio friendly track on the album it’s “Capital G.” The music is really upbeat and isn’t as hard as it is on the other songs. Considering when the song came out, many thought it was about the Bush administration; that’s what I even thought. But Reznor has actually stated the G stands for Greed, which makes a lot of sense when you consider lyrics like “Ain’t gonna worry about no future generations and a/And I’m sure somebody’s gonna figure it out.” The lyrics are so poignant and critical that it could just as easily be applied to Bush as well. Things get disturbing on “Meet Your Master,” which talks about someone who has decided to oppose society and is being punished with death. What I really like here are Reznor’s vocals, which are so full of anger and passion to really get the message across. Both are stellar tracks that show why this record is so poignant.

The most unsettling and impressive song is “The Greater Good.” The opening music has more of a hip-hop flavor before light music comes in and twists around as if it’s trying to put the listener in a trance. What makes it really creepy is the way Reznor whispers lines like “Breathe.. us in. Slowly.” With the haunting vocals and the looping music makes it sound like a subliminal message is being broadcast. Reznor pulls off this effect so flawlessly it feels like he’s getting in your head. It’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. A somewhat peaceful moment comes in the form of “In this Twilight.” The music is very pretty and calming creating this relaxing mood. The content sort of keeps up this tone: it seems to be about people watching the skies as the world comes to an end. They know they will die, but think they’ll be better off in the end. Guess it’s not that mellow in the end.

What’s interesting about the record is a lot of music goes back to the early days of NIN. Really harsh, aggressive synth beats take over “The Warning,” while “Me, I’m Not” features a lot of beeps and boops in the music layered over a looping drumbeat. These tracks along with others like “Survivalism” are electronic and synth based, much like Reznor’s earlier material. Sometimes the tracks make you think of albums like Pretty Hate Machine or The Downward Spiral. The difference is it never sounds like Reznor is repeating himself. Rather, he’s uses noise filled music to match the chaotic and violent theme of the songs. He does branch out on tracks like “God Given,” which employs a rap style to his vocals and “My Violent Heart,” which uses hip-hip influences like record scratching to get it’s gritty tone, but even fans of his earliest work will find something to latch onto.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. Many say that NIN’s third release is their most underrated, but for me this one takes that title. Not only is it filled with catchy, synth based song reminiscent of Reznor earlier material, there’s also music that goes beyond his comfort zone. And with a theme about a dystopian Big Brother-esque society, it’s a complex album. It takes several listens before you grasp everything that’s being said. Still, since the record is so great you won’t mind experiencing the music again.

Chase This Light – Jimmy Eat World

ChasethislightRelease Year: 2007

Rating: 8/10

Jimmy Eat World is a staple in the pop-punk world. Their songs are catchy, fun, upbeat, and at times somber. Things don’t change on this album. While there may not be as many stand out songs as on their previous release, the entire record is something you can leave on and not mind any track that plays. Some of the songs make you feel good while others make you want to give Jim Adtkins a hug. Either way it’s a great album to get to know.

Things kick off on the right track with “Big Casino.” As with most of the songs found here, this one is catchy. The high pitched trilling guitars and the energetic music gets you pumped for the rest of the album. It seems to be about enjoying life and not giving it up, which is what this song makes you want to do. “Let It Happen” starts off with a really light and melodic guitar before growing distorted and heavy during the chorus. What’s notable here is how the line “Cause I can laugh it off/I can laugh it off” comes to life when Adtkins quietly sings “Ha ha ha ha ha.” It’s something so subtle that really makes the song pop. It then ends on the same soft note it started on. Their both great tracks that show why the band is well loved.

A mellow acoustic guitar introduces “Carry You,” a bittersweet track about not living up to someone’s expectations. During the lyrics, Adtkins comes off snide in his own way, especially when he sings lines like “I’m not your anything.” Though the song may not be the happiest, it’s nothing compared to “Gotta be Somebody’s Blues.” This track is downright bleak. The music is somber and the additional string instruments add a lot of tension to the mood. The musical build up here is great; it really keeps the listener on edge and delivers when the drums come in. You feel everything the song is trying to get across even before the lyrics start. It’s one of the best songs on the record because it shows a different side to the band.

But they don’t keep the gloomy mood for long. One of the most upbeat and fun songs on the LP is “Electable (Give It Up).” The fast pace, simple repetitive chorus, and the energy all make you get up and start moving. It just one of those songs that puts you in a good mood whenever you hear it. “Feeling Lucky” also keeps the upbeat nature going though the lyrics seem a little self-deprecating: “Waiting for the line to move a foot, yeah/Wasting my life on nothing good/Suck that lucky feeling right outta me.” “Here it Goes” takes more influence from pop music. There’s no other way to describe the music aside from happy. Still, just like so many other tracks it’s really catchy and gets you dancing before you know it.

The album ends on a bit of a sad note with “Dizzy.” It’s a slower song that still manages to have some intense moments. It seems to be about the end of a relationship, but what makes it notable is how Adtkins sounds fed up and angry rather than sad. As far as break up songs go it’s a nice change of pace. Also, employing these feelings puts a lot of passion and feeling behind the vocals that makes you appreciate the song more. It may not be the most positive song on the album, but it’s still an interesting way to end things.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. Just as with their previous efforts, the band manages to make another record that’s great from start to finish. All sides of Jimmy Eat World can be found here: from their light poppy sound to their downright depressing nature. Though things can get a little gloomy, the guys make sure to have lots of energetic music that gets fans going. With so many great albums under their belt, it’s difficult for new fans to know where to start. I would say this is as good as any.