In Part 1 of our musings over this Spring’s tunes, we floated about in a few genres from Radiohead’s strange new frontiers to the Rap Game’s hottest artists in Lupe Fiasco and Cee Lo Green. But I believe the strongest effort we received was from the Cold War Kids with Mine Is Yours.
With Part 2 we will look at a pair of female songstresses from overseas who are verging on major stardom and follow that up with a pair of young bands most notably recognized by their efforts in the live arena.
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Relatively unknown in the US, this Swedish indie singer is finally gaining some well deserved notoriety with Wounded Rhymes. Lykke Li successfully side-steps the sophomore slump and barrels full speed ahead with this Los Angeles inspired album.
I originally found out about Lykke Li through a friend of a friend and instantly found myself a little bit in love with the single “Little Bit” off her debut album Youth Novel (which you should also open an ear to for several “keeper” tracks). But after finding several Youth Novel tracks in regular rotation on my iPod, I was disappointed to hear her contribution to the Twilight saga’s second soundtrack (New Moon) with “Possibility,” a gravely depressing song about love loss, and worried this would be a sign of things to come on Wounded Rhymes. Fortunately, I was wrong.
The previously mentioned Los Angeles inspiration on Wounded Rhymes seems to provide an upbeat musical ambiance for tracks that meander lyrically through the oddities that make up Hollyweird, USA. “Rich Kids Blues” is the best example of this outsiders view into our circus-like City of Angels. Lykke Li places herself into the mindset of a privileged child in one of our richest of American cities, struggling with questions of life, parental guidance, and rebellious youth. Meanwhile you can’t help but rock your head up and down and stomp with the rebellious drum thumping.
Lykke Li’s strongest effort on Wounded Rhymes could very well be “I Follow Rivers.” Billed as the second single, this track may very well be the best embodiment of Lykke Li as an artist. Laced with heavily synthesized drum machine beats and a strong bass line, its hard to identify a more intense song on Wounded Rhymes. With lines like “I follow you, deep sea baby, I follow you, dark doom honey,” its easy to see Li’s depressive, pessimistic, and cynical nature come through once again, as it did with Twilight’s “Possibility.” Fortunately the catchy chorus and thumping beat will outshine any depressive effects this song may intend.
The heavy drum and bass laden single of “Get Some” has burst full force onto the Late Night show circuit with Lykke Li appearing on both Jimmy Fallon and Conan in the last few weeks. Although this song does not fully show off Lykke’s vocal range, the repetitive nature of “Get Some” will have you coming back for more, which may not be the best thing considering the song explores the darker side of Los Angeles, namely prostitution. This song is so catchy that you may just find yourself in your car singing “I’m your prostitute. You gonna get some. Like a lonely lovers charm.” But that’s okay, so long as no one is watching or listening!
Adele – 21
If Lykke Li avoided the sophomore slump with a easy side-step, then Adele had it smack her full force in the face. All that being said, it’s not her fault. Upon first listen to 21 all I could say was that I felt like there was the music and then her beautiful voice, hanging out somewhere else. The two simply did not match. They stood outside of one another. But I cannot emphasize enough that it’s not Adele’s issue. Her voice is still there, equally as strong as any point found on her debut album 19. But the downfall of 21 is that her producers failed to capture the musical perfection-in-simplicity that existed on 19, often stretching Adele too thin, across as many musical genre’s as possible.
To focus on the good of 21, there are several tracks that do match the mark set by her debut album. The opening track “Rolling In The Deep” is probably the best track on the album, utilizing the Big Band sound often found on 19 and featuring a 60s Soulstress sound often borrowed from Elle Fitzgerald and the like. I believe “Rumor Has It” has been featured on some TV shows and I can see its draw for fans. “Turning Tables” slows things down for a bit and really brings listeners back to the piano ballads of 19, such as “Hometown Glory.”
Beyond these first three tracks, for the most part 21 skews off in every possible direction with the only sense of cohesion being the voice of Adele herself. “Don’t You Remember” seems to force a square peg into a round hole as the British native tries her best to nail a Country Western song. “Set Fire ToThe Rain” comes off as a poorly translated diva-style French song of Celine Dion. “He Won’t Go” makes you question what Rap/R&B Producer thought it was a good idea to give Adele the throw away B-side to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”
As a whole, Adele succeeds once again in proving she has one of the best voices in the music industry, but much to her chagrin, her producers have failed her while attempting to spread her sound across every mainstream genre thinkable.
(These final two reviews will differ slightly from my typical “Album Reviews” as I have seen these two bands live since their latest album release, thus affecting my perception.)
Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
The Orchard is by far my favorite album of the last quarter. Ra Ra Riot has had major star potential since their first EP in 2007. The Orchard sneaked up on me, being released October 26, 2010. I didn’t actually get my hands on it until about a month ago, largely due to a lack of air-play and marketing.
Another sophomore effort in this piece, Ra Ra Riot advances their career without fully reaching their potential. It only takes seeing this band live once (or a simple YouTube search) to know what their potential truly is, and the sky is the limit. Unfortunately, The Orchard’s studio confines don’t really do this band justice. The Orchard serves more as a blueprint in this case. Studio versions of “Shadowcasting” and “Kansai” will get your head bobbing, but not into full-on dance mode like they will in concert. Maybe it’s the visual stimulus of the sheer giddiness and energy these college aged youngsters have on stage or the freedom from the demands of the studio that makes this band thrive on the road. Whichever the case, anyone who remotely enjoys this album should jump at the opportunity to see them live.
At first listen, “You And I Know” is the clear stand-out of the album, but not because it’s the most fun or even the best track, but because of the difference in vocalist. Deviating from their typical lead singer, Wes Miles, and opening the spotlight for cellist Alexandra Lawn, provides a completely new dynamic for the Syracuse natives. Lawn’s voice seems reminiscent of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame at times and couples perfectly with a song that is dark and brooding, building to a climax of emotion that has nowhere to go but crashing to the ground.
“Boy” and “Too Dramatic” are the clear singles from this ten track album, but I wouldn’t stop at just those if you were looking for iPod material. “Massachusetts” and “Do You Remember” have the same upbeat swing while featuring some quality lyrics from Wes Miles.
Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Walk This Road
Continuing in the vein of albums that slipped up on me until I saw them performed live, Robert Randolph’s latest effort doesn’t tickle the eardrums quite like its predecessor Colorblind. Originally released on June 22, 2010, I didn’t even know about it, much less purchase it, until about a month ago.
Walk This Road features several “Segues” that are samples of Blind Willie Johnson recordings that help provide a backdrop for several songs as well as the album as a whole. It’s easy to make the connection from Sacred Steel to Blues Origins, but the Family Band simply lacks effort. It feels as though the band had a stroke-of-genius type idea in paying homage to their roots, but simply went into the studio for one day and laid down an album completely lacking in heart and soul.
Having seen this band live in support of this album, it is hard to feel very different about this album. Robert himself often seems bored and disinterested on stage and it’s a stretch to still call them “The Family Band” as several band members that are actually brothers and cousins of Robert have left the band, including former drummer and founding member Marcus Randolph.
Stand out tracks on Walk This Road include “Traveling Shoes”, the soulful swanky relaxer “I Still Belong To Jesus”, and “If I Had My Way” featuring Ben Harper; but to call them Stand-Outs is quite a stretch. And unfortunately, these tracks kind of require having the Segues that precede and follow them in order for the listener to really comprehend their context. Robert Randolph also gives us a glimpse of his influences with covers of Prince and John Lennon songs, but I’d recommend the originals over the covers.
To conclude, Robert Randolph hardly has a Family Band these days in an uninspired ode to Blues origins with Walk This Road.
Closing the door on our reviews of albums that will ignite some sunshine in your Spring, it’s easy to see that we are not lacking on variety, but only on the quality of wholly complete albums. I’d strongly suggest looking into the songs specifically mentioned in Parts 1 & 2 of these reviews, but to venture into purchasing an entire album would only be an action worthy of a truly loyal fan to any of these bands (or someone with deep pockets). Hopefully you have learned about a new band or two and with any luck you’ve found a plethora of songs for your own personal springtime playlist.