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Paws Up!

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I don’t know how she did it….but she did.  Lady Gaga surprised me.

Her new, relentlessly hyped album, “Born This Way”, is like no other pop album you have ever heard.  And make no mistake, I use the word album intentionally. “Born This Way” deserves to be heard start-to-finish as a whole.  It is bold, audacious, pretentious as hell, weird, somewhat silly, and insanely danceable.  It  is an exercise in pushing everything to its ultimate degree and it sounds nothing like what she’s done before.

Opening track, “Marry the Night” starts off with a nearly funereal set of keyboard chords that are soon dumped in favor of what Gaga has always promised would be “sledgehammering dance beats”. It’s a pattern that holds throughout “Born This Way”.  No matter how a song begins – pizzicato strings, operatic vocals, 80s rawk guitar – it’s soon engulfed in buzzsaw synths and robo-precise rhythms.  This is shameless, club-orientated pop that aims for instant impact.

Highlights are numerous.  “Schiße” is firmly planted in Berlin’s debauched club scene, as its title and opening line, “I don’t speak German, but I can if you like!”, suggest.  It is weighted with hardcore 90’s techno beats until the perfect pop hook of the chorus kicks in and then this odd track seems suddenly right at home on the radio today.  “Bloody Mary” takes a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach to the story of Mary Magdalene.  Flirting with the same themes as “Judas”, but even more blatant, it wraps its provocations around a brilliantly filthy, slinking beat punctuated with a Gregorian chorus chanting “Gaga”.  “Hair” is really quite a breathtaking song that at once does a better job of being a) an inspiring anthem of empowerment and b) quite the gayest thing you have ever, ever heard other than the title track. It starts off like the power ballady theme song for the greatest John Hughes movie you never saw, throws in a touch of saxophone, explodes into a manic rave cacophony, and peaks with one of those classic Gaga choruses capable of burning itself into your brain after one listen.

Lady Gaga is clearly not concerned with making new fans.  If you don’t like her, this album is chock full of her eccentricities and ego and likely to make you like her even less.  The album is littered with some rather trite lyrics and Gaga’s phenomenal sense of self-importance that floods just about every note. But for those of us little monsters who love her (and clearly I am one), this is exactly the album Mother Monster has been promising.  It is a trip through a club culture where everyone belongs.  Paws up!

CD Reviews

Transistor-on Takes “The Way Back Down” on EP

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Transistor-on calls their goods “fuzzed out reverb music,” and in the spirit of post-rock, EP The Way Back Down is full of that melodious texture and sensation. Recorded at The Cottage with Damon Moon, The Way Back Down is a mere four tracks. But those songs make a satisfying sampling of a band with a big future ahead.

Atlanta duo Joey Piersante and Chris Armistead offer up a hazy fugue state that is the blueprint for this coming summer, showing that they can run with the best of the lo-fi crowd with their unique rhythms and finger-picking. The minimalist use of instruments that whip up the dream poppy wall of sound succeeds in taking the listener in a layered, chill journey.

Tracks like “Calling Out” and “Solar Flare” are so catchy (the former with its title refrain; the latter with its main guitar melody), that they etch onto your brain and trick you into thinking these are songs that have been around for maybe 20 years or so already.

Reviewers are throwing out comparisons—and they’ll continue to—of Transistor-on to Explosions in the Sky. The similarities are there for sure; both bands share a genre, after all. But saying only “they remind me of Explosions in the Sky” overlooks the fact that Transistor-on are stepping out in earnest on this EP, sounding comfortable in their skin without being jaded. Plus, having smoky vocals on the tracks adds to the spacey miasma and mystery that serves as the overarching feel of the record. The singing on “Empty Planet,” for example, highlights the track’s slow burn into its rocking guitar-driven crescendo.

Though the last piece on The Way Back Down is called “Exit,” by no means is that a harbinger of the band’s future. Transistor-on closes with a sure-footed tapestry of distortion and crisp rhythm, wrapping up a consistent and skillful release that definitely marks their arrival.

The Way Back Down is available to stream on SoundCloud or for purchase on iTunes. The gorgeous photo cover by Richard Casteel.

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Muse “Drones” Review

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Emily Hearn Saves Time in a Bottle on “Hourglass”

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Emily Hearn’s sonic journey on Hourglass shows that she is a woman coming into her own, figuring out the knots of past heartache, the bliss of newlywed life, and the passage of time.

Time acts as the overarching narrative on the record; Hourglass spans the two years following the Athens, GA native’s debut Red Balloon and 2013 EP Promises. “We fall in or out of love as time moves us,” she explains. “We learn life-changing lessons as time goes on. We figure out how to handle important relationships as time shapes us. We decide who we want to be and what we believe as time reveals our priorities. And ultimately, we grow older as time goes by.”

Hearn sings wistfully “Oh, to be young, and to have time” on the third track “Oak Tree,” longing for the naïve feeling that time would never move forward, or at least not so fast. She frets over seeing her parents age so quickly. The existential worries of a twenty-something come delivered in a package of a catchy, infectious chorus and clap-along-able melody.

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