Archive for November, 2006|Monthly archive page
Between their first and second album Motion Picture Demise made a complete shift in musical direction. Once a Christian screamo group, the Virginian quintet suddenly abandoned its hoarse-throated mission and took a turn for the lurid and secular. Zip.Boom.Hah., their second album, finds them worshipping at the altars of Slash and Axl Rose. Chug-a-lug breakdowns are swapped for cocky, power chord-driven riffs; cathartic howls are discarded in favor of full-throated melodies. But MPD has yet to expunge its “emo” roots, which in turn saturate each of the album’s seven tracks. Zip opens strong with a buzzing, neon-lit guitar lead on “Causin’ a Stir,” which collapses into a pop punk song with thicker, more technically-able instrumentation. Regardless of its saccharine structure, the massive hook buries itself in listeners’ brains like an aural chisel. “The Way It Goes” follows closely behind with the same fervent energy and frenzied guitar and bass work; but this, too, crumbles, becoming an impotent whinefest begging someone to “let it go.” And with each song the cycle continues: veiny, potent riffs tease listener interest then recede into half-assed “emo” tunes with vague catchphrase lyrics like “we’ve got the new disease” and “just fail with me.” The faux-cock rock of “Inhuman Touch” attempts to salvage their harder aesthetic with diving fingertap parts and smutty lyrics, efforts which go up in smoke at the opening strums of the pillow-soaking acoustic ballad, “Innocent.” With this emo/hard rock hybrid sound Motion Picture Demise are damning themselves to audiences full of 14-year-olds whose only exposure to Guns N’ Roses is parental rants about the good old days. Instead, the group should seriously consider further developing their swaggering aesthetic and leave the “emo” for the eyeliner sect.
The unwitting theme of tonight’s Empty Bottle show was an unchecked resurgence of childhood. Scene girls secretly rebeled against mothers who once told them, “No, Julie, you can’t wear six shirts, two skirts and my gaudy jewelry” and piled it on high. Openers The Magic seemed stuck in church basement/family minivan-transported/pizza party mode, still bashing out that same ragged “punk” tune. The Party Downers‘ technical know-how was channeled through seventh grade’s humor themes, leading to songs called “Awesome” that contained few words more. Afraid the next band would throw a 30 minute long tantrum I ducked out early. Not to hate on childhood music-making; it’s good fun and formative experience to muck around like that. When you’re losing your hair and puffing Parliaments, no one wants your inner children on stage. Think of how embarrassing the home videos will be when they sync up, on YouTube, with Bobby’s first gig.
And now for some music that isn’t boring:
Though Ryan Raddon (a.k.a. Kaskade) is best known for colorful, poppy house music, his well-traveled career and A&R work play as much a role in his new album as his characteristic sound. Born and raised in Chicago, cutting his teeth DJing in Salt Lake City and establishing a home base in San Francisco, Raddon has sampled the vibes and aesthetics of a few disparate scenes. He’s also been exposed to a wide range of acts as the A&R guy at OM Records, where he’s been cherry-picked Ming & FS, King Britt and Soulstice for their roster. With Love Mysterious, Kaskade’s fifth full-length, Raddon’s keen ear for dancefloor-filling sounds has shifted his own beyond the scope of house.
Kaskade’s first hit came in 2005 with “Stepping Out,” a song-shaped, emotional tune that could pass for a house remix of a rock song with filtered guitar strums and live drums. Much of Love Mysterious follows in this vein, utilizing guitars and compact song lengths, at times dropping the dance component completely. “Stars Align” launches the album into orbit with hopeful energy, galloping house rhythms and Marcus Bentley’s steady pipes. “See what you could be / when you know you shine for me,” Bentley urges buoyantly and establishes a cheerful-if-cheesy tone for the album. The soaring, guitar-led number “Be Still” emulates and electrocutes latter day Madonna production, its pulse climbing almost as high as the sky-scraping female vocals. Though “Be Still” nearly reaches critical mass, Raddon also scales it back – slightly — to let pleasant grooves do more of the work. “In This Life” is breezy and soulful like spontaneous beach rave; “Never Ending” vibrantly melds simple house motifs with Joslyn’s breathy assurances and ends up one of the better songs morning after tunes of the year.
While these tracks are joyful and enjoyable, they’re also fairly close to Kaskade’s status quo. Raddon reaches further on songs such as “Sorry” and “Distance,” both of which scale back the effervescence. The dizzy former blurs its remorseful vocals like Ulrich Schnauss bends his tones, resulting in vague dissonance that smudges the song’s pop shine. Despite its mid-range tempo, the latter’s soft keyboards, rubbery bassline and pensive vocals make “Distance” one of the album’s most chilled out tracks. But the title of most relaxed goes hands down to Love Mysterious closer “4 AM.” Blissful and perfectly orchestrated, it’s also the album’s most traditionally rock tune. Casually strummed guitar and a blanket of synth melody hang in the air, only broken up by drum programming that sounds suspiciously as if it were played on a set. Eventually doing away with all percussion, Raddon suspends listeners in the clouds while gently cooed lyrics attest, “there’s a way / there’s a way, I know.” Like the last sigh before dropping off into sleep, “4 AM” carefully ushers listeners from the album’s confines and into silence.
Not all of Raddon’s attempts to broaden his palate work as effectively. Squelchy synth rave ups are sore thumbs in the otherwise hushed “All You,” a track which zigs vigorously instead of zagging the low-key route. “Sometimes” carries on as if listeners hadn’t already heard “Stars Align;” and though its motif is darker, overly familiar methods and extended length find it lacking much original thought — though not offensive to the ears. Perhaps the greatest mistake on Love Mysterious is not a misstep, but a missed opportunity: “Fake” is one of Kaskade’s more interesting departures, pairing palpitating synth geometry and sultry vocals. The tense tune begs for a surmountable climax and is instead chopped short just before three minutes length, whimpering to a close.
By nature, Ryan Raddon seems suited to try new things, whether it’s a choice of city or style. His instincts to wander from the house base camp were good; and though he only moved a few steps away, Love Mysterious is a compelling album for it. Of course there are going to be stumbles on the path of exploration, and his are not serious enough to turn off many fans. In fact, this very song-based record may be the one to expand his adoring fanbase beyond those who go bump bump bump in the night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Though I’m essentially just drawing from the well of knowledge that is the brilliant and extremely generous blog modyfier, these are a few that had me buggin’ and need more eyes and ears.