March 27, 2006

Ben Harper - Both Sides of the Gun

With 7 brilliant albums under his belt, Ben Harper has been high on my list as one of the most talented, insightful, and most of all soulful artists of our generation. His songs have always had a unique fusion of blues, reggae, gospel, folk, funk, and rock. Ben is an artist that doesn’t let the laws of the music corporation influence his artistic gift. He has made his music the way he wants it his whole career. Though his studio albums are entertaining, they hardly do the man justice. His live performances have always been Harpers strong suit. With his rock/reggae jam style he meets everyone’s expectations that attend his show. Anyone who isn’t familiar with Ben Harper, I strongly recommend listening to “Fight for Your Mind”, “Welcome to the Cruel World”, and “Live From Mars”. His newest release “Both Sides of the Gun” however, is the album on trial here today. With such high standards set by Harpers previous works of art, “Both Sides of the Gun” is going to have enormous shoes to fill. I being a huge Harper fan makes it even harder to give it a fair chance, but I’ll be as honest as possible.

Although the 18 songs could have fit on one disc, Harper broke it up into a double disc on purpose. The first disc is a softer, acoustic disc full of ballads and love songs. An area that Harper isn’t new to, his comforting voice and smooth strumming guitar is what really pushes this half of the gun. It’s hard to explain, but it lacks a certain Harper quality that has been present on his other acoustic songs. What it does show is his passion and focus on his personal feelings which he delivers in a much more delicate way, dedicating an entire cd to his intimate style. Stand-outs include “Morning Yearning” which throws a string quartet into the mix, and “Pictures in a Frame” which is slightly reminiscent to The Cure’s “Pictures of You”.

The Second disc is dedicated to his rock. This is the more Harper-ish side of the gun. A few of these tracks have a Rolling Stones type of rock and roll sound, while some like "Better Way" have a sort of Indian feel to them. Harper has always been one to borrow from other artists, but this album makes it much more blatant than his past work. Usually he adds enough of his own ideas to make the songs more Ben Harper, but this album doesn’t seem to have as much of his creativity and musical attention. There are some great songs on this album. “Serve Your Soul” is the 8 minute folk/blues song that concludes the second disc with a bang. “Please Don’t Talk About Murder While I’m Eating” has a classic Harper slide guitar solo which really hit the spot for me.

As a whole, “Both Sides of the Gun” does have Ben Harper qualities that shouldn’t be ignored. His amazing ability to write socially pointed words to his songs is a major part of this album. The lyrics hit home for Harper and it’s a major reason this album doesnt suck. Another is his less polished sound that was absent from “Diamonds on the Inside”. Ben Harper’s sound is in “Both Sides of the Gun”, you just have to focus a little more than usual to hear it. On a personal scale, it lacks a little of the uniqueness that has made Harper such a favorite in my book. Harper promised this album to be more personal than his other albums, which is why I feel a little disappointed. I can't say this album is great because I know Ben is capable of much more. I will say however that this album is good. It has weak and strong moments but the overall outcome is a success. When it’s all said and done it comes down to one thing. “Both Sides of the Gun” is still Ben Harper. He could’ve done a collaboration with Weird Al Yankovich and Paul Shaffer, and I would’ve been the first one in line saying “Shut up, it’s Ben Harper…it has promise.” If you’re a Harper fan, get it. If you haven’t heard him yet, start with his older work first.

March 26, 2006

Deadboy and the Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky

Does anyone remember the band Acid Bath? I didn’t think so. Neither did I when I heard the former band member’s newest project Deadboy and the Elephantmen. Dax Riggs dropped out of high school at 13 to drop acid and write music for the properly named band, traveling the country with his 15 year old girlfriend. Leading a life that could be accurately depicted in a Quinten Tarantino film, Dax has gone through the worst of it. Now in his late 20’s, he’s discovering there is more to life than fucking and drugs. I’m only assuming his music has gone through changes as well. Deadboy is as close as anyone has come thus far in mimicking the sound of the White Stripes. Made up of just the 2 piece boyfriend/girlfriend duo (not the same girlfriend he went cross country with. Apparently that relationship fell through…go figure), “We Are Night Sky” takes on a White Stripes vibe, though only barely doing that comparison justice. A little less rock and roll than the Stripes, Dax keeps the sound simple, with a few slow songs thrown into the mix. Dax's song writing is nothing to take too seriously either. Over half of the songs on this cd talk or refer to "the night". What does make this album is its unpredictability, randomness, and weirdness. Constantly throwing random 10 second snippets into practically every song, you really have no idea what you’re listening to until you hear it a few times. Once you have absorbed it, the somewhat effortless guitar riffs make Night Sky a semi-satisfying listen. I know the comparision is already old, but I speak the truth. Deadboy is a softer, simpler, less talented version of the White Stripes….except on acid. My advice, if you’re a huge fan of Jack and Meg (which if you’re not by now, you’ve got issues), then stay clear of Dax and Tess.

March 05, 2006

White Mud Free Way - Last Year's Junk

This album has a personally interesting story behind it. Jesse Jeffers and I were at our local record store staring at the indie music section. We were both in the money that day, so we decided to close our eyes and purchase the first album we grabbed. My hands fell on White Mud Free Way. At first I didn’t even care, it was just an album to experiment with when I had the time. Now, I recommend it with true sincerity as one of the most entirely enjoyable albums I own. Never overbearing, Last Years Junk is 10 songs of serene pleasure. Whether the band is just doing the acoustic thing, or bringing the whole band in, the sound is simply astounding. Simple being the key word, because there are no bigheaded sound effects, just catchy, uncomplicated music. Terence Bernardo and Mari Solivan were crashing a university cocktail party when they met, sharing interests and musical interests. Later in Terence’s lackluster studio (also known as his basement), the two of them learned by trial and error the works of recording, writing the songs as they went along. The result is one hell of a charming album. It’s hard to give you an idea of what you’d be getting yourself into, but I’m gonna give it a shot. It sounds like Beck, Conor Oberst, and Norah Jones (minus the piano), chilling in an apartment with a guitar, a keyboard, and a drum kit experimenting to find a common ground. With songs like "Bar Code", "Headless Body in a Topless Bar", and "Mercury" it's hard to not picture them becoming one brilliant, artistic band. Last Years Junk is WMFW's debut. Debuts come and go, but I can think of very few groups whose second album I have wanted to hear as much as I want to hear White Mud Free Way's. I don't remember what album it was that Jesse purchased, but I'm pretty sure I had the better luck that day (don't feel bad for him, he got this album for Christmas).

March 01, 2006

Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, Thats What I'm Not

It’s not everyday you get an album and within one listen, you adore every song. The Arctic Monkeys have managed to pull this off with ease. At this moment, I know very little about the band except that they are 4 guys from London that have had a few number one hits in the UK. I’m going to have to contain myself, because I might just over do it with this review. First listens are tricky. Sure, today I love every earsplitting, captivating guitar riff and each story telling lyric that is coming out of my speakers. Then tomorrow I could feel completely different. Tomorrow I might think this sound has been done many times from bands like Oasis, Jet, and Nirvana. I might feel that the stories that these songs tell don’t relate to me at all. Perhaps there’s even a chance I’m wrong when I say this band will soon be all over the radios and televisions in a few months. It’s happened before. The only thing I can promise is that I’ve been listening to tons of new music recently. And for every 10 albums I hear, I sincerely love about 2 of them. I haven’t felt this kind of excitement about a new band in quite some time. True, this is the Arctic Monkeys debut album, and there is plenty of room for these guys to fuck it up along the way. But for every amusing Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs album that comes out, there is one album like the Arctic Monkeys that is, from beginning to end, a fun filled delight to listen to. If neither “Dancing Shoes”, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, “Mardy Bum”, or the outstanding “When the Sun Goes Down” don’t have enough excitement and liveliness to get your heads bobbing, then I am never recommending another album on this blog again. The Arctic Monkeys are a good time, give them a shot.