Maurice's Music Reviews for 2004

The Shins
Chutes Too Narrow
(Sub Pop)

Original Release Date: October 21, 2003
Review Date: January 9, 2004

"Will you remember my reply
 When your high horse dies?"
 -- from "Mine's Not a High Horse"

    This is the second album from Albuquerque natives The Shins. Their previous Sub Pop effort, Oh, Inverted World made the rounds on the indie circuit, but never broke into mainstream radio. Since that album, the band moved to Portland and replaced the bass player. Some of the struggles that occurred during the transition no doubt played a role in the formation of this album.

    All songs by The Shins are written by singer James Mercer. His writing style attempts to closely monitor the meter of the lyrics while also having rhyming couplets, which at times is to the detriment of the lyrics themselves. The worst example of this style on Chutes Too Narrow is in the final song, "Those to Come", which starts with the great idea of a simulated music box effect to the plucked acoustic guitar, but the meter of the lyrics is so stilted to match the music, that the lyrics come out so forced and cryptic, and the song is ruined. The fast-paced "Fighting in a Sack" is hindered by the lyrics having to keep up with the frenetic beat, which otherwise would be interesting for its skillful guitar work.

    Not that there aren't good lyrics on this album. The album opens with "Kissing the Lipless", which has superb lyrics about a crumbled friendship that unfortunately are wasted by Mercer's wailing vocals. Another relationship song, "Mine's Not a High Horse" is bitingly clever in its wording. There are also some really good tunes that show the influence of 60's pop music on the band. "Saint Simon", from its use of the guitar to keep time, to the background vocals singing along with the soothing violin melody, is a wonderfully crafted piece. "Turn a Square" also combines some decent lyrics (except the painfully forced rhyme "head's like a kite/such a creature I sight") with some interesting and dynamic rhythms to be one of the better songs on the album.

    Many confuse the term "indie" for original. While The Shins are quite indie, they are in no way representative of the mainstream music industry, they also aren't really breaking any new ground. Their influences show, and that's not necessarily bad, however any attempt to proclaim them as the posterband for music industry change would be fruitless (fortunately because they are so indie, they haven't been thrown up on the wall, unlike The Strokes, et al). Chutes Too Narrow isn't a bad album, and has some highlights, it's just not going to make The Shins the breakout band of the year.

Grade: C

Silence Is Easy

Original Release Date: January 27, 2004
Review Date: February 6, 2004

"I looked in your eye
 Fell from the sky
 Line drive
 Panic is blue
 So is the truth
 Could you be mine, tonight?"
 -- from "Could You Be Mine?" (U.S. bonus track)

    U.K. band Starsailor releases their second album. Their first album, released two years ago, was not met with huge success in the U.S. While having been compared to The Verve and Coldplay, Starsailor have a unique sound all their own. Folky acoustic guitar and strong piano rhythms dominate their music, while still having a britpop sound.

    The sound of Silence Is Easy most definitely is similar to their debut, but it is more mature, rich, and full. This is no doubt partially due to the addition of beautiful string arrangements on some of the songs. The production on the album is superb, blending all of the elements of the songs flawlessly. However, the lyrics just aren't as compelling as their previous work. While "Four to the Floor" is catchy, it can't touch the desperation of "Tie Up My Hands" from Love Is Here.

    It appears to be no wonder then that for the U.S. release of the album, two tracks were added to the original 11. These two songs, "Could You Be Mine?" and "At the End of a Show" are stronger than most of the original songs in their lyrics. They don't have the pop sensibility as other songs on the album, but they actually inspire emotion the same way the songs on Love Is Here did.

    While this album is not going to make top 10 lists for this year, perhaps even being forgotten by the end, Starsailor should be credited for making a solid album that isn't a rehash of anything that is current popular, doesn't compromise their own integrity as artists, and is overall well-crafted. Perhaps in their next album, they can combine the rich musical textures of this album with the desperate lyrics of their first to come up with something truly remarkable and memorable.

Grade: C+

Kill Hannah
For Never & Ever

Original Release Date: October 14, 2003
Review Date: February 20, 2004

"She said: I hate the rain
 But here it comes again
 There's something in my head
 I can't get off my mind
 Since you've been gone
 It's raining all the time"
 -- from "Raining All the Time"

    Chicago band Kill Hannah releases their major label debut. Kill Hannah has been around for a number of years in the Chicago scene, having recorded an indie album and a couple EPs previously, they are no newcomers to the industry. Having been compared locally to citymates the Smashing Pumpkins, there is no doubt the aforementioned Pumpkins paved the way for Kill Hannah, but by no means are they merely a carbon copy of said band. Not afraid to throw synthesized rhythm over driving and wailing guitars, yet with surprising sensitive lyrics, they have developed a style all their own.

    The song on the album that jumps off the spinning plastic in the most animated sense, "Kennedy", combines singer Mat Devine's breathy vocals, attacking guitars, cutting like a laser beam through the sythesized rhythm and backbeat, all over the biting commentary on America's royalty. The personal feelings of desperation exposed in "10 More Minutes With You" are enhanced by the slow picking of the lead guitar in the bridge. The distored and deliberate keyboard on "New Heart for Xmas" echoes and emphasizes the pain of the broken heart in the lyrics. The driving drums and guitars brings home the feelings of togetherness when Devine sings, "They can't tear us apart" on "Race the Dream".

    Even the songs with fluffier lyrics, as in "Boys & Girls", have well mixed and interesting music, well-placed pauses and change-ups in this case, such that the song overall is still worthy of listening to. And even the semi-cheesy lyrics of teenage alienation on "Unwanted" are well supported by really good music that keeps the foot tapping through the whole song. The album ends with a worthy closer and cooldown after such a fast pace to the rest of the album, "No One Dreams Anyway" is one of those great slow thinker songs that great bands like Garbage and the Smashing Pumpkins wrap up their albums with, which explodes into a crescendo by the end.

    "For Never & Ever" is a good album that rocks with emotion, breaking the mold of many of today's male posturing bands. It is a welcome change of pace in the world of carbon copies and fourth generation mutations on the same mid-90's theme. Kill Hannah combine good lyrics, great music, and good production to bring something which deserves to be heard on the radio, a true alternative.

Grade: B+

Norah Jones
Feels Like Home
(Blue Note Records)

Original Release Date: February 10, 2004
Review Date: March 19, 2004

"When I look into your eyes
 I can feel the butterflies
 I'll love you when you're blue
 But tell me darling true
 What am I to you?"
 -- from "What Am I to You?"

Grade: B+ (A- for Jones' songs, B for others)

The Vines
Winning Days

Original Release Date: March 23, 2004
Review Date: April 9, 2004

"Walk the fields and we stare at the ocean
 Roll the wheel but forget the notion
 Life was better before was smaller
 The minds computer will fuck the world up"
 -- from "F.T.W."

    The Vines are back with their second album, having released their debut, Highly Evolved in the summer of 2002. Their first ablum was an almalgamation of the sounds of the Beatles, Rolling Stones attitude, and post-Grunge rock. Unfortunately, the influences were so heavy on that album, it distracted from their music. Back with Winning Days, The Vines have shown some growth in their music since then.

    The opening song to the album, "Ride", is an energetic jump start to kick the album off on a good rocking note. The title track to the album combines good lyrics and rhythm to describe the slip into depression, and the desperate desire for a helping hand. The most punk song on the album, and probably the best song on the album, "F.T.W." is a sociopolitical (or is it environmental, it could be either) statement on how easy it is to ruin a small world. The wailing guitar plays the antagonist in a way similar to various parts of Pink Floyd's, The Wall, in "Evil Town". The sequel to a song on their first album, which in and of itself is an interesting concept, "Autumn Shade II" is a light psychedelic trip.

    While The Vines have made advancements, they still suffer from some songs being too closely like their influences. "Animal Machine" imitates Nirvana, even down to Nicholls' voice cracking the same way Kurt Cobain's did when he screamed. "She's Got Something to Say to Me" sounds like they are still trying to write songs that sound just like The Beatles. And then there's the throwaway songs "TV Pro" and "Amnesia", which take four minutes each to sing 6 lines of lyrics.

    The Vines have shown some development through Winning Days. There's less mindless screaming than in the first album. While they still wear their influences on their sleeves, it is less distracting on this album than their first. They were not the next big thing as some predicted when their first album was released, and they won't be because of this album either. But if the band continues to develop, someday we might see a big winner come from them.

Grade: C

Modest Mouse
Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Original Release Date: April 6, 2004
Review Date: April 30, 2004

"Your body may be gone, I'm gonna carry you in
 In my head, in my heart, in my soul
 And maybe we'll get lucky and we'll both live again"
 -- from "Ocean Breathes Salty"

Grade: B+

Local H
Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?
(Studio E. Records)

Original Release Date: April 6, 2004
Review Date: May 14, 2004

"And here we go again
 It's never gonna end
 We're all so sick of California songs"
 -- from "California Songs"

Grade: B-

TV on the Radio
Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
(Touch & Go Records)

Original Release Date: March 9, 2004
Review Date: June 4, 2004

"That's what the geese are all roaring about
 That's what their hearts were all open about
 Our love
 That kind of love
 Unselfish love"
 -- from "Poppy"

    New York City band TV on the Radio received some buzz when they released a 5-song EP last year. Their first full length album spans nine meaty songs, running over 47 minutes. There is no one genre that could describe TV on the Radio. The music is both stark, yet complex at the same time. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe can croon doo-wop or R&B passion or intensify for dramatic effect. Unique is probably the best way to describe the trio's music, the album compels you to listen to find out where it is going to go next.

    The album assaults the listener from the very first track, "The Wrong Way", a sociopolitical commentary, with its boisterous saxophone and wall of fuzzed up bass. "Staring at the Sun", a holdover from their EP, continues to grab attention with its noisepop guitar and clicktrack beat, the song that earned Adebimpe vocal comparisons to Peter Gabriel. The effects-laden guitar, a signature of David Andrew Sitek's production, drives the anti-war dirge "Dreams". The noisiest song about the nature of mankind, to live, reproduce, and die, "King Eternal", cuts to chase quickly, helped by the synth effects.

    Then the album breaks into accapella doo-wop with "Ambulance", where the voices as musical instrument imitate the song's namesake. "Poppy" combines the accapella and Kyp Malone's falsetto mimicry of Adebimpe's vocals with Sitek's grinding wall of guitar to present a love song in a way that only creative artsy bands like The Cure could. The album closes with "Wear You Out", a super smooth tale of a nightclub pickup, with its seductive beats, enticing flute, and relentless sax.

    Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes demonstrates that TV on the Radio are nothing like any other band out there. They can deliver intelligent, meaningful lyrics over a variety of vocal styles. They can layer instruments, each with their own simple tune, on top of each other to create a musical sum that is far greater than its component parts. The only criticism, if you could call it that, is that each part of the songs, on their own, are not stretching any boundaries by any means. However, the production more than makes up for this when the songs are listened to on the whole. TV on the Radio, with their unique sound, is likely to continue to turn heads for quite a while.

Grade: A-

Auf der Maur
Auf der Maur

Original Release Date: June 1, 2004
Review Date: June 11, 2004

"Far away, far away
 I can't feel you today
 I need healing my love"
"I can't fake it my love
 I need filling come on
 I need it louder than bombs
 Come to me, plug it in
 So I can digest you
 Let me taste you"
 -- from "Taste You"

    Melissa Auf der Maur is the former bassist of Hole. Auf der Maur left the band, in part prompting Courtney Love to go solo on her last album. So Auf der Maur recruited friends to help her record an album of songs she herself wrote, the product of which is her eponymous debut album. Auf der Maur does not stray from the type of music she has played in Hole or the Smashing Pumpkins. It's similar to the post-grunge rock each of those bands produced at one time or another.

    And similar is probably one of the best words for this album. Many of the songs on this album are all too familiar. "I'll Be Anything You Want" could have been a No Doubt song, except that the lyrics aren't as strong as what you would find in a No Doubt song. "Would if I Could" sounds like a Lush song, as if she wanted to try shoegazing for a song. "Followed the Waves" starts out with a cool guitar riff, but it ends in an uninspiring way, repeating the same riff that was used to start the song.

    There are a few moments of creativity and beauty on this album. "Taste You", with its sexy and seductive lyrics is sure to be a hit. The driving, deliberate lead guitar gets the head bobbing in "My Foggy Notion", the most interesting song on the album with all of its changeups keeping the listener wondering where it will go next. Galloping along at a furious pace, "Skin Receiver" sounds like a stampede coming to knock you down. Though the album ends in a completely befuddling way. What the heck is with the Mr. Roboto-esque opus complete with bad futuristic effect voiceover monologue in "I Need I Want I Will"?

    Melissa Auf der Maur brought together a lot of friends to put together her first solo album. The album is competent, and in many ways better than Courtney Love's recent solo effort, however, many of the songs are lacking the rocking passion with which Love can express so easily. Perhaps it is because this is Auf der Maur's first solo effort, she is still getting used to being in control, and may let some of that raw energy, fury, and passion loose on her next effort. Maybe too many cooks spoiled the album, it will be interesting to see if she makes another album and what it will be like.

Grade: C-

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