Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, AZ 5/12/17
Band Members: Jeremy Furstenfeld, Ryan Delahoussaye, Justin Furstenfeld, Matt Noveskey, Matthew Ostrander
It might be wicked ass cold out there but make no mistake, the new music releases this month are super hot Popsters! In fact, we don’t have an album rating lower than four stars this week, (out of a possible five)! Are we feeling overly generous these days? Not a chance, we’re just as obnoxiously opinionated here in the Pop Bitez offices as we’ve ever been, but we’re having a great time rocking away the winter doldrums with these amazing new releases. Trust us on this one, these are just what the doctor ordered and are guaranteed to help you fight off your cabin fevers!
★ ★ ★ ★★
Singer/Songwriter Dee Dee Penny and her band are moving further and further away from the retro girl group sound with each new release. While the band’s previous efforts were excellent, solid pop collections, Too True is definitely a groundbreaking effort for the Southern California quartet. The retro vibe of the 60s and 70s has been replaced with the synth pop sound of the 80s this time around and, while the influences of Siouxsie And The Banshees and L.A.’s own Concrete Blonde can be heard throughout the album, the band masterfully maintain a contemporary sound that is always fresh, never derivative and all their own.
Too True is the best album the Dum Dum Girls have recorded to date. What a way to kick off 2014!
Check out the first single, Lost Boys and Girls Club
Is there a hotter music scene on the planet these days than Brooklyn, NYC? If you’re asking us we’d have to say, nope. In fact, the rocking borough of Manhattan is practically on fire with one amazing band after another emerging for the last several years. The latest band from the area due for a big breakout this year call themselves Hospitality and, despite the industry legend of the sophomore curse, this band has no reason to be sweating that myth with their second release, Trouble.
This solid effort surprises with nearly every track as the band explores a stunning variety of sounds and styles with 10 great tracks, each more impressive than the one before it.
Listen to, I Miss Your Bones, a track that recalls the best of The Who and the glory days of NYC’s CBGBs.
Beck is back in fine form with his new release Morning Phase, which could easily be considered a sequel of sorts to one of his most brilliant and beloved albums, Sea Change, originally released 12 years ago. The opening track, Morning, kicks things off in very much the same way The Golden Age did on Sea Change and it’s all brilliantly up hill from there.
Taking a break from his widely celebrated experimentations, Morning Phase is a simple yet strong, 13 track collection that, in it’s own way, seems timeless. This album actually could have been released any time in the last 50 years and would never have sounded out of place, in other words, you can turn this one up as loud as you want and your parents aren’t going to mind a bit, (get over it junior, that’s actually a GOOD thing).
There’s not a bad tune on this album but a definite favorite would be Blue Moon!
Much to the relief and joy of music fans everywhere, it turns out Broken Bells, the brilliant team up of Brian Burton– a.k.a. Danger Mouse– and Shins’ front man James Mercer, was not, as many of us worried, a one off proposition. After the Disco is, of course, the follow up to their instantly classic self titled debut album released in 2010 and, though we can’t say this album is quite as strong as their first, it’s still a lot of fun and better than 90% of what’s playing on the radio these days.
In pop music history there was a brief window of time when Disco was fading and New Wave was creeping onto the scene. If we had to guess, it’s the specific sound of this period that the guys have focused on with this album, at least that’s how we’re hearing it. We happened to have loved a lot of the music from that time so loving After the Disco, for us, is really a no-brainer. The exploration and excavation of Top 40s past is subtle at times and, at others, almost hilariously obvious. Nowhere is this concept more apparent than when James Mercer delivers his best Barry Gibb impression on the chorus of the track, “Holding on for Life“, which in many ways sounds like a long lost Bee Gees tune if it were produced by Giorgio Moroder, (honestly, how did that NOT happen?)
Check out the title track of the album, which is as fresh as it is retro and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Daft Punk’s Grammy winning Random Access Memories.
Above and Beyond have been well known in the world of trance music for the last 15 years, which is why their new album, Acoustic, is such a shocker, honestly, we didn’t have a clue they were capable of anything like this.
The album release comes after members Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamaki debuted acoustic versions of their music this summer in London. The 24-instrument orchestra was not only a success in the eyes of their massive fan base, but to all fans and critics who heard their new soothing compositions.
Collecting the trio’s best loved songs and re-imagining them as rich orchestral acoustic arrangements, Above & Beyond Acoustic contains the studio recordings behind their already legendary acoustic shows at London’s Porchester Hall and LA’s Greek Theatre – described by Billboard as “one of the finest shows in dance music history“. Upon its release last week, the album went straight to number one on the iTunes US Dance Album Chart. The new release has been compared to previous works from the likes of Zero 7 and Portishead but, make no mistake, this lush and gorgeous collection is Above and Beyond any release we’ve heard from either of those excellent bands in the last few years.
Enjoy You Got to Go
The more I listen to the new Blue October album Sway, the more I’m convinced this one is a personal best for the Austin based rockers, which is no small feat when you consider this is the 7th album in the band’s catalog.
At a time when many of their contemporaries have either disbanded or resigned themselves to regurgitating past glories, Blue October have raised their bar and all but reinvented themselves. It’s extremely rare for a band that has been around for as long as these guys have to sound anywhere near this fresh, but they truly do, with the kind of enthusiasm, passion and energy usually reserved for an up and coming indie act charging out of the garage and onto the charts.
One could argue, as a follow up to their brilliant but emotionally draining album Any Man in America, in order for the band, (as well as lead singer and songwriter Justin Furstenfeld ), to realistically survive, they were going to need to lighten up a bit, deny the darkness, embrace the beauty of their world and just “Sway“. The result is an album that is almost a spiritual revelation, an awakening of purpose and a celebration of the healing power of great rock and roll. My first thought as I listened to the new album was, “Holy shit, these guys are going to love touring in support of this one!”
The album opens with the short hymn-like, “Breathe, It’s Over“, which wouldn’t sound out of place on Pink Floyd’s The Wall– just after the wall comes down. It’s a perfect opener, and quietly announces a new journey down a healthier, happier road. Forget Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway, personally I’d love to see a rock musical with Any Man in America serving as Act One and Sway as the uplifting and redemptive Second Act, (just putting it out there guys, do with it what you will, ha!). In many ways the two albums combined both contradict and compliment each other very well.
After the quiet opening the album launches into the radio friendly title track, “Sway“, which plays like a deep sigh of relief that comes after holding ones breath for far too long. “C’mon, dance with me…“, Furstenfeld beckons, with a new attitude that almost says, “you know what? Fuck it, we’re all going to be O.K., let’s enjoy the night“.
The album continues that vibe with “Angels in Everything“, a solid uptempo love song, as celebratory as it is earnestly thankful and “Bleed Out“, the first single released from the album, a driving and strong musical declaration of empowerment that should be put on constant rotation in your “work-out mix” for the gym.
The album takes a surprisingly sexy and groovy turn with the next track, “Debris“, (currently my favorite on the album). Furstenfeld’s strong dramatic vocals, combined with some of the sweetest bass work Matt Noveskey has ever committed to tape and the expert production work from Furstenfeld, David Castell and Tim Palmer makes this one a keeper for the ages, an instant classic in the band’s ever growing catalog of great songs. Coming in at over six minutes, it’s the longest track on the album but you’d never know it, it moves like a cool midnight breeze over the lake and almost demands an immediate repeat listen, (which I’ve been doing a lot in the past week).
In lesser hands the message contained in the album’s next track, “Fear“, would sound like it was ripped from the pages of a self help book, but Furstenfeld’s skilled songwriting expertly avoids this trap and features one of the most memorable melodies on the album. ” Fear in itself, will break you down and use you up, like you were never enough, I used to fall, now I get back up“. The reason the lyrics work so well is that you know the singer has been there and done that, the sincerity is impossible to deny and, while cynics may roll their eyes, I have no doubt the tune will help many a person facing a difficult situation in the future, the singer and this critic included.
Next up is the warm and hopeful, (how often have you seen those two words together in a Blue October review?), “Things We Don’t Know About“, a love song for a child from a parent, which Furstenfeld co-wrote with longtime band member/ bass player, Matt Noveskey. It’s all about growing up, both for the kid and the Dad, and is accentuated nicely by drummer Jeremy Furstenfeld’s accomplished percussion and some beautiful string work from the band’s multi- instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye.
The structure of an album isn’t often discussed or acknowledged in a review despite the fact that the creative teams often take great pains to line up the tracks in the best possible order, I feel obligated at this point to mention, these guys nailed it, (as they most often do). I honestly can’t imagine these tracks in any other order, (which, come to think of it, is why I might have been considering it in a stage musical/ concept album structure earlier).
Two of the albums strongest rockers come next, “Hard Candy” and “Put It In“, proving the band hasn’t lost it’s playfulness or sense of humor. In fact, “Put It In“, may be the most playful I’ve ever heard them. The tune rocks and the lyrics are occasionally laugh old loud, it’s a strong indication Furstenfeld doesn’t feel as obliged to take it all as painfully “serious” as he seemingly once did.
“Light you Up” is definitely a track for those who loved the band’s platinum selling album, Foiled, and would have easily fit as comfortably on that album as it does on Sway, it’s a solid return to form and one I can already hear the extremely loyal fan base shouting-along with on tour, like most of this album, it’s going to play live very well. The same can also be said for the excellent anthemic rocker, “Things We Do At Night“, yes, the chanting with fists in the air are all but guaranteed, (I could lie and tell you I haven’t already done this but why bother, honesty is always the best policy).
The final song on this album, “Not Broken Anymore“, is- in my opinion- the best ballad from ANY band in 2013 and may actually be the best Justin Furstenfeld has ever written, it’s that great. The best thing I can say about Furstenfeld’s songwriting is that he has never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and put it out there, which, if you’re asking me, is the first rule in any art form and, as the songwriter matures and his well of experience gets deeper, the audience is rewarded as much as the artist himself. I should also mention this track, with it’s dreamy and haunting cello, is as perfectly produced as any record I’ve heard this year. Heads up Hollywood, if you don’t get this tune on a soundtrack ASAP you will have totally dropped the ball hard, (again).
The album closes with the gorgeous instrumental, “To Be“, a contemplative epilogue that encourages the listener to take a few minutes and reflect on the journey of hope and self discovery that you just experienced by way of Blue October’s Sway.
Though I will never deny the brilliance that was Any Man in America, it was a dark and painful journey. That being said, it was most definitely a road that needed to be traveled, if for no other reason, than to lead us- and the band- to the beautifully cathartic destination that is Sway.
I am as stunned to write this final statement as you will be to read it, you won’t find another album that will make you feel better this year than Blue October’s Sway. Wow guys, to quote one of your classics, “Congratulations“.
One final thought; This album was funded almost entirely by friends and fans who were generous enough to donate by way of the PledgeMusic website, you don’t get more “independent” than that. Please show your support for independent music and buy this one, save the file sharing for another day.
For more info on Blue October, including all the tour dates, check out blueoctober.com