Cyndies – Junkyard II [Album Review]

Milanese band Cyndies‘ debut album Junkyard II was released by Phantasma Disques. It is a rather enigmatic label (with a distinct visual aesthetic), which taps into the zeitgeist of no-budget music production influenced by a large variety of music genres and styles. What is refreshing about Phantasma Disques is that its artists (at least those I have heard) aren’t afraid to venture into marginalized genres, such as Goth, and don’t shun occasional banality (two of the label’s compilation releases were tributes to Twin Peaks–very good tributes, by the way). I would also add that if labels had “sonic profiles,” Phantasma’s would be heavy on electronic noise. All the mentioned elements are present on Junkyard II (welcome banalities in this case would be references to horror movies). Of all the label’s artists, Cyndies is probably closest to the “rock band” template–as opposed to “the lonely bedroom producer”–which makes sense in light of its obvious descendance from post punk, a movement created by groups.

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Justice – Audio, Video, Disco [Album Review]

Anyone who is a fan of dance music definitely knows who Justice is. Even those with only just a passing interest in dance music will still likely know who Justice is. I definitely fall into the former, and hold Justice’s Cross album in especially high esteem. So when it was announced earlier this year that the duo’s sophomore album would finally be released this fall, I was filled with dread as much as I was filled with excitement. Then in late October, after five long years following the release of the acclaimed Cross, it finally happened: Justice released its follow-up, Audio, Video, Disco.

Justice. Photo provided courtesy of Vice Music.

Cross consisted of tracks like “D.A.N.C.E.”, which had major crossover appeal. The album was also full of hard rhythms, with lots of bass distorted at almost every turn on tracks like “Phantom,” “Stress” and “Waters of Nazareth.” As Justice started to drift into the EDM background after extensive touring in support of the album, the popularity of the electronic-French-House genre that Justice helped to reinvigorate was at a high point with dance music fans. The hard beats and basslines that Justice helped to usher into electronic music’s current state has already begun to give way to even harder beats and basslines by their contemporaries. The popularity of U.K.-bass and dub-step in Europe has now taken over North America, morphing itself into a genre that is largely popular for  its hard and grinding beats that wobble and boom. The influence of dance music is even reaching Top 40 radio stations here in the States. The landscape of dance music has definitely changed in five years, and after listening to Audio, Video, Disco, it is apparent that Justice did not want to make another album exactly like Cross.

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William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom [Album Review]

Artist: William Shatner

Album: Seeking Major Tom

Let’s establish one thing from the start–in the pop culture world, William Shatner is a legendary boss. People who follow the rules rarely make history. That said, while I was listening to Seeking Major Tom I found it useful to remember that Shatner is first and foremost an actor, and his songs can be understood as a unique experience of musical theater.

Seeking Major Tom is a concept album that creates the story of Major Tom (played by Shatner) by tracing his journey through a collection of galactic cover songs plus one original track by Shatner, “Struggle.”  The album opens with the sounds of a NASA spaceship launch that are meant to convey the epic nature of the tracks to come. Every song on the album relates to space or science fiction, except for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is forgivable since the song simply begs to be parodied (we’ve all done it!), and there’s definitely a relatable feeling when Shatner wails “a devil put aside for meeee!”

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Emil & Friends’ Lo & Behold [Album Review]

Take a bite out of the psychedelic beat-fruit that is Lo & Behold. Released October 11 with Cantora Records, the folky electro-pop-with-a-dash-of-rock-and-disco album follows Emil & Friends’ August 2010 release of EP Downed Economy. The EP clearly laid the foundation for the producer/mixer/musician/singer’s sound in his latest work. Although I enjoy Economy, I find the latest record to be more focused, more energetic and full of a rich resonance – a je ne sais quoi that is perhaps partly due to the mystery that enshrouds the man behind the music.

Emil & Friends. Photo by Betsy Blundell, courtesy of Cantora Records.

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DJ Shadow – The Less You Know, The Better [Album Review]

Few electronic artists over the years have been burdened with the same level of colossal expectations from release to release as Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, has. After debuting in 1996 with Endtroducing…, a bona fide classic full of dusty samples and atmospheric instrumental hip-hop, the question quickly seemed to become: “Where does he go from here?” Davis’ answer thus far has been largely disjointed, punctuated with side projects, film scores and odd genre experiments, leading to a consensus of relative disappointment amongst his early fans. The long waits between proper releases and Davis’ enigmatic relationship with the press, however, have fueled hope that he’s got another undisputed great album left somewhere up his sleeve. But if there was anything to be learned from the scattered, mix-tape-like feel of his last release, 2006’s The Outsider, it’s that Davis has moved on from the prospect of him ever topping Endtroducing…, and that we probably should too.

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Imaginary Flying Machines- Princess Ghibli [Album Review]

My F*cking Neighbor Totoro \m/

Okay, so maybe nobody actually sang that in Princess Ghibli, but it sure got your attention right?

Princess Ghibli is a remake of various Studio Ghibli songs from many Ghibli animated classics, which include My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo on the Cliff.

I say the album is a “remake,” but it’s more like the Imaginary Flying Machines took Studio Ghibli’s signature nursery tunes and reincarnated them as vicious yet oddly catchy screams of affection and terror. There’s really no other way to describe it.

The album was produced by the Imaginary Flying Machines who are more or less a jam session of musicians from Italy and Japan that banded together to make this Ghibli remix. And jam they did.

The album opens with the infamous theme from Totoro, which has been covered not only by fancy orchestras and symphonies, but by many rock artists on YouTube. Much screaming, heavy guitar shredding and cutesy, “Tonari no Totoro totorooo~ Totoro Totoroooo~” follows.

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HTRK – WORK (work, work) [Album Review]

Australian duo HTRK‘s new album WORK (work, work) is a strange and curious beast. It is a pop record, in that the songs are really songs (some are even hummable), and the themes revolve around the quintessential pop subject matter: feelings. But, the feelings described on this album are far more uncomfortable and complex than those tolerated by most mainstream pop music.

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