Album Review – Olsen Twinns – Found Things

This first time I listened to this album, I was making pancakes. I burned them.

I think a lot of us tend to have music as part of our lives, not as a focus in our lives. What I mean by that is so many of us love music and love what it does for us, but I think we tend to take it a little for granted. A lot of the time our musical experiences tend to be less of a just sit down and enjoy and more of an ambiance we tote around. Music is the soundtrack to our lives, but it isn’t our lives.

Sometimes when I review albums, I like to listen the first time while doing something else. I do this with the knowledge that this is how a lot of other people listen to music, so this is how they’ll hear it (and to be fair, I am as guilty of this as anyone). I also do it because sometimes there are moments in the album, songs or lyrics or beats and what have you, that stick out to me and kind of force me to pay attention, so I make note of them. Sometimes this strategy is an abject failure, I’ll admit, but most of the time it is sound.

Found Things forces you to pay attention. It controls your brain without you even knowing it. The sounds are made in a way to act as if you are no longer in control of your own body or thoughts. The beats and the sounds are done at such a precise and intellectually stimulating way that you’ll find yourself with a spatula drumming on your sink until your smoke alarms go off and your Hungry Jack pancakes with blueberries are essentially ruined.

The alarm clock-esque beat of “window and wall” were the first thing I noticed. We have conditioned ourselves to pay attention when our alarm clock goes off, so it immediately caught me, maybe even slightly unfavorably (We have also conditioned ourselves that our alarm clock is evil and can go straight to hell. Okay, I have conditioned myself to that). I recovered once the body of the song and the build to the final beats finally kicked in. It was an interesting opening salvo in an album full of them.

But the point to this album isn’t the openings necessarily. It is how they open and what they become. The build in each song is such that it always starts a little ambient and slight, and then finishes in a flurry. All the while that opening tends to stick in your head the most. I think “2+2” and “how am i supposed to follow that” are the best examples, but that is how each song on the album builds. Each song takes you on a journey through noise and beats, then lets you catch your breath before it starts over.

I will close by saying that an album like this very likely won’t be for everyone. I hope that people come in and experience the album at least once, or I guess, let the album experience you. Given the opportunity, there is a good chance it will take control of you very quickly.

Click the banner to stream the album free, then buy it from Forged Artifacts Website

Review: Little Ruckus – Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl

Continuing with 80/35 Week, Little Ruckus plays on July 7 at 1 pm on the Hy-Vee Triathlon Stage

There are two sides to Little Ruckus, and both sides are on display at once. One side is the anarchic, possible cult leader, hell bent on casual destruction and sweaty street dancing. A sort of a dress wearing, sweating pied piper who wants you to live your life as weird and chaotic as possible. The other is the lyrical motivational speaker and possible cult leader who wants you to realize that the life you want to live is the appropriate life, and that life is weird and a-okay. Where the two meet is Tank Girl Vs Cape Girl and the realization of what being a member of the Sandwich Eatin’ Crew means to everyone and what being Little Ruckus means to Dom Rabalais. Buried beneath the incredible beats, the keys and the sweat is an album full of affirmations that YOU are special and that YOU are important. But also, those beats, keys and lyrics are all part of one of the most adventurous and special albums of the year.

I first heard Little Ruckus’ last album, 2011’s We Love Evil, earlier this year and I was immediately blown away. The sound, the attitude, the fun. It was all incredible (Here is my review.) What I took away from the album, though was that while it was a successful album from a sense that it sounded amazing and was easy to connect with, there were still some lingering doubts as to whether or not we were supposed to take this all seriously or not. Were we really to believe that in among the chaos and smashing and such, was there real sentiment involved? Was this just Dom Rabalais playing a character, or was he actually Little Ruckus? At the end of the day I decided I didn’t care and I still don’t. As someone much smarter than me once said, “Bob Dylan’s last name isn’t really Dylan, so who the fuck cares?”

Andrew WK had a lot of those questions about him as well, and honestly I think Andrew WK is a perfect comparison to Little Ruckus. Not musically, although the piano at the beginning of the track “Stay Free” reminds me a lot of Andrew WK and is pretty similar to the piano at the beginning of “Ready To Die” off of I Get Wet. Not close in a rip-off sort of way, just familiar. Almost an homage. But what people have come to realize was that WK wasn’t playing a character so much as he was using his platform to inspire and be creative. That’s what Little Ruckus feels like. It feels like a way to let people know how to live their lives, while also make you dance a whole bunch.

What Tank Girl does successfully is erase any lingering doubts as to the seriousness of it all. There is so much earnestness in among the hypnotizing and dance-able beats that there is no doubt that, yes, every single thing this album has to say is important and honest.

Though the lyrics take a more inspirational slant in Tank Girl, it certainly doesn’t stop being fun. This is still the same sweaty ass Little Ruckus from his prior album. He is still flanked by his ever present Sandwich Eatin’ Crew (S!E!C!) which allows for songs to be not just him, but also the lyrics of Lane Weaver and the vocals and some production from Phil Rabalais (Captain Picard) and Adrien Daller (Slaydrien) from Trouble Lights among other guest stars (Off topic, Shemp Howard and Futon City are such good nicknames to give yourself, as Lane Weaver does on this album) help support the ideas that Little Ruckus spills. The talents of the musicians are on display throughout and especially come to life in “Set My Spirit Free”, “Go Free”, and the surprisingly beautiful instrumental final track “Our Wedding”.

Tank Girl Vs Cape Girl is gorgeous at times, chaotic at others and inspiring always. It is the type of album that maybe tricks people into thinking they are just showing up and having a good time and forces them into much deeper thoughts and steers you towards personal triumphs like self respect and self appreciation. While dancing and yelling, you may just find yourself with the highest self esteem you could’ve ever hoped for. Suddenly, you’re pouring sweat while trying to think of your own S!E!C! nickname. (Incidentally, I am leaning towards calling myself Detective Beans or Hacksaw Jim Duggan, but I haven’t settled on that just yet).

Click the banner image to give the album a listen and maybe spend five dollars and buy it, if you can.

Ramona & The Swimsuits – Make a Splash

Yo, I have to tell y’all about this woman at work today. For those unaware, when I am not procrastinating about being a blogger, I am a manager for a prominent retailer. It has been a little hellish lately, and since no one cares about stories from corporate retail, I will not go into details here. In the last week, I have been struggling to be successful at a certain task and have dealt with some just horrible people because of it. One guy essentially called me an identity thief because I wanted his email. Not my company, me personally. But today man, today was just a stand up comedian’s dream.

A fat woman came in with her fat friends and fat kids and probably fat mom. At the very least it was a fat old woman who got sucked into the fat family’s gravitational pull. Or maybe they were just stuck together by a thin film of caramel and couldn’t get unattached. Now, I’m not one to pick on someone just because they have weight issues. Some of my closest friends are fat. I’m not using that as an excuse, I’m just saying that I normally only pick on them for it, not complete strangers. Hell, I ain’t exactly svelte, myself. I’m a long ways removed from being a 170 hockey player. Anywho, she was fat, but that’s not the point of the story. She was fat and she screamed at her kids and she poured this sort of yellowy discharge that was likely sweat, but it didn’t appear to be the right color. Plus, it wasn’t all that warm today. Heck, for all I know it might have been Pam. She may have had to spray herself with it just to get out of her mini-van. Like jaws of life in a can. Did I mention she was fat? I also mentioned that wasn’t the point, so I will move on, but yeah, fat. She was also a horrible person. She stomped around verbally abusing people at a Spinal Tap 11 level. She also thought it was prudent to spank her probably near teen children for daring to ask for something and she was just being an overall horrible person.

So anyways, at one point after she was done screaming at her children and striking them in public like they were a malfunctioning appliance, something in my head just clicked. For every problem in my life that has weighed me down (dwindling bank account and an unfortunate, go nowhere career being the big two) and ruined my time on this here planet, things could be worse. I mean, I have a good family, an awesome kid, two dumb cats almost 400 Facebook friends, many of whom I have actually met in public and everything. I could just be a miserable fat person beating children in public and dripping of non-stick cooking spray. And I ain’t. So, now I’m in a better mood.

I got home and decided I was just going to pick a fun album and listen to it and write about it, and this is what I picked. Ramona and the Swimsuits. I like this album, but not in a musicianship way. I don’t listen to this the same way I do, say, Pet Sounds. Now, I know these folks are all talented musicians. Drummer Kate Kennedy is one of my favorite songwriters in the world. Derek Lambert is super talented and in a bunch of awesome bands, including his own, Derek Lambert and the Prairie Fires. Also, they are the Lys, of Leslie and the Lys fame. So, the pedigree is there.

But what I like most about them is that it is clearly just four friends having fun singing silly songs about markers, and drawings of cats and baby juggling and cable television. It is hard to not just smile at the lyrics and the low-fi warble of it all. I just know that they had a blast making the record while eating spaghetti at Leslie Hall’s house.

I think the thing I like most about this album is that it exists. I feel like the whole thing was maybe even just written and recorded completely on the fly, and that makes me happy. But it still really, kind of good. I mean, “Karen’s Dad” is easily my favorite song ever about a father who tapes over a talent show for an episode of Cops because he works too hard and just wants to watch Cops and feels bad about it. But the song is right, it is kind of funny. And, I straight up adore “Come On Man”.

While they feel like something a group of friends did one night while hanging out, they are a real band and everything. In fact, tonight they open for the great David Liebe Hart, best known for his work on Tim and Eric. Vaudeville Mews, tonight at 7pm, so you don’t have a lot of time. So, go, smile and at the very least remember that things could always be worse. A lot worse.

Click the banner image to listen to the album or go here for more info on tonight’s show.

Unsolicitation Theater Presents : Eleven:Eleven – Electric Sex

Since I am now a world famous blogger (people from Andorra, St. Kits and Nevis, South Korea, Finland and Germany have all read this blog!) and Des Moines’ ninth most trusted music journalist (probably), I get lots of random bands who follow me on Twitter. Sometimes, I even listen to their music. I figured I would start highlighting some of them in a new feature I call Unsolicitation Theater. Today we highlight Austin, TX’s Eleven:Eleven.

Disco is dead. That is what I have been told my whole life. It was taken apart by talented new wave artistes and taken behind the woodshed and shot by heavy metal. It was carved up and fed to Blackie Lawless’ pigs. I grew up being told that disco was the bastard child of music genres by my Scorpions loving father. I hated disco so much growing up that I would always giggle in French class when they talked about the discotheque. Silly Europeans, still listening to disco. But like most things from my childhood, I was pretty much wrong.

While I still don’t think I could sit around and listen to Vicki Sue Robinson or anything, I can now at least appreciate that disco music is pretty much the pre-evolution of our modern day dance music. The technology has improved so much now that a song can have that bass vibe of The Trammps, without the cheesiness of the overblown horns. So, when I hear a group like Eleven:Eleven come around with their synth production and sultry lady voice, I can appreciate where it came from and respect the genre a little more. It has taken me a while, but I have finally started to come around.

While the disco vibe is in full effect, the production on the track is a lot darker and more refined. I was a bit nervous listening to it, because when you see a pretty girl with a slightly mysterious ethnic origin (the band page says her name is Sicca, but some light to medium Facebook stalking lead me to find her name is not actually that and is much more traditional, so I’m still not sure), and kind of a goofy song title, the potential for eye rolling trash is high. But all in all this wasn’t bad. The production, while simple, is really mean sounding, which gives the music a bit more of an edge than the bubble gum it could be. Sicca’s voice, while heavily produced, is angelic at times, and slightly creepy at others. I would recommend it, and could see this played while strobe lights blast and you wonder how the hell you ended up in this joint anyway. So yeah, I like disco a little more now. I’d say don’t tell my father, but I found a Cher CD in his car the other day, so he’s got nothing to talk about.

(While the review is based on the song “Electric Sex”, I also gave a listen to their remix of Empire of the Sun’s “Walking on a Dream”. That song rules, and their remix of it is actually really good and does a lot of justice to the original. So, bully for them and a hat tip to their producer J. Childs.)

Go here for more.

You in a band? Want to send me a song? Follow me on Twitter.God, I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?

Oberhofer at M-shop – 3/31

Aren’t going to make it Iowa City tomorrow? It’s okay, I understand, I guess. Did you get tickets to Young the Giant and Grouplove before they sold out at People’s? You didn’t!? Well, you’re in luck. The M Shop in Ames hosts one the brightest emerging stars in the world. Go here for details .

Brad Oberhofer is the writer and genius behind the multi-instrumental, art house pop outfit Oberhofer. The sound is jaunty and fun., It dances from classical piano to guitar to electronic without even breaking a sweat. This will be a ton of fun. But whatever you do, remember to go see some live music this weekend. There are lots of choices.

Site related stuff, I feel like I neglected the old girl this week. My duties at our local sporting goods retailer and with DMMC kind of took up the bulk of my time. I will be back Monday with some stuff, probably, and Tuesday the 80/35 lineup drops, so I will have some things to say about that too, I’m sure. Ta ta.

Review: The Men – Open Your Heart

It’s funny how this all works out. In an effort to listen to as many of the best albums of 2011, I pretty much spent the entire month of November scouring reviews and early best of lists so I would have an informed opinion. While searching, I came upon The Men and their album Leave Home . It was an amazing blur of guitars and dirt. I didn’t realize they had a follow up planned so soon, but here we are.

Here is what I find interesting about The Men. They could settle for being a punk band, or a hard rock band, or a metal band, but they don’t. There are quick tracks which highlight the fuzzy guitars like “Turn It Around” and “Animal”, but they follow those with a near six minute grainy guitar instrumental opus “Country Song”, then a seven minute near prog rock follow up.

They alternate between black rock sounds and poppier sounds, but the crushing guitars seem to be the glue that holds each track. If you’re into rock instrumentals, this album has plenty. And the songs that have lyrics all as gruff and grimy as the music they bed. There is a growl and a whine, but never what you would call a classic singing voice.

I was surprised the first time I heard The Men, and surprised to find a new album from them. I was also surprised to see they were playing in Iowa City…this past Tuesday. So, I missed it, but I hope all who went had fun. If you did miss them, get a copy of both of their newest albums and enjoy.

Review: Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Is it a complete cop out to write an album review and just say, “This is awesome; you should listen to it”? Not to be all self-deprecating, but I don’t feel like it’s fair for a guy like me, who doesn’t play an instrument and kinda just throws a bunch of words on a page to really quantify the music that Andrew Bird creates. Listening to him perform is an aural experience like none other, and once you see him perform live and watch how he beds everything together, I understand that well, I probably don’t understand. So here is my review: This is awesome; you should listen to it.

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Crap, I’m not going to be able to get away with writing a review like this, am I? Well, I don’t think it’s fair for me to jabber on about the way he effortlessly grafts multiple instruments together with the ease of a gifted surgeon. Or talk about how he makes me love the violin more than maybe any other classical stringed instrument, which is totally unfair to the cello. I don’t think I am even allowed to talk about how he blends pop rock, classical and even an occasional Middle Eastern influence, all while keeping a contemporary vibe to his music. I don’t feel qualified to talk about how his voice has the perfect blend of 70’s AM crooner, confident singer-songwriter and tortured, reluctant genius. Hell, I don’t even think I can mention his trademarked whistling, and I am one hell of a whistler.

But, I kind of have a personal word count goal I’d like to hit, so, what do you guys want to talk about instead?

NCAA Tournament is coming up. Iowa State vs Kentucky seems like an interesting potential second round match.

This is probably the longest I think we’ve ever gone without a clear presidential candidate for one party, that’s probably something we could chat about.

Do you guys like Justified? It’s a good show.

Damn, just a few more words. Here is an Andrew Bird story. I saw him perform at the first 80/35 here in Des Moines back in 2008. My now Brother-in-law was really hyped up to see him, and I had unfortunately never heard of him. I saw that he used to be in The Squirrel Nut Zippers, so I thought he would be kind of like that. But watching him perform for the first time blew my mind in a way I never expected. Even though several of my heroes were on that show, Black Francis, Flaming Lips, Jakob Dylan (shut up, I love The Wallflowers), the one that left the biggest impression was someone I had never heard before. I kind of have Andrew Bird to thank for my desire (my wife may call an obsession) to listen to every possible performer I can, because you never know when you’re going to stumble upon an Andrew Bird again.

In summation, Andrew Bird is awesome; you should all listen to this.

Boom! 500 words!

Review: Bowerbirds – The Clearing

Bowerbirds (Photo from their Facebook )

There comes a point where you just get sick of electronics. It seems that most of the people really doing unique and incredible work are all using their Mac as much as they are their Fender. While there are incredible artists doing incredible things, it is nice that an album like this can come out and prove that you can still be unique using traditional instruments and voices.

Bowerbirds does as good of a job as anyone in reminding you that there is a place in our society for people who just want to play pretty songs and sing pretty songs and like to have pianos bedded with clapping and and increasingly epic guitars. While we have been inundated with your Mumford and Sons and your Avetts (both just incredible acts) there seems to be a void in the sort of folk-pop-rock that leaves you better than when it found you. I think the recent popularity of those two kind of proves that there is a desire for that sort of feeling.

Bowerbirds’ The Clearing is one of those albums that makes you feel good about yourself. Not in a super happy bouncy, whistly sort of way, but in that way that makes everything you do that much more meaningful. It is the musical equivalent of riding your bike on a seventy degree day and thinking you’re Lance Armstrong or seeing your significant other get off a plane after being gone for a week and you just know the kiss you’re going to share will be just like in The Notebook. It feels like you’re actually living each day like its your last. None of those things are ever actually true, only Lance Armstrong rides like Lance Armstrong and only Hollywood can create such an epic love and very rarely do we live a day like its our last, but man does everything seem like its that much more important when you listen to The Clearing.

This is an album that at the end of the day just makes me happy that I have music in my life. Not for analysis and not because it allows me critical thinking and not for the creativity it allows me as a writer. But just for how the art itself can have an emotional impact. I know I didn’t really analyze this on a track by track or note by note, but for something with this much overwhelming epic feel it seems silly to really break it down that way.

To bring this around for an Iowa slant, Bowerbirds shares a co-headline with my newest celebrity crush and next big thing Sharon Van Etten as part of the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City on March 30. You can read my preview for that fest right Here