Album Reviews: Arrows and Anchors

Get psyched for another album review. This one’s from Murfie staffer Evan.

~ Still riding an adrenaline high from catching the explosive Texan rockers’ Fair to Midland in concert for a fourth time – now almost fully recovered from a sore neck and bruised skull – I can’t help but find the need to share their strange and masterful rendition of progressive rock. Already making way on their second round of touring since the summer release of the impeccable Arrows & Anchors, Fair to Midland make sure to bring the well-deserved habit of repeated album plays to life and in your face.

Fair to Midland is a band taking risks among a sea of imitators and washed-up acts hanging by a thread. A sentiment well captured in “Whiskey & Ritalin,” singer and lyricist Darroh Sudderth invites the listener to embrace their soundscape and throw caution to the wind in crooning, “Welcome to the balancing act.” Following a very Southern feeling organ and sermon soundbite prelude, Cliff Campbell’s crunchy guitar riffage comes crashing in, juxtaposed with Darroh’s melodious vocals to create a thoroughly satisfying combo.

Probably the most appropriate choice for the first single off the album, “Musical Chairs” demonstrates the breadth of Fair to Midland’s stylistics in an irresistibly catchy, bass driven track. With lines like “It makes you wonder / if shooting for stars is like darts in the dark. / It makes you wonder if the beaten path / is the promised land,” this track is the perfect example of Darroh’s cryptic and contemplative lyrical style, making it a great introduction for new listeners. The rest of the album builds off this single, throwing in elements of the unexpected, like the twangy banjos of the hard-hitting “Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow.”

While every song is more than suitable for a live performance, a few, such as “Uh-Oh” and “Rikki Tikki Tavi,” take center stage as being designed specifically to make audiences go wild. I’ll admit I’ve unconsciously thrashed about just listening to these beasts with my earbuds in.

Without question, my favorite track from Arrows & Anchors is “Coppertank Island.” Fast-paced and spiteful, Darroh’s cryptic lyricisms are carried through by Matt Langley’s skillful keyboarding, one of Fair to Midland’s strongest and most impressive elements. It’s difficult not to wail along with the chorus, “If the right built the anchor / and the wrong have set sail / I’m a whale, I’m a whale / I’m a whale.”

Finishing off with a monster of a track, clocking in at over ten minutes, Fair to Midland showcase their compositional strength with “The Greener Grass,” one of their most melodic and proggy tracks yet. Easily appreciable in every aspect, the band ensures that the album is well-rounded and leaves the listener with a good taste and the desire to hit play again.

Don’t be a stick in the mud. Liberate your stagnant collection with the innovative stylings of the solid and reliable Fair to Midland. Arrows & Anchors is sure to intrigue and rightfully earns my acknowledgement as being one of the best releases of 2011.
     – Evan Benner

5 Reasons I Love The Black Keys

(and why I know they will be rock legends forever)

1. The Look (Or Lack Thereof)
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney don’t mess around. They aren’t caught up in projecting an image to the masses, and in doing that, they’ve created their own unique look. I give them props for rocking the beard and glasses.

2. Timelessness
Just like their look, their sound is not fake, or trying to sell anything. They sound timeless. When I first heard their bluesy riffs, I couldn’t believe they came from that year (2007). Since 2002, they’ve been putting out original blues rock music with deep roots.

3. Blakroc
Me? Listen to hip-hop? Never. Not before Blakroc, at least! Blakroc is the supreme fusion of rock and hip-hop, delivered by The Black Keys and celebrated hip-hop artists like Mos Def, Q-Tip, and Pharoahe Monch. Blakroc retains great melodies that can only come from The Black Keys, but steps them up to being more badass. I was so shocked when I heard “What You Do to Me,” with stunning vocals featuring Nicole Wray – I know you will be too if you haven’t heard it yet!

4. Consistency
The Big Come Up, Thickfreakness, Rubber Factory, Magic Potion, Attack & Release, Blakroc, Brothers, El Camino…all released in the past decade without losing their originality and momentum, and all met with positive reviews.

5. Less Is More
I’m finding this to be true for a lot of things. This guitar and drum-driven duo are strong and uncluttered à la The White Stripes. Need I say more?

With El Camino available now, I have yet another reason to gush about this awesome band!

DJ Melissa – Yoga Music for Yogis

Have no fear. Murfie staffers will soon have their own profiles for these music reviews. For now…you will have to suffer with this “guest post” structure.

~ I started practicing hot yoga about three years ago. Despite wanting to murder the person that convinced me to try it the first time, I have actually grown to love yoga be COMPLETELY OBSESSED WITH YOGA. I think about it every day. I dream about it. I planned my class schedule for next semester based on when I could take yoga classes. It would really be beneficial to my studies and probably my Ingestor job at Murfie if I stopped planning my life around the studio’s schedule and just practiced on my own. But the main reason I hate practicing on my own? No good music.

Have you ever been knee-deep in a fiery Warrior 1 pose (pun intended) when some sweet-sounding Sanskrit song comes on over the speakers, and you’re bobbin’ your head and feelin’ good and motivated, and you just wanna scream “YA I LOVE THIS!!!!!”?

Maybe you haven’t had that experience. Maybe you just aren’t listening to the right music.

I never know what these awesome songs are. And try asking a yoga teacher to tell you what that one song was: “Ya know that one you played while we were in downward dog…like…the 18th downward dog we did…and it kind of sounded like ummmhummmmrummmdummmmsooooooAH. And then there was this part that went hiiiiiiiiiinooooooooooo. Ya know…?” Impossible.

I’ve thought about bringing my Droid in the room and just Shazam-ing every song…but I fear the humidity and sweat would cause my phone to burst into an actual fire, and yoga is really more about the inner fire. Lucky for me (and you now), I have compiled a list of the 14 best songs to practice yoga to. I was able to poll some instructors at the local Madison studio that I practice at. So you could say these songs have been given official seals of approval by yogi professionals. So crank up your thermostat, pump up these jams, and get ready to work your asanas off!

You can find all these songs on albums for sale on Murfie! Links are included below…

Guru Singh – I Am
See this album!
MC Yogi – Ganesh is Fresh Omstrumental
See this album!
Snatam Kaur – By Thy Grace
See this album!
Krishna Das – Mountain Hare Krishna
See this album!
Sukhwinder Singh & Sapana Awasthim – Chaiyya Chaiyya
See this album!
The XX – Intro
See this album!
Trace Bundy – Bristlecone
See this album!
Phoenix – Love Like A Sunset Part II
See this album!
Sasha Lazard – Angeli
See this album!
Snow Patrol – You Could Be Happy
See this album!
Wah! – Bhakti Da
See this album!
Bon Iver – Re: Stacks
See this album!
Alexi Murdoch – Breathe
See this album!
The Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
See this album!
     – Melissa Faulkner

Album Reviews: Just Won’t Burn

Susan Tedeschi received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in the year 2000. The award went to Christina Aguilera. We all know who Aguilera is, but what about Tedeschi? She’s a blues singer, who recently formed The Tedeschi Trucks Band with her husband Derek Trucks. And what about her (national) debut album? Was that any good? Murfie staffer, Victor, reviews it for you.

~ I admit that I’m one who constantly looks to the past rather than the future for musical inspiration. Between classic rock, jazz, and hip hop I usually feel like I was born in the wrong time period (my ears in particular), but when it comes to the blues I can almost always get that nostalgic “this is what I’ve been missing on the radio” feel without having to go nearly as far back in time or away from home. That’s the kind of vibe I felt when I stumbled upon Just Won’t Burn by Susan Tedeschi.

While I’d heard the name before, I was somewhat unsure what to expect from a solo effort by a woman I knew primarily because of her marriage to that one guy from The Allman Brothers Band. But scanning through a few tracks quickly turned my questions from “what was the song they would’ve tried to push from this?” to “how have I not heard this voice before?” There is something powerful and sincere in Tedeschi’s voice that I haven’t heard in awhile. “It Hurts So Bad” and the album’s title track “Just Won’t Burn” were notably so direct and powerful that I kept trying to place it earlier in time where I would’ve discovered the song and its artists. The raw range and ferocity of her voice matched with the depths and variety of the backing instrumental voices met together quite effectively.

Of course, blues albums always risk becoming a bit repetitive, and I won’t say that this doesn’t flirt with that line at times. A few country influences here and there might not have been my particular taste, such as on “Angel from Montgomery.” Still, the overall emotion found throughout the record definitely kept me paying attention. I found this record as an admirable voice from the recent past that I certainly wish I’d have heard the first time around.
     – Victor Dupuy

Album Reviews: Metals

Ugh, I have mad love for this band. So *snaps* to Murfie staffer, Sam, for sizing up Feist’s fourth studio album Metals, released on October 4, 2011. And 1, 2, 3, 4…here comes the review!

~ Leslie Feist, of Apple-commercial fame for her hit single “1234,” has been around the block a few times. While her solo releases only stretch back to 2007, Feist was formerly a member of Canada’s best (and biggest) kept secret, Broken Social Scene, a supergroup headed by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. From 2002 to as late as 2009, Feist toured on and off with the band, whose big band sound and eclectic collection of songs gave Feist a chance to explore her range, singing whispery tunes at times and shouting explosive choruses with the rest of the band at others.

Transferring this vocal dynamism to her solo albums, Feist manages to be folky without being boring, and poppy without being irritating. 2004’s Let It Die, Feist’s first effort released in the U.S., bequeathed one of her biggest hits, “Mushaboom,” a frivolous, fun pop song that sounds old-fashioned, but is still relevant in today’s music climate. 2007’s The Reminder gave us “1234,” Feist’s most commercially successful song, along with sassier tracks like “My Moon My Man” and slower ballads like “Limit to Your Love,” a James Blake cover that takes its liberties, but never sacrifices the integrity of the original song.

With 2011’s Metals, released in the U.S. two months ago, Feist departs from the more poppy sensibilities of her previous album. It’s edgier, and her voice, which in the past seemed primarily reserved for sweeter, old-fashioned lullabies, sounds fresher and more contemporary on this album. While it maintains the sultry, smoky sound we’ve become accustomed to in the past, she channels it to create a slightly different tone. The album has a solid variety of instrumentation – on the opening track “The Bad in Each Other,” Feist enlists the aid of trumpets and violins, but on tracks like “Cicadas & Gulls,” she relies mostly on songwriting, her voice, and a single acoustic guitar.

Ultimately, for fans of Feist and people who’ve never heard of her, Metals is an accessible folk-rock album, lush with remnants of her previous musical endeavors, yet teeming with newer, edgier songwriting techniques and instrumentation. From the soulful backup singers on her single “How Come You Never Go There” to the gentle piano on “Bittersweet Melodies,” Metals has a little bit for everyone, from folk lovers to pop song enthusiasts, and everyone in between.
     – Sam Eichner

Album Reviews: Bad as Me

His voice sounds “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car” (Daniel Durchholz). Who could that be? Mr. Tom Waits, of course. Murfie staffer who’s not Tom Waits, Tom, takes on his October-released album Bad as Me.

~ Music’s resident avant-bard has been at it for quite some time. His latest effort, Bad as Me, proves he’s still got it (though did anyone actually doubt he didn’t?). Released October 21, it’s Waits’ seventeenth studio album and first album of all new material in seven years. Writing and producing responsibilities are shared between Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan. Together, they’ve assembled an all-star group of players to help fill out the tracks. Long-time Waits collaborator and guitarist Marc Ribot lends his idiosyncratic voice to the album, and adds to the sonic heap of crack musicians featured on the project, including guitarist Keith Richards and bassists Les Claypool and Flea, among others.

One listen to the album gives the feeling that this collection is much tighter and more focused than some of Waits’ other works. Most tracks land at the three to four minute mark, and gone are the schizophrenic spoken word pieces and wild cemetery polkas of his late 80’s and 90’s material. In a recent interview, Waits revealed this to have been a deliberate production strategy not-so-subtly proposed to him by Brennan: “Get in, get out. No f***ing around.”

Often, the first thing that comes to mind when someone name-drops Tom Waits is the strange, dark aesthetic he’s crafted over the years, that sound of a drunken carnie howling to an empty lot under the freeway, with a half-imagined band of junkyard dogs beating on tin and bones to back him up. On this release, though, we hear a Waits who has traveled back to a previous self, to a self before the release of such influential and experimental works as Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. This is still a Waits record though, and the spotlight is still centered on that notorious formaldehyde growl. But here, that growl is working in the context of traditional song forms, mostly ballads, with the occasional bar-waltz or rockabilly ramble thrown in. Of course, these forms are mutated by forays into tonal and rhythmic experimentation, but they still have the appearance of being quintessentially American. And as a Waits record, the songs are built on the shoulders of his characters, purveyors of classic American magic and dread: we get stories of middle-class relocation in hopes of a better life (“Chicago”), the lamentations of old and dusty love (“Kiss Me”), and the hellish and thunder-fried landscape of war (“Hell Broke Luce”). Waits is doing what he’s always done, but now he’s doing it with almost sixty-two years under his belt, and the added lifeblood makes for an evocative and romantic tour de force.

Veteran listeners of Waits will find both familiarity and newness in this album. Greenhorn listeners will discover Bad as Me to be a great addition to any music lover’s collection, and a stellar opportunity to get acquainted with one of the great experimenters in contemporary rock music.
     – Tom Fullmer

Album Reviews: The Black Halo

Metalheads, listen up. Murfie staffer, Evan, reviews concept album The Black Halo, by symphonic power metal band Kamelot, for ya!

~ Had I not arbitrarily given in to my curiosity over a recommended video featured on YouTube, I may never have encountered Kamelot, now one of my favorite bands. Who could have predicted that goth aesthetics and a song morbidly titled “The Human Stain” would have led me to a thickly contemplative and incomparably conceptual metal act, satisfying in both musicality and lyrical depth?

As unlikely a combination as it may be, Kamelot effortlessly makes metal, symphony and operatic singing seem a match born of fate. A continuation of 2005’s Epica, The Black Halo presents the climax and resolution to the band’s examination of Goethe’s Faust, best explained as countenance of a “deal with the devil.” Vocalist Roy Khan, formally trained in opera, channels a character named Ariel, an alchemist unsatisfied with the answers provided by science and religion. Guest vocalists from metal bands Dimmu Borgir and Epica make appearances as other characters, creating a deep discourse and thickening the album’s plot. Power metal guitar and orchestral strings create the dense, emotive backdrop for the dramatic performance of these characters’ story.

Life and love, the two tenets of every romantic existentialist’s preponderance, become the two focal topics, giving the listener not only a story to hear but an internal debate to relate with. “Soul Society” is without doubt my favorite track, capturing my own hesitations to settle on a single answer as to whether an afterlife does exist. Khan confesses, “Some things under the sun can never be understood.” Other fast-paced melodic metal successes include “This Pain,” “The Black Halo,” “Nothing Ever Dies,” and “Serenade.” To offer a well-rounded album, Kamelot also offers your choice of ultra-melodic ballads in “The Haunting (Somewhere in Time)” and the piano laden “Abandoned” and “Memento Mori” (meaning “remember your mortality”), which crescendos into a metal anthem.

Their heavy incorporation of religious imagery and allusions is done so tastefully, not being confrontational, using it as a basis for contemplation. The Black Halo is the culmination of impressive musicianship and intellectual lyricism which might give you quite a different impression for what it means to be a metalhead. I wear the label proudly.
      Evan Benner