Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pentatonix - "Pentatonix"

Pentatonix - Pentatonix
2015, RCA

1. Na Na Na
2. Can't Sleep Love
3. Sing
4. Misbehavin'
5. Ref
6. First Things First
7. Rose Gold
8. If I Ever Fall In Love
9. Cracked
10. Water
11. Take Me Home
12. New Year's Day
13. Light In the Hallway
Bonus Tracks:
14. Where Are U Now?
15. Cheerleader
16. Lean On
17. Can't Sleep Love (feat. Tink)

We love Pentatonix at our house. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if you like music and can't find something to like about these guys, you're going to want to see a neurologist or something because something is wrong with your head. While the group has proven they can make any pop song better than the original version, this is the first time they've done an album full of original songs. It's great, of course. Their knack for fusing acapella with pop sensibilities remains and produces some of the best pop songs I've ever heard. Seriously, "Can't Sleep Love" is an almost perfect pop song. Other songs, like "Water," and "Sing" will get stuck in your head for days. "Light in the Hallway" is an amazing tune with layered vocals and poignant lyrics and one of my favorites as well.

I do have a couple quibbles though. One, it seems like Scott (the one who looks like a Twilight vampire) gets a lot of lead time here. One would almost be tempted to think he's the lead singer with the other folks backing him up. He sings lead on a good share of the songs here. That's not bad, per se, but for a group with this much talent in its ranks I'd like them to share the spotlight a little more. Each person does seem to have their own song (Kirsten's is "Water," Avi's is "Light in the Hallway"), but I like it when they work as a team more like on their covers and Christmas stuff. Also, there's a few songs that sound a little too radio friendly. Stuff like "First Things First" and "New Year's Day" conform more to the pop standard I think. One of the things I like about the group is that they break away from the standard modern pop sound. Anyway, minor things aside, Pentatonix is great and we'll probably be listening to it well into next year.

Useless Fact: Scott and Mitch (the little one) have a You Tube channel called "Super Fruits." My wife tells me it's very amusing.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Coheed and Cambria - "The Color Before The Sun"

Coheed and Cambria - The Color Before The Sun
2015, 300 Entertainment

1. Island
2. Eraser
3. Colors
4. Here To Mars
5. Ghost
6. Atlas
7. Young Love
8. You Got Spirit, Kid
9. The Audience
10. Peace to the Mountain

Well... it had to happen eventually. I knew at some point Coheed and Cambria would have to make an album without a concept. The question, of course, is can a band whose stock and trade has been convoluted concept albums their entire career even pull something like this off? The Color Before The Sun might not overthrow my favorite Coheed album (Good Apollo, Vol. 1 if you're wondering) but some of the songs on here are some of the best of their career and that is not an exaggeration. Song's like the haunting "Ghost" or the uplifting and energetic "Atlas" leave their mark for days in your brain. "You Got Spirit, Kid" recalls some of the bouncy radio-friendly tunes like "Blood Red Summer" or "The Suffering." The album closer, "Peace to the Mountain" is altogether different being one of my favorite Coheed songs of all time.

It's kind of weird to listen to Coheed lyrics that make sense! The band is far less angsty and dark on this album and the hope and exuberance for life shines through. This is a good thing as I don't think you can only be angsty so long before it starts sounding fake. This is certainly the most optimistic record they've ever done. Again, this is not a bad thing. I'm happy to see the band evolving and challenging themselves. While as a whole  The Color Before The Sun isn't quite as compelling as some of their other albums, the songwriting is still top notch and contains some phenomenal songs. I have no reservations about the future of the band anymore.

Useless Fact: I think "Atlas" is actually the name of singer Claudio Sanchez's son.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Queensryche - "Condition Human"

Queensryche - Condition Human
2015, Century

1. Arrow of Time
2. Guardian
3. Hellfire
4. Toxic Remedy
5. Selfish Lives
6. Eye9
7. Bulletproof
8. Hourglass
9. Just Us
10. All There Was
11. The Aftermath
12. Condition Human

Let me start this review by first saying, THANK YOU TODD LA TORRE! His addition to the band following Geoff Tate's ouster has reinvigorated these guys. They are full of passion and fire now - it's obvious they are glad to be Queensryche again. The real Queensryche - writing real Queensryche songs, instead of being Tate's mediocre vanity project. This fire was apparent on the self-titled release from 2013, but that album - while enjoyable- was rushed and light. This one however... for me it's the best album since Empire. The band is on point here and the album is much more substantial than the previous offering. It's full of great instrumentation and strong hooks. Just one listen to the blistering opener, "Arrow of Time" and you just know - Queensryche is back. Some people say that this album sounds a little like Empire or Promised Land but I disagree. I don't think it sounds like the previous albums (save for shades of "Anybody Listening?" in the title track). I think it sounds fresh, new, and modern. It's like we got an album from an alternate universe where the Hear in the Now Frontier and later never happened. I particularly like tracks like "Bulletproof" where La Torre just belts it out with all of his heart.

I don't think the album is perfect, though. I do think the lyrics aren't quite to the quality standards of the heyday of Queensryche. At times they seem a little generic and don't quite pack the punch that one might be used to from the classic albums. Also, the cover are and liner notes are really dark and a bit hard to read (a nitpicky gripe to be sure). Still, while I don't think this is quite a "classic" it shows a definite upward direction for the band. Honestly, I think the next one is going to be the definitive La Torre-era album and I heartily look forward to it. Until then I will enjoy this album secure in the knowledge that Queensryche's name and legacy is in good hands.

Useless Fact: Fear not, Tate fans! Tate still has a mediocre vanity project. It's called Operation: Mindcrime and the debut album, The Key, should come out... at some point. Don't ask me when because I neither know nor care.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Iron Maiden - "The Book of Souls"

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
2015, BMG

1. If Eternity Should Fail
2. Speed of Light
3. The Great Unknown
4. The Red and the Black
5. When the River Runs Deep
6. The Book of Souls

1. Death or Glory
2. Shadows of the Valley
3. Tears of a Clown
4. The Man of Sorrows
5. Empire in the Clouds

I didn't really know too much about The Book of Souls other than that I'd seen it around for sale. Naturally, I bought it one day while getting groceries. I mean, it's friggin' Iron Maiden. How bad could it be? Seemed like a pretty low-risk investment. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a double album with some truly epic tracks. Quite a few here are over the ten-minute mark, not to mention "Empire of the Clouds" which is a whopping eighteen minute opus. I'm pretty impressed that a band that has been around as long as these guys can sound so alive and energetic. You could group this album in with Number of the Beast or Powerslave and no one would be the wiser. Bottom line, if you like Iron Maiden, you will dig these discs.

I do have a couple of complaints though. First, the production seems a little dated here. When I said you put this next to those other albums I meant it... unfortunately that seems to include some dated production. I also think a couple of tracks could have been trimmed a bit. I love the rollicking "The Red and the Black" but there's an extended galloping session near the end that I think could have been trimmed a bit. Also, Bruce Dickinson seems a big strained here. Though, considering he was battling cancer at the time I think I can give him a pass. That's how tough that man is. "Oh, I've got cancer? Let's record a double album! What do you think about that, cancer?!" As of this writing, he did beat that cancer.

Useless Fact: "Tears of a Clown" is a tribute to Robin Williams and I understand "The Man of Sorrows" is about Aleister Crowley.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Nash, Leigh - "The State I'm In"

Nash, Leigh - The State I'm In
2015, One Son

1. Spider and the Moth
2. Cruel Heart
3. Chicago
4. Mountain
5. What's Behind Me
6. Somebody's Yesterday
7. The Promise Break
8. Dreaming Out Loud
9. The State I'm In
10. High Is Better
11. Tell Me Now Tennessee
12. Doing It Wrong

I pretty much hate country music. Let's get that out of the way right now. Especially the insipid "Bro Country" which mostly involves girls, beer, and trucks... and rap somehow. Anyway, Leigh Nash's little country album caught my attention because, being a longtime Sixpence fan, I've known she's wanted to do country stuff for a long time. Like... she was talking about it in interviews for This Beautiful Mess... i.e. a LONG time. So this isn't some cash-in-desperate-grab-at-fame record. Nope, this is an album she's wanted to do. And... I like it. Quite a lot actually. I guess it helps that it's less Florida-Georgia Line and more Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard. I was raised on country - Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, The Oak Ridge Boys... my parents would take rides through the hills of upstate New York and those folks were the soundtrack to many of those rides. Despite my intense dislike for country, there were a lot of songs by those artists that I liked. I think that's why I like The State I'm In because it definitely reminds me of those songs. This may surprise you but some of my favorite tracks here are the more honky-tonk ones like the title track, "High is Better" and "Doing It Wrong." I also like "Mountain" and "What's Behind Me" - both tracks could have been Sixpence tracks (though a little more countrified Sixpence).

I do have some small gripes about this album. First, I don't like the song "Chicago." Part of it is that it's the third slower paced song and by that point I think the album's momentum would have done better with a peppier song. I also don't care for the lyrics which is just the singer pining over some dude, begging him to tell her more about Chicago. I just don't like it. Second, the packaging is really flimsy - it's a thin cardboard digipack that's easily damaged. It does come with liner notes with lyrics, though, so that's good. Despite these minor gripes I enjoyed The State I'm In way more than I thought I would. It's definitely worth checking out even if you don't like country.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spock's Beard - "The Oblivion Particle"

Spock's Beard - The Oblivion Particle
2015, Inside Out

1. Tides of Time
2. Minion
3. Hell's Not Enough
4. Bennett Built a Time Machine
5. Get Out While You Can
6. A Better Way to Fly
7. The Center Line
8. To Be Free Again
9. Disappear
Bonus Track:
10. Iron Man

The You Tube robot plopped the "Bennett Built a Time Machine" lyric video in my feed awhile back. I was instantly hooked. I love that song. In fact, it's probably one of my favorite progressive songs of all time. No I'm not lying. The rest of the album is good too. I like how the band mixes plenty of progressive virtuoso playing with good hooks and melodies. This is especially apparent on songs like "The Center Line" and "Disappear." The latter is another song I love to death. I'm not sure if this is a concept album or not because the liner notes feature a story about "Bennett"...as in... the one who built the time machine, but the other songs don't seem to make reference to it, so I don't know. It's a good album and I may have to get into more Spock's Beard in the future.

Useless Fact: Um... Neal Morse was in this band? Yeah, I know everyone knows that but I don't know the band well enough for a really good fact.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lifesavers - "Heaven High"

Lifesavers - Heaven High
2014, Retroactive

1. Heaven High
2. All Fall Down
3. Bark Bite
4. Offed My Head
5. I Love It When
6. Dog Days of an Indian Summer
7. Oh Baby
8. Stereo Radio
9. Ocean View Lane
10. Last Spring

I've never been a huge Lifesavers-type person. My most vivid memory of them is seeing Poplife around the Christian bookstores back in the day. Recently, Michael Knott was on the Frontline Rewind podcast and he played "Heaven High" and I quite enjoyed it, so I decided to check out the album proper. It's pretty good. I guess you would kind of call it surf/pop/punk... I guess. It's pretty light and fun and while I don't come back to it over and over again it's a satisfying listen nonetheless. It's also pretty short at under a half an hour. I burn through the whole thing on the way to and from work.

Useless Fact: The picture on the cover is of St. Clare of Assisi. Her story helped influence the album.