Friday, May 29, 2009

Grab A Slice Of CAKE This Summer

As today was the last day of school for me (holy crap, next year I'll be a SENIOR! Then after that I'll have to join the real world!), I figured I'd share one of my favorite summer albums. "Comfort Eagle" by CAKE is an awesome summer album. I bought it at the start of summer last year, and now it epitomizes everything that summer is: Warm, happy, carefree, fun, and lazy. Without further ado: Comfort Eagle is CAKE's fourth studio album. Released in 2001, it's spawned a few good singles, including the hit "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" that I think almost everyone has heard and that almost everyone should love. There are a number of excellent gems on this album, though, besides just the hit single, and I buying the full CD is well worth your money. One of CAKE's better releases, almost every song is catchy and features super-awesome lyrics full of metaphors and wordplay, courtesy of CAKE frontman John McCrea. McCrea's velvety voice shines through on all the tracks (except the instrumental "Arco Arena" of course) and I think the vocal performance is what endears me to CAKE the most (excellent lyrics and awesome bass lines are also big selling points). Whether McCrea is actually singing or sort of rapping/vocalizing makes no difference; he is talented enough to make even rap sound good.

The album opens with "Opera Singer". This is a good fun-in-the-sun summer song with pounding drum machine and sweet meandering guitar lines funky trumpet. There's nothing really special about the song, but it's fun nonetheless.

"Meanwhile, Rick James..." is the second track and is a melancholy song drowning in confusing metaphors and symbolisms. What the heck does "Fawn, Joe, and Tootsie are out on a wire/Lettuce-toothed junkies are full of desire" mean anyway? Not a big Rick James fan myself, I don't know any of his back story, but John McCrea claims to have written this song before ol' Ricky went crazy and became a druggie kidnapper and rapist. He seems to have predicted Ricky's future, then, because it mentions his drug addictions ("Swim in your kidney, kidney shaped pool/Scratching at the bottom for another clue") and his controversies with women pretty accurately.

"Shadow Stabbing" is an awesome song that embodies summer. It's light and bouncy but not quite "poppy". The funky guitar at the beginning is my favorite part, although the melody is pretty freakin' awesome too.

"Short Skirt/Long Jacket" is possibly CAKE's biggest hit, with contenders in "Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle" and "The Distance". There's a good reason why it's a hit, though: Because it's freaking amazing. Full of wordplay and lists of absurd qualities that McCrea wants in his girl, this one is an instant classic. Great bass, nice overdriven guitar, and sweet trumpet make the music awesome; McCrea's awesome lyrics and light rap make the vocals amazing. My favorite lines are "I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity/Who uses a machete to cut the red tape/With fingernails that shine like justice/and a voice that is dark like tinted glass". Those lyrics are just so ridiculously hilarious that they get me every time. What the heck does justice look like? What does tinted glass sound like? And I can totally see this ideal girl hacking her way through rules and regulations without a care in the world, as if she was taking a machete to them. It's awesome.

The next few songs are pretty good. "Commissioning a Symphony in C" is pretty fun (funny thing is, it's not really in the key of C. The chorus is in C, but the verses and bridge modulate to F) but nothing special, and the instrumental "Arco Arena" is actually kind of boring, although it makes for some nice filler.

"Comfort Eagle" is a hard-rock Indian-influences song that's pretty sweet. The lyrics are lashing out against the music industry and comparing it to some trashy cheap religion that gives out trinkets in exchange for loyalty. It's pretty cool, and it's fun to sing along with the "Calling you DUDE!" parts.

The last four songs are all really nicely-built songs full of good lyrics. "Love You Madly" especially is a good song about wanting to love a girl without all the crap that comes with relationships like unreasonable commitments and commercialism-laced holidays. Other than that, none of the other songs are tremendously note-worthy.

Most of the songs on the album are just part of the wash and they're not specifically stand-out songs, but the particular "wash" of the Comfort Eagle album is set at a surprisingly high standard. None of the songs are weak, but few of them are particularly strong singles-worthy songs. CAKE is not about being amazing rockin' musicians that kick butt and take names every time they pick up their instruments, CAKE is about making good music and having fun. CAKE is the ultimate lounge band, and they show it. This is not music to perform covers of at a rock concert (with the exception of "Short Skirt/Long Jacket"), but it's excellent music to listen to when you're just hanging out or driving down the road. I don't know what qualities make a good "summer album" but this one had that label jump into my head from the first time I listened to it, and to me it feels like it fits that label perfectly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Make Room, Weezer!

Bringing you yet another review of an emerging artist, the artist I'm spotlighting today is the band "Switches". They're a British band who has only been around long enough to release one EP and a full-length album. I'll review their album farther down the page, as part of the emerging-artist spotlight.

Switches play energetic powerpop with mixes of other, older genres laced throughout. They're not far removed from Weezer, although they turn the rock meter up a little bit higher than the Weez boys. Switches are very big fans of Weezer, though, drawing inspiration from the Blue Album and Pinkerton and the Green Album, as well as going to one of the famed Weezer Hootenannies this past year. The individual members of Switches have very eclectic music tastes, from 80's pop to 60's bop to Britpop and etc. etc. The prominent genre is powerpop, but there are many brilliant little genre shifts throughout their songs.


Switches' first album is titled "Lay Down The Law". While not very musically new or unique, it's a fun rockin' ride all the way through, with few dead moments and no real filler tracks. Right from the starting gate, with "Drama Queen", Switches set the rocking-out standard and they keep it for most of the album. There are a few boring moments in "Snakes And Ladders" but the track has been slowly growing on me, mostly because of the great vocal parts. The title track, "Lay Down The Law" should have been a massive summer hit (it was still a summer hit, but not on a huge scale). Kind of inane lyrics and a great rockin' feel keep this song marching forward all the way until it ends all too soon. Despite the strong face that "Lay Down The Law" showed, the next track doesn't disappoint or feel like filler. "Coming Down" is an excellent song sung in the Ric Ocasek/Cars style and it's great. The album slows down for "The Need To Be Needed" and features some great falsetto by singer/lead guitar Matt Bishop. The next tracks, "Message From Yuz" and "Every Second Counts" are fairly uneventful, although the killer hook in "Message From Yuz" and the vocals in "Every Second Counts" both deserve mentioning. "Step Kids In Love" is a great piano rocker with some very dark pounding piano at the beginning and some weird plinking later on. "Lovin' It" is kind of a boring song but you forget all about its mediocrity when "Killer Karma" comes on. "Killer Karma" is the best song on the album by far, with everything from a great hook to excellent lyrics and snotty vocals to an interesting rhythm that is part Latin, part one-drop reggae. The album closes with "Testify", which starts out boring but ends strong.

All in all, Switches are definitely a band to watch for in the future. Switches feel as though they're just getting comfortable with themselves as a band, and the stories from each of their members (especially Matt Bishop - playing electric guitar and overdubbing songs at age four and recording hundreds of conflicting-style songs as a teen) leave hope that they'll only get better with time. Hopefully they'll be breaking into the US music scene in full force in the next few years with a new album release that could possibly be even better than this one.

Their entire album, as well as some remixes and B-Sides, is available for streaming on MySpace Music. Seriously, it's a great resource for stuff like this.

Switches' MySpace page
Switches' official web site
Switches' official "DGC/Interscope" web site
(There are multiple Switches websites out there. The former is beautiful and brilliant and has tons of excellent information, including a full band bio. The latter is an ugly, messy, DGC/Interscope cut-and-paste band website that has more than its share of bugs and glitches and has no relevant information. I'm just linking it to make you aware of the two contrasting sites and to let you know that there is a better Switches website out there. I guess the one thing the DGC one has going for it is that there's a forum/message board/comments system, so you can leave messages for the band if you so desire.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Step Aside, Coldplay!

The new kings of melodic atmosphere rock have arrived! If only they had the exposure, I'm sure they would be able to whup Coldplay and take their spot on the top. I'm doing my part here to help it happen, I guess.

The band I'm talking about it called "Low vs Diamond" and I have been unable to stop listening to them since I discovered them about a month ago. Their sound/style is like that of Coldplay's. It's a little heavier on the rock and they have no true acoustic songs, but the music contains the same soaring melodies and the same weird atmosphere/ambience noise in the background.


They're a new band, with only a self-titled debut album, but the eleven songs on it are so great that I could listen to them for days on end (and that is
not an exaggeration).


The best song on the album serves as the first track, which in most cases is a mistake, but the rest of the songs on the album are excellent enough that the order doesn't matter too much. Just don't leave "Don't Forget Sister" on repeat for too long or you'll wear a groove in your CD and then you won't be able to listen to the rest of the album.


"Don't Forget Sister" is an excellent song that builds gradually into an amazing final section. It starts out with some drums and some piano and some atmosphere and some vocals, then builds and builds into a full-out barrage of awesome alternative pop/rock and finishes with soaring melodies that you can't help singing along with. It's really no surprise that this song landed number 59 o
n Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2008, even though the band still labors in relative obscurity. It's just so amazing.

The rest of the album explores other pop/rock ideas and structures. There is not much acoustic guitar on the album, and it always takes a backseat to the other instruments when there is. There's a fair amount of piano, though. No other styles are explored, so it's not an album that will satisfy everyone, but for anyone who enjoys excellent melodies and meaningful lyrics, I recommend this album. Heck, "Don't Forget Sister" itself is almost worth the cost of the entire album.


Before you purchase, you can listen to the album in its entirety on the band's MySpace page. That's a great new feature from MySpace. I love being able to listen to full albums before I make a decision of whether or not to buy the album. It's great, and you should give it a try with artists that you enjoy as well as new artists that you've discovered.


Low vs Diamond's MySpace page
Low vs Diamond's official website

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Weezer Day!

I guess we'll get the 2009 archives started up now, with this first post of mine in the new year. I have really neglected my blog lately because I don't really use it for small personal updates, and my posts about other things are generally big and long. I just haven't sat down and typed up a big long blog post in a while. My Twitter account is very active, however, and if you want more poojalooba_cow, I suggest you folllow me on Twitter rather than checking up on this blog frequently, because this blog's update schedule is anything but frequent. It might possibly be getting a little busier in the next little while, because I've got some ideas for content that I can blog about. I want to do some CD reviews and some Emerging Artist profiles, and I'll slap them up here on this blog when I get around to writing them.

Anyway, today, Weezer, as a band, turns 17 years old. Sure, it's also Valentine's Day, but I prefer to remember Weezer's birthday instead of some corporate commercialist "holiday". Weezer has come a long way since their humble beginnings in "The Garage" in LA in 1992. Most of it has been good, some of it has been for the worse. I guess I'll go over a little bit of that in this post.

Also, last weekend Weezer won their first Grammy in their career - their song Beverly Hills received a Grammy nomination in 2006 for "Best Rock Song" but they honestly didn't deserve to win that because Beverly Hills is the worst song that Rivers Cuomo ever wrote (the sweet talkbox solos don't even make up for the awful rest of it). This time, they really did deserve the Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video - the video for Pork and Beans is hilarious and was the most-watched video on YouTube for a number of weeks. The song itself also spent eleven weeks at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock chart, but the Grammy award wasn't for the song. Maybe someday if Weezer picks up the game a little bit, someday they might win a Grammy for the actual music they perform. In my opinion, Weezer hasn't released any Grammy-worthy songs since 1996's Pinkerton album, except maybe Hold Me on the Make Believe album (but it wasn't released as a single so it didn't receive enough exposure). I still love Weezer, but their songs are not the best of the best, the cream of the crop (the exceptions are of course, Pinkerton and The Blue Album, which are absolutely amazing instead of just fun like the other Weezer albums).

Hopefully with this new "business model" that Weezer is pursuing - with every band member contributing to the songwriting and other creative processes that used to be hoarded by frontman Rivers Cuomo - the Weez boys can maybe earn back some respect from fans of the old Weezer, as well as gaining new fans and good critical reviews without falling back on tired pop formulas.

I saw Weezer in concert during their 2008 Troublemaker Tour (on October 7, 2008) and it was the most awesome thing I've ever seen. They were way better than they have ever sounded on an album, and Rivers sounded great (I'd seen live videos of Weezer before and Rivers sounded pretty bad, but he sounded excellent in concert. I also learned later that he had just recovered from a head cold. It didn't reflect in his vocal performances at all). Despite all the awesome music, one of the most excellent things at the concert was the statement that Rivers made at the end: "See you next year." That implies, in a vague and subject-to-change way, that Weezer was going to record and release another album quickly and go back on tour in 2009. I heard rumors that Weezer was scheduled to head back into the studio in November 2008, but then Brian Bell quashed that rumor and stated that Weezer had no definite future plans other than enjoying the Red Album for a while. However, recently I've heard reports, from sources very close to the band, that Weezer is working at least part-time in the studio with Jacknife Lee and that means there's possibly an album due at about the same time the Red Album came out last year, and possibly a subsequent tour. Rivers has said that he wants to tour again in 2009. I don't think he'll tour for the Red Album again (Weezer has never done two tours in between albums, except during their five-year hiatus between Pinkerton and the Green Album). I think this means that we can probably expect a Weezer album out in the second half of 2009 somewhere, and hopefully there will be some Grammy-worthy stuff on it this time!