Wednesday, March 12, 2014

GET RIGHT By Getting The Soft White Sixties' New Album

The album that's been on the heaviest rotation for me in the past few days is the album by San-Francisco based The Soft White Sixties.  Stylized "GET RIGHT.", this album is totally awesome.  It was released on March 4th of this year, and I just bought it this week.  I was trying to wait a while until my wallet felt comfortable enough to justify it, but I broke down and bought it anyway this week, and I LOVE it. 

I first heard of these guys from a NoiseTrade sampler they have, and then an EP that they have on iTunes, and now they've finally released a full-length LP.  The band is currently rippin' up venues at SXSW in Austin, TX, playing as many as three shows a day some days, and then they'll embark on a slow journey back home to San Francisco, hitting a bunch of towns in between.  Dang, they came through Utah last summer, before I knew about them.  Maybe someday in the future they'll make the trip again.

The band's sound reminds me a lot of the Black Keys - it's a very blues-rock influenced sound.  40 years ago, The Who were described as playing "Maximum R&B", and that label has been resurrected to describe the Soft White Sixties.  It's definitely a fitting description for this hard-driving band who manages to imbibe their album with all the energy and feel of a live album, while maintaining a tight, polished studio sound.  It's a delicate line and the album does a great job at it.  

Here's a quick summary of my favorite tracks:

"Up To the Light" which, independent of the name, reminds me a lot of "Everlasting Light" by the Black Keys.  It's got a happy retro-pop sound and a killer bass groove that's punctuated with crunchy guitars.

"Rubber Band" starts off in an interesting lounge-style vein and then completely shifts into a pounding chorus and clever lyrics with silly imagery in the lyrics like "I know sometimes it can taste like someone poured salt in your coffee".

"Roll Away" would fit right in with the other tracks on "Get Behind Me Satan" by the White Stripes.  Featuring heavy auditorium-style reverb and a slow piano line, it's a good change of tempo in the middle of the album.

"Treat Me" - this baby needs some heavy mainstream radio play so all of the unwashed masses can be exposed to its excellence.  It's the perfect little catchy pop song, complete with carefully-crafted piano hooks and an infectious, simple chorus that just begs you to sing along.  This track also needs to be re-treated as an acoustic version in their live shows.  Just sayin'.  In case anybody ever reads this.  And if not, I like it so much that I think I'll play an acoustic cover of the song myself.  

Finally, "Knock it Loose", officially listed as a "Bonus Track" on the album (probably included because of popular demand from their fans) is a killer blues-rock anthem.  Blast it from your car as you roll through town and everyone with any music taste at all will thank you.  Super crunchy fuzz-pedaled guitars and pounding drums with raspy vocals on a delay filter make this track burn.

The one thing this album is missing is some killer guitar solos.  There are a few bars of mediocre guitar solo in the track "Lemon Squeezer", but it's conspicuously absent in the rest of the album.  Not that I'm complaining too much.  Some of these tracks are perfect as they stand and don't need elaboration on the album.  In their live acts, they do spend some time improvising and soloing, but it's usually just a few short bars, like it is on the album.  I am a major fan of instrumental solos and improvisation, especially in such a blues-influenced genre, so it is just a tiny bit disappointing to not hear any of that on this album.  Maybe improvisation isn't their strong point and they spend their time crafting perfect pop melodies and hooks instead.

Well, what are you waiting for?  GET RIGHT. and get the album right now!  $9.99 on iTunes, or save fifty cents and get it on Google Play or Amazon mp3.  You can also "try before you buy" and stream the entire album via SoundCloud on Paste's website.

P.S.  It's funny to watch how far the band has come from their live videos.  In their first shows they were sporting crummy instruments and off-brand amps in tiny venues, and nowadays they rock Gretsch and Gibson guitars with big Marshall and Orange amps and huge effects racks, and they have a killer live sound.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Listening Lately: Matisyahu

Yeah, I know, I'm late to the party.  Everybody's favorite Hasidic Jew/reggae-rapper Matthew Paul Miller, known as Matisyahu, has been making feel-good spiritually-influenced music and winning fans since 2004.  And he shaved off his glorious beard in 2011 (I'm a big beard fan myself, although his was just a tiny bit excessive).  But still, this isn't a blog where I blog about new or notable music.  I blog about what I've been listening to and enjoying, and that can be anything from Led Zeppelin to Anoushka Shankar, hitting Cab Calloway and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and everything else in between along the way.  

So lately I've been listening to a lot of Matisyahu, and in the last month he's been my second most-listened to artist, losing only to the Beatles (and only because I spent seven hours on the ski slopes one weekend listening to nothing but the Beatles).  Top artist by month is the only way I can keep track of my music trends, because my tastes change so radically from month to month, and usually I'll go on about a one-month binge of a certain artist or a certain style.  Some months it's nothing but Celtic music, other months it's nothing but Vampire Weekend and fun.  So I can only keep decent track of stuff like this in a small timeframe.

I got into Matisyahu because I was listening to a lot of Indie Reggae stuff that I found on NoiseTrade, and I happened to come across a free live album that Matisyahu is giving away on NoiseTrade.  It's called Five7Seven2 Live, and it's a compilation of Matisyahu's favorite live recordings from his "Spark Seeker" tour in 2012.  The album title is a reference to the year 5772 on the Hebrew Calendar, which covered most of 2012, when the tracks were recorded.  It's a great live album, with a lot of the organic, back-to-roots feel that is missing in Matisyahu's latest, over-produced studio albums that are full of noise and "featured" Pop and Hip-Hop artists.

P.S.  NoiseTrade is the most amazing site I've found in my life and I've downloaded almost 600 (now 700) tracks of free, legal, music in the last two months from them, and it has completely changed my life and my listening habits, and motivated me to blog about music and my musical experiences more.  You should go there right now and download everything you can get your hands on.  It's limited to ten albums per day per email address, but if you have more than one email address, well then...  You know what I mean?

So I like his live album, but I've been listening to three of his studio albums, too:  Light, Youth, and Spark Seeker.  

Youth is his sophomore record, and reflects his early influences on his music:  His personal spirituality, his experiences with Judaism, Jerusalem, and stories from the Old Testament.  It suffers a little bit from the "sophomore curse" where it's trying to outdo his first record, and thus feels a little bit over-produced and too glossy at some points, especially when compared with his Live at Stubb's album, which was released right before Youth.  There are some really great tracks on it, though.  The ever-popular "King Without a Crown" and "Jerusalem" are some of my favorites, as well as "Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth" and "WP" (my guess is that it stands for "World Peace" but I'm not sure).

Light comes from 2009 and features a much more mature, comfortable-sounding Matisyahu, content in his niche and respected enough to collaborate with other artists, while somehow managing to get them to avoid the profanity-laced hate speech that sometimes quite often accompanies modern rap.  Everybody in the world who watched the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is familiar with the track "One Day", featured on this album.  Other gems include "We Will Walk", "Struggla", and "Motivate".

Lastly, Spark Seeker features the new beardless Matisyahu singing a lot of modern rock/rap stuff, abandoning his signature reggae style for a fairly mainstream sound with lots of sampling and studio magic taking over.  I still quite like "Sunshine" (who doesn't?), "I Believe in Love", "Live Like a Warrior" and "Shine On".  Lots of happy songs in between the strange-sounding stuff on this album.

Well, I'm not sure what format I want my music posts to take quite yet.  I'm not really blogging to make money, and this isn't a persuasive essay trying to convince you to go out and buy Matisyahu's music, and it's not something cathartic or egotistical that I'm doing, so I don't really know what kind of conclusion to put on this post.  Just listen to him!  And thank me that you did!  Because my music taste is better than yours because I have fourteen years of extensive musical training!  Ha ha.  I'll try not to be too elitist, either.  I enjoy a good pop song as much as the next guy.  I just also happen to love jazz and classical and world music and other stuff.

All of the albums I mentioned are the exact same price on iTunes, Amazon mp3, or Google Play Music, so take your pick.  The live album is only available on NoiseTrade, and is completely free, but you can leave a tip of any amount if you want.  Amazon mp3 doesn't charge tax, although the only way to get the music locally on your computer is by downloading it through their annoying Amazon Cloud Player software.  I prefer Google Play Music, personally, because it immediately syncs to my Samsung Galaxy S4 without me having to do anything, and because files from Google Play are available as 320 Kbps mp3s.

More reviews to come very soon, with a decidedly Indie flavor to them, since that's what I've been listening to the most lately.