Monday, April 16, 2012

American Nightmare

The short version:
Gorillaz—The Fall: 2/10
Ramin Djawadi—Game of Thrones: 6/10
Röyksopp—The Understanding: 7/10
Vanessa Carlton—Rabbits on the Run: 4/10
The Roots—Undun: 7/10
Morgan Page—Believe: 7/10
The Naked and Famous—Passive Me, Aggressive You: 7/10
Lana Del Rey—Born to Die: 7/10
Chiddy Bang—The Preview: 5/10
Chiddy Bang—Breakfast: 8/10
Kasabian—Kasabian: 6/10
Madonna—MDNA: 6/10
Digitalism—I Love You, Dude: 8/10

Some of the CDs in this batch I've been listening to for quite a while because I just wasn't sure what I thought of them, or I didn't quite feel like listening to them at the moment, or other similar reasons.  Those aren't the case for The Fall by Gorillaz.  It's just horrifying.  I bought it because I like the Gorillaz and though I knew that this album was largely instrumental before I ordered it, I assumed it would be similar to their previous CDs, not similar to the demo tracks that come with thirty-dollar Casio keyboards.  Amarillo and Aspen Forest are the best tracks and the rest aren't even good enough to be B-sides.

The soundtrack to Game of Thrones scored by Ramin Djawadi works well in the show but a lot of it doesn't stand alone extremely well since it's rather sparse at times.  That said, it's hard not to love the gorgeous main theme, and Kill Them All is much more emotional than one would expect given the name.  Appropriately given the story's content, most of the music is either violent, tense, or sad—When the Sun Rises in the West being a great example of the latter.  I don't recall exactly what happened during those couple minutes but having seen the first season there's a pretty good chance that at least a couple people died in that time.  Also there were probably some boobies.

Röyksopp's The Understanding is fun electropop with good beats.  Not super memorable, but pretty decent.  Only This Moment is the best track, with Triumphant and What Else Is There? behind that.

I'm generally a fan of Vanessa Carlton's but she's dipping too far into light folk territory for my tastes with her latest CD Rabbits on the Run.  I liked the more radio-friendly Vanessa, not whatever much of this album is.  Carousel and I Don't Want to Be a Bride are the best two, and In the End is interesting and weird.  Listening to those will probably give you an unfair impression of what the disc's like (no coincidence that those first two are singles); in contrast to those, there are also several barely listenable tracks like Get Good.

The Roots' latest, Undun, is one of the best-reviewed albums I've bought in a while.  I'm not sure if it's justified based on my own personal opinions, but I don't know how much of that is just due to the fact that The Roots' style is less pop and more artistic rap than I typically prefer.  There are a lot of pretty good songs on here but little that's great.  My favorite is I Remember (probably the most radio-friendly one), then Sleep, then One Time.  If I can say one thing about the album, it's not boring or repetitive or a copy of anyone else, and that's certainly worth something, but for me, the style's just a bit off.

I got Morgan Page's CD Believe.  It's electronic dance music.  It has beats and bass and girls singing.  It's pretty good I guess.  He's talented.  Strange Condition, I've Had Friends, and the title track are the best tracks.

The Naked and Famous is a good name for a group and Passive Me, Aggressive You is a good name for an album.  Spank is definitely my favorite track but the rest of the album isn't as hardcore-sounding.  Young Blood is pretty great too, and Punching in a Dream is nice.  For some reason the band sounds to me like what Arcade Fire would be like if they decided to stop being hipster icons and start kicking ass.  Many things about the vocals seem similar to me, and it's got a similar indie, alternative vibe, but everything seems more energetic and exciting and interesting.

Lana Del Rey's debut album Born to Die is weird.  She's a weird lady and her music is weird.  Even her facial expressions are weird, like she had a stroke and has been permanently stuck in some sort of duckface forever, and she sounds like she's bored with her own music and just wants to go home.  But for some reason it kind of works.  Her most well-known song Video Games just sort of floats and drones onward for five minutes and she sounds as if her lips don't move more than about three millimeters, which I think is actually accurate after having seen her perform on Saturday Night Live.  Off to the Races and Diet Mountain Dew are much less slothlike, which normally I'd prefer, though there's something strangely enchanting about how slow and nonelectronic a song titled Video Games can be.

I picked up both The Preview (an EP) and Breakfast by Chiddy Bang, with the latter full album being notably better than the EP.  Breakfast has some pretty insanely catchy tunes on it: Handclaps and Guitars, Ray Charles, Run It Back, as well as several others.  The rapper seems fairly average on first impression, but the tunes and beats are absolutely infectious.  Definitely worth checking out if you like hip-hop with fancy pop beats.  From The Preview, Opposite of Adults (sampling Kids by MGMT) is probably the best, but it's not nearly as good as Breakfast.

Kasabian's self-titled album is interesting.  By far my favorite song is the opening track, Club Foot, which is the one I got the album for.  That song plays during a crucial plot scene during Alan Wake's American Nightmare and the song is bizarrely perfect for a scene with explosions and nonsensical awesomeness and shadowy demonic creatures with axes crawling out of the darkness to attack you.  I don't think I'd have fully appreciated the song's awesomeness if I didn't associate it with that scene in the game, but anyhoo—nothing on the rest of the CD measures up to that song, but Reason is Treason and the instrumental track Ovary Stripe are both good.

Madonna's got a new CD out, MDNA.  None of the tracks on it seem particularly great.  I haven't listened to it a whole lot yet but nothing really catches me.  The big single Give Me All Your Luvin' featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA is cheesy and lame but it's catchy and still probably the best thing on there, followed by Love Spent and Beautiful Killer.  What's probably most worrisome is Some Girls, a track with some solid production that I think would actually be better as an instrumental.  When one of the world's most iconic vocalists is putting out songs that make me think that they'd be better without any vocals, something's wrong.

Finally, I picked up I Love You, Dude by Digitalism, and it's pretty intense.  It's got a lot of good beats—not necessarily danceable, but I'm not much of a dancer so they're interesting nonetheless.  Blitz, Stratosphere, and Miami Showdown are all great.  Definitely worth checking out if you like a good electronic beat.

Whew.

Update:  You can also find my favorite recent tracks on my Spotify profile.

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