Album Review: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – Howl [2013, Bloodshot Records]

Posted on by Celeste in Albums | 2 Comments


How can you fail to love an album that sums up all of human romantic complexity in one sentence? “We howl for love.” We do. We date, we wingman, we’re set up by friends, we wait by the phone, we agonize over text messages, we break up, we give out our number, we start all over again. Love is complex. Romance is complex. Relationships are complex. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound boils it down into one universal sentiment and one heart-rending howl. We howl for love.

Brooks might be the only crooner on earth who can get away with literally howling on his album. On anyone else it’s overplayed, but with him it just seems a natural extension of his sentiments. “Howl” is a strong start to a strong album. The post-punk R&B group bare their souls on their third studio album which ranges the musical gamut from the lovely ballad-style “River” to the funk-driven “Rouse Yourself” to the more electrified “These Things.” While the intro “Howl” sets the tone for the album, exploring themes of the dark side of love and doubt, the standout piece is “River.” While the token ballad piece in most albums seem more like a conciliatory nod to the necessity of showing your musical range, for JCBUS it simply plays to all the band’s strengths – it leans on the power of the lead singer’s voice (I can hardly justify calling it a voice – the man doesn’t sing – he really does, simply stated, just croon), it relies on the band’s ability to put forth emotion without ranging into the territory of sappy, and it hinges on creating a slow song that still captures and keeps the listener’s interest. Check, check and check for JCBUS – they make it look easy.

“Howl” which was produced in the Hotel2Tango in Montreal with Howard Bilerman (who has also worked with Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor) might not be the most cohesive album, but it certainly shows off the band’s creativity and enthusiasm. Especially coming from a group that, it could be argued, is best known for their cover of Wilco’s “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”, this album is a welcome offering of fresh material. With a band like this, obviously bursting at the seams with talent and ingenuity, they really should be best known for their own creations, and with an album like this I’ve no doubt they will be.

EP Review: Minor Characters – Heal Me, Healing Times

Posted on by Celeste in Albums | Leave a comment

If I had to sum up Minor Characters in an idiom it would be “short and sweet.” They’re a band that understands the concept of leave them wanting more, and clocking in at 17 minutes and ten seconds, the band’s new EP sticks to that theme.

The hardworking Chicago foursome dropped their first EP in November of 2011, and their sophomore effort, Heal Me, Healing Times, seems like a natural extension of their debut. Maintaining the same ebb and flow of the last EP, “Heal Me” starts off the album with slow, halting strains that burst into a strong but simple drum backbone. Draped over that backbone are the staples of Minor Characters’ sound: catchy guitar riffs and lead singer Pelletier’s hovering falsetto. Aurora Borealis,the second track of the EP, maintains the catchy riffs with a bouncy and undeniable guitar line overlaid by a story that, when you listen a little closer, might be darker than it first appears.

While still sticking to their strengths, this new EP, especially the second half, is a little more introspective and melancholy than the first. “Sun Trials,” a flowing and soulful track heavy with a sense of ending, explores a relationship cycling through the seasons, “Don’t take me for granted/I don’t know when winter’s coming.” “Expatriates” closes out the album, the band branching out into new territory with a winding and mournful piano ballad about displacement, “Watch out, we left home to be left out.”

While there’s a clear divide in the tempo and tone of the first two songs versus the second, the EP doesn’t feel disjointed – it has a story to tell. The band performs March 1st at Lincoln Hall – if you’re in Chicago I’d suggest you watch them tell it live.

EP Review: Ugly Purple Sweater – Washington, DC

Posted on by halley in Albums | Leave a comment


Is judging an EP by its song titles as bad as judging a book by its cover? Because even before listening to Ugly Purple Sweater’s new EP I was all about “I Will Not Regret” (which is a personal mantra of mine, along with the likes of “No Shame” and “No Looking Back). Regardless of what you may think about snap judgments and jumping to conclusions, you’ll be happy to know the DC band’s new creation bears up to any and all levels of scrutiny.

The EP is 4 tracks long – meaning my only complaint is that I wish it had more material! Hopefully that will be coming soon. Despite my instant inclination to love “I Will Not Regret”, my actual favorite track ended up being “I Can Tell the Difference” which builds up to its core right around :49 and then proves an excellent example of this band’s story-telling style. “ I Will Not Regret” is a sad, more soulful-sounding song, “Central Detention Facility Blues” has an old-school finger-snapping feel to it, and “DCUSA” will strike a chord with any DC’er who’s seen the gentrification of the district progress and accelerate over the past few years.

Overall, this EP is a great listen for DC- and non-DC’ers alike. It’ll be publicly available January 8th, followed by the band’s performance at Black Cat on the 12th. Take advantage!

Track by Track CD Review: Robbie Williams – Take the Crown [2012, Island]

Posted on by Ricky in Albums | Leave a comment

take the crown

So me and Vik both like Robbie Williams for his earlier solo material, which basically elevated him into a megastar. His new record, Take The Crown is supposed to be his comeback record and has already reached #1 on the charts in the UK and spawned a #1 single for him, so obviously, we would listen to the album. Here are our thoughts as we listened to it.

Tracks 1,2,3
Ricky : checking out robbie williams
Vik : wait until you listen to ‘candy
Vik : weiiiiird
Ricky : thats track 3
Vik : ya
Ricky : the album’s sposda be his comeback album
Vik : jesus
Vik : i think he’s tried to make all his songs sound like whatever tunes are currently popular
Vik : like with track 3. i could hear katy perry sing that
Vik : a bit of carly rae jepsen in track 2
Ricky : ” My main priority was to write what I consider, and hopefully what the world would consider, to be hits. “
Vik : what a hack
Ricky : yea specially when the dude is probably absurdly loaded

#4 Different
Ricky : the 4th track is alright
Ricky : pretty standard robbie williams

#5 Shit on the Radio
Ricky : track 5 could be a Pink song
Vik : haha based on the title alone
Ricky : just cos it has swearing and stuff “shit on the radio” sounds like something Pink would write in a misguided attempt to sound hard
Vik : yeah man
Ricky : everything on this album sounds like a single

#6 All That I Want
Vik : trying to sound like bowie on track 6
Ricky : yeah
Ricky : he’s almost singing with a bowie accent
Vik : yeah
Vik : he has an accent in candy as well. like jamaican
Ricky : a bit U2ish
Vik : yeah
Ricky : i mean if U2 came out with an album it’d probably sound like this song
Vik : i was thinking that but just a tad poppy
Ricky : only with an epic song title
Ricky : the backing guitar is straight out of the joshua tree album
Vik : haha yeah

#7 Hunting For You
Vik : track 7 is a power ballad from 1998
Ricky : it just started
Ricky : life thru a lens came out in 97 actually
Vik : so bad man. and it’s not like i’m being a snob either. i wanted this album to be good
Ricky : this song would have been a b-side on that album
Ricky : should of never enlisted gary barlow for some of this album
Vik : ahhh now the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place
Ricky : although this hunting for you song will be in at least two movie commercials in the next year i think
Vik : haha yeah
Ricky : starring hugh grant
Ricky : as an inept ____ who mumbles his way to a hot girl

#8 Into the Silence
Ricky : nevermind this track is the u2 cover song
Vik : yeah the rest of the album is starting to sound that way
Ricky : i can already see bono cashing in his royalty checks
Vik : okay i never made it past track 8 yday
Ricky : gotta do it now
Ricky : theres only 5 more tracks
Vik : …and omg track 9 haha. i’ll wait till you get there
Ricky : its called hey now yeah yeah
Vik : yeah
Ricky : sounds like something bieber would write
Ricky : but im not there ya
Ricky : i wouldnt be surprised if track 8 became a hit though
Ricky : its got stadium anthem quality
Vik : yeah, a few of them would probably sound good in a stadium

#9 Hey Wow Yeah Yeah
Ricky : okay im on track 9
Ricky : hahaha
Vik : right? it’s like he’s trying to channel ting tings or something
Vik : may have wrote this in 2008
Ricky : the beginning sounds like timbaland
Ricky : produced
Ricky : only thing missing is the periodical “yeah”
Ricky : but yeah this is a tings tings tune, or karmin or something
Ricky : hey wow wow yeah yeah clap your hands now is a chorus
Ricky : that was the first real crap song though imo

#10 Not Like The Others
Vik : this is a perfect song for a montage of a bunch of faux hipsters dancing on a NY rootop for a cell phone commerical
Ricky : yeah
Ricky : probably by samsung
Ricky : ‘you and me not like the others’
Ricky : its probably already being practiced on glee
Vik : haha
Ricky : this song can be a katy perry song i feel
Ricky : but i think every electro pop song could be a katy perry song
Ricky : this song is going to be a hit though

#11 Losers (Featuring Lissie)
Ricky : who is Lissie
Vik : i was just googling that
Vik : not much
Vik : i thought it might be nicole kidman again
Ricky : robbie williams circa 2002 would have got kylie
Ricky : this song is okay, nothing special
Vik : gone back to generic pop for tracks 11-12
Ricky : yea
Ricky : oh 12 is a bonus track apparently
Ricky : im just going to stop listening..13 is also bonus track
Vik : haha really?
Ricky : yea
Ricky : this would probably make a good review article
Vik : yeah track by track man
Ricky : its serviceable record, probably gonna have hits but i’ll probably forget about it next week
Ricky : would be my concluding statement
Vik : yeah