Liz Phair: Somebody’s Miracle

April 29, 2007

www.lizphair.com

AN OPEN LETTER FROM IRIS:

As one of indie rock’s most celebrated icons, Liz Phair has created a standard for herself that I’m sure she is struggling to live up to with her second pop album release.  But I don’t want this to be like every other review.  I know her fans, both old and new, are going to have mixed feelings about Somebody’s Miracle, but for me, I applaud Ms. Phair.  She has an album on a prestigious music magazine’s list of best albums of all time, she tours despite being a mom, and she even performed at this year’s waning Lollapalooza in her hometown.  She is also fabulously attractive, which is ironic because in today’s corporate music world, the beautiful people are the ones that tend to sing for MTV.  Writing music is difficult, but writing indie rock music I think is an accomplishment that is seemingly overlooked.  The hipster audience is far more critical about their music than any other format.  As soon as a band submits a song that is radio-worthy, that said band has lost their fantastic underground roots and elite status among indie rock fans.  They will whine and complain that their favorite artist has sold out, writing music for the masses, conforming to society and moving away from writing music for the music and instead for the money.  And if artists have to “sell-out” in order to make a buck, and in that process they lose a fan base, then something is wrong.  I write this message to you because I saw something this weekend, and it changed my perspective on many of the ‘Liz Phair’ issues: I saw her in concert… again.  However, this show was post the release of Somebody’s Miracle, out October 4th.  I was interested to see how the audience, her fans, would respond to her playing her new pop tunes live.  Never, in all of the concerts that I have been to (and I am quite seasoned), have I seen an audience like I saw at her show.  And honestly, I don’t think Liz expected it either.  Present were her oldest fans and the teenagers who listen to the radio.  She blushed while we sang along to every single one of her songs, throwing punches in the air as if we were at a punk rock concert and even joining her while she played tracks from her first self-titled pop album.  I was dancing more to her music than I have at dance-pop shows.  I even danced with a stranger and we smiled at each other because we connected over something that we both loved without even speaking to each other: her music.  Someone requested a song and Liz didn’t even remember how it went, and asked the fan to come up on stage with her to help with the song.  Even guys were bellowing out asking Liz to have their children, along with singing their favorites.  These fans were truly in love with everything that has to do with Liz Phair.  With that being said…

CD REVIEW

One thing that fans of Liz Phair, and anyone for that matter, need to realize is that people grow up, they move on.  She’s still somebody’s blow job queen, however, there is no more fu*k and run: she’s a mom; mom’s can’t do that.  Music style can change too, and in this case, it has.  Once the indie rock idol, breaking the steadfast male dominance of the genre, the pretty girl who doesn’t sing pretty girl music, Liz stood tall and wrote a self-titled pop album.  Somebody’s Miracle can be said to be the follow-up to this record, when in reality Somebody’s Miracle is her sixth release.  The blend of catchy radio-friendly pop tunes and her indie rock roots really come together on Somebody’s Miracle.  Her off-key voice comes alive on tracks, proving that even though some might believe she has conformed to the glitz and glamour of the American pop queen, she will always be a rock princess.  The title track “Everything To Me” is the first single and ten times more mature than any of her earlier releases, musically and lyrically.  The uplifting positive characteristics of this track pave the mood of the record, which is good since millions are going to be exposed to it thanks to airplay.  “Lazy Dreamer” is another core track that has potential to be big, due in part to a rockin’, bass-heavy melody with a candy-coated hook, that I can see winning the ears of many pop fans and the hearts back of lost Phair believers.  “Leap of Innocence” and “Table For One”, while both audibly different, are also very strong tracks that embrace her deep vocals, revive her early acoustic-focused gems, and help keep the record from being branded as totally pop.  I chuckled at the extreme similarity of “Got My Own Thing” to that of “Ooh Boy” by Real McCoy, however, there could be underlying humor to the intentions of that and the implications of originality in the track title, or I could totally be reading into that way too much.  Either way, Somebody’s Miracle really captures the current Liz Phair.  Sometimes artists release albums that just aren’t up to par with the rest of their library, and that’s okay, they usually realize it and admit their faults.  Some people believe this is an apology for her earlier record-flop.  I don’t even see a reason to apologize; she writes fantastic music, it’s expressive, catchy and celebrated by her fans when she performs it live.  She is a beautiful black sheep to pop music and an established sweetheart amongst the indie rock legends, and for her, this record is a keystone for bridging the gap that so many people believe exist between her roots and recent work, and I think she did a fantastic job.

by Iris Karasick

Lindi Ortega: The Taste of Forbidden Fruit

April 29, 2007

http://www.myspace.com/lindimusic

Proving that Canada has yet to produce an artist that isn’t solid, Lindi Ortega emerges without disappointment.  This is flat out chick music, so if you’re not a fan in general, it might be kind of difficult to get into the groove.  Having been around for a while, Lindi recently had 2002 works released on a CD entitled The Taste of  Forbidden Fruit.  Her voice is incredibly passionate in her music and really stands out on top of the actual music of each song.  Albeit independently released, after the “millions” that read this review, they will see how much potential is in there and big things will come.  On her MySpace site, she covers The Doors’ “People Are Strange” and it’s done beautifully!  “Misery My Love” and “Coffee Shops,” available for a taste on that site too, are on the CD.  The balance of everything is pretty close to perfect, without blatantly saying it.  If there is one thing that is going to carry Lindi into the spotlight of Canadian singer/songwriter stardom, it’s her voice.  She harnesses it extremely well, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that given the right opportunities, great things will come.

by Iris Karasick

Lexington Down: Lexington Down EP

April 29, 2007

www.lexingtondown.com

New Jersey rock outfit Lexington Down have this going for them: they write and sing that coveted stereotypical Mid-Atlantic rock that is usually found in the far-off land of Baltimore but instead in Jersey, so it makes them unique, right?   They have a self-released EP with a full length in the works and hopefully the tracks that are blueprinted for the LP sound a little different than the monotony of their current four-track release.  However, rarely do you find a band that is still in its pre-fame stages that collaborates so well together.  They do have solid melodies, and mini-harmonies to boot, but tracks like “Lines In The Road” are missing that oomph to their already present weak-hook.  Don’t get me wrong, Lexington Down has real potential to break out of the punk rock breed, they just need to find what attributes to uniqueness they need to apply to their music to make it work.  “Outta Sight” has the right idea with clapping, but I think it can be used more effectively than a background additive.  “The Flicks” is totally rocking which is great and the strongest track on the EP, but that too is an element short of a great breakthrough song.  If I were to lend my suggestions: try some harmonies, crunchier guitars – I hear the punk rock influences laced in each song but they’re not welcomed.  To make it as a band these days, something different needs to be applied to the music whether it be new instruments, dabs into other genres, time code or even cleverly inserted silences, whatever it is, it works.  Take it as a hint and embrace it!  Somewhere along the line, somebody did it right and it bought them a record deal.  Why not try it for yourself?  You might be surprised at the outcome.

by Iris Karasick

Last Week: Thoughts to Keep You Company

April 29, 2007

Last Week: Thoughts to Keep You Company

Last Week
Thoughts to Keep You Company
Lawrence, NY
www.lastweekrock.com

One of the more “softer” rock bands that you might have caught at the Warped Tour, Last Week has written their songs, not to quote “Bubble Tape”: for you, not them. Alternative radio friendly, Thoughts to Keep You Company is a record that you might find in the Dickies’ messenger bags of many teenage Dashboard fans. Slow-paced enough to allow you to learn their lyrics with perfection, but rockin’ enough to keep them in that mainstream radio friendly niche. Thoughts To Keep You Company opens with the strongest track “New Year’s Eve” to get your ears perked up for some serious rock. But they fool you! Ido’s voice can be very familiar, which take it as you want it (some people like listening to familiarity amongst different bands), but with new and upcoming bands, a unique voice couldn’t hurt. Corny lyrics such as “life is just so unpredictable” and “Sha la la’s” fuel the second track, “Unpredictable.” Not as strong as it could be, but for a softer, acoustic, emo track about life and its traffic patterns, it’s fairly catchy and has potential to with the hearts of many fourteen-year olds. And just when you start to get a tiny bit bored of the repetitiveness, it even jumps to the climatic key change at the end! How daring! They have a hint of emo qualities throughout the EP, however, with the arena chanting on the track “You Said You Wouldn’t Lie,” it’s particularly prominent. Putting a song like this on their record really broadens their desired listening audience and confuses us reviewers as to what genre to group these boys. So wipe your tears girls, step aside Mr. Carraba and learn the lyrics, because I have a pretty strong feeling you will be sorely left out at shows if you are a n00b.

by Iris Karasick

Kisha Griffin: Chit Chat’N

April 29, 2007

Kisha Griffin: Chit Chat'N

Kisha Griffin
San Francisco, CA
Chit Chat’N
www.kisshermusic.com

I’m not going to peg Kisha Griffin in the straight R&B/Soul category. After listening to her album, I have decided there is so much of everything thrown in that it’s above and beyond the simple slot of R&B. Kisha Griffin uses her wide vocal range and use of the mixing board to push the borders of the genre. On the R&B side, her soulfully smooth voice really adds the perfect touch to winding down at the end of the day. (Or *wink* getting wound up with someone you like.) You can fall into her deep, honey voice as seen in the song “Happy Home.” Adding a little funk, Griffin really lays its down with a little techno here and some acoustic there. Her versatility and also adaptability for the changing audience shines in “My Life” a quick, techno backed club-worthy song featuring her Toni Braxton-esque baritone voice. Whatever mood you are in, you can definitely find something in Kisha Griffin; whether you want to slow down or speed up.

by Katie Smalley

JSD: Rezmade

April 29, 2007

JSD: Rezmade

JSD
Rezmade
http://www.geocities.com/rezmade2004

With the likes of Everlast, JSD (or Joe San Diego) puts it down without the sugar coating in his album titled “Rezmade.” No frills, no grand sampling; just the words and the experience behind it. Hailing from Ukiah, California, JSD comes out talking about everything he knows. With a little fun and a little filth talking about nasty girls and my favorite chug-a-lugging, as heard in “Chug-a-Lug Thugz,” JSD takes rapping to the hometown and makes it something friends would gather around to listen to (could possibly jump in and add some lyrics to, it’s that chill). There’s no pretentious floss here; it’s all about the fun of living, and the hard times too. JSD uses the right samples to help create a portrait of what it must be like to be venturing through the rough streets of the west coast. “Right Now Remix” gives the eerie feeling of being in the rough side of town in the dark and the build up is fantastic. The beat drops in just when you hope it would, and the song begins as well as the journey in the song. Simple beats and simple words, peppered, of course, with the colorful language of the street, keeps the focus on the message. There’s no overload or five different beats to keep your head spinning and dizzy. While the lyrics contain plenty of profanity, it isn’t in vain, and holds credit with the style and the audience it hopes to attract.

by Katie Smalley

Johnny Ford: Self-Titled EP

April 29, 2007

Johnny Ford: Self-Titled EP

Johnny Ford
Self-Titled EP
Rock Out Records
www.johnnyford.com

Hello gritty southern rock and roll! If you love that raw, acoustic, soulful sound, then look no further. Johnny Ford is all of that kissed with southern roots. His 5-song self-titled EP, out on Rock Out Records, leans more towards the acoustic side and doesn’t really express the rock that is heard on “Big City Southern” (a track from his full-length, Howl and Moan) which I feel to be his strongest track. But don’t think that this is just another acoustic boy-toy here to serenade you with love songs and mushy heart-pouring tales. They might be emotastic, but there is definite bite to them. I think that this EP does not do Mr. Ford justice, because I really hear the desire for him to sing these songs with a full band behind him, belting his words with the punch of the kick drum and warmness of the bass. While beautiful in color, songs like “Make Some Time” are just begging for accompaniment. Maybe Johnny is pulling a fast one and giving us the raw, uncut, acoustic atmosphere on the EP and leaving the sweet southern glory as our after dinner mint with an LP release. Hopefully I’m right on the latter, because after listening to Johnny Ford unplugged, I really want him to hook up that amp and bleed those southern rock roots into what I feel can be a really full-bodied, awesome compilation of music.

by Iris Karasick

Isle of View: Gentle Firefly Radio

April 29, 2007

Isle of View: Gentle Firefly Radio

Isle of View
Gentle Firefly Radio
Baltimore, Maryland
www.undecidedrecords.com/index.php?id=releases&rid=43

If you are not singing along with these incredibly catchy lyrics after your first listen-through, you will be after the second. Every song on this record is a hit, and each song outdoes the next. Hailing from Baltimore, they carry the stereotypical “Mid Atlantic Punk Rock” feel, however, Isle Of View has one advantage: a record deal. These guys are already making headway, besides the fact that every one of their songs on their debut album Gentle Firefly Radio can be considered a single. It has melodic guitar solos that not only rock the house down, but work extremely well as a third and sometimes even fourth part harmony. They certainly write songs for an all ages group, despite lyrics about crashing down drug induced highs on “Fall Asleep And Die” and unsatisfying sex on “Ransom”, they still manage to have extremely clever hooks and a singer whose voice is amazing. Especially with “Angel Wings” they have clapping down that is sure to make many housewives shake their Polaroid pictures to the fine angelic harmonies that these boys nail. “Tears and tears for you I cry/All the way across the sky/Take away your wings and fly/Into my heart forever” is the hook you wish you wrote, as you clap along to a 60s style pop-punk radio gem. Someone in this band definitely studied up on how to record the most full bodied, layer-intensive punk rock CD in the world. Some audio programs allow up to 32 different tracks to be recorded upon, and I wouldn’t hesitate for a second that not one of these tracks is empty on any song off Gentle Firefly Radio. “Tombstone” probably has the best lyrical story out of all the tracks, albeit depressing, it paints a picture that can certainly turn into a beautiful music video, if ever produced. Lyrics “I’m burying the person I thought I knew/You’re dead to me but I will keep your memory/My name is written on your tombstone” ring deep, but regardless, you will be singing along. Just when your heart is racing for more and the songs were loading up with cheesy lyrics, Gentle Firefly Radio ends softly with a gorgeous, harmonic, melodic, acoustic ballad “Driving On Train Tracks.” It is a completely unexpected ending given the first ten tracks, but a very satisfying end to a sugary sweet, intense power-punk, well-produced record. Isle Of View definitely stretches the limits of what a “typical” punk rock band should sound like. Between their constant harmonies on almost all their tracks, crunchy guitars, layers upon layers of instruments, I can definitely say I love you, Isle Of View.

by Iris Karasick

How I Became a Pirate: If My Body Stops Running, My Mouth Never Will

April 29, 2007

How I Became a Pirate: If My Body Stops Running, My Mouth Never Will

How I Became a Pirate
If My Body Stops Running, My Mouth Never Will
Bronx, NY
www.hibap.com

Have you ever gone to a show and the band starts you out with something with a solid beat to get your toes tapping, gradually build up and bring all the band members into the song… kind of, break the ice between you and the band? Yeah, well that is so not How I Became A Pirate. These guys totally say hello with an in-your-face-here-is-what-we-play and cue crazy dancing! It’s bands like this that I’m always so curious how they culture their voices to be able to last the entire time, but regardless, HIBAP manages to integrate that with everything else and the balance is excellent. “To My Biggest Fan” is clearly their strongest track with layers of harmonies and they already have the chanting in the song that is obviously not sung by them in concert, if you know what I’m saying. If My Body Stops Running My Mouth Never Will is sadly only four tracks, but I’m sure there is more where HIBAP is playing live. Maybe if you bug ’em they’ll release more.

by Iris Karasick

Hotspur: Hotspur EP

April 29, 2007

Hotspur: Hotspur EP

Hotspur
Hotspur EP
Rockville, Maryland
www.hotspurmusic.com

If you love the 80s, Hotspur will tickle your taste buds in the retro fashion that they sound like they’re known best for. Their music is undeniably 80s synth Pop; hopefully their fans are a little more modern. Their self-titled EP is a beautifully crafted blast from the past that is clean, fun, poppy and upbeat – everything you want from a band that is using some of the best flavors from one of the best decades. Hotspur is one of those bands that immediately can pass the indie-scene-Go, collect their $200 and head straight to Top 40 radio. Lyrics that tell a story, instruments you haven’t heard since your days in the middle school band, and catchy hooks that give you the energy and desire to jump up, let your hair down and dance like no one is watching. “5th of July”, the first track off the EP, should be played on the 5th of July so as to capture the energy from the National holiday everyone exudes and throw it into the rest of the summer. Its their strongest track on the EP and it clearly displays the talent within Hotspur. About the dating game and all the little rules that go with it, the clever chorus “This game of chess/Where everything stays set/And no one makes a move/So no one gets upset” carries this dance-friendly, xylophone splashed, “sounds-like-a-true-story” little diddy. “She’s Got To Go” is the Top 40 hit these guy’s are probably dreaming will soon be emanating from teenage girls’ lips. Too bad its way too sexual for young girls to be singing about to begin with, but it’s still packs a punch. And don’t worry: the ballad is on there too, entitled “Have You Seen This Girl?” Almost boy-bandish, they still manage to rock out during the chorus, but maintain the repeated-title-in-chorus cliché. If they continue the love-struck, heart-broken, I Love The 80s, “we use pretty instruments in our music” theme for the rest of their songs when they do release a full length record, these boys will be golden for Top 40 radio. Slap on some crushed velvet suits, throw in some girls dancing their hearts out, tear jerking lyrics and that sure-fire xylophone, and you got yourself a fine crafted 80s synth pop band, Hotspur, primed and primped for the general public.

by Iris Karasick

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