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Unlike your ordinary, run-of-the-mill music blog, Musical Druggernauts is dedicated to providing you with pertinent album release reviews, and do so in our own unique way. The fact that you are even reading this section means a lot, but please stop reading this and read about what hot new albums we have reviews for. Why are you still reading this? Since, we have grabbed your attention even further, if you like what you read, please send us any artist/band album that you feel would make for a great blog review. You can stop reading this now, we promise.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Phillip Phillips - The World From This Side Of The Moon

Winning American Idol over the past several seasons has been a mixed bag. People like Scotty McCreery have shown that a Southern draw does translate to sales, even if a bland stage presence accompanies it. You have the Carrie Underwood’s and the Kelly Clarkson’s who continue to dominate their specific genres as well. And then there are the Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks’s of the world. For one reason or another, they never were able to garner that fan support, despite winning the decade long hit TV show competition. And that brings us to the newest winner of American Idol, Phillip Phillips, whose first full-length studio album, The World From The Side Of The Moon, is out now. Can it follow the trend of his hit single, “Home,” which became the anthem for the US Women’s Gymnastics team this past summer, or will it fall short like the Russians? Read on to find out!!!
            What better way to start off an album review then by taking a look at the first track? Yeah, we think that’s a smart bet too.  “Man On The Moon” starts off with a bluegrassy acoustic guitar arpeggio that entices the eardrums from the get-go. And then the drums kick in, followed with what sounds exactly like Dave Matthews scat singing. Is this the right CD, you think to yourself? You check your computer screen and highlighted is the artist name, Phillip Phillips. Talk about a curveball.
            The melody is something that you would expect from Matthews himself and the background banjo accompaniment adds a subtle yet overarching sound to the chorus. Lyrically, the writing is there, but that is besides the point. There is nothing new and fresh here like there was in “Home.” That said, it’s sounds great, even if you feel like Dave Matthews 2.0 is what you are getting.  Surely, this can’t be said for the entirety of the album, right?
            Going down the track list the signals are clear—stoners all around may have found their new summer concert Messiah in the form of Phillip Phillips. “Tell Me A Story” is a beautiful track that centers on the poignancy of love and life and how delicate it all is in the grand scheme of things.  There is a beautiful optimism that flourishes here, despite sounding exactly like something that DMB would write, both melodically and lyrically. This is definitely the song to play for when you are feeling a little more overdramatic than usual.
            “Wanted Is Love” continues this trend, but is such a massive song, not necessarily in terms of possible radio airplay, but in overall quality.  A tranquil string section starts things off on the right note (no pun intended).  Followed by this is what can be described as a soft and gentle piano sound. It’s almost as if you’re ready to hear 2Pac start rapping the first verse from “Changes,” but I digress.
            There is a seductiveness in this song that helps add some more depth to Phillips’s sound. In the hook, he sings, “Wanted is love, now go and sing/You know you gotta hold on to what you love before it’s gone away” --indicative of the building anticipation that he sings with. Rather than stay in the same register, Phillips mixes in some falsetto to shake things up a bit. His voice is like smooth sand paper, if that were such a thing. The coarseness of it is what makes it pleasant, yet when he really belts out it goes away, resulting in a much more clean sound. This begs the question: Is he sounding more Dave Matthews on purpose?
            Without a doubt, the best track on the entire album, aside from “Home,” is “So Easy.”  It may be because of the fact that it is something that sounds entirely his own. There are no real overt comparisons that can be made. The hook is simple, getting you in the frame of mind to want to blast this on a summer’s day. It’s a happy-go-lucky pop song about love that just works. The lyrics are also strong, thanks to up and comer writer/artist, Wrabel: “Like the ocean pulls the tide in just to hold it close/like a rain pour in a rainstorm makes the flowers grow/You’re the reason I believe in something I don’t know.” A true master of his craft, Wrabel helps Phillips paint the perfect picture in his listener’s mind. It’s too bad more of this prowess doesn’t lend itself throughout.

            In the end, The World From The Side Of The Moon is a great first album effort. There is no dross. It just sounds a lot like Dave Matthews. But this comparison raises an important question: Does it even matter? Sure, originality is key and Phillips will continue to develop as an artist, but does this take away from having an album that plain sounds great? You be the judge. Until then Druggernauts!!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

One Direction - Take Me Home

           The time has come and there is no trying to hide from it. One Direction is out with a brand new album, Take Me Home, and millions upon millions of teenage girls are calling in sick to school, suffering from hot flashes. With two albums releasing in the US in the same calendar year, any person that isn’t a diehard Directioner may be a little reluctant to listen to new material. After all, good things take time, right? Their sound is the definition of powerhouse pop, but have they set the bar too high, too early? Read on to see if their sophomore effort sinks like the Titanic or swims good like Frank Ocean (we can’t resist puns).
            “Kiss You,” the next single off of Take Me Home (according to idolator.com) follows the same tracks as “Live While We’re Young” and throws our ears into Pop overload. Like the first single, it’s a driving beat with infectious harmonies on the chorus that grabs your attention. The melodies are what make the song a complete standout, however. It’s a fast paced track, but the lyrics don’t feel forced. There is a controlled chaos in a sense when it all comes together. Girls will definitely be happy hearing this on the radio. It’s hard to determine if this is the proper next single, however. It’s especially harder when the album has so many great songs.
            Being the avid fans of Ed Sheeran that we are at Musical Druggernauts, we can’t pass on reviewing one of his penned tracks. “Little Things,” written when he was only 15 years old, is possibly the most poignant and beautifully written record on the entire album. From the first pluck of the guitar, Sheeran’s musical sensibilities shine through, giving an added warmth and honesty to it. Lyrically, this is one of those songs that every guy should learn so he can swoon that girl he has been pining for. “I know you’ve never loved the crinkles by your eyes when you smile/ You’ve never loved your stomach or your thighs/The dimples in your back at the bottom of your spine/But I’ll love them endlessly, “ he writes. Proof that talent doesn’t have an age restriction.
            Sticking to a multi-layered acoustic guitar sound in the background shows that simplicity is sometimes the best answer. There is no need for handclaps or boisterous drums here. As eloquent as this song is, it really does serve a greater purpose in bringing the One Direction sound full circle. Without “Little Things” this album wouldn’t feel quite finished.

But what song is the stand out on the album you ask? It’s hard to put baby in a corner, but if a gun was at our heads, we’d have to go with the sentimental hit, “Last First Kiss.” The song is catchy, but the lyrical idea is what sets it apart from the rest. This notion of a last first kiss is something that a ton of female teenage fans will let fester in their minds, thinking that Zayne or one of the other boys will make this a reality for them. Yeah…probably not going to happen, but hey, keep thinking happy thoughts.
           The song's buildup is spot on. A simple acoustic guitar leads the charge followed by a drumbeat that helps to propel the song even further. It’s not until the chorus hits that the raw emotion of the song turns into a full-fledged pop masterpiece. By not throwing everything at the listener at once, the anticipation grows exponentially. “Last First Kiss” has a sound that is crisp, but not overly clean. A rocking electric guitar riff nearing the end also helps to drive home the point that quality is not sacrificed in making a commercially appeasing record.

            Lyrically, the idea of a last first kiss is ingenious. (Why couldn’t I think of that?!?!) It does a multitude of things: satisfies the dreams of every teenage girl and also serves as a platform that they are maturing. The chorus goes as follows: 

            “Girl what would you do?
            Would you wanna stay if I were to say,
            I wanna be last, yeah
Baby, let me be your, let me be your last first kiss
I wanna be first, yeah
Wanna be the first to take it all the way like this”

Although some critics have said it seems to insinuate that it’s about going all the way with a girl, I see the lyrics in a different light. If anything, they point to a more mature undertone, where they are looking to find that right girl. They also come off as vulnerable by asking said person what they would do if they asked them this very question—something all reticent guys could take a page out of. Step yo game up!
Some other songs that stuck out include: “Heart Attack,” “Back For You,” “Change My Mind,” “They Don’t Know About Us,” “Rock Me” and “Nobody Compares.” Honestly, just listen to the entire album. Sure, it may be a guilty pleasure to some, but anyone who appreciates great Pop, will definitely appreciate Take Me Home. This is the definitive Pop album of the year! Until then Druggernauts!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mayer Hawthorne - itunes Session

          Music is an ever-changing entity. Over a century ago, Tin Pan Alley was the center of the musical universe where jazz and blues defined a generation. In the 60s it was the British invasion that consumed the ears of the baby boomers.  In the 80s it was Michael Jackson and hair metal. 90s were the boy band and teenybopper girl fan craze.  Today, with music being able to reach an extended network, it’s almost impossible to define this time in music popular. Sure, EDM (electronic dance music) is garnering heavy followers, boy bands have started an upward trend again, real artists such as Adele show that good music far outweighs what we have been force fed as what a musician should look like, but is there an answer? A lot of walls have been torn down and yet a lot of new walls have been plastered up in their place.  We revel in the past, however, as a simpler, better time, even in music.
Like Woody Allen eloquently hinted at in A Midnight in Paris, we find ourselves thinking that the past offers a brighter outlook, when the things laid out in front of us are there to enjoy. Looking back on things, we wish that we grew up being able to listen to Hendrix live and seeing John Lennon perform “Imagine.” Right now, however, we have acts that draw from this inspiration and have come up with a sound that pays homage and resemblance. Mayer Hawthorne, being one of them, exemplifies a modern day, falsetto chiming, Marvin Gaye. He has a number of studio length albums under his belt already, but he’s just come out with a new featurette album, Mayer Hawthorne: iTunes Session.
For those not attune to his music, “The Walk” is the epitome of what Mayer Hawthorne is all about—a sweet sounding voice that can hit high notes without breaking a sweat and brass accompaniment, which is always pleasing to the ears.  Not enough can be said for having trumpets and saxophone.  In this track, especially, they help add to the authenticity by putting his own stamp on something our parents would have listened to.  It’s a definite toe tapper that will have you feeling giggity giggity goo.
His lyrics are not even indicative of this time. There is a clever bluntness about him that is refreshing. Hawthorne opens the song up, writing, “Baby what you doin’ now, you’re pissin me off.” No dancing around the subject here. What makes him even more different though, in this track, is that he doesn’t have a chorus that simply repeats itself. Every hook has a new line. For example, in the first chorus he writes, “And you can walk your long legs, baby, right out of my life, but then changes things up on the second chorus—“And you can walk your high heels baby, right out of my life”—continuing to add changes throughout the entirety of the record. 

Check out this crazy video for "The Walk" below:

Playing off of this old school sound, Hawthorne delivers us with a gift in this album, in the form of a cover of “You Make My Dreams,” originally coined by Hall & Oates.  He may not have that ever sexy mustache like John Oates or that lofty, ever-flowing-in-the-wind hair like Daryl Hall, but they both have at least one thing in common—talent. Playing this song live, Hawthorne usually does a mashup of his song, “Dream,” with this iconic pop song, but here, he stays to just the later. The production level isn’t as peppy as the original, but it embodies that feel good swing that Joseph Gordon Levitt can still dance to.  Hawthorne’s vocals, just as when he sings it live, are spot on. His tone is so unlike anything out there right now that even if he ever did get off key for a second, we probably wouldn’t notice it because his voice is so nostalgic, like ice cream on a hot summer’s day growing up. It may not be as great as the original, but you can’t harp on him too much for trying.
The seven tracks on Mayer Hawthorne: itunes Session all share that hip, jazzy vibe, bordering along the lines of Marvin Gaye. “Love in Motion” is a great SebastiAn cover that draws a definite inkling to Sly and the Family Stone. Along with this,  “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” embodies that bluesy pop heart-wrenching sound that Earth, Wind, and Fire could have been seen singing in their heyday—entrancing harmonies and a groovy bass line to match—thankfully, Hawthorne’s old soul sound flourishes. If you know of his music, definitely download these great tracks. For first time listeners, I recommend checking out his most recent album, How Do You Do, and see what musical journey it takes you on. Until then, Druggernauts!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Andrew Bird - Hands of Glory

Andrew Bird has fallen back to grass roots in his latest album.  “Hands of Glory,” released at the end of October, is Andrew Bird’s second full length album this year, an accompanying album to March’s “Break it Yourself.”  Several of the songs on the album are very raw, seemingly recorded live, which speaks volumes to Andrew Birds musicianship and song crafting abilities.  Compared to “Break it Yourself,” “Hands of Glory” is simple, not nearly as progressive, but still characteristic to Andrew Bird.  The first three songs of the album tie nicely into “Break it Youself,” however the second half of the album is stripped raw and reminds me of grass roots folk from another era.

“Three White Horses” opens “Hands of Glory” with beautiful harmonies, haunting slide guitar, an eerie violin interlude, and a powerful progression, similar to songs on “Break it Yourself.”  Next Andrew Bird Covers The Handsome Family’s “When the Helicopters Come.”  Despite being a simple folk song with an alternating bass line, the song still manages to be experimental and somewhat psychedelic, fitting the apocalyptic subject matter.  Spirograph, perhaps the highlight of the album is a truly beautiful song and perhaps the final song on “Hands of Glory” that draws similarity to “Break it Yourself.” 

“Railroad Bill,” a Carter Family cover, is a stark contrast to the first three songs of the album.  There really is no transition into the raw, bluegrass style of the second half of the album starting off with Railroad Bill.  Don’t get me wrong, I love bluegrass, and will listen to this song many times in the future, it’s a fun song, but there is no denying it comes out of left field.  Something Biblical, brings the album slightly back to where it began, but is still more blue grassy.  Andrew Birds violin at the songs close is beautiful. 

Orpheo and Andrew Bird’s cover of Town Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” are again more raw and folksy, but nonetheless beautiful.  The album closes with, “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” a beautiful tear jerking instrumental. 

While “Hands of Glory” may not be Andrew Bird’s most cohesive album,
it is overall enjoyable and beautiful.  The first half of the album sounds like outtakes from “Break it Yourself,” while the second half goes in an entirely different direction.  Regardless, Andrew Bird, has sustained himself as one of the best singer songwriters. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Colbie Caillat - Christmas in the Sand

Figuring out what album to review week in and week out is no easy task. As a Druggernaut, it is our job to provide you with an array of albums that you might have never given the proper chance (At least that’s what we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night). That said, this week we throw you an even more ludicrous, Barry Zito-esque rainbow curveball in the form of a Christmas album before the holiday season.  To add even more to this conundrum, how about a Christmas album that has a resounding beachy vibe? Well, fulfilling these needs best is none other than Malibu singer-songwriter, Colbie Caillat and her new holiday album, Christmas in the Sand.  Read on to see if this album is a Nelly-Tim McGraw record in the making or a potential holiday favorite.
“Merry Christmas Baby” is a nice lead-in to help give a sense of what to expect. Rather than make it sound like something that isn’t even a tangential thought of Christmas sounding music, Caillat combines her hip surfer girl sound with thoughts of hot cocoa and mistletoe strewn atop doors. Having an edgier than Christmas sound with an acoustic guitar lick that comes across as George Thorogood-esque, Caillat grabs our interest. Then, in comes the always important shakers in the background, reminiscent of sleigh bells and that Yule tide joy.  The addition of Brad Paisley on vocals is a nice touch on this track as well, especially since he gets to flaunt a guitar riff halfway through, which isn’t synonymous with your average Christmas song.  Their dynamic really blends well with this track and creates a euphoric feeling that helps set the tone.
            Shifting gears, “Santa Baby” is one of those songs that seems to be intentionally designed for Caillat’s voice. Her sweet and innocent vocals are the embodiment of this classic song and it is one that doesn’t really deviate from the original track. Nonetheless it is a joy to listen to.
            It’s important to point out, however, that any successful Christmas album to date has a variety of reasons for why it sold so many copies. For Bieber it was being Bieber. For Buble it was being an incredible crooner. And Mariah taught us back in the day that being hot and having a voice to match equals millions of sales. For Caillat, however, she isn’t as mainstream an act as these heavy hitters, but her likeability and easy-going California girl persona help spark an interest. That said, her album’s title track, “Christmas in the Sand” is a good break from the norm. Who doesn’t want to hear about Santa catching ten? If you grew up or have lived in Southern California then you completely understand that dreams of a white Christmas are like catching Santa in your living room, eating every single cookie and then raiding your pantry for Mint Milanos. Hands off, Santa!!!
            “Christmas in the Sand” starts off like many signature Colbie songs with a ukulele playing, accompanied by a simple drumbeat. It’s nothing that will wow your eardrums, but it just feels so good to listen to, especially when mixed with her soothing voice. The chorus is so fun, lyrically that it’s almost impossible to harp on:

“I saw Santa in his bathing suit, tryin’ to catch a wave,
But he tried too soon
He laughed so hard that he could barely breathe
And washed up next to me
He said you look naughty, but I’m sure you’re nice
He was soaking wet but he cracked a smile with a present in his hand
He said it’s Christmas in the sand.”

Are the lyrics kind of ridiculous? Yeah, I’ll concede to that. Santa pulling a present out of nowhere after biting it hard sounds kind of comical. I mean, sure, he probably wasn’t surfing Mavericks, but who knows. In the end, breaking away from the cliché song about Santa climbing down the chimney is refreshing and although Santa chilling in the sand is a contradiction, it somehow just works.

“Mistletoe” is another one of the top tracks on this album. Melodically, it’s one of those tracks that sticks to you and keeps you humming randomly, when you have no idea you are doing it. The overarching vibe is a lot like that of a less melancholic version of “Battle” off of Caillat’s debut album, Coco. The subtle use of piano also adds a great layer to the record that would be lacking something if it wasn’t incorporated. Lyrically, Caillat writes in an ironic sense:

It's not Christmas if the snow don't fall
And I'm still standing here three feet small
Lose our troubles because after all
It's Christmas time”

Doing this, Caillat adds her own imprint by highlighting that Christmas doesn’t necessarily connote being happy. At the same time, however, she sheds a sense of hopefulness in her demeanor. After all, anything is possible when it’s Christmas time.
            Whether a fan of Caillat’s style of music or not, Christmas in the Sand offers up a nice addition to your holiday cheer. It includes a simple rehashing of some of your favorite classics and original material that is sure to delight that festive mood you are in. If this album doesn’t make you warm and fuzzy on the inside then you might want to go to the doctor because you have no heart. Or you can blast that teenage angst music you love. Your choice. Until then, Druggernauts!