Tag Archive for 'pop-rock'

The Whip – “X Marks Destination”

The Whip

It can’t already be time for a baggie revival, can it?

In 1989 Britain was raving mad, deserting the clubs for the countryside to dance the night away to DJs spinning the latest synth and sampler generated sounds. Doomsayers began predicting the death not only of rock, but of live music entirely. And it was precisely at that moment that a clutch of bands galloped to the rescue. Hailing from Manchester, and led by The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, they unleashed their weapons of swirling atmospheres, blurred guitars and irrepressible dance rhythms, a perfect blend of pop-rock and acid house, saving their nation from a total techno takeover.

Fast forward 21 years and meet The Whip, a band that could only have emerged from Manchester itself. “I wanna be trash,” Bruce Carter ever more adamantly pleads on X Marks Destination’s opening track, “Trash,” a reiterated lyric that instantly evokes The Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored.” In truth, “Trash” bears little more resemblance to that dreamy, yearning, psychedelic rinsed classic, other than its equally memorable; “Adored” on steroids, with a compulsive, driving rhythm, a shadowy, almost threatening ambience, and a jubilant keyboard melody that bounces gaily over the pounding beats and bass, and jittery post-punk guitar.

So, The Whip are definitely not your parents’ baggy, although, like their predecessors, they’ve hung out at the electronica clubs, they’re not under the spell of acid house, preferring a straight-forward techno. They’ve obviously also spent their time immersing themselves in their parents’ collection of post-punk and early new wave records. Collide their influences, and the result is a thoroughly unique retro dance band.

“Fire” is further proof of their inspired cross-over sound, built around a muscular bass, adamant beats, and splodgy keyboards, which combine to conjure up early ’90s techno, while futuristic synths and a strong post-punk melody tie it all together. The instrumental “Divebomb” features even splodgier keys, a funky aura, and a combative rhythm, techno spilling towards trance, but with the ferocious feel of punk underlying it all.

“Blackout” slams around post-punk territory, but its rhythm is entirely club beat driven. In contrast, “Save My Soul” swirls into the shadows of dark dance, albeit a gloomy realm lit by delicate new romantic touches. “Muzzle #1″ beautifully combines both genres, the aura is threatening coalescing around an aggressive bass line, splatters of sinister surf guitar, and a rhythm that never lets up.  A song perfectly poised between post-punk and dark dance, but with a rhythm that is far more powerful than both.

Elsewhere, The Whip flick around synth-pop, explore a variety of early electronica styles, pay tribute to both Depeche Mode and New Order, wade deeper into the new wave, and conjure up more than flamboyance and glory of the New Romantics. There’s myriad retro and synth-pop-dance bands on the scene today, but The Whip beat them all at their resurrection game. They revisit the past, but The Whip succeeds at creating a sound that’s entirely fresh and new. Amazingly, Destination is the band’s debut, but they already boast the assurance and self-confidence of a band twice their age. The baggie revival begins here.

[By: Jo-Ann Greene]

Rating: 5/5

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Harlem Shakes – “Technicolor Health”

Harlem Shakes

Brooklyn-based Harlem Shakes wowed the critics with their debut EP Burning Birthdays, a genre busting set that merrily deconstructed and re-imagined ‘60s pop in all its glory. In its aftermath, the Shakers were tagged a garage band by many critics, probably due to the EP’s wall of sound mix (its only flaw), which means their first full-length, Technicolor Health, is going to come as quite a shock.

Paired in the studio with producer Chris Zane, the quintet have now laid down a pure pop-rock album, with a folkie sheen, that never veers anywhere near the garage. Even so, the sound is big, even grandiose in places, and the mix clean enough to hear the singularly named Kendrick’s keyboard, which was totally lost in the EP’s mix.

His wonderfully versatile playing is one of the many highlights of this set. The delicate music box he creates on the intro of “Winter Water,” the arpeggios that trickle and tumble “Niagara Falls,” the orchestral ersatz strings that plush up “Sunlight,” the faux brass that pump up “Nothing But Change Part II” and burst across “Radio Orlando,” and the lushness of his keys across a clutch of tracks, all creating a treasure trove of aural delights. Kendrick’s adroitly shifts styles at least once in every song, and his work is integral to the band’s sublime hybrid sound.

In this case, bassist Jose and drummer Brent’s rhythms are crucial. The one they create for “Strictly Game” is utterly compulsive, while their playing propels “Sunlight,” and drives the exuberant “Natural Man.” On “Unhurried Hearts (Passaic Pastoral),” Brent’s drums rumble along like thunder, while on “Nothing but Change,” the pair is instrumental in creating the deliberately fragmented feel of the piece. The duo also are responsible for giving the songs an off-kilter hinge, a slightly skewed sense that opens the door for the band’s breaks into unusual musical territory.

Equally important to Shakes’ sound are the vocals, not just Lexy’s excellent leads, but his band mates’ backing in harmony or choral style. Zane layers them into aural delicacies as rich as cream cakes, particularly on “Winter Water,” “Game” and “Unhurried Hearts.” And let’s not forget guitarist Todd, as deft with a R&B riff as a pop chord or a rock lead, while his yearning sliding guitar notes give the set its folksy, Americana tinge.

But in reality, this is a pop-rock album with a twist. The melodies are lavish, the influences many, but none receive tributes strong enough to suggest imitation. Instead, Harlem shakes up a bygone era in such a totally unique way, that it doesn’t even sound retro. “Strictly Game” is arguably the album’s apotheosis of pop-rock perfection, although the brightly dappled “Sunlight” gives it a run for its money. But then again, every track within is equally inspired and just as memorable. Their EP clarified the fact that Harlem Shakes had something special to offer, and now they’ve delivered it in full Technicolor glory. [By: Jo-Ann Greene]

Rating: 5/5

Release Date: March 24, 2009

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Memorial – “The Creative Process/ Berlin” 12″ vinyl

Memorial

I’m going to go ahead and say it: Memorial is one lucky break away from becoming a hit with the MTV set. Should the band ever find its way onto the alternative radio station airwaves, a decent sized fan base would surely follow.

I could also be completely wrong; after all, I quit listening to the radio years ago. But if groups like Seether can make it big, then any prediction of whom the “next breakout band” will be remains possible. Just saying.

Why the prediction, though? Because Memorial blend rock and pop sounds that are sure to appease the kids (i.e., the general radio listening audience) and record execs alike.

Take the opening track, “Who Are We To Say?” Without hesitation the band busts out with a big rock sound and heavy guitar riffs. Add the rough vocals over the top and the group has produced a sound that falls in line with what the current crop of Warped Tour goers seem to be digging.

Track two (”Sideways”), however, showcases the quartet’s softer side. Using a lighter, more pop sound, and smoother vocals to match, Memorial creates a less aggressive song but keeps the energy flowing courtesy of the four-on-the-floor beat/drum roll crescendo in the bridge.

Jumping to the B-side of the LP, the band showcases yet another sound with “Berlin” and “Beneath.” Both songs start with what sounds like a demo or coffee shop acoustic session—just a guitar and vocals—but blend seamlessly into full-on pop songs. The latter of the two drops a hi-hat accented drumbeat in and out of the song, giving the tune an almost “DJ live in the mix” feel when paired with the demo-ish vocals.

As far as good album endings go, Memorial did right with “Munich.” Interlacing Interpol-like guitars with big, thumping drums before rocking out to what some might describe as a Foo Fighters-inspired chorus (minus the Dave Grohl vocals of course), the band really wants you to listen to this album again.

Good songs and good endings aside, none of it will matter if the group never finds an in with the Clear Channel monopoly. [By: Jake Corbin]

Rating: 3/5

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