Sesame Streetcar Named Disaster by Milk Carton Superstars

Upon receiving my assignment to review an album entitled Sesame Streetcar Named Disaster I immediately found myself with an overpoweringly negative bias.  I typically don’t mind bands trying to be witty within their work, but something about Milk Carton Superhero’s inclusion of my favorite childhood show Sesame Street left a bad taste in my mouth, much like how I felt after seeing Sesame Street Corruptions for the first time.  The cover art features a forlorn Big Bird with an acoustic guitar leaning on a street corner, seemingly contemplating the meaninglessness of life, as a literal street car named “Disaster” begrudgingly mopes by.  I’m sure there’s some sort of humor within this whole ensemble, but once the CD is opened and the actual members of Milk Carton Superstars are exposed, the band photos are even more uncomfortable.  It could just be my lack of years and my affinity for younger, fresher music, but the men making up the band look like sad, old dads who’ve started to dabble in steampunk as a way to make their band seem more “relevant.”

When I finally dove into the music my negative premonitions about the record were not far from what I experienced.  The music sounds as if Collective Soul hired Chris Daughtry to make a record that was not relevant to any time period, idea, or feeling.  The music is vaguely out of the mid to late 90s era by taking obvious notes from bands like Semisonic, the Gin Blossoms, and other alternative rock bands who were frozen in time during the mid-nineties.  However, the Milk Carton Superstars take it a step further and add underdeveloped vocals on top of their overused guitar riffs, thus creating a sound that seems to transport the listener to a sad bar in some sort of backward city where one would be surrounded by middle aged men who smell of beer and sweat.

The feeling that the Milk Carton Superstars seem to be conveying is confusing to say the least.  It’s hard to tell if they are they are being completely serious in their lyrics or have created a satirical persona, a la Tenacious D or Spinal Tap, in turn rendering all their lyrics a joke.  A telling example as to why this record seems like a farce comes at the beginning of the second song on the album called “Beauty in the Eye” when the lead singer Jim Myers laments, possibly seriously, that “you have the greenest eyes for someone who never recycles.”  The absurdity and cheese of “Beauty” lives on throughout the record in songs like “Sugar Palace” where Myers sings, “The sugar palace in my heart is really just a burnt Pop-Tart.”  There is also a song on this album about the so-called “Last Pigeon in America.”  This song seems to be commenting on a multitude of social problems however I honestly can’t decide if Myers is worried about our electronic-based nine to five world’s disconnect with nature, or if he’s just eating a sandwich while watching a pigeon and musing on random and pointless thoughts.  The inclusion of the toy piano in the opening of the song seems to point to the latter, however there is no telling how “deep” this band is trying to get.

The only redeeming factor I have to give this album is that it was created by a pair of old dudes who are still rocking.  They seem to be somewhat fun-loving guys who don’t mind to embarrass themselves a little bit.  There’s something to be said for those who grow old and continue to create some type of art – while the band’s pictures are incredibly lame the two members of the band at least look happy.  However, I feel that since I am a 19-year-old female student who works at a college radio station I could not be farther from the audience intended for Milk Carton Superstars.  These men possibly appeal to other young-at-heart male adults who have something in common with these Orlando-based weirdos.  I, however, hope I will never find myself at a beachside bar and be forced to listen to this strange and uncomfortable alternative rock.

 

Overall: 20/100

Queens of the Stone Age: … Like Clockwork

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Josh Homme died, was confined to bed rest for three months, and then recorded one of the best album of 2013 thus far. These experiences guided Homme in writing this album, along with other events. Long time drummer Joey Castillo left the band, the drummer from Queens’ popular album “Songs for the Deaf” Dave Grohl came to fill in and many guests including Sir. Elton John and Trent Reznor appeared on this album. But with the rotating door of musicians for this band there is one constant, Josh Homme and it’s his band. And this is his album, his opus for his career so far. “…Like Clockwork” has the funk from the group’s previous album “Era Vulgaris”, the feeling of a drug trip for their self-titled debut album and second album “Rated R”, a healthy mix of the dark mood from “Lullabies to Paralyze” and it’s capped off with the feeling that you are driving in the American desert. Homme uses the guest musicians to give each and every song layers that has listeners finding something new every time they listen to this album.The best way to describe this album comes from the song “Smooth Sailing” where Josh Homme sings, “I blow my load over the status quo.”

Rating: 94/100

Album Highlights: “I Appear Missing”, “My God is the Sun”, and “If I Had a Tail”

Oh, Jeremiah: Tall Tales and Tiny Fables

Oh, Jeremiah

Tall Tales and Tiny Fables

 

With the success of The Lumineers, folk and bluegrass music will only get more popular. In the next couple years there will probably be a lot of lackluster bands trying to make it big. Oh, Jeremiah’s debut album Tall Tales and Tiny Fables, definitely does not fall into this category.  They nailed this album in so many ways. They told a story and took you on journey that was both uplifting and motivational.

 

This type of music obviously has a niche audience but Oh, Jeremiah album is catchy enough that anyone can appreciate its sound.  As someone who rarely listens to folk music I really liked how songs like ‘Circles, Happy Now, and The Scariest Thing’ all felt modern enough that they could be played on any radio station. Even though it felt modern they did not leave their roots. It was a beautiful balance that they somehow managed to pull off.

 

The two songs that really stood out were ‘Circles’ and ‘Happy Now.’  ‘Circles’ is honestly one of the best made songs I’ve heard this year.  It has such a clean and catchy sound. I love how the song starts out with a little guitar and violin and gradually becomes more upbeat later introducing drums, and tambourine. The lyrics in this song also tell a great story about how “Happiness comes circles.”

 

‘Happy Now’ will probably be the most popular song on the album. It’s very catchy and upbeat. Not to mention it’s about moving on from someone who left you, and that’s always popular.  The message in this song has been done a thousand times, but if it’s done well it doesn’t matter.

 

This whole album seemed thoughtfully put together. It told a story in an exciting way.  The three songs I mentioned were a homerun and could easily be played on any radio station and enjoyed by most people.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this album being that it’s their first and not my type of music. The only flaw in the album was the length. It was very short, 19min. But the album is priced accordingly and is easily worth the $5. This was a great album and I could easily see Oh, Jeremiah getting big in the next couple years.  The greatest thing they did was make someone who doesn’t listen to this type of music a fan. Really well done

 

95/100

 

The Vaccines: Come of Age

The old school and soft rhythms of The Vaccines album made me sway but they didn’t make me fall in love and really say, “I have to go back and listen to that whole album again”. Most songs had very nice beats, such as “I always knew”. My favorite songs on the album included “Weirdo” and “Lonely World”. Both songs, especially “Lonely World” spoke to me and I loved the beat of the songs. I could see myself listening to these two songs over and over again, but I don’t really feel the same way about the other tracks. “Fortunately, I can’t say there are any songs that I absolutely detest, but if I had to pick my least favorite it would be “Bad mood”.

At first I didn’t care for or understand the cover art because I heard no female voices. However, I figured because the last song was about them wishing they were girls the picture was supposed to be significant. Although, “I wish I was a girl” was another of my favored tracks, I still am not sure how I feel about the picture!

Lady Gaga: ArtPop

90 million singles. 24 million albums sold, and that’s just within the last 5 years (and counting the legal copies sold, mind you). Love her or hate her, it’s undeniable that she’s changed the landscape of pop music since she’s busted on the scene in 2008. It is irrefutable that Ms. Gaga herself will be one of the very few current artist who will withstand the test of time, despite this fact, many people still despise her, not her music or her ability, just the image that is Lady Gaga. Before you completely write off ARTPOP as attention-seeking, let me stop you there, she’s had your attention for the last half-decade, but this time, no make-up, now wigs, no lobsters as hats. The artifice is being peeled away for a direct and hard-hitting approach (the enigma has even taken her wig off to display her natural hair – something you’ve probably been curious about). With that in mind, let’s take a look at ARTPOP.

Aura blazes in with western-style guitars, a very sultry Tarentino or Rodriguez-esque number that quickly turns into EDM banger, the lyrics are beautifully simplistic, the real prize is at the end of the song, where Gaga brilliantly delivers a concise warning of what lies ahead: “Dance. Sex. Art. Pop”.

Venus blends 70s psychedelic melodies with disco rhythms and Roman mythology, a very Ziggy Stardust meets  Depeche Mode, meets Vogue-era Madonna. The most pleasing and perhaps craziest entry into her musical catalogue yet, this is the first self-produced track by Gaga, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t show. There isn’t a moment where anyone but the Lady herself could sing it convincingly especially my favorite lyric “Uranus/ Don’t you know my ass is famous”. The chorus builds on itself using repetition but offering something new each time. It leaves more of an impression than Aura, but certainly just as unforgettable.

G.U.Y a Zedd produced head-banger with acronyms littered throughout, the lyrics are mediocre at best even though the chorus is killer with a brilliant bridge. The vocal delivery is excellent thought it falls short of audacious compared to Venus or Aura, but completely viable as a single.

Sexxx Dreams is one of my favorites. The verses are wonderful and the dual vocals demonstrating what one is saying and what one is actually thinking is executed with precision, until the chorus. The chorus is a mess, it’s catchy and hooks into your brain, but it feels redundant having dual hooks conveying the same message. They shift in lyrics is a bit unsettling, we’re thrust from intelligently crafted lyrics about imaginary infedility (“We could be caught/ Both convicted criminals of thought”) to insanely simple lyrics (“Last night/ Damn, you were in my sex dreams/ doing really nasty things”). It’s playful and well-crafted in most places, but I have the same problem with this as I do with 4 songs on the record, it’s hit-or-miss lyrics.

Jewels N’ Drugs (feat. T.I., Too $hort, & Twista) – It’s hard to say whether this is a good or bad song. The production by DJ White Shadow is some of his best to date, but I simply couldn’t get over the fact that T.I., Too $hort and Twista were on a Gaga song.  However, it does twist and shifts to each artist’s verse to create a melody that suits each individual on the song. It’s memorable, but I don’t know if in a good or bad way.

MANiCURE – Perfection. The simplicity of the production, the guitar-driven music, and undoubtedly the greatest vocal performance Gaga has ever put forth, the vocals are raspy, soring, and belting, and controlled at all the right moments. It’s impossible to get out of your head, with the repetition and rhyming scheme: “She wanna be Man Cured/He wanna be Man Cured/Ma-Ma-Ma-MANiCure”.

Do What U Want (feat. R.Kelly) – A thinly veiled warning to critics everywhere. It’s angry and sexy, with a rewarding chorus and a sense of vulnerability from both artist, it’s an excellent example of what a middle-finger-to-the-press track should be with lyrics like “You can’t stop my voice/‘cause you don’t own my life/But do what you want with me body, world”. It’s a backhanded invitation, it’s not the strongest on the record, but it’s catchy as hell.

ARTPOP – Poetic and entrancing, also horribly boring. Despite being the title track to the record, its incredible lack luster make it the most forgettable on the record. Even when the beat drops it’s still dull, its inviting appeal is completely antithesized by how monotonous it becomes.

Swine – Gaga has a gift of making unapologetic rock-and-roll records with nothing but electronic instruments. The face-melting dance breaks that make use of synthesizers, and the lyrics provide glimpses of a history riddled with sexual abuse and escapism through drugs (“ I know you want me/you’re just a pig inside a human body”) and “Maybe I should have a little more to stay out of my mind” are favorites). The chorus feels huge and the record plays like a radio smash, but the EDM breaks that give it ferocity are also drag on too long and distract from what could have been a perfect pop song.

Donatella – A Fame Era song in every sense of the word. An open love-letter to Donatella Versace (sister of Gianni Versace, and current head designer, a woman whose history is riddled with drug abuse and an unapologetic over-the-topness about herself, it’s easy to see why her and Gaga are kindred spirits). The lyrical content is shallow, but is meant to be satirical, “DONATELLA” feels like a war cry that’s hard NOT to scream along with. The production and shallow nature of the record make it one of ARTPOP’s most fun and memorable moments.

Fashion! – One of the best vocal performances on the album, a will.i.am produced club banger it’s everything a viable single should be. Despite all of this, this track just feels like filler. It’s sleek and cool as all get-out but filler nonetheless.

Mary Jane Holland – Pulsating and hypnotic. This song is everything “ARTPOP” the track should have been. Produced by upcoming Parisian DJ Madeon, this track is dark, catchy and well-crafted in every aspect. Clearly a marijuana track, it kind of makes Mary Jane Holland into a princess of sorts makes this one of the album’s standouts.

Dope – Lady Gaga and just a piano, a great combination. “Dope” is unfiltered and raw, which makes it hard to listen to at times because the production is rough around the edges (probably intentionally so). Regardless of that, the track is still a tear jerker and spine-chilling with lyrics like: “My heart would break without you/ Might not awake without you/Been hurting low from living high for so long/I’m sorry and I love you”. Completely void of theatrics, “Dope” is the album’s revelatory moment of love.

Gypsy – Another piano/vocal entry and building slowly into a power ballad “Gypsy” is one of the best songs on ARTPOP. It’s epic, lyrically stunning, and vocally perfect while maintaining a honest veil of sincerity. Acoustic guitars blazing forward over an elctro-blast of power chords, “Gypsy” is way beyond a good Lady Gaga song. It’s a brilliant song period. A new classic that has felt as though it’s always been around.

Applause – Gaga has a habit of making the first single from her album a misleading single that is completely different from the album. After listening to other songs in the album, “Applause” feels out of place and boring by comparison. It’s not bad of course, it just seems like an oddity compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, ARTPOP is one of the most hyped Pop records this year to date. It comes at the perfect time when interest in its creator is, once again, in the spotlight. Despite tremendous gaps in the quality of the songwriting, the two recurring trends on ARTPOP are mediocre lyrics redeemed by amazing vocals and catchy choruses that drill into your brain with little to no effort. Honestly, ARTPOP is the best Pop album of the year, Every moment feels expertly crafted from start to finish, even when it does fall short. For every misstep, there is redemption; wheher it be from stunning vocal delivery or production.

It’s far from completely perfect, but even the worse moments of ARTPOP are better than what has crept onto the radio this year, and it’s well worth a purchase.

Score: 90/100

Key Tracks: “G.U.Y.”, “Venus”, “Do What U Want”, “Swine”, “Donatella”, “MANiCURE”, “Dope”, “Gypsy”, “Mary Jane Holland”.

Beyonce: Beyonce

Knowles, who has been MIA from the music scene since her 2011 effort 4, on December 2013 at 12:01 AM, after two-years of what seemed like an endless drought for Beyoncé fans around the world; the singer released her fifth studio album the self-titled BEYONCÉ. With no promotion, no lead single, no lead music video it is without a doubt the great Beyhydration has ended, and the thirst has been quenched by this 32 track (14 songs, 17 music videos) visual album. Let’s take a track-by-track look at her latest effort.

Pretty Hurts –Produced by Ammo, with a writing credit from Sia, Australian downtempo pop music extraordinaire, this smoky pop/soul song is a social commentary about the obscure and harmful effects that the beauty industry has on society. With lyrics such as “South Beach/ Sugar free/ Vogue says thinner is better” and “Perfection is the disease of a nation/ Pretty Hurts”. Beautifully crafted, written and produced, this song is tear jerker and some of the most emotional and powerful music Beyoncé has put out to date, but something we’ve all seen/heard before.

Ghost/Haunted –  is a two-part song where Murky keyboards, recessed vocals and something we get to see more of on this record, Beyoncé rapping (yes, you read that correctly), and a bass line that creeps up on you all blend together exquisitely in this futuristic track about the appalling nature of the record label industry today. This album was released with no press, no promo, no lead single, nothing and the lyrics of Ghost/Haunted can help us guess as to why with lyrics like: “All the shit I do is boring/ all these record labels boring/ I don’t trust these record labels /I’m touring”. The song comes together beautifully to deliver a message we already know: record labels don’t view music as art anymore, just as a product.

Drunk in Love (feat Jay-Z) – Trap beats and synths help Beyoncé and Jay-Z make a beautiful rap-sung collab where Beyoncé access her lady-thug realness and create an explicit ode to love-making between two people who are endlessly in love. Beyoncé croons on the track: “I’ve been drinking/I’ve been drinking/I get filthy when that liquor get into me”. One of the best songs on the record.

Blow – Holy cow. This is hands down one of the best songs on the record and this track with its overt sexual nature (along with several others) have given rise to a new class of Beyoncé songs I like to call “Beyoncé in the boudoir”. Produced by some of the best in music, Pharrell and Timbaland. A disco-stained retro R&B track very reminiscent of dirty-sex record from Prince circa early 80s this song intelligently used innuendo to refer to well….I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves “Can you lick my skittles/It’s the sweetest in the middle/Pink, that’s the flavor/Solve the riddle”. With blow we see one of the recurring themes of the album: frank exploration of female sexuality through postfeminism, and God (or should I say Goddess?) does it sound good.

No Angel – Bad has never sounded so good through this slow and sensual song about a magnetic attraction between to people who aren’t the most morally upright. With lyrics like “I come with a side of trouble/But I know that’s why you’re staying” and “Baby put your arms around me/Tell me I’m the problem help create an image of a bad girl and bad boy destined to be together.While the track isn’t as memorable as its predecessor and lacking production in some places it doesn’t cease to get the job done.

Yoncé/Partition – A two-part hip-hop song with an intro of Beyoncé talking to an audience saying: “Let me hear you say heyyyyyy Ms. Carter!” Yoncé starts off with Beyoncé rapping yet again and absolutely slaying with the lyrics “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker/Yoncé all on his mouth liquor”. After which the song transforms into a jazzy hip-hop head banger with a bass that’s impossible NOT to dance to, “Partition” is a narrative of sexual intercourse in a moving limousine with frank lyrics like “He popped all my buttons/ He ripped my blouse/ He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown” and “Handprints and footprints on my glass/ Handprints and footprints all on my ass”, which are just two I’ve selected from a slew of favorites from this song alone. With production by Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Jerome Harmon and Key Wane this song is beyond well-crafted and disgustingly well written. Another shining example of one of the best songs on the record, the bees buzzing as an ode to the Queen Bee is a lovely touch at the end.

Jealous – Lyrically this song is good, the production is lacking and it comes across as a little lax, like Beyoncé’s a little tired while recording. Overall the record is forgettable and boring when juxtaposed with the rest of the record.

Rocket – Any song that opens with the lyric “Let me sit this ass on you” is a winner in my book. A retro-soul song that’s feel-good in every sense of the phrase, this song is slippery funk excursion gorgeously executed over six and a half minutes. Lyrics like “I do it like it’s my profession/ I gotta make a confession”, make it hard to not be seduced by Beyoncé as she swoops in and delicately caresses your fantasies with this record.

Mine (feat. Drake) – Honest, sincere, and heartfelt this song perfectly coalesces Beyoncé’s strong, emotive quintessence of femininity and Drake’s masculine declarative sense of feeling. Exploring the themes of true love and belonging to another person unconditionally, entrancing the listener with lyrics like “We should get married/ let’s stop holding back on this and let’s get carried away”.

XO – Frazzled keyboards smash against synthesizers and a marching drum beat to build upon this midtempo pop song. An open love-letter to someone we all know; this song is the album’s unhidden declaration of love. Lyrics like “Your love is brighter than ever/Even in the shadows” seems cliché and sappy but the production takes this draw back and makes up for it with powerful sledge hammering vocals.

***Flawless – A self-empowerment track it samples her song Bow Down which leaked last year. It features Beyoncé yelling the refrain “Bow down, bitches” over a clattering trap beat. ***Flawless takes traditionally seen hypermasculinty and makes it hyperfemine, a very “I am woman, hear me ROAR” track complemented by a sampling of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech “We Should All Be Feminist” it intends to carry power and camaraderie to women with lyrics like “We Flawless, ladies tell’em/ I woke up like this”. A postfeminist song that is dare I say……flawless.

Superpower (feat. Frank Ocean) – a mysterious and inviting track with an alternative R&B vibe with a warbling vocal delivery from both artist, Frank Ocean and Beyoncé are a match made in heaven for this collaboration.

Heaven – One of the two personal songs on the record, “Heaven” is a mournful piano-laden song with a just a tinge of that southern gospel overtone. It’s hard not to tear up or get lost in the past as Beyoncé delivers lyrics like “I just can’t stand to see you leaving/But heaven couldn’t wait for you”. While it seems less like a love song and more of a song dealing about death, perhaps about this miscarriage she suffered before conceiving Blue Ivy (as revealed in Jay-Z’s track Glory) it feels like a celebration of life and the inescapable embrace of death that you’d experience at a funeral or wake. The song raps up with a Spanish version of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a gorgeous and emotional touch.

Blue (feat. Blue Ivy) – Another personal piano pop-ballad about motherhood and a newfound purpose, it’s absolutely beautiful and breath taking as Beyoncé delicately crafts an emotional heart felt testimony to her daughter. As an overly emotional person, this song is one of the highlights of the record after her much highly published pregnancy and birth.

Overall this is one of the best albums of 2013, which I can say with confidence as 2013 comes to a close. We are witnessing the transcendence of Beyoncé to another plane. She’s selling records but also transforming culture and the politics of the entertainment industry in profound ways. Beyoncé proves (as other artists have done in the past) that you can deliver a kick-ass album without giving into the mindless machine that record labels have come to be. This is Beyoncé in the raw, and Beyoncé at her most impactful.

 

Score: 95/100

 

Key tracks: “Drunk In Love”, “Partition”, “Blow”, “Rocket”, “Mine”, “***Flawless”, “Superpower”, “Blue”.