Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Music Review: Matthew Sweet "Sunshine Lies"

Much has been written about Matthew Sweet. After two critically acclaimed, but poorly selling albums he broke big in 1990 with the album "Girlfriend." The alternative pop hit spawned two top-25 singles on the Modern Rock Chart and two anime filled music videos. The following albums, "Altered Beast" and "100% Fun," widely divided the critics. Some felt the music was uneven, others felt it was a logical extension of what he started with Girlfriend. The following years saw a few more releases that served to build his fan base. He collaborated with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge to form the super group the Thorns. He cameoed in the Austin Powers movies as part of the band Ming Tea with Mike Meyers and Susanna Hoffs. In 2006 he released an album of classic rock covers with Susanna Hoffs entitled "Under the Covers Vol. 1."

Now he is poised to release his first new solo album since 2004 and his first for the Shout! Factory label. "Sunshine Lies" is due out on August 26th, 2008. If you have followed Mr. Sweet's career to this point you will find this album to be a culmination of his talent. If this is a first time experience for you, get ready for a treat.

This album is his most consistent release since "Girlfriend." The songs, even the ballads, are catchy and the lyrics are witty. The album simultaneously starts a new chapter in his career while paying homage to his past career. "Time Machine" kicks the album off with a pop fullness while the lyrics paint a wistful picture. "Room to Rock" speeds out of the gate in a manner similar to "Dinosaur Act" from "Altered Beast." The third track, "Byrdgirl," sounds straight off of "Under the Covers Vol. 1" with a late 60's/early 70's rock feel. He then punches out on the fourth track, "Flying," with a classic rock feel and gravely vocals. The song has a real Neil Young vibe and it stayed in my head long after the album had ended. Track five is the deceptively smooth "Feel Fear." Track six, "Let's Love," is the other real standout track on the album. Again he invokes a similar style to Neil Young on the verses, but the chorus leans more towards the Who with its rocking rhythm and lead guitar work. The title track "Sunshine Lies" is up next. Again Sweet, along with his wife and Susanna Hoffs, sings a laid-back, psychedelic track that could have been pulled straight out of the 60's. Track seven is another slow ballad entitled "Pleasure is Mine." If I had to pick a weak track on the album, it would be this one. It isn't necesarily a bad track, but on a disc of memorable tracks this one doesn't stick out. Track eight, "Daisychain," again showcases Sweet's homage to the music that influenced him. It has a 60's rock feel that would not feel out of place on a Beach Boy's album. Track nine brings back the rock with "Sunrise Eyes." This track points back to his success in the 90's, but has an edge of experience that could only come with time. Track ten is the ballad "Around You Now." I couldn't help but hear echoes of "Nothing Lasts" from "Girlfriend" when I listened this track. They both share themes of inevitable change. Track eleven, "Burn Through Love," is the second weakest track on the album. Again the track isn't bad, it just comes off as mediocre alterna-pop compared to other tracks. The album ends with "Back of My Mind." The track starts off as a slow ballad that builds into a powerful chorus only to drop off into a slow ballad again. It is the perfect cap for an album that deftly rode the line between 90's alternative, 60's psychedelic, and flat out rock and roll.

All in all this is the best Matthew Sweet in some time and well worth the wait. Next week I'll be reviewing a couple of new releases from Ramseur Records.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review: The Photographic "Pictures of a Changing World"

On March 11th, 2008 The Photographic released their debut album "Pictures of a Changing World." On Tuesday July 9th, 2008 I was fortunate enough to hear the track "Bridge Runs" for the first time on a local radio station. That day I sought out and purchased this album and it has remained in heavy rotation ever since. The Photographic are Jamey See Tai and Chad Blevins from Louisville, Kentucky. The duo met in 2001 through a mutual friend, started jamming together in 2002, and formed The Photographic in 2003. Originally Jamey played guitar while Chad played drums. Over time their sound has evolved to include synthesizers and guitar loops as well. The sound is so layered and full that it is hard to believe there are only two people in the band. The band already has an impressive resume having shared the stage with, among others, The Apples in Stereo, Hawthorne Heights, and VHS or Beta. They have also opened for Unwed Sailor and The Naysayer.

On first listen it would be easy to compare this album to the later work of Explosions in the Sky. However on repeated listening one discovers the little details in the sound that sets this band apart from other melodic rock bands.

The first track, "Inception", slowly meanders along and fades right into the second track, "Millie Rode to Heaven on the Back of an Orca." In this track it sounds as if a guitar is used to mimic whale sounds. It didn't stand out on first listen. I happened to be passively listening through headphones and I just picked on it. From there the album flows on. Drum beats and guitar loops are expertly merged with guitar melodies. From the drawn out synthesizer in "Lost in a Daydream" to crunchy guitar loop that fades to cleaner version on "Night Noise" the album seamlessly melds together for just under an hour taking the listener on a sonic journey. For me the stand out is a ten minute epic titled "We Were Fed Poisoned Bread," a breathtakingly complete story in melody alone. The album is a soundtrack that is waiting for an accompanying movie.

As good as the recorded music is I have heard it plays even better live. Jamey's brother Jessie does a video projection for the entire show that is supposed to really draw the audience into the music. There is enhanced content on the disc that gives a taste of the full experience and adds an additional layer to the music.

These songs will remain in my rotation for quite some time. This is a band that shows great promise and potential. This disc will definitely appeal to fans of melodic rock, but I would recommend that everyone give it a listen. The music is that good and I hope we will be hearing more from The Photographic in the years to come.

"Pictures of a Changing World" was released through Galaxia records and is available through Amazon, ITunes, and Emusic. My recommendation is to buy a copy today.

Next week I'll have a review of Matthew Sweet's new solo album, "Sunshine Lies."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing: Marathon for the Brain

So I just put the finishing touches on an album review. I'm not going to post it yet as I want one more read through to make sure there aren't any glaring errors.

Writing is like a marathon for the brain, it is intense and it takes a lot of fitness if you want to have a chance at succeeding. Apparently my brain is in the same shape as my body which is to say I shouldn't be running a marathon unless I want to induce a heart attack. Obviously I don't have the same regard for my brain.

I've been learning PHP programming this week in my spare time. It is going slow, but I'm definitely catching onto the basic principles without a problem. I did learn that while setting up Apache and MySQL runs about the same from version to version, the same is not true for PHP. It took me half a day to find out why I couldn't get the "phpinfo" to work on my system. That mystery solved it has been relatively smooth sailing since.

I've got a lot on my plate coming up, I just hope I can keep the momentum going forward.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bowling for Fun and a Good Cause

I tweeted about this, but I also wanted to get the word out here. I'm bowling for Junior Achievement on the 25th through my place of work. We do this each year to raise money to help fund Junior Achievement programs throughout the local area. Junior Achievement does a lot of great work teaching the next generation about business and economy.

To that end I could use your help. If you can spare the money please visit my donations page and make a donation.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Thoughts on 30 days

I just upgraded the blog template so I could use the new blogger customizations. I like the new system. I just wish I hadn't had to take twenty minutes to re-add everything to my sidebar.

In my mind the 30 day challenge was neither a completely success nor a complete failure. I would have liked to been able to get some writing done each day. The real challenge is getting out quality writing. In the end I made the compromise to only post when I felt there was some quality to my posting.

I still want to pursue a career in writing, if only on the side. To that end I'm trying to manage my time better so I will have the option of writing each day.

Right now I'm dealing with a lot of personal stuff. I'm caught up in trying to narrow down which paths I'm going to pursue and which paths I'm going to let fall to the side. If I've learned nothing else in the past few weeks, I have learned that I need to sharpen my focus. I'm very prone to 'chasing the rabbits' so to speak and while that isn't always bad, I still need to stick to the path if I'm going to reach the destination.

I'm very frustrated with myself right now.