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Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) A
You know what? Win Butler's really weak voice and over-passionate singing is enough to irritate anyone with cynical attitudes toward this indie-rock trend of equating loud, unrefined singing to passionate singing. But I'll be hornswaggled if this isn't an affecting song! That echo-ridden piano that opens the song sounds mysterious, and completely captures me. And Butler comes in with a hooky melody, and the instrumentation gradually gets louder and more dramatic! They also know a thing or two about chord progressions, as these are some of the more refined and beautiful chord progressions I've ever heard on a modern pop album.
Neighborhood #2 (Laika) A-
Geez, these guys like their drama, don't they? I guess this album was deeply inspired over the fact they were dealing with deaths of close family members, but yeesh, that doesn't mean you have to sing so loudly, does it? Well, just like the previous track, they generally do it pretty well. The song gradually develops from a rather minimal, drum heavy introduction to huge, sweeping sections with huge string sounds and several singers screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs. Do you know what I like best about this song? The accordion. Accordions are cool.
Une Annee Sans Lumiere A-
Well, these guys are certainly great at chord progressions. That exactly why the Beach Boys were so awesome, and it's nice to hear that there's another band in the galaxy that could speak to us in those terms. A good chord progression can really make a song pop out at me, even if the vocal melody is a bit drab, and they don't make any particularly exciting instrumental choices. But, hey, they do get quite a nice little groove going that we can bop our heads most agreeably, too, right? That is, until they decide to “rock out” in the final third. Hm... They're about as good at rocking out as The Beach Boys were, I reckon, which isn't much at all! The one thing I'm extremely grateful for is that they keep this thing generally low-key and put the loud singing aside for once. There were some things they probably could have done to improve this... I have some ideas... (I'm pretty damn arrogant, aren't I?)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) A
Oh, this is fun! I love that atmospheric instrumentation, too. The use a lot of dreary guitar sounds, but they were kind enough to contrast that with more bright guitar sounds and even some twinkly bell sounds (glockenspiels?). They were even nice enough to make the song danceable with that techno-inspired drumbeat! There's even some pretty nutty violins going off lightly in the background that you can hear pretty clearly at some points. Really, these arrangements are expertly done! The only minor complaint I have with it is that drum beat starts to grow a little stale by the end, but 'tis a minor complaint. The harmonies continue to be very good, which helps the fact this vocal melody is mostly scream-sung and uses only a few notes. You anguished bastards!
Neighborhood #4 (& Kettles) B
The atmosphere is fantastic! They really like how those dissonant, fluttery violins sound, and they do create quite an interestingly downbeat atmosphere. But the problem I end up finding with this one is overall pacing of it. It is very slow and low-key, and it doesn't seem to quite catch fire. The melody is quite good, especially toward the chorus, where it becomes almost cinematic, using a crapload of subdued strings and even a timpani. The singing manages to sound tortured, this time without resorting to screaming.
Crown of Love A
Strange song. It starts out as another one of their super low-key and depressed moods. But as their emotions continue to flare up, it turns into a huge, flashy disco song. That's an interesting approach to this, and I like it! I also really like their vocal melody, which sounds a little bit like a '60s girl-group song, but that's a good thing 'cos that means the melody is catchy. Again, they come out with very nice stringed textures, making this an excellently lovely song to sit through. It's nice that they were willing to put some beauty to their depression.
Wake Up A-
Again, Buter is singing so loudly that he's almost not even singing. I can really understand why that would put some listeners off this, because it's even starting to put me off. But the fact that they've created another song with a catchy melody and appealing harmonies is enough to almost make that scream-singing seem warranted. It's another one of their ultra-dramatic, power-ballads! It probably goes a bit too far, but it's very beautiful. The last two minutes of it is almost a completely different song, as an almost piano-pop party groove starts to play. Indeed, they've realized that they can live a rich life beyond their grief!
There's a very slight tropical vibe to this one as it starts out. But, don't worry, this is hardly your average Jimmy Buffett tune. There's a lot of grayness and dreariness not too far beneath the surface. A girl takes the lead vocals this time speaking in French—I'm left to assume that's Butler's Quebecoise wife Regine Chassagne. I do like the atmosphere, but for once I'm completely indifferent to the melody and harmonies. This is basically a two chord song, which disappoints me after hearing some of the glorious harmonies of the others, and the melody repeats a lot. So, it's underwhelming.
Rebellion (Lies) B+
Not bad! They're on autopilot here compared to the smashing work they did on some of these other songs, but I'd rather listen to these guys on autopilot than most indie-rock artists when they're trying really hard. Once again, they come up with a texture that's alluringly hypnotic. The lightly pounding piano, the strings, a gruffer guitar all contribute to this thickly produced atmosphere, and that pounding drum helps keep the song lovely. The harmonies don't always amaze me, here although it does have one well-placed key-change that makes me lose my breath for one brief moment.
In the Backseat A
I guess these are guys who like big, flashy finishes. Once again, Chassagne sings lead vocals, but she's singing one of the more substantial numbers of the album... and she's singing as loudly as her husband does. Come on, ya gotta tone it down a little bit! It's scaring the bambinos! Eh, I guess they were going for another ultimate piece of drama, and they completely nail it as far as I'm concerned. That downbeat piano that opens the song plays such a gorgeous minor-key chord progression that I immediately get the feeling I'm about to listen to something great. As the loud chorus pipes up, I'm inclined to express all that soul-bearing anguish that she was expressing right there as she was singing it. (But seriously, you don't have to scream so goshdarn loudly!) The final two minutes of the song is an elaborate fade-out. It fades into a sea of those weird, watery violins I kept hearing throughout the album. Interesting!
Neon Bible (2007)
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Black Mirror A-
I think thing I'm always going to like about these guys is their ability to completely DROWN OUT their songs without making them sound like hokey crap. This is a pop-rock song, of course, but that full scale orchestration they have seeping from behind those drums and rhythm guitars sound like they want to start playing in a Tchaikovsky ballet or something. (Oh, maybe they're just taking hints from ELO?) This is quite a bombastic song, with some impressively elaborate instrumentation! It was quite an ordeal, and they obviously had to try pretty hard from the get-go to follow up that famous Funeral album that caused such a splash. This is impressive indeed, and it's fun to listen to. I do have a complaint, though: this is basically a two-chord song. (Well... according to a guitar-tab website, they snuck a few other chords in there.) What happened to those glorious harmonies I remember from the debut??
Keep the Car Running B+
Again, the instrumentation is very elaborate. I like that they base these songs on very accessible boom-thwack, boom-thwack drum beats but they layer their songs with all sort of sounds. The strings are dark and heavy, the rhythm guitars are crunchy, the synthesizers are crispy, and they find opportune times to bring in sound effects. The drum sound even changes throughout. It's more plain at the beginning, but they incorporate hand-claps by the end. It's all very fun to listen to. But I have to make the same complaint as I did on the previous song: WHERE ARE YOUR CHORDS? These are boring. The vocal melody ain't that good, either. ...Still, this is fun to listen to.
Neon Bible B-
This is a little shakier. The sounds aren't very lushly layered, and the drum beat is a bit disconnected. I sort think I know where they were going with this. It's “artsy,” you see, and it's interesting enough to work in that respect. I guess. There's a very light acoustic guitar rhythm here, almost in a bluegrass way, as well as some pulsating fiddles. The drum machine sound is sparse and weird. The extremely simple melody and lack of interesting chords tends to keep this thing a bit ... er ... forgettable.
I like that dark organ! It's playing some slightly more interesting chords, but it's still nowhere near as arresting as the chord sequences from their debut! I swear, if these songs didn't have good rhythms, I would hate all them all. But, as you can tell from the song rating, I don't hate this song. I like it! And it's not just the good rhythm that's keeping this above water; its their lush-as-all-hell instrumentation! They bring in other elaborate instruments such as glockenspiels, huge strings and Regine Chassagne's vocals overdubbed so much that it sounds like a choir. Really, this would make even Brian Wilson pee his pants.
Black Wave / Bad Vibrations A
Speaking of Brian Wilson, I think describing this as the evil “Good Vibrations” isn't too off-target. It's a multi-part suite just like his song, but it's very dark and evil sounding. It starts out sounding a like an '80s synth-pop song gone wrong with a quirky, dissonant groove. The dark strings and synthesizers give it a weird, almost gothic texture. (And notice those “Barbara Ann” style vocal harmonies deeply in the background.”) This first section is crazy enough to earn an A+. The second part isn't as quirky, so I don't like it as much! But it's still very loud and elaborate. The main vocal melody isn't that impressive, but I like those high-pitched back-up vocals sounding very dramatic. Gosh, they even got their guitars to sound like thunder! (Or maybe that's just a thunder sound effect.)
Ocean of Noise B+
Really, I can't express enough at how freaking well these songs are produced. They're LUSH and WIERD and they keep these songs sounding so interesting. It starts out rather quietly with a more subdued drum beat, but they still manage to work in a mandolin-like synthesizer, echoey sound effects, strings, pianos... all sorts of sounds that wouldn't be able to describe even if I wanted to. By the end, the drums get louder and they layer even more sound on top of it, including a chorus of Spanish-sounding horns. Again, I would probably hate these songs if they weren't so elaborately produced... The melody isn't very interesting unfortunately. Vocal hooks would've made this song great, surely.
The Well and the Lighthouse B+
Bring back the strong drum beats—that's what I say! And what's this instrumentation like? It's very lush! It's nothing that we haven't heard before in this album yet, but if you were enjoying their insane lushness, then you'll undoubtedly enjoy this just as much. They give us a surprise midway through, introducing a new groove. Cool! I like how they fade it out with a mystical, cinematic string sound. Again, I really like how they're arranging these songs. It's just a shame they couldn't have come up with better melodies...
(Antichrist Television Blues) B-
This is where it's all starting to get boring. This isn't quite as grandiose as the previous songs, but the lush instrumentals combined with the regular drum-beats get old after awhile. The melodies continue to be very ho-hum, and the harmonies are still nowhere near as interesting as they were on his debut. Butler's lead vocals are sort of fun, though, sounding like he was pretending to sing lead vocals on Springsteen's Born in the USA or something. Hm. I would certainly be more impressed with this if it didn't sound like a weaker version of everything else that happened to appear on this album. The instrumentation is a tad more sparse here, but I still like the arrangements.
Yeah, I'm definitely tired of this album right now, but “objectively” this is just about as well-polished and impressively produced as the opening songs. Again, this song is based on a very regular drum beat with all sorts of intricate instrumentation layered on top of everything! The strings! The acoustic guitars! The horns! The only main difference is that instead of it being one huge EXPLOSION, it tends to keeps on stopping and building up multiple, tiny explosions. Really, this is very well produced. But why did they have to give up writing songs with more substance for all this elaborate show? Did they forget that we like good tunes, too? Or did they think that nobody really paid attention to harmonies? I PAY ATTENTION TO HARMONIES!!!!
No Cars Go A-
This was originally recorded for their 2002 eponymous EP, and they rerecorded it for this album! Maybe that explains why they use a lot of chords! Seriously, I think these guys' songwriting standards have decreased considerably from their previous album. That couldn't be more clear after listening to this. It's not a great song, though. While it has a lot of chords, they're not such captivating ones, and the melody ain't that great. Again, where this song is excellent is in the instrumentation. It has all of that super-dramatics that have made them famous, and you can expect all of the same huuuuge instrumental layers all over this sucker!
My Body is a Cage B+
This is a pretty good concluding track. They bring out that huge pipe organ again, which I always like to hear! Really, if more songs would feature a HUGE pipe organ, I think the world would be better off. (But that's just my opinion.) They do bring out a nice build-up from that minimal bongo-drum-led introduction to a more huge explosion by the end. This is a good song to listen to that's very dramatic in an Ennio Morricone kind of way. The melody is passable. It's nothing like the track that closed Funeral. Not even close. Good song, though.
The Suburbs (2010)
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The Suburbs A+
This is an album about nostalgia, and I hear it through all these songs—and not just through the lyrics. At least I don't think it is. These songs sound like someone fondly, and perhaps longingly, reminiscing of their past and specifically the ambitions they used to have. The song itself is brilliantly catchy. It's based on a nice jangly piano riff, and it compliments perfectly the excellent vocal melody. Midway through, a sweeping string section starts to well out as well as a reverb-heavy, high-pitched synthesizer, all of which starts to drown it all out. Very well done!
Ready to Start A
This is more of the same, except the melody isn't quite as catchy, and they start drowning us out with the thick sounds right away as opposed to just letting it gradually build up. Nevertheless, this continues to be another very well-written and executed song. The melody is memorable—I can immediately remember how it goes just by reading its song title—and the thick instrumentation is quite the spectacle. I'm not even terribly sure how they did it, and it's probably not important for me to know that. I hear a rumbling piano, fuzzy guitar, and many atmospheric synthesizers including a few whoosy sound effects. Regine Chassagne's back-up vocals are even used at opportune times.
Modern Man A
This is a nice, subdued chuggy rocker that's both well orchestrated and has an interesting melody. The riff is catchy, and the vocal melody matches. I hear some echoed sound effects in the background to give it that extra depth that I'd always expect from this band. ...But as a whole, it's simple and straightforward—and it works.
It's more difficult for me to put my finger on this one, although I also enjoy listening to it. It's based on a very peculiar heavy string riff that's very detached and not particularly catchy but it still manages to engage my interest. They help it along with some heavily dramatic bouncy strings and some heavy blankets of heavily distorted guitars. Another violin line gets added on the top of it all by the end, which is way more interesting than the original line, and helps the song dramatically move along. They keep on chanting “Rococo” in the lyrics, which is pretty cool.
Empty Room A+
Now, this song is really good. Instrumentally, it's a whole lot of noisy mayhem. They seem to like those staccato strings, which build tension, and then supplementing those with noisy waves of distorted fuzz guitar (or whatever instrument is making those noises)! Chassagne gives a phenomenal vocal performance in here, sounding passionate even though the instruments are drowning her out severely by the end. The melody is good and engaging, and even memorable.
City With No Children A
At least these songs don't sound too samey. This is much calmer than the previous song, a subdued mid-tempo chuggy rocker similar to “Modern Man.” The riff is fine—a bit on the detached side and not terribly catchy but it's interesting enough to capture my attention. It's a well-written song that I enjoy quite a lot although not a particularly “major” song.
Half Light I A+
This is one of those songs I remember long after this album is through playing. Like Funeral, this sounds like they were repressing a lot of emotions, and they were finally given the chance to let a little bit of it out. The instrumentation continues to be extremely noisy and dramatic, drenched with pulsating fuzz guitars and scaling strings. It's very bombastic through dreary, and not quite like anything I've heard before. I like that they're using more than two chords in this song—as they generally have been throughout the album—which makes it inherently more interesting to me than most of the stuff in Neon Bible.
Half Light II (No Celebration) A-
This is the Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze to the previous track's Ninja Turtles. It's much of the same through not quite as good but still awesome in its own way. They're really in love with drenching their songs with these loud and dreary noises. Usually it works pretty well, but here it gets to be a little bit too much for me. The melody is nicely done, though; without the drenched instrumentation it would have made a nice folk song, I think.
Suburban War A-
I suppose here comes my expected complaint that this album is a bit too long, and I get a little bit tired of it after awhile. It's another well-written, subdued pop rocker although the riff is neither catchy nor *detached* enough to interest me greatly. Nonetheless, I continue to like the delivery, particularly Butler's overly dramatic vocal performance, which is a tone that he always manages to do very well. Midway though the song, they bring up some heavy tribal drums, which was a very cool idea.
Month of May A
Ah, well here at least they do something to significantly change things up! This very heavy fuzz rocker is so bare and simple especially with those tight, glammy drums that I might be tempted to call it generic. However, there's something totally off-kilter about it—especially as it hits the outtro—that I can't throw such a term at it. It seems kind of stuffy, like a full-chorused song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show performed in a powder room.
Wasted Hours A-
This might be a long album, but I like that they brought in a pleasantly bouncy song, more reminiscent of the opening song, which we haven't seen in awhile. The melody is very catchy, but it does tend to get boring whenever they strip off the rhythm and leave those dreary background synthesizers to orchestrate it. ...It just seems to lose its momentum. Anyway, there's my nitpick!
Deep Blue A
Well this is a stroooooooooong song, which by comparison makes that A- I gave the previous song a tad overblown. (It had a good melody and tasteful instrumentation, what do you expect me to do?) The rhythm section here is driving. I especially like hearing that piano at the beginning of it that sounds like someone was jamming the thing. By the end, it starts to sound darker and perhaps rubbery. The melody is beautiful and they perform it in a dramatically soaring way, which gives me nice shivers down my spine. The atmosphere once again is thick and unique... it's a very easy song for me to get myself immersed in...
We Used to Wait A-
Not one of the more inspired songs of this album, there's nothing particularly great about the melody nor about the instrumentation... at least more than anything else has been on this album. For this one, we get a pretty blankly pounding piano with more of those distorted, echoey sound effects in the background. It continues to make a good listen, but nothing spectacular.
Sprawl I (Flatland) A
I don't so much get the feeling of nostalgia from this song, but some sort of gothic horror film. It starts as an atmospheric and low-key ballad with thick strings and what sounds like a harpsichord all playing a minor key sequence. By the middle, it starts to build up although never to any great towering heights, which of course these guys always did brilliantly throughout Funeral. The vocal performance might be over-dramatic, but then again, I don't think they're the only people in the world who don't get melodramatic over their nostalgia episodes.
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) A
This is much closer to “Month of May” in that at its surface it's an overly generic pop-rocker, but there's *something* to it that makes it seem just a bit greater than that. It's a synth-pop song with stilted drum machines, a stilted chord progression, and a simple synthesizer arpeggios. The melody is simple but catchy and its passionately delivered by Chassagne who gets more dramatic by its very end, which works for it. ...Naturally, they still managed to layer on thick, noisy effects in the background that sounds like swarms of locusts sometimes. ...I'm not sure how capable these guys are of writing straightforward music normally.
The Suburbs (Continued)
Not a song, but a sort of wistful instrumental version of the song that opened the beginning of the album. The violins sound weird, like they're playing backwards. I hear Win Butler singing longingly about how he wants his old time back so that he could waste it again... Wait, what's wrong with your lives as pop stars, anyway?
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