Pre-Screening: Julian Casablancas' Phrazes For the Young

Album: Phrazes for the Young
Artist: Julian Casablancas
Label: Cult Records
Due Out: November 3rd

By now, we're all used to the idea of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas posing as a pop star. From his work with Santigold and Pharrell for Converse, to his contribution to The Loney Island's hit comedy album, to his appearance on Dark Night of the Soul earlier this year, he's been dropping hints at breaking free (albeit temporarily) from his rock icon status and giving pop a try. Now, finally, with Phrazes for the Young we get to see where his pop mettle actually lies. The eight-track recording samples new wave and electronic sounds, en route to what turns out being quite the adventure for The Strokes' leading man, and perhaps the beginning of some new chapter for him as an artist.

Not necessarily in stark contrast to his work with the band that made him famous, the album is a fast-moving joy ride through upbeat, busy sonic landscapes. The only real difference is that here, his background fills itself with the likes of electronic organs and spacey sounds, with only hints of the determined, steady riffs of rock songs past. Still, his signature wit remains, as does Casablancas' clear and decisive delivery of his message, regardless of how clouded in booze or lust it may be. From opening track, "Out of the Blue," it's obvious that he's at his most confident point in years-- balanced and flowing, it aims to send a message about an album that wreaks of exuberance.

Amidst the bouncy, jovial synths, it almost feels as if Casablancas may actually enjoy himself more while participating in projects like this one, than guitar-heavy pop band undertakings. Tracks like "Left & Right in the Dark" and "11th Dimension" skip back and forth, mixing California pop and a bright, radio top-40 openness that acts more as an attraction than something off-putting and overly mainstream. For the appeal lies in the novelty of it all. It's not as if it's never been done before, but rather, we've never seen it executed so well. For those of us that have been hoping for him to pursue something like this, it's a relief to see such a positive and successful final product.

That's not to say that Phrazes for the Young executes its craft to perfection either. For all of the energy, pop euphoria and dancing excitement of the initial three tracks, the album does start to lose steam, and with it, a little bit of your interest. It's not as if songs four through eight are bad-- rather, they're quite excellent, and a very good listen. However, they mostly just seem to lack the blind faith of the introductory tracks. Casablancas took a leap with those songs, and for that, I'll commend him. But, it almost feels as if he holds back for most of the remainder. The tracks still employ the snappy drive seen before. In fact, "River of Brakelights" even duplicates it precisely. It just feels as if something's being held back on the selections besides that one. Maybe it's just the slower sections, or the lengthy sonic solos or the blending of tracks at times. Perhaps it's just me, but I could have gone for a little bit more enthusiasm come the end.

Still, you come away from Phrazes for the Young with a good sense of what you've just heard. Casablancas combines his talent and ambitions just right, and the results, much to the delight of fans, is a favorable foray into the pop realm, while still leaning on enough rock to keep him in his element. Though not so catchy that the songs will all be painfully ingrained in your subconscious for months, they've got enough energy and steadiness to keep you hooked for multiple listens. For a guy on his rookie pop endeavor, that's not half bad. Similarities include The Strokes, The XX and Phoenix.

Rating: 8.0/10

Best Track: "Left & Right In the Dark" (not available, but here's "11th Dimension")

[Previously on Animal Noises: New Julian Casablancas Album Preview]


Matt's Track of the Week: "Supa Dupa"

Song: Supa Dupa
Artist: Big Sean
Album: U Know Big Sean
Year: 2009

We've spoken about Big Sean a couple times here at Animal Noises, and today I'm going to do it again to bring to light another pretty fantastic song off of his 2009 mixtape U Know Big Sean. There's a good mix of styles and flows in this set, but one thing you can always count on with Sean, is catchiness and clever wordplay.

On "Supa Dupa", Sean creates a chilled out mix of self-promotion and light-hearted jabbing by drawing ingenious comparisons between himself and other relatable personas. Within seconds he goes from referencing Nintendo's King Koopa, to the fictional literary icon Kunta Kinte. On top of all of this, the song is backed with a mellow but bouncy beat by production team Wright Trax, making for a very unique vibe that shows off the collective talents of all involved. Check it out below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Matt's Track of the Week: "Tomorrow"]

Weekly Top 10: "Ghost" Songs

In light of Halloween coming up this weekend, we decided to make our Weekly Top 10 reflect the holiday. Below is a collection of our favorite songs involving ghosts. You'll notice that the word "ghost" is contained in the title of all of them. So enjoy the tracks. Hopefully your Halloween is both a successful and safe one.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Album Closers]


John's Track of the Week: "Passenger Side"

Song: Passenger Side
Artist: Wilco
Album: A.M.
Year: 1995

Admittedly, I've always found Wilco's debut studio effort, A.M., a bit underwhelming. Perhaps it still leans a bit too much on the sound of Jeff Tweedy's old band, Uncle Tupelo. Or maybe, it's just that I'm not a big fan of country, and the album touches more on those aspects than the alternative themes embraced later in the band's career. Regardless though, there is one track in particular that stuck out to me as a prelude to their later sound, and makes an effort to redeem the collection as a whole. That track is "Passenger Side."

The song just seems to grasp the various themes Tweedy focuses his time on in later writing, and though the lyrics read fairly straight forward, their delivery do hint at an air of ambiguity. Opening salvo, "Hey wake up, your eyes weren't open wide," by itself can mean a variety of things, and perhaps it's supposed to. For the remainder of the song, it appears Tweedy doles out complaints about being the passenger to another driver, and of course, drinking, which is always a subtle aspect of his songwriting. But the song can also function as a large metaphor. The relationship in question could be with a friend, or woman, and the driving critiques could be symbolic of his problems with their respective actions in life. Tweedy doesn't like not having control of a situation, as made apparent by the constant refrain of "I don't like riding on the passenger side." Metaphor or not, the message comes across loud and clear. Check it out below.


Tuesday's Releases (10/27): Now Streaming

A small amount of releases this week, so we'll get right to it. Spinner's got the hook-up for all of your album needs, while I'm sure you can find mixtape releases from the likes of Lil' Wayne, T.I., Drake and Young Jeezy floating around. As always, credit for the original idea goes out to LargeHeartedBoy.

Music Video Monday: "Evil"

Track: Evil
Artist: Interpol
Album: Antics
Year: 2004

The puppet featured in Interpol's video for "Evil" isn't creepy, as much as he is intriguing. "Norman," as he was dubbed by fans of the band, is the star of the video, from the opening post-car crash mutilation to those final seconds on the operating table. But even though you get very little information about him, since he's simply singing the track, you can't help but feel the guy's got a fair depth of character behind the stuffing.

At the onset, Norman is not necessarily the main attraction. I'm guessing they let "evil" refer to either death or possibly a drunk driving message (probably not, but it's a possibility). Behind our singing puppet friend is a horrible car accident, focusing on the anguish of family members. Eventually, Norman himself is rushed to the hospital and brought to the operating table, before he performs some add puppet dance, before presumptively dying. All-in-all it works though, as the choppy percussion and guitar riff trade-off works perfectly in kind with the staggered, awkward movements of Norman. Check it out below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Greeting Songs]


Pre-Screening: Drake's The Drought Is Over: Friends With Money

Album: The Drought Is Over: Friends With Money
Artist: Drake
Label: 1 Stop
Due Out: October 27th

As much as Drake’s latest mixtape, The Drought Is Over: Friends With Money, has been making the rounds all over the internet for the past five months, it’s worth noting since its official release date is actually October 27th. The 24-track collection, looking to follow-up on the continued success and acclaim of So Far Gone, is another assortment of solid beats, radio-friendly rap and Lil’ Wayne cameos. As successful as it is musically though, it doesn’t always excel similarly when discussed in terms of originality.

The Drought Is Over actually starts stronger than So Far Gone, to be honest. Beginning with a clip of Drake clearing up his persona and calling out those who doubted him with “Drake Speaks,” the mood is decidedly less cheerful, and more about proving himself to the world. These opening bombs seem to set a tone for an album all about redemption. “Good Night and Good Luck” embraces a flow more street-influenced than he’s alluded to before this point, and with a solid loop of samples spinning behind him, you’d be hard-pressed to doubt his approach.

The issue arises when Drake abandons this new persona on the next track, “Uptown,” which, like many other songs on The Drought Is Over, is just a reworking of an old track from the last mixtape. This is the initial disappointment in a slew of them, mostly revolving around exhaustion from the old tired beats and lyrics. It’s not that these songs are bad (they’re not), but some different material is much more desirable than continued cuts of “Successful,” featuring Trey Songz and Lil’ Wayne, and song of the year nominee, “Best I Ever Had.”

As for the rest, it fluctuates between shameless pop/hip-hop combos like “She Just Wanna Dance,” decent freestyles like “Can’t Hide From Love Freestyle” and other potentially solid outcomes such as the slightly psychedelic “Overdose on Life.” It becomes an almost-exhausting rotation, with noteworthy moments popping up all over the place, but amidst seas of beats and lyrics we’ve already heard, or would rather not, if possible.

Overall, The Drought Is Over presents an effort that has some glaringly excellent interludes that are unfortunately clouded by a lot of wasted space. If Drake’s stated purpose at the onset was to try and confront the doubters of his credibility, he only accomplishes this in part, which may not be enough. Overridingly, the songs not involving Lil’ Wayne in some capacity lacked energy and focus, save the ones we already know and love. I’ll chalk it up to just being a mixtape, rather than a full album release, but Drake has to step it up if he wants to silence the gaggle of haters. Similarities include Kid Cudi, Trey Songz and Fabolous.

Rating: 6.5/10

Top Track: “Good Night and Good Luck” (not available, but for the five or so people who haven't heard "Best I Ever Had" yet, it's below)

[Previously on Animal Noises: Matt's Track of the Week: "Forever" (Feat. Kanye West, Lil' Wayne & Eminem)]


Matt's Track of the Week: "Calypso Gold"

Song: Calypso Gold
Artist: Princeton
Album: Cocoon of Love
Year: 2009

Princeton has built up a decent amount of buzz lately with their new album Cocoon of Love, and their current tour, opening for Ra Ra Riot and Maps & Atlases. Their sound of 80s new wave, infused with Vampire Weekend-esque, island sensibility is a catchy and welcome variation in the current indie landscape. They also put on a high-energy live show that simultaneously showcases the band's personality and skills.

"Calypso Gold" is the standout track on an album full of quality material, and like much of the album, it spins a narrative around a mysterious love interest. The band does an outstanding job of cultivating the wide range of feelings associated with love through their music, and as the record's name suggests, they wrap you up inside of it. The atmosphere in this one is heavy and layered, yielding a product that is musically and lyrically engaging. Check it out below.

[Previously On Animal Noises: Tuesday's Releases (9/29): Now Streaming]

Weekly Top 10: Album Closers

Nothing seems to make, or ruin, a great album like the last song. Something otherwise great can be sullied in your eyes (ears) if that final glimpse leaves much to be desired, and something a little above average can gain a much higher evaluation solely off of that last collection of notes. Here, we list our favorites of the ladder category-- our favorite album closers. Though Imeem does not have one of my top picks, Grizzly Bear's "Foreground," I'll forgive them for the most part, as the rest of the list is pretty solid. Enjoy below.


John's Track of the Week: "Summer Breeze"

Song: Summer Breeze
Artist: Seals & Crofts
Album: Summer Breeze
Year: 1972

We're going farther back than we've gone in awhile. "Summer Breeze," the most recognizable hit from 70s soft rock successes Seals & Crofts, has probably been stuck in my head since the third grade. Back then, we had this keyboarding (yup, keyboarding... we've come a long way in a little more than a decade) teacher who was a baseball and soft rock fanatic. Everyday, as she recounted what happened to the New York Yankees the night before, she'd turn on a fairly stable rotation of ten tracks, one of which was this one. The other selections were various songs from Simon & Garfunkel, and about baseball, but for some reason, this one stood out above the rest to me, even then.

The funny thing is, I didn't actually acquire the track for myself until last week. Though I still knew the song, I guess I'd just forgotten how relaxing-- and good-- it was. The remarkable simplicity of it all, discussing the positive effects of a summer breeze on one's psyche, was, and is something to appreciate. Yet, in today's world, it feels like we forget some of these simpler things, in leu of more complicated, materialistic concerns. Not to get all philosophical on the readership, but occasionally, putting things into simpler terms can help appreciate what you've got more. If you're in the mood for a bit of nostalgia, check it out below (in video form, since I can't find a stand-alone player for it).


Wavves on Daytrotter

Everyone's self-imploding California boy, Nate Williams-- aka Wavves-- stopped over at Daytrotter yesterday with some new material. I only make mention to this summer's incident out of irony, since honestly, I'm over it, and most readers should be too. Everyone is allowed to have some fleeting moments of stupidity/misguided narcissism, so let's consider that his. Plus, he makes really good music, so there's that. So go check out "To the Dregs" (off of his first album, Wavves), as well as unreleased tracks "Horse Shoes" and "Hula-Hoop" over at the session.

Tuesday's Releases (10/20): Now Streaming

As promised, we've got a full slate of releases this week. However, as was the case last week, Spinner is lacking a bit on some of the most notable ones-- Florence and the Machine, Alec Ounsworth and Do Make Say Think, to name a few. Still, hopefully they're added, and we'll adjust accordingly if they are. In the meantime, check out the ones that are up. As always, credit for the original idea for this goes out to LargeHeartedBoy.


Music Video Monday: "Son of Sam"

Track: Son of Sam
Artist: Elliott Smith
Album: Figure 8
Year: 2000

With all this talk of balloons lately, I figured the video for "Son of Sam" would probably be appropriate here.

It's interesting how eerily Elliott Smith's video, which has nothing to do with the "Son of Sam" killer, David Berkowitz, seems to reflect the end of his life. Throughout the entire video, Smith simply chases a red balloon, which in this case can be seen as symbolism for a dream or goal. From the moment he spots it in the first few seconds, he's intent on following it in the awkward stop-motion chosen for the video. In the end, when it pops, it feels as if the dream has died with the balloon's demise.

Though not necessarily about death, one can't help but see some creepy similarities to Smith's own life. After chasing a dream for so long, it just ended, abruptly. However, unlike the balloon's existence, Smith's continues past his demise. We've seen two complete posthumous albums from him, as well as countless appearances by his songs in film. Add in other singles and tribute albums, and it's evident the man has gained a cult following through the years. It may have never been intended to be this way, but unlike the video, Smith has outlasted his own destruction.

[Previously on Animal Noises: This Week's Top 10: Albums of 1998]


Pre-Screening: Alec Ounsworth's Mo Beauty

Album: Mo Beauty
Artist: Alec Ounsworth
Label: Anti- Records
Due Out: October 20th

It's been a busy year for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman Alec Ounsworth. Between appearing on soundtracks, fending off the band's breakup rumors, releasing an album for side project Flashy Python and now this, things have been hectic, to say the least. However, of all those activities, perhaps this one was the biggest labor of love. Never has Ounsworth sounded more truly honest than he does on Mo Beauty. The pomp and circumstance from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut is long gone, but so is the disappointment of the follow-up. So maybe it's a new beginning for the singer. Or at least, we can hope so.

"Modern Girl (...With Scissors)" starts the album off as a relaxed and centered rock piece at first. Weaved within a solid attempt to sound like Andrew Bird, Ounsworth creates a disjointed and quietly-panicked world for himself and his music. By song's end, it progresses into experimental territory-- where the artist can be comfortable in spurts-- as a saxophone changes the scenery altogether. Next, the album shifts toward more familiar territory, albeit for another artist. The off-kilter, progressively sinking feeling of "Bones in the Grave" sounds an awful lot like Modest Mouse, as it alternates between fits of light and dark.

"Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song for New Orleans)" is the first heartfelt number on an album possessing a fair amount of them. Its hymnal nature attempts to reach out to the people of New Orleans, four years removed from Hurricane Katrina. It remains quaint with a modest use of electronic keyboard and strings, and never pours on the condolences too much. Even though it probably would have had more of an effect a few years back, the sentiment is still recognized and appreciated, as we shift towards a more foreboding sound on the next track, "That Is Not My Home (After Bruegel)." Starting off as a dark jazz number, it errupts into pop soon after. Surprisingly, it might just be the most pleasant thing Ounsworth's ever written, as he meanders over a background seemingly made for a movie score.

"Idiots in the Rain" is another song that starts off with a much darker ambience than it eventually turns out to portray. It sort of cruises along as a bar room rant just a few minutes before last call, as it seems our narrator is searching or calling for something/someone desperately. That call is not answered on the next track either. "South Philadelphia (Drug Days)" is about as crazy as it sounds. With a sound I'd like to dub urban tropical, it gives off a vacation vibe in a drugged stupor, especially when it starts experimenting with some kooky psychedelic distortion. It's the most fun track on the album, completely stress free of its context, and loving it.

But joy is not the theme of "What Fun." regardless of its name. Ounsworth plunges himself into some soft, playful self-pity. It's a sad and regretful commentary about the past, and he's obviously damaged by its after-effects. Still, he manages to transition nicely into "Me and You, Watson," a loud and brash number that almost sounds inherently Irish. A strong percussion section and some slick southern riffs guide it toward rock 'n' roll, as well as some more of that Modest Mouse influence that continues to seep through. If nothing else, the song has conviction, something he usually only touches upon.

And then his emotional state just falls apart. On "Obscene Queen Bee #2," he digresses into a love-struck refrain. Rolling in from the background are cymbals and a soft organ. He's understandably frustrated with women who think too highly of themselves to give him the time of day, and it's depressing to him that people can act like that. Yet, throughout this mood, he seems to remain cool, smooth and confident, with a certain laissez-faire attitude about the entire ordeal. Not so on "When You've No Eyes," however. The soft and reserved ballad shows a man exhausted by everything he's discussed on the album, just spitting out some last thoughts on unresolved issues. The spacious instrumentation continuing behind him, seemingly ripped out of the first page of the post-rock handbook, help create a drifting sad lullaby by the ocean. He just wants it all to be over, and by the end, he's nearly begging for its completion.

Even in a state of emotional sadness, Ounsworth displays a craftsmanship in his music that allows it to excel. Vastly more advanced than anything he's put together before, Mo Beauty may not be a better album than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut, but still manages to succeed. Perhaps it's all part of the long road back to making music consistently again. If so, I'd say it's a solid first step. Regardless of the road Ounsworth takes from here, something tells me it will lead to something great. Similarities include Modest Mouse, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Ramona Falls.

Rating: 7.5/10

[Previously on Animal Noises: Flashy Python's Skin and Bones Now Streaming]


Matt's Track of the Week: "Close To Me"

Song: Close To Me
Artist: The Get Up Kids
Album: Eudora
Year: 2001

This might very well be sacrilege to some, but I actually like this version better than the original by The Cure. It takes a pretty good song and makes it great by sparing us the cheesy synth flutes and Robert Smith's melodramatic crying. And considering that Robert Smith is an overrated, outspoken critic of the so-called "Radiohead business-model" (despite its massive success), who could really ask for more?

The Get Up Kids put a cool spin on this one by beefing up the guitars and performing it in the style of their music at the time. They manage to keep the general vibe of the original, but make it their own. If possible, it's even catchier than the 1985 hit, and on a compilation album full of covers and b-sides, it's definitely the standout track. If you haven't heard this tune yet, and even if you have, I'd recommend checking it out below.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Music Video Monday: "Overdue"]


Weekly Top 10: Songs Featured on How I Met Your Mother

This week's Top 10 is inspired by one of my favorite shows on television, How I Met Your Mother. Basically, I was watching a marathon's-worth of the show, and decided that this would work fairly well as a theme. Though it's not based entirely on music like some other sitcoms, it does have its moments where music plays a central and deciding role in the action. Trust me, you'll enjoy this, just like the show.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Weekly Top 10: Greeting Songs]

New Annie, "I Don't Like Your Band"

Admittedly, Annie is a bit more pop-oriented than our usual content around these parts. However, her new track "I Don't Like Your Band" is just too infectious too ignore. Five years removed from her widely-lauded debut album Anniemal, she's finally back with her sophomore effort Don't Stop. For those who still don't recall the first release, perhaps hit single "Heartbeat" rings a bell? Regardless, the appetizer for Don't Stop seems to pick up right where she left off, as the track is an explosion of synths and jubilant pop. The theme, while it may be knocked from afar, is actually less immature than it may let on at first too. Rather than a juvenile hater session on someone else's musical exploits, it's just a simple, cut-and-dry statement that it's the band that turned her off, not the person themselves. Plus, I mean, how can you ignore that background?

Don't Stop is out November 17th in the U.S., via Smalltown Supersound. Check out "I Don't Like Your Band" below, courtesy of Pitchfork.

John's Track of the Week: "Lust For Life"

Song: Lust For Life
Artist: Girls
Album: Album
Year: 2009

Girls' debut album, and "Lust For Life" have been out for awhile, but since I haven't been able to talk about either in this space yet, I figured this would be as good a time as any. Girls' singer Christopher Owens is about as sad a case as you'll find in music these days-- orphaned by a deadbeat dad and a crazy cult. Of course, he later ran away to San Francisco at 16, and by some movie script ending, is now one of the hottest acts in music, according to the web. Yet, after such a turbulent past, he never forgets his sense of humor in his songwriting.

"Lust For Life" begins as a mocking interlude into the dreams of an ex, and pretty much stays that way. It's not so much harsh, as it is a showcase of Owens' ability to exploit his past as fodder, without coming off as bitter. As mentioned, he's a humorous dude, and the entire album displays that, within its muffled walls. Girls has a simple formula for success on their debut-- use sarcastic emotion over some indie surf pop and lo-fi backgrounds, and let everything else work itself out. And it does. As we've seen with various acts this year, it's obvious they're from California, but that beach-y, West Coast sound has become quite an asset in 2009. Check it out below, and if you haven't gotten your hands on Album yet, I'd recommend it.

[Previously on Animal Noises: Tuesday's Releases (9/22): Now Streaming]