Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another.
We work right downtown, and at the end of last week, our town was hit with a Pepsi campaign. Apparently they’ve been doing this Real. Big. Summer. concert series, and it hit our town. For a couple of days, we’ve been seeing Pepsi trucks driving around, Pepsi hot air balloons, film crews, and these benches, complete with umbrellas, sand, and coolers full of Pepsi.
The homeless element of our town especially appreciated the free Pepsi.
The whole thing culminated in a free concert by an artist they refused to announce before hand. One of my coworkers went and was treated to a concert by Phillip Phillips. My coworker decided to share Phillips’ debut album, The World from the Side of the Moon.
And then, since it was released in 2012, everyone decided to share something which has been released in the last couple of years. So here are the four albums that were suggested to me this week.
A note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.
Phillip Phillips – The World from the Side of the Moon (2012)
I didn’t recognize this album just from its name or the artist, but as soon as I heard the second track, Home, I recognized it instantly. I remember hearing that song when I’d go do a swim workout, or on insurance commercials, or on coverage of the London Olympic games, or … everywhere. For the longest time, I thought it was a new Mumford and Sons song, which is a complement for Phillips but not a good sign that I hadn’t heard his name until a year and a half after his song was huge. And it’s funny, because he’s even cited Mumford and Sons as a musical influence.
I also recognized the third track, Gone Gone Gone, and began to expect the whole album to be this brand of slightly folky pop rock. Maybe calling it Americana pop rock is more accurate. And it’s all pretty good. It’s a bit vanilla, but it’s not unpleasant.
Tell Me a Story surprised me by sounding more like Dave Matthews, who is (not surprisingly) another influence of Phillips’. Get Up Get Down (which seemed like another Dave Matthews inspired song) was the one song that made me rethink my expectations. The chorus something I expected to hear from someone with the endorsement of the corporate America music machine or (and I know I run the risk of sounding like a hippie here) “the man.” If you didn’t know before, I’m not really a fan of American Idol or the American music industry. Maybe I don’t know what I should expect from Idol anymore. I guess I might like the music, but definitely not the machine. Musicians might feel like they’re using the machine to get their music out, but they’re really the ones being used. Let me end this rant here before I get too distracted. While Phillips may have been involved with The Machine, this album doesn’t seem over-produced. It retains the acoustic sound and feel. It still feels real.
The more the album went on, the more it felt like a Dave Matthews record. They even had horns in Drive Me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned if DMB’s horn players were credited on Phillips’ album.
In the end, I decided this whole thing was Phillips recording an album written by Mumford and Sons, intending to be a tribute to Dave Matthews. In that light it is exactly perfect. Like I said before, it’s a good album. It has some real heart-felt honesty. I think it helps that Phillips wrote most of it himself. Although, ironically, he didn’t write the two biggest songs off the album. 3/5
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour (2014)
I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what I got. This is more what I’d expect from an American Idol alum. There were some acoustic sounds and some electronic ones. Apparently he comes from a church choir background, and that’s prevalent in his music. This kid is British, but he sounds like an African-American soul singer from the ’80s. Surprise, surprise – he lists Whitney Houston as a big influence, along with Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Amy Winehouse. I’m surprised I haven’t run into something by him saying Adele is an influence, because that’s what this album reminded me of; a British artist writing a love letter to American R&B.
It’s not really my thing. It doesn’t suck, but I wouldn’t choose to listen to it again.
I will say I’m not a fan of Sam Smith as a person. About this album, he said, “This album is my ‘f**k off’ to everyone and basically say, ‘No, I have been in love and, if anything, it was much more painful than your version’, because I’m not getting what I want and it’s so close.”
You’re not getting what you want? Welcome to life, kid. Get over yourself. It was much more painful than my version? There’s no way on earth you could ever know that or make that judgement. You’re not that special.
Even your music isn’t that notable. 2/5
Mumford and Sons – Babel (2012)
The word “ironic” has been misused so much, I sometimes second guess my own use of it. But I do find it … interesting that one recommendation was someone I had thought to be Mumford and Sons and then another recommendations was actually Mumford and Sons.
I got into Mumford and Sons after quite a few people recommended that I listen to them. Some of those people were just indie kids whose opinion I don’t highly value and I know were just getting on a bandwagon. But other people, whose musical opinion I trust, helped me see why there’s a bandwagon to begin with.
I remember when this album came out, but for some reason, I never listened to it.
And that’s too bad, because it was exactly what I expected. And that’s a good thing. It’s everything that was good about their first album, but also a little different. Some people might criticize them for not evolving between albums. I say, “Kudos to you for consistency. Kudos for staying true to who you built yourselves up to be.”
The album opens strong, and while it gives and takes, it stays strong. There’s not really a bad track on the album, but Hopeless Wanderer literally made me sit up and do nothing but listen for five minutes. I haven’t felt an emotional connection to a song for a long time, but something in that track seemed to be echoing my own disquietude. And then the anger in Broken Crown plays off the disillusionment built in the previous track, and it’s great. It made me want to get angry. 4/5
Beach House – Bloom (2012)
Chris said this album restored his faith in the notion that it’s still possible to be blown away by something new. He was starting to wonder if he was jaded or bored because nothing had truly shaken his soul for a while – until this came along. To tell the truth, I’ve been hoping for something like that.
Opening track, Myth, gives you a good idea of what to expect with a swirling guitar and vocals which seem to come out of a lucid dream. This album is the soundtrack to many an indie film. Not literally, but if you’ve watched many indie films, I think you’ll know what I mean.
Bloom is a perfect name for this album. Not an organic, floral bloom. More like a deep-sea polyp. Or the slow motion eruption of a volcano or explosion of a high-yield bomb. Or something else that’s ethereal.
Now that isn’t to say I could listen to this album over and over. In fact, I think Lazuli was the only track I immediately wouldn’t mind listening to again. Although Troublemaker was pretty good, too. But it’s not a bad album. Just one I’d have to mix in with other stuff. Or something I’d listen to on a midnight drive through the desert with the windows down. I don’t have a convertible, or I would say “sans top.” The whole album kinda blends together. Not in a Pink Floyd super-medley kind of way, but more in a this-all-sounds-the-same kind of way. Gratefully there wasn’t so much sameness that I couldn’t tell the tracks apart, but it was close. And many bands have gone over the edge.
When Chris shared this album, he recommended we watch the video for Wishes.
The video and the music strangely go hand in hand. I never would have thought of doing any of it, but when someone else does it, it makes sense. In the moment, anyway. And I can’t imagine they’re taking themselves too seriously.
This album didn’t shake my soul, like it did to Chris. I’m still jaded. But I’ll give this 3/5, and if push comes to shove and I have to put these four albums in order of how much I like them, this album comes out ahead of Phillip Phillips’.
The Cat Empire – Steal the Light (2013)
My friend Jer first introduced The Cat Empire to me sometime last year, but I never really got into them until this past March. And I think they are the cat’s pajamas. If you guys were hoping I’d share some psychedelic funk with some latin jazz and ska/reggae flavorings thrown in, your wish just came true. When I need something to get my body moving, I now turn first to The Cat Empire. It’s just fun. Weird and fun. 3/5
Here’s what my coworkers’ thought of The Cat Empire:
“This album was confusing for me. It had all the elements I thought I would enjoy, including great instruments and catchy rhythms. But something that I can’t put my finger on kept me from enjoying it. Maybe it was the mood I was in, but I had a hard time getting all the way through most of the tracks. I wish I could give better feedback than ‘I just didn’t enjoy it.’ But in this case, I can’t. However, I have heard other albums that were much worse, so at least it wasn’t a one-star review.” 2/5 -Tim
To tell you the truth, I think what Tim liked least about this album is that he had to listen to it on YouTube (because the whole thing isn’t on Spotify) and he can’t turn off the screen on his tablet without the music automatically pausing. And he let that annoyance put him in a mood and couldn’t separate the music from his environment. My solution would have been to just not turn off the screen. Or bring up YouTube on his desktop.
Whatever. I’d still be interested in what you thought. Or your thoughts on what everybody else shared. Or your favorite album that’s come out in the past year or two.