I was Looking for a Piece that Fit

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

This week, my former co-worker Tim suggested we all share something from the past couple of years that we haven’t listened to. Ok. Sure. This is a little different. My band mate Spencer went through bands that he used to listen to, but hasn’t really kept up on to find something. I thought about doing the same thing, except it seemed overwhelming. So I just went through bands that I’ve already shared with the group looking for side projects.

One that I really wanted to share was Andrew Stockdale’s solo album he released while Wolfmother was on hiatus. But he writes all their stuff anyway, and, as it turned out, they recorded it while they were still together. Really it’s just a Wolfmother album with a different name, so I guess that’s not going with the spirit of this week’s “theme.” Not that we always have to have a theme. But, it’s not on Spotify anymore anyway.

Before I get into what I did find, let me get into what everyone else shared.

Bette Midler – It’s the Girls (2014)

Tim’s whole idea behind suggesting we share something we haven’t heard that’s been recorded and released in the past couple of years was so it will help us stretch our selections and have a dose of what is being recorded “today.” Yet he shares an album from a woman who’s been recording for the past 50 years. Not only that, it’s a cover album of songs that inspired her to start singing in the first place. So an old woman singing old songs is supposed to have a dose of what’s being recorded today?

My first impression? Kinda meh. First, she’s sounding old. She sounds like she’s been singing for 50 years. There are both good things and bad things related to that, but mostly she just sounds like she’s getting old. Second, I’ve heard a lot of these songs before, and her versions are rather bland. The worst of both of these things is Baby It’s You.

But not all of her songs are vanilla. I love the Hawaiian feel of Mr. Sandman, the kinda bluegrass feel of You Can’t Hurry Love, and the vaudeville jazz sound of the title track.

Those, were the highlights. I mean, Tell Him and Too Many Fish in the Sea weren’t bad, but sometimes I think, as good as she is (or maybe, used to be), she may have just picked lemons to cover. Come and Get These Memories is the cheesiest, but there are others that aren’t much better.

I don’t just hate the slow songs. Some of them, like Teach Me Tonight, had some really great harmony. That was the one consistently great thing about this album. As old as Bette sounds, the back-up harmonies were wonderful, which is exactly what you’d expect from ’40s, ’50s and ’60s girl groups.

But this album is not really for me (it’s for Bette). She did some things I wouldn’t have thought of, but I’d like to hear someone else with a younger voice do it next time. 3/5

311 – Stereolithic (2014)

Well, I guess it’s actually STER3OL1TH1C with their band name integrated into it, but that takes too much thought to write out every time.

Spencer is a self-professed fan, though not a fanatic. When he shared this album, he said he thought they’ve stayed pretty true to their sound through the years. Except I think they’ve had two general sounds (rap funk and reggae) with plenty of others mixed in along the way.

I have this album. I got it about the same time I got the one they released before this, Universal Pulse. And it’s a good thing I didn’t get Universal Pulse first, because Stereolithic is better. Universal Pulse felt like they just had to get something out. Don’t get me wrong, Stereolithic isn’t my favorite release of theirs, but Universal Pulse felt like they weren’t even trying.

This album has some great stuff and a lot of just okay stuff.

But let me start with the lowlight. I didn’t really like Five of Everything. It felt like they were trying to go back to the ’90s. I don’t know. It just didn’t work for me.

The Great Divide and Existential Hero felt like sister-tracks to me. When they started, I was not so excited to listen to them. My first impression was that they were two-start tracks. But as they went on, they got better. And by the end, I really liked them. The last minute or so of The Great Divide was one of the best minutes of the album.

But there were a lot of tracks that I really liked. Showdown felt like it couldn’t decide to be reggae or hard rock. Make it Rough also had that kind of hard white boy reggae sound. Sand Dollars had a sweet groove, and it sounded like they drew inspiration from the underwater levels of Super Mario Bros.; the outro riff especially sounded like the end of level fanfare from the game. Friday Afternoon was sweet, and I would love to hear an acoustic version of it. And I think Tranquility was a perfect way to close the album. The my favorite track all in all was probably The Call, although I can’t put my finger on exactly why. I can say that all the songs mentioned in this paragraph made me want to write and play more music.

All in all, not their best, but still a solid album. 3/5

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday (2015)

When Chris shared this album, he said he loved Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? so much that it alone has kept him following that antics of the brothers Gallagher for 20 years now, whether I liked their subsequent releases or not. Because of it, he is forever faithful. So, it must needs be that we check out Noel’s second solo album.

And it’s sweet. It’s more mature than Oasis. The band is tight. The music is a little weird, but not enough to be off-putting. Just interesting. Actually, it reminds me of Ray LaMontagne’s Supernova in that they both sound like ’70s records that got lost and have only recently been rediscovered and released.

I really can’t put my finger on why, but Riverman seems to have a late-Beatles quality to it. And except for the vocals, In the Heat of the Moment had a very Ennio Morricone feel to it. That, however, I can point to; the kinda obnoxious “na-na-na”s, the bells, the long guitar chords, the chord changes, and especially the main counter-melody ostinato going on behind the vocals during the last 45 seconds or so. The Girl with X-Ray Eyes started out sounding like Stairway to Heaven, but most of the song sounded like it was inspired by Pink Floyd‘s sound, but with an angry, discordant John Lennon guitar solo. And it was in that song that I realized all the vocals sound like he’s doing David Bowie without the accent. To me anyway.

And those are just the first three songs. Not that it was localized to the front. The last track, Ballad of the Mighty I, felt like a modern take on a Police song.

In fact, the only song that reminded me of the ’90s was You Know We Can’t Go Back. And I think it was one of the strongest on the album.

Although I really liked While the Song Remains the Same, too. I can’t put my finger on why, but I really loved it. As well as the cowbell and the guitar outro on The Mexican.

The whole album has a familiar, yet fresh feel to it. It wasn’t mind-blowing. In fact, it mostly made me want to listen to all that old stuff again. But it also made me want more of this new stuff, too. 4/5

Toh Kay – The Hand that Thieves (2013)

Toh Kay is the three-piece acoustic trio fronted by Streetlight Manifesto‘s lead singer / guitarist / songwriter Tomas Kalnoky. It was originally intended to be a companion release to Streetlight’s The Hands that Thieve. Actually, it’s almost a cover album. Almost.

Kalnoky said, “The albums may have the same song titles, lyrics and chord progressions, but the similarities end there. The album has a laid back, late night, lazy feel – something to put your feet up to, when you’re not quite in the mood for the ball of frenetic energy that is Streetlight Manifesto.”

It was on Amazon for pre-order, but due to Streetlight and their label, Victory Records, having some legal disagreements, their label demanded Amazon pull this album. Someone leaked both this version and the Streetlight version of the album online on the Plan C April 2013 release date anyway, except they changed the name of this album to “F*** Victory.” I edited it for you, by the way.

You see, Streetlight and Victory Records kinda hate each other. I’m not sure if Streetlight has done anything to deserve it, but apparently it all started when the label refused to pay the band royalties for the money the band’s music made the label. Then Victory failed to meet the November 2012 release date for the Streetlight record. And the February reschedule date. And never honored pre-orders through the Streetlight website. They wouldn’t even give the band copies of the CD.

I know that the way I chose this album lends itself to a greater likelihood that my review and rating will be skewed, but I’m going to try to be objective.

I hadn’t heard this version of this album, and you know what? I loved it. I mean, I still haven’t heard the Streetlight version either, but I’m looking forward to it now more than ever.

As odd as it may sound, this had a very Barenaked Ladies or They Might Be Giants feel to it. And Tomas Kalnoky’s voice sounded better here than on any Streetlight record, where he seems to be almost yelling. This is just a nice little acoustic pop rock album.

I especially liked Oh Me, Oh My. Maybe it was the female harmony vocals, or the accordion, but I really loved that tune. I think it’s my favorite. The Littlest Things was a close contender, but up-beat key and slight shuffle of Oh Me, Oh My won my heart.

Other highlights included Ungrateful, With Any Sort of Certainty, They Broke Him Down, and Toe to Toe. And there really weren’t any lowlights.

I appreciate Streetlight Manifesto, but I really love this stuff. Sometimes Streetlight can just be a bit too much, but I could listen to this all the time. 4/5

Here’s what my friends thought about The Hand that Thieves:

“I honestly haven’t given too many one star reviews, but this one I really didn’t enjoy. after about 30 seconds of nearly every track I wanted to skip ahead. It was only shear force of will that kept me through to the end. It just wasn’t goof for me. The music seemed whiny and simplistic to a fault (even though I’m certain that wasn’t the intent of the songs it just ‘sounded’ that way). I found it to be very repetitive and dragging throughout. I went ahead and listened to the other version of the album (the one that actually released) and found it to be better, but still not great. I would have given it 2.5 stars. So essentially I felt like this album took a middle of the road album, and just ran it into the ground. Frankly, I think it was less a matter of label fighting that sunk this album, and more of an effect of it’s quality. If this would have been equal to, or better, than the full album I think it would have seen the light of day.” 1/5 – Tim

“I like that title better (when edited). 🙂

I approached this with some trepidation. I’ve listened to Reel Big Fish’s Skacoustic album and was kind of expecting the same. Basically the exact arrangements with just acoustic instruments, so you end up with the same thing as the original but less exciting and with a more limited sonic pallet. But I don’t give Streetlight Manifesto credit. These guys are good. I’m a fan, but often have to be careful who is around when I listen to many of their songs. I also was imagining the singers  tattered voice that works so well in their hardcore sound with a delicate acoustic backing… hmm. Dropbox is blocked at my work so I didn’t get a listen until I was home and doing the dishes that evening. Its perhaps comparable listening to when at work, but not really since that is menial and work is mentally challenging. So this got a competitive edge, perhaps, but regardless, under these circumstances I gave it a go.

I LOVED IT! The style is quite different than what I expected, with lots of textural variety. I love the upright bass thump and slides in there, and lots of good finger picking guitar. The first tune (The Hand That Thieves) was kind of folksy as expected, then the second (Only for the Memories) has a Spanish type rhythm. The third track feels more jazzy, the next some kind of french 6/8 ballad (if thats a thing). So lots of variety, great musicality. That moaning upright bass is awesome. It really makes the music, even though its often underneath everything.

His singing is his smooth, almost wisper-like voice that he also uses in Streetlight to great effect. I forgot he sings that way sometimes. With this background the vocal style actually reminds me a lot of Cake. The morally charged lyrics sung with calm voice over soothing acoustic backing reminds me a lot of Paul Simon or Ben Folds. This fits right in with a lot of music I love.

My only issue with this album is that sometimes I’m not in the mood to get pumped up for a political upheaval. Their music always seems to be talking about how wrong the world is and prepping you for the revolution that will fix it. Thats ok, but it sometimes gets old, especially in this low-key sound context where you understand the message much clearer. I can get behind their promises of karma coming to get you, so you better be real, but then there’s also the frequent message of getting your own revenge, which I disagree with. I guess thats the Manifesto though. They aren’t here to tell stories. I have other bands for that. So far it hasn’t stopped me from listening to it again.

I just listened to Manifesto’s album of the same name. Its good, but I think I actually like these acoustic arrangements more. Its like, its easy to dismiss someone screaming about corruption and just say they’re crazy, but if someone very calmly explains the same argument it seems much more serious.

I’ve listened to this at least 10 times now this week. Trying to get more I looked up Toh Kay on spotify and found their 2011 release and its nice, but it doesn’t have the upright bass or drums, and that makes a huge difference. I really love this album. If you guys know some other stuff with this same instrumentation and vibe, fill me in!

Paul, thanks for this awesome share. This makes me want to be in an acoustic band. You should move to Logan and we’ll start one.” – 5/5 Spencer

“I couldn’t really find an explanation on the name in the brief search I did, but I wonder about the name origin. In Japanese, phonetically saying “toh kay” would mean “watch/clock.” Anyway…

I didn’t bother with the original album, but I did enjoy this acoustic version. I only listened to it once and can’t quite single out any one song as a highlight, but the overall feel and sound of it makes me want to give it another listen. The melodies were pleasant, and I really enjoyed the singing voice. Sort of reminded me a bit of King of Convenience (a group I shared with you guys some months ago that everyone gave positive reviews of). Chill and understated in a good way.  I didn’t love it enough to definitely say I’d like to hear the original, maybe I’ll give a few tracks a listen, because I did like it enough to get me curious. But I have a feeling I’d prefer the acoustic one. Not much else to say really, haha.” 6.5/10 – Chris

Feel free to share your thoughts on that album, the Streetlight Manifesto version, or any of the other albums shared with me this week. That’s what the comments section is for.

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5 thoughts on “I was Looking for a Piece that Fit

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