By: Keir Bristol
For those hardcore hip-hop fans, the name Whitetrash Shaolin may be a little off-putting. But they do say, never judge a band by their name.
Actually, no one says that, but if they did it would certainly apply here. Whitetrash Shaolin is like Zen Buddhism meets the Pharcyde. The message? Reach a higher state of being and observe what’s going on with your sixth sense, your third eye. You’ll see clearer – especially if you use Whitetrash Shaolin as Visine.
Whitetrash Shaolin beckons back to the hip-hop of yore, where samples were used simply as accent points and where songs were actually used to convey important points. With lyrics like “What if your enlightenment depended on the whole fucking world, everything has the potential to awaken, so through your own skillful means, be a whisky drinkin’, tantric schemin’, lucid dreamin’ settle into the natural state of being,” WTS certainly isn’t just another rap group.
By: Kyle Donley
Originating from the seemingly endless assembly line of underground bands hailing from Texas, Houston’s own Young Mammals recreate ‘60s garage pop with an ear for stadium-sized (okay, maybe amphitheater-sized) sing-a-longs. Their official debut, Carrots (2010-self released), offers 11 organically grainy tunes instilled with Volkswagen-commercial catchiness. In with the Young Mammals, out with the old Arcade Fire.
Okay, so there’s nothing particularly new about Carrots’ Beatles-by-way-of-Dr. Dog sound. However, what sets it apart from other lackluster albums brought to you by similar young vintage souls is not only the songs’ inherent catchiness but the album’s overall cohesive nature. While Carrots is chock-a-block with shambolic pop anthems like the Arcade Fire-influenced “Stay to the Left” and the sunny “Dragon Wagon,” the Young Mammals aren’t afraid to veer from the melodic chant-rock that, more or less, defines the album.
Tracks like the instrumental interlude “Weather Bee” (complete with a sad sack Huckleberry Hound horn section) and the faint ambient room noise of the off-kilter closer “Untitled” immediately differentiates the Young Mammals from the Springsteen-butt-sniffing bar bands who won’t put out an album until every song resembles an over-inflated anthem about an alcoholic garbage man who writes poetry on cocktail napkins. Even more impressive are the slower numbers, such as “8 4 8,” a song who’s chorus croons about Jesus and some cholo named Nestor, and the circus-on-the-beach whimsy of “The Man in the Cannon.”
These variations from song to song - whether they charge with megaphone shout singing, meander with gorgeously slowburning chords or just simply make a clatter of noise - give Carrots a well-textured sound that escapes blandness by never staying in similar territory for too long. However, what ties the album together is the melodic sensibility that every track hints at (some louder than others), as well as the warm production that leaves a vinyl-crackle over every song.
The penultimate track, “Duck,” is a stand-out amongst stand-outs that best exemplifies the separate but equal qualities that make Carrots work so well. Starting with a humble melody, it builds on a chorus of “Oooos” and “Ahhhhs” until it reaches its eardrum rattling coda, finding these Young Mammals locking in rhythmically to a cloud of noise that leads perfectly into the blown-out ear whistling of “Untitled.” The age of the LP may be dead but the Young Mammals sure as shit ain’t.
By: Liz Levine
Having just released his second album of solo work since the end of former band Del Amitri, Justin Currie has taken up a spot in the adult contemporary genre. He pens and delivers easily swallowed, mildly twangy pop-rock with a world-weary outlook and throaty rasp. He might be wizened by experience, or just entirely bitter, but lyrically the songs take a step above their standard pop structures. Even his bio is a mouthful, with a claim to “cramming too many words into odd amounts of bars,” as evidenced notably in “No, Surrender.” A repetitive rant, the song establishes a nice ear to production technique and mood, though the words sound more like a speech with not enough attention to poetic flow. “In My Heart, The War Goes On” edges toward alt-country with an upbeat tone, eventually slipping into a very Wallflowers sound, which is quite the throwback. The guitar work and well-placed harmonies are nice, even though the song itself gets cheesy rather than sustaining its initial promise. Currie’s other songs benefit from attention to production and detail but are a bit weighed down by an air of melancholy that somehow makes the tracks feel languid even when they’re rockin’. The above descriptions taken in whole amount to an odd overall product, in that thoughtful considerations and intriguing characteristics become only so-so songs. Fans of Currie, though, are likely to enjoy this new home that he’s found.
By: John Mabery
Combining elements of rock, jazz, and classical into a parable that reads more like a musical than a concept album, Parachute Musical’s Everything Is Working Out Fine In Some Town (2008) tells a tale of the past four years in the life of principle songwriter/vocalist/pianist Josh Foster, who traveled the country to escape several fractured relationships with family members and a fiancé. The reason Everything Is Working Out works on so many levels is because of how relatable it all seems, from the feeling of disillusionment presented in “College Degree” to the nostalgia of “Flashback ’83.”
Fortunately, Musical manages to maintain an upbeat mood throughout, even while dealing with such weighty subject matter – something that is reflected in the blind optimism of the title, or seen in the standout tracks “Leave Me” and “One More Song.” One can’t help but feel as though Foster and company have hope there must be some kind of American utopia out there everyone longs to escape to, which, despite the fact a lot of their lyrics present a defeatist outlook, Musical never seem to lose sight of.
It will be a lot of fun to see how this band matures, though it seems like it will take a true classic and a lot of alignment of the planets for them to better such an offering as this. But Everything Is Working Out Fine In Some Town is a wholly enjoyable experience regardless, making Parachute Musical a group to be on the look out for.
Japandroids - This Tent
By: John Mabery
Vancouver’s Japandroids didn’t play to as many people as the Dave Matthews Band or Jay-Z at Bonnaroo but their set was just as epic. They certainly rocked harder than those aforementioned artists, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the band. Singer/guitarist Brian King promised from the beginning that even though the heat was clearly getting to him and singer/drummer David Prowse, they were going to play as many songs as possible, even if it killed them.
Fortunately for mankind, the Japandroids didn’t die, and they still delivered one of the weekend’s strongest performances. Performing at the rather casual timeslot of 12:30 on Sunday afternoon, King expressed his surprise that more than five people had turned out to see them. In fact, there were several hundred people there, most of them consciously. It didn’t seem necessary to inform the crowd of the words to “Crazy/Forever” – though King did anyway – as most bellowed the lyrics right along with him.
King and Prowse came to the stage without a set list in mind, opting instead to make it up as they went along, which added to the informal nature of the show. It also gave them the opportunity to cram as many songs into their brief set as possible; a logical path given how brutal the heat was becoming. Songs from last year’s Post-Nothing (2009) were heavily featured, including crowd-pleasers such as “Rockers East Vancouver,” “Wet Hair,” and “Sovereignty,” as well as a raucous rendition of “Darkness on the Edge of Gastown” from No Singles (2010).
In closing with “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” it was evident that though the merciless heat was particularly merciless to the two Canadians, King and Prowse were overwhelmed with the support they had received from the crowd, some of which showed up three hours in advance to see them play. Luckily for everyone who turned out, the Japandroids braved the elements and an unfortunate timeslot and gave the kind of performance that would have been worthy of the entire Bonnaroo admission.
The xx - That Tent
By: John Mabery
When attending a festival the magnitude of Bonnaroo, one hopes that the first performance they catch will set the tone for the weekend to come. For this reviewer, The xx put on the kind of show that set the bar so high that, over the course of the next three days, few bands were able to top them. With several thousand nestled into That Tent, the anticipation was at a fever pitch; it was hard to imagine anyone leaving disappointed.
As has always been the case with Bonnaroo, the late night shows are the best platform for an up-and-coming band to make their name. The xx – more or less in the Thursday headliner spot – took the stage promptly at 11:30. The lights faded as the band launched into the darkly brilliant “Intro” to set the tone, the audience clapping along. The crowd was definitely behind the London-based trio for the entire set, erupting into cheers when the guys kicked off “VCR” and into dance during the final tense moments of “Night Time,” which concluded with bassist Oliver Sim pounding away on a couple of symbols with a pair of mallets.
Beat maker Jamie Smith’s pulsating rhythms underscored the interplay between guitarist Romy Madley Croft and Sim, who did more than share vocal duties. The pair remained locked in a seemingly private dialogue throughout the set, paying little mind to the entranced audience at their feet. Croft and Sim offered the same kind of beautiful, hushed vocals as heard on the album. It became increasingly evident as the set wound down that this has as much to do with their humility as it does with their brilliantly crafted sound.
It was half past midnight when The xx finished their set, the kind of set that rejuvenated an exhausted crowd, the kind that one wished could last into the wee hours of the morning. Despite the fact it couldn’t, this was the kind of performance bound to create a lasting memory that will go down in Bonnaroo lore, certainly one that the weary Thursday night crowd will not soon forget.