Hellubunga

Little Barrie – King of the Waves

I love surf music. I don’t know much outside the big names like The Ventures or The Shadows, but it’s a scene I dig. So when I saw a song called “Surf Hell” by Little Barrie I had to ch-check it out. Plunging deep into the fiery depths of the internet I discovered that Little Barrie is an English Power trio that’s been laying down tasty jams for about 12 years. King of the Waves is their third album (released last February) and despite some of the surf inspired names isn’t really surf music, bummer. So I have no I idea why I started this review with my thoughts on surf music.

King of the Waves feels like an homage to some of the grittiest garage bands of the 60s. The riffs here are predominately bluesy, accompanied by typical bad boy vocals, and backed by an equally bluesy shuffle. Instantly I’m reminded of The Greenhornes, another modern bluesy-sounding group that is also coincidentally a three piece. That being said I’m sure I could think of a many bands that sound exactly like Little Barrie. Still they do what they do well enough to keep my interest.

Everyone in the band seems accomplished enough at their instrument and just by looking at pictures of the band I can tell they love classic rock. It’s always a treat to find a modern album that returns back to classic rock roots, but at the same time it feels a little lazy. Instead of using a defined style to build upon and create a new sound, Little Barrie just goes for the relatively safe sound. I appreciate their enthusiasm for the old, but why should I listen to this when I can just go back and listen to the old instead of this? So I appreciate the effort but in the end, Little Barrie comes up a tad short.

Favorite Tracks: “Dream to Live”, “How Come”, “Surf Hell”

A Whale of a Time

Orca Team – Restraint

If there’s one place I can always depend on for new music it’s local radio station KEXP. Orca Team is my latest discovery and a relaxing addition to a relatively lazy summer. Restraint is an album from Orca Team, a Seattle three piece that plays jangly surf-pop. “Night Moves” is the song that sparked my interest with it’s dreamy vocals and bouncy instrumentation. The rest of Restraint follows a similar model of reverb drenched guitars with an energetic rhythm section. The results are laid back but quick and punchy.

I’ve always been a fan of albums that can get their point across with a short runtime, so you know I was pleased when I saw Restraint’s 26 minute duration. The album’s brevity well complements the band’s style, but I still have one complaint. I like dreamy surf pop as much as the next guy, but after awhile it begins to feel redundant. Every song seems to incorporate the exact same effects, song structure, and mood. Just once I’d like to hear two songs that sound completely different. I appreciate that Orca Team has established a sound, but mix it up on a few tracks.

Nonetheless, I’m glad I found this album. It’s calming melodies and jazzy rhythm make up for it’s lack of variation. I’m not really sure what else to say about Orca Team considering they’re still very much in the infancy of their music career. I wish them the best in finding some notoriety outside of the Seattle scene and hope to hear from them again someday.

Favorite Tracks: “Michael”, “Night Moves”, “Ocean Ghost”

The Passion of the Pit

Passion Pit – Gossamer

Back in 2009 when Passion Pit released their first album, they were a group that I certainly saw the appeal of, but nonetheless couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of reservations towards.  Armed with an unending supply of catchy synth riffs and sing-along vocals that were always aiming for the rafters, they seemed a little more preoccupied with getting everybody to dance than making anything resembling art, and for that I liked ’em but never loved ’em.  In the three years since Manners, Passion Pit has certainly gotten huger commercially, but a lot of the band’s notoriety as of late has come from the mental health issues of frontman Michael Angelakos, but with that turmoil has come a certain amount of emotional depth to Passion Pit’s predominantly sugary sound.

The album starts with “Take A Walk”, a song that seems to have become Gossamer‘s big hit so far, mostly thanks to its monster synth riff.  However, the song’s a bit of a misnomer, as it feels more like a track from their first album and doesn’t really reflect the bittersweet nature of Gossamer.  And bittersweet I think is probably a pretty good way of describing the album, since even though it seems that a lot of critics have talked about the more insular and emotionally messy nature of Gossamer, I think a lot of that is just people reading too much into Angelakos’ personal life.  Because honestly a lot of this album is filled with much of the same wide-eyed grandeur that has made Passion Pit such an irresistable slice of electro-infused pop-rock, only this time there’s a tad more doubt and heartbreak thrown into the mix.

And I guess those songs that unabashedly go for that huge pop sound mixed with a dash of meloncholy are the ones that I’ve gravitated towards the most.  “On My Way” is probably the track I’ve grown to like the most for that reason, as well as “Love Is Greed”, whose title and lyrics are about as self-obsessed as the melodies are lovely.  It’s definitely an album where some songs utilize this approach better than others, which makes it hard for me to continue to look at these guys as more than just a “singles band”, but either way Gossamer proves that Passion Pit are a band that still deserves the success they’ve had, if not the baggage that comes with it.

Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Be Alright”, “On My Way”, “Love Is Greed”

It’s Blitz

Rock Band Blitz

Do you still care about Rock Band? Probably not, only the addicts and the hardcore are still jamming these days. Hell, even Viacom decided it cared so little about the series it let Harmonix go. That was before Dance Central became the one universally acclaimed Kinect series, of course. Perhaps emboldened by that success, or driven by a decline in DLC sales, Harmonix has put out a new entry in the Rock Band series that changes, well, a lot.

Unless you played Rock Band Unplugged on the PSP, or the studio’s first two games, Frequency and Amplitude. Then you’d have a pretty good idea about what Rock Band Blitz is like. It’s an arcadey, singleplayer rhythm game that in many ways is the antithesis to the rest of the series’ home console entries. While Rock Band proper is all about simulating a musical experience, Blitz focuses on being a game-ass game, with high score competitions as its focal point. Let me explain.

You have all the instrument tracks in front of you – drums, bass, guitar, vocals and keyboards – coming at you in the way Rock Band does. The objective is to play all the instruments well enough to increase your multiplier, driving up your score. Tracks never disappear, like they did in Harmonix’s other games like this, but their multipliers do eventually hit a cap. That cap goes up at certain points, depending on how high your lowest multiplier is… You know, this sounds way more confusing than it is in reality. You just hit lots of notes and the numbers go up. There are various power-ups that you can unlock and use, just like Overdrive in Rock Band. Beating songs unlocks more power-ups and increases your credibility. And makes your numbers go up.

A big part of the Rock Band Blitz release is a new Facebook app that I am choosing to ignore. But, since Blitz doesn’t have any mulitplayer, that social aspect is pretty important. The game really hits you over the head with leaderboards, there’s one for like, every song. You can issue challenges to friends on specific songs, are just generally try to top the leaderboards, if that’s your thing. This is all predicated on you having friends who still care enough to try to bring their Rock Band music catalogues back to life.

That’s what’s cool about this game, ultimately. I know I’m not the only person who’s sunk hundreds of dollars into DLC for this series, and it’s great to get to use it all again, so long after the party has died. Whoever came up with the science that turned every song into something that’s fun to play with just two buttons is a genius. The game even comes with 25 new songs that export into Rock Band 3, making this a crazy good deal – if you like at least eight songs on the soundtrack, then Blitz pays for itself.

That said, even if you have never bought a single piece of Rock Band DLC, this is still a game worth checking out. Everyone knows by now whether they like playing with tiny plastic instruments, but this style of rhythm game is much less known. That Harmonix has found ways to make it feel more arcadey and intense is awesome, those damn leaderboards kept me playing much longer than I did with Unplugged. And, if you like it, there’s plenty more music out there for you to get. Those devious bastards.

Impressions of Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 is out today, more than seven years since the first game was released. Back in 2005, I was dead set against paying a monthly fee for a game, especially one I had to buy first. So, while the world flocked to World of Warcraft, I played on silly private Ragnarok Online servers. Guild Wars was my first taste of a real MMORPG, a first hit that is now a full-blown addiction. Since then, I’ve played World of Warcraft and its expansions, City of Villains, The Lord of The Rings Online, Champions Online, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, DC Universe Online and probably others that I’m not remembering right now. Guild Wars 2 has made a better first impression than any of them.

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T3 30: Top 10 Albums of 2003

What did 2003 sound like to you? The early 2000s were a time of change, when digital distribution via iTunes and other, lesser services came into its own. When you could actually watch music videos on VH1 and MTV (actually MTV2, it wasn’t that long ago). When a little band called The Darkness came out with an album that changed just about everyone’s life. Now it’s nine years later, The Darkness have reunited and released a new album, and yet, we turn our gaze backward, to that time just before the 2004 election, when it seemed just about anything was possible.

Or maybe not. List’s after the break. If nothing else, you should listen to this episode for a brief appearance by indie music sensation Nick Duncan.

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