Rooney’s “Eureka” Review

Album Cover

Rooney

“Eureka”

June 2010; Rooney Records

By Emily J Ramey

The first time I heard of Rooney, my college roommate was dragging me to a concert in Manhattan in 2006.  They were still touring on their debut album, and their live show blew me away.  There’s just something about that California rock that captures and ignites universally.  It’s possible that with Rooney the magnetism has something to do with gorgeous indie frontman Robert Schwartzman, but it also may have something to do with their tight retro guitars and powerfully catchy tunes.

I wouldn’t call Rooney revolutionary, but they’ve always been glowing and strong.  Their self-titled debut was all the best of solid 90s style Cali-punk with cult favorites like “Blue Side,” “I’m Shakin’,” and “Sorry Sorry.”  2008’s Calling the World was totally 80s with its sunny harmonies and robust synth work.  Highlights included “When Did Your Heart Go Missing?,” “I Should’ve Been After You,” “Don’t Come Around Again,” and “Paralyzed,” channeling greats like ELO, Queen, and Toto.

On Eureka, Rooney continues to time travel, attributing their first independently produced album to the chunky rhythms and summery melodies of 70s AM rock.  The band’s characteristic flashy guitars, funky keys, and resonant drums are all present on their most recent work, but the songwriting is more sophisticated, the album as a whole a bit more subdued.

The single “I Can’t Get Enough” is bright and choppy with breezy lyrics:“I tell you yes; you tell me no./I ask you why; you never let me know/You close your eyes; I hold you tight/But it’s no surprise, I got no where to go.”  The melancholy piano chords and raw vocals present a subtler effort on “Into the Blue.”  “All or Nothing” is a perfect bridge from Rooney’s past albums to Eureka.  The track’s throbbing drums, blazing keys, and sharp lines (“I’m a’changing every day, changing every single way/I can’t stop this train I’m on when it’s still in motion/I don’t want to fail you now, but it’s a’coming somehow.”) are all reminiscent of “If It Were Up To Me” and “Believe in Me” while remaining congruent with the new tunes.

“The Hunch” is a refreshing and lively song made memorable by drummer Ned Brower on lead vocals.  And “Not in My House” is raging and dirty with its groovy blues bass and seething lyrics: “I know what you’re after/I know why you came her/You got the devil in you seeping out your pores.”

I’ve been a big fan of Rooney since their live show heated up that cool November Friday for me.  Although Eureka feels a little different than their previous albums, I think we can definitely label it as “progress,” and turn it up louder.

452 words

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Hanson’s “Shout It Out” Review

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Hanson

“Shout It Out”

June 2010; 3CG Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

Hanson is another one of those bands that can boast deep, inherent roots in my 90s adolescence.  My memories of Isaac, Taylor, and Zac border on 6th grade obsession (you know, magazine clippings papering the locker, every lyric memorized, requesting radio play of “MMMBop,”… the usual).  1997’s Middle of Nowhere and 2004’s Underneath were staples of boy band pop, distinguishing Hanson from the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync with their bubblegum lyrics and brotherly harmonies.

More recently (and we’re talking 2007-08 here), the boys chopped those long blonde locks and got behind something bigger than themselves – releasing an album, producing a documentary, and even writing a book about “taking the walk,” a term they use to describe their fight against poverty and AIDS in Africa.  Yeah, heavy stuff.  I think it’s safe to say these fair young heartthrobs have become grounded and respectable men.

…But certainly men who are still naturals at sugary hooks and buoyant melodies.  Their virtuoso pop is cleaner and tighter than ever before, but unlike 2007’s The Walk, Shout It Out seems to be a tribute to the lighter side of life.  Each song is glittering and vibrant, their new instrumentation dynamic and fun.

The choice of distinctly R&B-ish “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” as the album’s first single speaks to how ready the band is to move into a new era of their musical career, substituting power pop and falsetto of the past for piano rock and slick guitars.  Other focus tracks include “Waiting for This,” a jaunty, polished opener made for summer pop radio; “Kiss Me When You Come Home,” which grooves and bounces with lines like, “You may give me gray hairs before my time/I’ll be happy just sitting on the passenger’s side/Cause I live for you and me and a lonely drive” and a pretty sweet keys solo; and “Give a Little,” which with its sexy jazz sax and sharp lyrics – “You gotta show her, when she can’t decide/You gotta hold her, with that look in your eyes/When you move in close, take your time” – is one of the most magnetic tracks on the album.

“Make It Out Alive” is radiant, playful, and full of life; “And I Waited” channels 70s disco, complete with vintage-y guitar riffs and driving beat; and “Use Me Up” is a poignant ballad, quiet and simple, with melancholy piano and French horn accompanying world-weary words like, “I’ve carried it all too long/The fear of the pain it brings/Feeling the panic building up/I’d rather the broken heart /Than live in the emptiness.”

Shout It Out is not the stuff of 6th grade obsessions, and Hanson can no longer be fairly categorized as such.  They’ve earned a spot on my summer playlist as a dexterous group with solid, resonant, bright new work.  Go on; let them win you over again; after all, it’s still Hanson.

490 words

Tegan and Sara’s “Sainthood” Review

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Tegan and Sara

“Sainthood”

October 2009; Sire Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

By now you better know that the indie rock duo Tegan and Sara is comprised of Canadian identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin.  The eclectically charismatic pair of women has been gathering critical acclaim for their raw and distinctive power pop since the 2004 release of So Jealous and its single “Walking with a Ghost.”  However, it was 2007’s The Con and its singles “Back in Your Head” and “The Con” that led to T&S’ international renown and household name status.  Ring any bells?  Okay, fast forward nearly two years.

Now, with their six full length album Sainthood, Tegan and Sara are demonstrating their staying power in a rapid-moving industry as well as their ability to adapt and develop their music as the women themselves mature as songwriters, performers, and musical icons.

Sainthood is a badass girl rock album with strong, driving percussion, sharp, choppy vocals, and clever, buoyant lyrics.  Essentially, Tegan and Sara have recorded an assortment of syrupy love songs turned edgy eighties synth pop by the twins’ tight electronic instrumentation and tensely expressive, angular performance.

Sainthood’s track listing is well-balanced and robust.  A few of the can’t-miss songs are “Don’t Rush,” a grungy, distorted tune, simple and distinguishing with its pithy chorus: “One way or another/I’ll find my way to cover/I sing to find my other;” the album’s first single “Hell,” a catchy tour de force with quick wordplay and heavy, upbeat guitar contradicting its darker content; the silky and dynamic tune “The Cure” with its silvery harmonies, mellow flow, and sanguine lines like, “I know the world’s been mean to you/ I’ve got a cure; hold tight./I know the world’s not fair to you/I’ve got a cure for its crimes;” the post-punk-influenced “Northshore,” complete with rebel adolescent lyrics like, “Don’t save me, don’t save me, don’t save me,” and the repeated chorus line, “There’s something so sick about this/My misery’s so addictive;” and the effortless and unpretentious “Alligator,” a sunny tune of love lost.

Tegan and Sara use simplicity and hazy instrumentation to downplay their lyrics, which somehow works in reverse to highlight the duo’s unparalleled ability to speak to the heart of complications in love and other similar stories.  The Quin women are irresistible, but to be fair, they did warn us: “Watch/With a bit of friction/I’ll be under your clothes./With a bit of focus/I’ll be under your skin.”

410 words