Finicky Ears

First Impressions: Annie – Don’t Stop

Posted in Album Reviews, First Impressions by finickyears on November 18, 2009

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Every week, Finicky Ears will review an album as we listen to it for the first time, capturing the initial impact a record makes without the luxuries of repeat listens and second thoughts. This week, we listen to Annie’s follow-up to 2004’s Anniemal.

“Hey Annie.” Ok. Lots of percussion and we’re off. I couldn’t decide whether to do this album or Them Crooked Vultures, so I went with the shorter one. And, as the first chorus is kicking in, I’m totally happy I chose this one. I’ve been listening to The Big Pink a good amount lately and this is not a big jump. I don’t really know what kind of people listen to Annie. It’s basically pop music with electronic tendencies. Wow, the chorus keeps going on towards the end. Over and over, building and building. Pretty rad. I’m impressed.

“My Love Is Better” starts. Faster song, which is good because the first one was awesome, but this is the party starter. This has a rock and roll chorus; guitar riff in the background. I think she just said “I’m so much better, so eat this.” Yeah, this song is basically about how everything about Annie is better than whoever else. Can’t argue with that and gotta love the attitude.

“Bad Times.” The intro here doesn’t even sound like a dance track. Very 80’s and the little two beat in between verses sounds like “There Is a Light that will Never Go Out.”  3 for 3 to start off the record. I need to add that this isn’t the kind of music I normally listen to, but I enjoy Annie. I don’t know if you would call this IDM, but it seems to fit the definition. I was a little disappointed that her cover of “Two of Hearts” didn’t make the record. I love the original and was looking forward to hearing Annie’s version.

I’m getting behind. “Don’t Stop” is playing, track 4. Oh, this is the title track. My least favorite so far. Another attitude track, mid-tempo, but kinda simple for my liking. The chorus is cheesy: “let’s go, you have no, control.” Sounds like Trent Reznor lyrics. Gotta love the obvious, forced rhymes. Anyway, this album has been finished for over a year, but something happened and lots of songs were dropped (including “Two of Hearts”) and it’s finally coming out this month.

Ok, this jam is getting crazy. “I Don’t Like Your Band.” The coolest beat so far, i feel like I’ve heard this song already. I think it’s the single. This is one of those problems only musicians have. Oh, you’re fun to hang out with, but I’m not really into your music. Such a tough life on tour all the time, dating musician after musician. I’m sorry I can’t relate. Cool song though.

Another fast one, “Song Reminds Me of You.” The one is a little Eurotrash…in a bad way.  As I was saying earlier, I don’t know who Annie’s audience is. I don’t think the pop music crowd is into her. Do they play her songs on the radio?  Looks like we got MSTKRFT and Royksopp remixes. So electro-dance hipsters? 

“Marie Cherie.” Slow track, narrative structure. This song also sounds pretty weak. Sounds like French music. I don’t know what French music sounds like, but this is how I imagine it. Not to bash on the French. Phoenix is awesome. So is Charlotte Gainsbourg. This also has a spooky background where it sounds like a ghost is loose in the recording studio. But yeah, French music is cool I guess, but lame imitations of french music are not cool. While, I’m bored, let’s talk about singers who go solely by the first name. There is a long tradition, from Madonna to Cher to Beyonce. It seems to connotate a larger than life status, but Annie seems to parody this more than encompass it.

Another mid-tempo track, “Take You Home.”  This album is losing my interest. I think Annie is most successful when she is having fun (and making us have fun). This song is generic, anonymous sounding, which is the exact opposite of what Annie is going for. Look at the album cover. It’s pretty damn cool, signifying something electric, something special is coming from this artist. I understand than an EP will be released as well, with the songs from the original full length that were cut.

“The Breakfast Song.” Aptly titled. She keeps asking “what do you want for breakfast.” Well, at least this song is faster. But, it’s pretty stupid too. I really don’t know what to say here. I’m kind of embarrassed for her. Jokes are cool, as long as they are funny. I just went back to look at what I wrote about the first few songs because I had forgotten there was a time when I was enjoying this album.

Alright, this song actually sounds promising. Kinda sounds like “Ready to Go” by Republica. Remember that jam? Weird. This is called “Loco.” It’s actually pretty stupid, too. There is something inherently not right about some Scandinavian girl using the word “loco” over and over again. Isn’t there some cool word in Norwegian that means crazy? 

“When the Night.” This might be the ballad. It’s actually nice sounding. Makes me want to hold hands with a pretty girl. Or be on The Vampire Diaries. Or some shit. What the hell am I talking about, this is not my thing. This could easily have been recorded by The Spice Girls. There is nothing on this album that touches that Heartbeats jam she does.

Last song. Finally. “Heaven and Hell.” A bouncy number. In the tradition of Carrot Rope and Fraggle Rock. The kind of song that makes you want to jump around with a lobotomy induced grin on your face. This album started out with so much promise and ended up making me want to kill myself. Who would have thought?

Would I listen to this record again? Nah. Did it work as a cohesive unit? Yeah, it did. And maybe I would like this more if it were my cup of tea, but it’s gotta be a pretty amazing pop record to impress me. Did I enjoy it? For the most part, no. I think the early tracks were excellent and are gonna sound great on dancefloors, but the rest of the album did not live up to her debut.

First Impressions Grade: D+
Possible Grade Upon Further Listens: C to D+

Here is that shitty song “Loco.”

Visit Annie here!

Buy Annie’s album here, maybe you’ll like it more than me?

Here is something to remind you that Annie still kind of rules!

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First Impressions: Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young

Posted in Album Reviews, First Impressions by finickyears on November 5, 2009

Phrazes_cover_small

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Every week, Finicky Ears will review an album as we listen to it for the first time, capturing the initial impact a record makes without the luxuries of repeat listens and second thoughts (and you thought this was just a clever pun based on the last Strokes album title!). This week, we listen to Julian Casablancas’ first solo recording without The Strokes.

The opening song, “Out of the Blue,” sounds, well, kind of like The Strokes. In tempo, at least. The guitar sound is pushed a little farther in the back of the mix, but it has a very typical pop melody that I would expect from Casablancas. Then, about 2 minutes in, there is a pretty rad breakdown and the chorus kicks back in its pop glory. I think I like this! But I can’t understand a single thing he is saying. Heard something about a black leather jacket. For full disclosure, I have to say I did not care for First Impressions of Earth at all. I’m more of a Room on Fire kind of guy, but this doesn’t really sound like either of them.

Track 2 is starting now. Also up-tempo, almost danceable.  As the chorus kicks, I realize it is definitely danceable. Jesus, Julian Casablancas can write a hook. He is taking more risks with his voice. The first Strokes record sounded so easy for him to sing, but especially at the end of the second verse here, he is pushing some high notes. I just looked at my iTunes playlist and realized that pretty much all the songs on this album push five minutes in length. Quick research has just taught me how many Strokes songs on their three albums total five minutes: zero.

Now the single is starting: “11th Dimension.” I have heard this track a couple of times already, and I would totally be dancing if I were not typing feverishly. This is not going to be a lyric lovers album since it’s pretty hard to follow the words. I’m going to guess this song is about time travel – or space travel. I have nothing to base that on besides the title, by the way. I’m taking a dance break.

OK, song 4 seems to be a ballad: “4 Chords of the Apocalypse.” That’s funny. Good one, Julian. I believe in the R&B world, this would be called a “slow jam.” But there is still a very rich sound to it. Yeah, wow. When everything kicks in, it’s like a slow jam on steroids. Still, this is not a song to be taken seriously. Even though Casablancas seems to be singing his guts out, the arrangement has just too much going on for any emotional impact. It sounds good, though, and the composition is ultimately strong. Like I said, Casablancas can write a hook. Really big vocal on the finish here, too.

Track 5: “Ludlow St.” It’s the first song opening on the album that greatly changes the mood. But that only lasts for the intro. The song changes into an “ooh-blah-dee”-ish sing-songy jam. This is even harder to take seriously than the last song. I think we are pushing into the territory of over-production. The melody could be an old country song. Oh wait. I think that is a banjo solo! Maybe a mandolin. Yeah, this is a little silly. You had me, Julian! I thought we were dancing and shit! I’m going to zone out from this song for a second and note how disappointed I am he is playing his L.A. residency at The Downtown Palace Theater.  Not that it doesn’t sound like a cool show, but good tickets are like 50 bucks. I thought solo albums are when you play at the small venues and stripped-down versions of your beloved classics.

Track 6 speeds things up again, the first song to not be instantly catchy. It’s called “River of Brakelights.” Another track that would be at home on a Strokes record. After the initial verse, the song does get catchy. Thank God. It’s like he can’t help writing memorable melodies. There are worse afflictions to have for a songwriter. But the overall feeling throughout this number is disorder. Think post-punk. Think Joy Division. It’s still probably the best song on the album. One of the major strengths of this Phrazes is how the songs build towards something. Whether it is a climax or just a faraway ending point, we are not getting typical verse-chorus-verse structures at all.

Track 7 slows things down again, a less cheesier slow song than song 4: “Glass.” Production quality sounds like Dave Sitek (just checked – he didn’t work on it. Mike Mogis did, though.). This would be a good headphones record. I’m noticing lots going on way over on the left speaker that I am not hearing in my nearer, right speaker. My fingers are starting to hurt. I guess this is how those court reporters feel. Wow, this track just had a pretty rad guitar solo. First one of those on the album so far. Not a cohesive effort, though. The sound maintains some consistency, but it started off as a dance record and seems to get schizophrenic from song to song after “11th Dimension.”

Last song: “Tourist.” You can’t call this record boring. Though this song has a slower pace, the rhythm of the guitars creates a sense of urgency and movement. Every song manages to jam a wealth of sounds in while weaving in and out of the vocal tracks. There is enough here to keep the listener occupied through five or six listens, easy. And I could see this track being one of the growers on the album. We get another guitar solo. One of the fascinating things about this record is how studio-created it seems, where The Strokes always felt like a band. Are those trumpets? I do miss the organic sounds of The Strokes a little. But this is the future, I guess. Nice, big finish.

Wow, that was intense.

Would I listen to this record again? I already am. Did it work as a cohesive unit? Not so much. It felt more like an overview of all the sounds Casablancas has been experimenting with while he waits for the next Strokes record. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but I wanted more. What thrilled me most about this record was that it was so much better than First Impressions of Earth. The songwriting was strong and affirmed that Julian Casablancas is a songwriter worth paying attention to. Hopefully, he has another masterpiece inside of him.

First Impressions Grade: B
Possible Grade Upon Further Listens: A- to B-

Buy the new album before it is released as a really expensive vinyl boxed set.