Of Nations, Elephants, Skies and Keys

Courtesy The Black Keys
Proof positive that good music still comes from basements.

In both bearing down on the end of the year at the dayjob and trying to get myself in motion as a writer, music plays a key role. It evokes imagery, makes me think, gets my blood pumping… sometimes, all three. I’ve tried to branch out into new artists and ways of hearing music (that’d be Spotify) but some artists have yet to lose their touch and keep bringing me back.

I just saw VNV Nation in concert this past weekend, and those guys haven’t lost a step. When I first heard the new album, Automatic, I wasn’t sure what to think. It felt a lot like a return to the days of FuturePerfect rather than maintaining the martial feeling of Judgement and Of Faith, Power and Glory. It just didn’t feel as strong. The more I listen to it, however, the more it grows on me. From the statements of individuality in “Space & Time” and “Resolution” to the Praise the Fallen stompy drive of “Control” to the heartfelt inspiration of “Nova”, the album runs a gamut of modern emotions and motivations rather than focusing on a particular time or sentiment. In other words, it’s far more “steampunk symphony” than it is a call to arms. It may not be as strong as their other recent work, but it’s no less meaningful or touching.

“Day[9] made me do it” is a common excuse for StarCraft 2 players dicking around to give him Funday Monday content, and it’s also the reason I’ve been listening to Blue Sky Black Death. The album Noir is full of evocative electronica that reminds me of VNV’s instrumental work mixed with the moodiness of New Order or even Depeche Mode. It has a texture to it that’s hard to describe. It’s fantastic writing music, as there are no lyrics to distract you from what’s going on in your head. They’re unlikely to be as known as the other artists I mention, but you should definitely give them a listen.

Jonathan Coulton has gotten himself a studio album, how about that? No longer just recording songs in his garage or on his iPad or whatever, Artificial Heart has the crisp sound of professional production. He’s never really sounded bad, per se, but there’s a cohesion to this album that speaks to an artist going into a production with a specific plan in mind. Instead of playing it safe with nerd-friendly songs about evil geniuses and furniture stores, though, JoCo plays on themes of loneliness and abandonment. It’s a very mature sound, reminding me of the early albums of Billy Joel. Now more than ever, Jonathan sounds like someone I might know and would want to share a beer with as we get our troubles out in the open.

In an age where auto-tuning and overwrought post production can make anybody with even minute talent a pop superstar, I find myself yearning for more earnest, bare-bones rock music. Enter Cage the Elephant. I can’t recall if I first heard “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” on the radio or in the opening of Borderlands but it definitely made me sit up and take notice. It’s been a while since a new voice has risen to evoke the rebellious days of the Ramones and the Clash, or perhaps Green Day and the Offspring. Their debut album’s very straightforward and catchy, while Thank You Happy Birthday boasts more range and nuance. I’ll be watching (and listening to) these guys.

I also need to get caught up listening to The Black Keys. Two guys from Akron have been cranking out impressive music that’s equal parts hard-nosed rock and heartfelt blues. I picked up their latest album, El Camino, practically on the crunchy catchy merits of “Lonely Boy” alone and found every song to be just as well made, if not better. Brothers is also quite good with cuts like “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ For You”. There’s quite a few more to listen to, and I’m sure I’ll be doing so in the very near future. They have a sound that harkens back to days of simpler music and are about as far removed from the pop scene as you can get.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve been a big fan of Cage, JoCo, and Black Keys for awhile. In fact, I liked Black Keys back before they were on the radio. I heard them play out locally. Awesome band.

    Anywho, VNV Nation is new to me, but since our tastes collide on the rest, I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for introducing them to me.

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