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Album Review: Emerson Drive – Believe

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There is a thriving country music scene north of the border, and a number of the artists who are mainstays there–Paul Brandt and Amanda Wilkinson come to mind–make music that deserves far better than the reception it has received in the States. Other Canadian imports, however, have fared considerably better, even though those artists have substantially less to offer than their aforementioned countrymen. Emerson Drive is firmly in the latter category, notching three Top 10 hits in the U.S. despite releasing some of the blandest and most anonymous music of the decade.

The touching “Moments” being an aberration in a catalog of otherwise unmemorable material, the band’s fourth album, Believe, takes its music to new levels of irrelevance. Everything that was weak about the band’s three previous records is ramped up here; from a never-ending string of clichés to the constant employment of weird musical hooks that often seem ill-advised and out of place, there simply is no sufficient adjective to describe how awful this album is.

An album that attempts to recreate the success of earlier hits, opening track “That Kind of Beautiful” mimics the rhythm of 2002’s “Fall Into Me” almost to the point of mirroring it, while “Your Last” is a blatant attempt to cover the same ground as “Moments” (one that falls well short of that high mark). “Sometimes the things you love the most you forget to feel,” at the core of “Your Last” is a gripping statement, but the rest of the song fails to build on it, at times utilizing lyrics that seemingly have no relation at all to that very worthwhile message.

So lines like, “Sometimes the stars line up/Sometime the world stands still,” which opens the chorus of “Your Last,” are emblematic of one of the fundamental problems with this album–while there are occasional instances of quality lyrics, they are nearly always surrounded by nonsense, throwaway lines, cliché situations or topical generalities.

The content underneath titles like “That Kind of Beautiful” and “Believe” are so typical and lackluster that anyone in possession of a general familiarity with the last 20 years of country music can predict what they are about without actually hearing them. And in an environment where records are incredibly hard to sell, it doesn’t make sense to release an album that everyone has heard before.

Musically, Believe is an aptly performed album that nonetheless results in disaster. Produced by Teddy Gentry and Josh Leo (who, coincidentally, produced the albums that failed to successfully break Brandt in the U.S.), the mixing throughout is stunningly bad. Lead singer Brad Mates’ voice sounds disconnected from the tracks, layered on top of the music rather than intertwined with it.

The title cut, which features an EQd Mates repeatedly imploring listeners to “Go on, give it a try,” is hectic and rambling, while elsewhere the mix is noticeably loose, boasting little cohesion between tracks that continuously vie for priority. There is a distance between those tracks that creates a musical aesthetic where one instrument is always boldly front and center–which may have served as an interesting recording approach if not for the fact that those individual pieces seem randomly assorted and without interplay. The pulsing rhythms, guitar riffs and fiddles that rotate in and out of the spotlight work independently of each other, as if the parts of these songs were set together without the glue needed to bond them.

There is not a single song on Believe worth hearing. It is an entirely disposable album that is unoriginal, uninteresting and unnecessary.

Jim Malec is a journalist whose work has appeared in American Songwriter, Country Weekly, Denver Westword and others. He is the founder of American Noise and former Managing Editor of The 9513.

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Yelle – Safari Disco Club

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When Yelle arrived on the scene in 2006, it was with “Je Veux Te Voir,” an attitude-packed and hilariously vulgar diss track directed toward rapper Cuizinier for his misogynistic views. The 2007 debut album, Pop Up, spawned two more minor hits with “A Cause des Garçons” and “Ce Jeu.” The French trio, led by singer Julie Budet, established themselves as purveyors of summery electropop. Then, they all but disappeared.

To a certain extent, Yelle have kept busy since their first album, remixing Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘n’ Cold” and appearing on the Kennedy track “John and Yoko,” as well as covering “Who’s That Girl?” by Robyn. However, in such a fast-paced music environment, no one can afford to take four years between albums unless the result is something that could universally be considered a masterpiece. Yelle’s sophomore release, Safari Disco Club, is a good effort that falls short of legendary status.

They’ve grown out of the youthful spirit of Pop Up, though “C’est Pas Une Vie” packs a bright punch, while “Que Veux-Tu” and “Unillusion” make good use of ’80s pop references. Songs like “Chimie Physique” and “La Musique” are much more mature in tone than anything Yelle have released before. There’s also more actual singing from Budet, rather than the sing-rapping previously employed. Safari Disco Club showcases a more developed act, but it doesn’t sound like four years’ worth of growth. The more subdued approach makes sense, but the songs aren’t as engaging as established fans might expect.

The dance scene has changed drastically since Yelle’s debut. This isn’t to say that producers GrandMarnier and Tepr should have gone for a dubstep approach—it wouldn’t suit Budet’s voice, though “S’Eteint le Soleil” has hints of grimey bass—but in an environment where the fresh-faced Londoner Katy B is poised for a takeover, it’s difficult to see where Yelle’s role is now.

The album sounds solid, with plenty of agile synths to spare, but it’s difficult to see what role it plays; it’s not exactly more of the same, but it may as well be. Safari Disco Club is worth a listen, but it fails to assert itself as something that demands listeners’ attention.

https://youtu.be/c53iVBzdBiY

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

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In the five years since Canadian chamber-rock band Broken Social Scene released its last album, lead Scenester Kevin Drew has ably stepped into indie-stardom, nurturing mass-anticipation for the collective’s upcoming opus.

Enter Forgiveness Rock Record. With the Toronto outfit choosing to explore every bit of the space that their physical largesse affords, the wait has been worth it—even if the album requires a bit of stamina in order to fully grasp the triumph.

Perhaps the group—composed of a fluid membership that often numbers well into double digits—is finally becoming exactly what it is they were likely always going to be: a dramatic, sweeping and engrossing baroque-rock troupe. Besides, it’s not often that a group that has featured a melodica in the past acts as though it’s a power-pop trio, which many of their earlier songs have suggested.

While a lack of sonic cohesion does make itself evident, as the result of a mixed bag of styles that can often distract rather than attract, the significant and unifying thread of Kevin Drew’s Jeff Tweedy-esque, achy vocals equip the entire proceedings with immense heart. Some sort of binding agent is necessary, however, due to the divergent styles showcased. By showing off their skills in Post-rock (“Meet Me in the Basement”), bombastic, arena-anthems (“World Sick”), playful prog (“Chase Scene”) and effective melody making (“Texico Bitches”), it’s quite clear that this is a group that is more comfortable stretching their musical legs than the average listener will likely be sinking their teeth into this album.

Given the amount of time between records, not only is Forgiveness Rock Record an example of good things coming to those who wait, but also, to those who also don’t mind putting forth a little effort to gain great reward.

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Album Reviews

EP Review: Dan Fisk — Bruises from the Backseat

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When an album’s liner notes list multiple banjo players on the same song, you know it’s going to be an enjoyable listen. Dan Fisk has two banjo pickers on“Life and Limb,”  from his new solo EP, but that’s not the only thing he’s got going for him on Bruises from the Backseat (out 6/28).

Fisk (an upstate New Yorker who’s spent the past decade in Virginia), has a radio-ready, slightly raspy voice and solid songwriting skills. Album opener “A Thousand Love Songs” is the highlight of the disc, and had it been released fifteen years ago when Vertical Horizon and Matchbox 20 were flying up the charts, Fisk would probably be blowing his nose with $20 bills right now.

The EP’s sole cover is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stranded in a Limousine,” which features fellow area singer-songwriter Ted Garber on harmonica. It feels a little out of place among the more mellow tracks on the record, but it’s definitely a fun listen.

Bruises from the Backseat is a promising solo release from Fisk. Let’s hope a full-length record is next.

Listen If You Like: Duncan Sheik, The Wallflowers, Joe Pug, Jason Mraz

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