Portugal. The Man "Censored Colors" Review

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on August 30th, 2008.

Alaska isn’t exactly known as a musical goldmine. Apparently, the state’s frozen woods and arctic tundra aren’t quite apt for great bands — except for experimental rock band Portugal. The Man.

The band’s third album, “Censored Colors,” is decidedly more low-key than the band’s previous work. Its slow pace meanders through the album’s 15 tracks.

But even with the new direction, the band manages to keep its signature sounds intact. The quirky approach and diverse instrumentation the band is known for are all here in spades.

Even the simpler, more acoustic-based songs are densely layered with strings, piano, rich vocal harmonies and a variety of other elements.

The band touches on a variety of musical styles on the album. The opener, “Lay Me Back Down,” is spacey and very much prog rock, while “Hard Times” brings to mind stoner rock bands like Black Mountain or Kyuss.

The album’s centerpiece, “New Orleans,” is a jazzy number that wouldn’t be out of place in some Bourbon Street club.

That song also continues the trend set by “Chicago” on the band’s debut “Waiter: You Vultures” in which the best song on the album is named after a city.

The album closes with the reggae style gang vocals of “Our Way,” which leaves the listener on a very positive, upbeat note.

The album was released on the band’s own record label, Approaching AIRball-oons, and is distributed by Equal Visions Records.

Fans who only liked the heavier, high-energy material on Portugal’s previous albums may be disappointed in “Censored Colors,” but for everyone else, it’s an exceptional piece of work that is a strong contender for album of the year.

Doug Benson "Professional Humoredian" Review

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on August 18th, 2008.

Comedian Doug Benson has recently beaten the stereotype of the lazy pot smoker.

He appears weekly on the VH1 show “Best Week Ever,” co-wrote and stars in the off-Broadway show “The Marijuana-logues,” starred in his own documentary “Super High Me,” and released his debut album “Professional Humoredian.” He’s a self-proclaimed “multi-tasking pot smoker.”

“Professional Humore-dian” was recorded at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles on April 20, and was recently released on A Special Thing Records, which also released records by Paul F. Tompkins, the Sklar Brothers and Jen Kirkman.

The album begins with Benson explaining how audiences may know him. He says they may recognize him from “Best Week Ever” where he says things like “Did you hear Britney Spears got back together?”

The album is decidedly silly. Benson discusses everything from his sexual habits to his favorite movies using silly voices and weird sayings. Some of the biggest laughs on album don’t come from the actual punch lines but from the small little things he says between jokes.

Benson is mostly known for being a pot-comic and much of the material on “Professional Humoredian” lives up to that. He discusses anti-pot ads, the best things to eat when high, medical marijuana and his experience filming “Super High Me.”

The whole album has a very casual vibe and it’s clear that Benson is completely comfortable in his material and his stage persona. Benson just seems incredibly likable throughout; so much so that’s it’s easy to forgive a few of the bits that don’t quite work.

The audience also adds to the casualness of the album. It sounds as though Benson is simply performing for his friends; in fact, comedian Jimmy Dore’s loud, unique laugh can be heard at various moments.

Overall, “Professional Humoredian” is a silly and hilarious comedy record released at a time when few comedy albums make it to market.

“Professional Humoredian” is available at www.aspecialthing.com or from iTunes.

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on August 18th, 2008.

When a band is as completely insane on stage as Monotonix, albums simply can’t live up to the live show.

It’s impossible for an album to capture flaming cymbals and trash cans on heads, and they certainly can’t spray you with beer and various bodily fluids; all of which are commonplace at a Monotonix live show.

The band, which hails from Tel Aviv, Israel, first caught many people’s attention at this year’s SXSW music festival. They were simply the craziest band in Austin this year, even if their actual music was rarely discussed.

The “Body Language” EP, the band’s first American release, does a serviceable job of capturing the band’s energy.

The six relentless songs pound the senses with screaming guitars, driving drums and singer hell-bent on being the living definition of rock ‘n’ roll.

The band is a combination of post-punk, metal, classic rock and garage rock and is clearly influenced by bands such as The Stooges, Blue Cheer and MC-5.

The songs are simple, straightforward and to the point. It’s difficult not to headbang or pump your fists while listening, especially during the title track.

But rocking out is really all it’s good for. At the end of the day, it’s just too shallow and not memorable enough.

If you are looking for a solid album that rocks from start to finish, than “Body Language” may be just what you want. But it’s still no replacement for seeing the band live.

Monotonix will be performing at the Conservatory in Oklahoma City on Oct. 8.

Jim Gaffigan Live Review

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on July 21st, 2008.

It’s not often that the Oklahoma City area gets to see a good, nationally renowned comedian. We simply aren’t a big enough market for most club or theater comics to come here.

But comic Jim Gaffigan made an exception last weekend when he did not one, but two shows in Midwest City.

Both the early and late shows at the Rose State College Performing Arts Center were completely sold out.

Gaffigan is touring to prepare for another Comedy Central special, so most of the material performed was brand new.

Even though the material was new, it seemed somewhat familiar. Most of it covered the same topics that Gaffigan has been riffing on for years, namely food and laziness.

A good chunk of Gaffigan’s set was simply about bacon. He seems to have completely exhausted any possible joke about the pork product.

These bits were funny, but one can’t help but want more from the comedian. He’s been going over the same ground for quite some time.

It was actually when Gaffigan strayed from his typical food and laziness jokes that he really shined. He had one bit about Ticketmaster that was particularly hilarious.

Gaffigan closed the show out with his famed “Hot Pocket” bit, which garnered a huge crowd reaction.

It seemed strange for a comedian to pull out his old bits much like a band would their greatest hits, but the audience ate it up.

Jim Gaffigan is one of the few current comedians who has achieved mainstream success while still appealing to the hardcore, alternative comedy fans.

He currently stars on the TBS hit “My Boys” and recently appeared in the Mike Myers vehicle “The Love Guru.”

Gaffigan’s “Beyond the Pale” Comedy Central special is one of the most popular in the channel’s history.

That special brought viewers his “Hot Pocket” bit that he has become known for.

Perhaps Gaffigan’s two sold out Oklahoma shows will show promoters that comedy can be a draw here and we’ll begin to see more and more comedians come through. But Gaffigan’s performance should tide fans over for quite some time before that happens.

Originally published on Decoymusic.com.

In the year 1997, Titanic ruled the the box office, the first Harry Potter novel was published, we lost Princess Diana and Biggie Smalls, a sheep was cloned, and the songs on On The Run probably would have seemed fresh and original. But, sadly, it’s 2008 and nearly everything on Nineteen Ninety Seven’s sophomore album seems generic and overwrought.

The Chicago band went through some major lineup changes following the release of their debut, A Better View of the Rising Moon, last year. That change clearly has had a huge effect on the band’s sound, as they’ve toned down the pop-punk sound present on their debut in favor of more mature indie rock. One can’t help but think that this change was a bit unnatural and contrived, as they’ve essentially made their sound more in tune with current trends.

The album begins with “One Track Mind, Four Track Heart,” which is as awful as its terrible pun of a title lets on and sets up the album to be nothing but mediocre. The way vocalists Kevin Thomas and Alida Marroni play opposing roles in a relationship is interesting at first, and does spices things up a bit, but the novelty of it wears off fairly quickly. On the Run is chock full of bland relationship songs that we’ve heard dozens of times over. Everything is over-sentimental, overdone, and often cringe-inducing. Lyrics like, “Why is it so hard to fall in love? / You turn it on / You turn it off / My broken heart just keeps on breaking,” on “Zechariah’s Song” can’t possibly inspire anything but eye rolls.

If nothing else, the album is quite ambitious. The band incorporates a wide variety of instruments and is obviously aiming for a large sound. The production is also top notch, with everything sounding crisp, clear, and huge. None of that, however, winds up mattering because the songs simply aren’t there.
Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on July 14th, 2008.

One has to wonder why fruits and vegetables have not been incorporated into more band names. With the plethora of animal related band names, you’d think someone would take note of what those animals were eating.

Obviously Cincinnati band Pomegranates were wise to this line of thinking when they formed in late 2006.

Despite a relatively short year and a half of existence, Pomegranates already have two releases under their belt.

The most recent, “Everything Is Alive,” shows what the band is capable of. They manage to be fun but never cutesy, smart but never smug, and familiar yet completely fresh.

Clocking in at barely 30 minutes, “Everything is Alive” is ridiculously short, and its breezy vibe makes it feel even shorter, leaving the listener wanting more after it ends.

“Everything Is Alive” begins with a short, atmospheric intro and then launches into the infectious “Who/Whom.” It’s crunchy, catchy, and above all else, fun. The song’s breezy attitude continues throughout the rest of the record without any sort of lapse.

The album’s highlight is “Late Night Television,” in which vocalist Joey Cook sings of waiting up late at night, wondering what his supposed girlfriend is doing.

It’s a simple relationship song, but one with a completely fresh take.

“Thunder Island” is another superb track. Its tropical drum breakdown makes it stand out on an album of standout tracks.

Though Cook handles the majority of vocal duties, guitarist Isaac Kerns can also be heard quite often. Cook has a more feminine, poppy voice, while Kerns uses a more traditional rock sound.

The vocalists never trade off of each other, but instead each have their own song segments, which allow them to stretch out and create their own unique sound.

The album has a grittiness about it not often found in records of this sort. Small imperfections pop up throughout, but they give the record character.

Much of this is probably because that the album was recorded and mixed in the span of six days.

There’s an urgency present that would have been lacking had the band used the luxury of more time in the studio.

The claim could be made that Pomegranates are simply grabbing a hold of the current indie rock trend led by bands such as Modest Mouse and Vampire Weekend, but their strong songwriting and fresh vibe gives the band their own ground to stand on.

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on July 14th, 2008.

Whenever anyone talks about The Hold Steady, the words “bar band” are almost always mentioned. And while it’s a bit unfair to limit such a great band to such a simple description, it certainly applies.

The songs on the Minneapolis band’s fourth album, “Stay Positive,” rely on classic rock archetypes and a punk rock sensibility to create energetic bar songs.

The album brings to mind Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Thin Lizzy and The Clash all at once.

One of The Hold Steady’s biggest strengths has always been Craig Finn’s lyrics. His songs are full of intricate stories that are both immensely interesting and instantly relatable.

Though this album doesn’t follow one cohesive storyline like previous Hold Steady albums, it’s still incredibly thematically rich.

The album’s title, “Stay Positive,” definitely represents the album. For the most part, it’s an incredibly hopeful and optimistic record.

“Constructive Summer” begins the album with it’s fast pace, talk of drinking on water towers and claim that “St. Joe Strummer” was their “only decent teacher.”

“Sequestered in Memphis” tells the story of a one-night stand gone wrong. The song’s catchy chorus, keyboard flourishes and driving riffs make it clear why this song was chosen as the album’s single.

The albums title track is another highlight. The gang vocals present throughout the track are especially great.

On “Constructive Summer,” Finn sings “Our psalms are sing-a-long songs,” and with “Stay Positive,” it’s clear that they really are.

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on July 7th, 2008.

In this digital age, artists, such as Girl Talk, don’t even have to play any instruments to create great music. Some simply use their laptop and a hard drive full of mp3s.

Girl Talk is a mashup artist who uses only samples to create his songs, changing and tweaking them to create a cohesive whole.

With the release of his new album, “Feed the Animals,” Girl Talk is pushing the boundaries of what a mashup record can be.

The mashup genre is generally considered a simple novelty, but “Feed the Animals” goes a long way to change that.

Current hits, hip-hop, 80’s pop, 90’s alternative, 70’s dance, and classic rock are all represented here in some form or another.

One of Girl Talk’s biggest strengths is how he has the ability to grab the attention of the listener with nostalgia and familiarity. Even if the listener is hearing Girl Talk for the first time, they have undoubtedly heard many of the songs Girl Talk pulls from. The album is at its strongest when it combines rough rap verses with a slower, more subdued backing.

Huey’s “Pop, Lock, & Drop It,” works perfectly with Journey’s “Faithfully,” and it’s strange how well Girl Talk meshes Lil’ Wayne’s current smash “Lollipop” with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge.”

Though the album is split into tracks, it’s clear it was meant as one long party mix.

Girl Talk is really flaunting copyright law on this album. There are more than 300 samples used, and their copyright holders have cleared none of them. No one has yet come after Girl Talk for copyright infringement, but with his status and popularity rising, it’s only a matter of time.

Girl Talks use of the Radiohead method of releasing “Feed The Animals,” in which fans can go to his website www.ill egalart.com and pay what they want for the record.

So far only established artists such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have attempted this strategy, and it will be interesting to see how it works for a lesser-known artist such Girl Talk.

Originally published in the OCCC Pioneer on June 30th, 2008

The world forever lost one of the last true legends of comedy, George Carlin, June 22.

He was one of the few comedians to become successful without ever compromising who he was.

He was a rare case of someone who became hugely popular because he stayed true to himself, and there will never be anyone like him.

Carlin had long hair, a beard and earrings and dressed casually at a time when comedians were only clean-cut and well-dressed.

He pushed the boundaries of what topics comedians could cover and he fought against obscenity laws.

His “Seven words you can’t say on television” routine was especially controversial and ground-breaking.

Carlin’s foul-mouthed routines were somehow smart and clever enough to appeal to even the most straight-laced of listeners.

Even his biting religious criticisms could be appreciated by the religious community.

Regardless if the audience agreed with him or not, they had to respect because he was simply so funny and smart.

He might be one of the few comedians to have developed a massive fanbase outside of the comedy community without the help of a movie or television career.

Carlin stayed active in comedy until the end of his life.

His HBO special “It’s Bad For Ya!” premiered in March, and he toured regularly. He was in a class all his own when it came to consistency and longevity.

Carlin belongs to a short list of comedians who have mastered the craft. Richard Pryor may be the only other comedian to have had such a powerful effect on not only the world of comedy, but on society as a whole.

To really see how great Carlin was, simply compare his material to that of today’s most popular comedians.

Stand-ups like Larry the Cable Guy and Carlos Mencia perform cliché, trite material dumbed down to the absolute lowest common denominator, whereas Carlin valued originality and expected intelligence from his audience.

Carlin was a counter-culture icon who will forever be missed.