Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coldplay - "Mylo Xyloto" Album Review

Artist/Band: Coldplay
Album: Mylo Xyloto

Just last year I was talking with a friend of mine about the constant evolution in the music industry when the comment was made that "People just don't understand that music changes!" And this is oh so true. Styles have subtly shifted into an electronic pop/based sound in the past couple of years, hearkening back to the 80's and incorporating techno and dubstep influence to create a style all it's own. Some of the aforementioned music is cliche and canned, yet there remain artists who can take the sounds of the times and craft them into something creative and accessible. While many people would say that if a band has a good sound they shouldn't change it, I would say that adapting sound is a sign of a band's maturity and ability to relate to the culture.

With all this being said, one could honestly say that Coldplay is a band without fear. It would seem that way, anyhow, after the release of "Mylo Xyloto", Coldplay's newest and definitely most ambitious project to date! After the popularity of 2008's "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" one would have expected Chris Martin, Johnny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion to continue in the art-rock vein of their music. Or at least the space-rock sound of 2005's "X & Y". Instead, Coldplay viewed their 5th record as an opportunity to start from scratch - seemingly delivering a metaphorical middle finger to all expectations. Already being praised by some and blasted by others, "Mylo Xyloto" is polarizing fans because of it's drastic departure from the Coldplay we've grown accustomed to.

Let's start with the good. On "Mylo Xyloto", Coldplay has created a hypnotizing sound unlike anything they have ever done. Tossing out the alternative and space rock riffs for techno beats and synth riffs, this new record is gaining the attention of the pop market that they had never quite had. "Viva La Vida" had a few hits that became popular in the pop saturated market, but "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" and "Paradise" are two singles that have already crossed over, getting the attention of people who have never before liked Coldplay. The pop feel is strong, with auto-tuning used for effect (such as on the oh-so-catchy "Hurts Like Heaven"), catchy synth hooks and bass drops. Brian Eno is credited as having played on "Mylo Xyloto", and providing what the boys in the band like to call "Enoxification". Eno contributed to "Viva La Vida", and his presence on Coldplay's records certainly takes their music beyond what one might normally expect. Take for instance the electronic beeps and heavily distorted synth of "Princess of China." Speaking of "Princess of China", this tracks features the surprising yet fitting presence of Rihanna. If all this talk of electronics and pop singers is scaring you, don't fret! There is your fair share of classic acoustic-based Coldplay music on "Mylo Xyloto" - the contemplative "Us Against The World", the religious meets sci-fi "UFO" and even the paranoid "Major Minus."

Now the bad..... Sigh. Chris Martin has always been a deep writer; using metaphors, religious imagery and history to influence his lyrics. For "Mylo Xyloto" Martin was apparently inspired by NYC graffiti and the White Rose Movement, which was an intellectual uprising against Nazi Germany. Even though this comes through clear on some tracks, many of the lyrics on this record are shallow and weak. "Up In Flames" for example is one track that attempts to build up, but the lyrics (and the music) fail to ever reach a climax. "Don't Let It Break Your Heart" is another example of a song that just seems to try too hard using pads and riffs rather than focusing on building around lyrics. The songs on "Mylo Xyloto" are all catchy, very radio friendly, and for all purposes are good songs but the problem lies in the fact that they just never seem to ever reach the emotional impact that the previous 4 records achieved.

Where is the newest "The Scientist" or "Fix You"? Where is a pounding anthem like "Viva La Vida"? While "Enoxification" certainly is helping Coldplay gain a new hold on the music market, it's complete 180 seems to be alienating their long-time fans who simply want the good old boys who wrote "Yellow" and "Clocks" back. While I am a huge fan of the new record, I see what they are saying. Electronic music is not a bad thing, but as soon as it becomes a gimmick rather than a tool, it has been abused - and Coldplay is dangerously close to this!

Still, "Mylo Xyloto" is definitely worth purchasing.

Must own tracks: "Hurts Like Heaven", "Us Against The World"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mutemath - "Odd Soul" Album Review

Artist/Band: Mutemath
Album: Odd Soul
Produced by Mutemath

Mutemath never ceases to amaze. Their self-titled debut was a solid indie-alternative record, featuring such fan favorites as Typical, Chaos, Stare at the Sun and Reset. Then there were the mind-blowing music videos! When Paul Meany, Darren King, Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and Greg Hill returned to the studio to record a follow up, the band was split on what musical direction to take. After much frustration and a near break-up, Mutemath decided to scrap everything they had done so far and start from scratch. Recorded in New Orleans, "Armistice" was a huge leap in musical maturity. Featuring a more prominent synthetic and electronic edge, this record was both innovative and accessible. Supported by a live show that is regarded by many as one of the best in the world, Mutemath held onto their position as one of the best alternative bands in the industry (and we'll ignore the fact that their song "Spotlight" was featured prominently on the Twilight soundtrack). Earlier this year however, Mutemath announced that guitarist Greg Hill was no longer with the band, and that the third record had been recorded as a trio. Needless to say, fans were a bit nervous as it was uncertain what was gong to happen next.

I am glad to say that "Odd Soul" is probably the most solid offering yet from the New Orleans rock group. While their previous efforts were more electronic in nature and held more of an alternative rock feel, "Odd Soul" goes back to the band's roots and incorporates soul, funk, blues, classic rock and 80's pop elements for a surprisingly diverse record. The title track, the launch single "Blood Pressure" and several other tracks such as "Tell Your Heart Heads Up", "Allies", and "Cavalries" feature a more raw, almost White Stripes-like, guitar presence. Definitely influenced by soul, funk and blues rock artists, "Odd Soul" is almost an ode to music of the past. Combine that with very soulful vocals, retro 70's drumbeats (Check out the song "Prytania") and the presence of organ and synthesizer, and you have a record that is closer to New Orleans jazz than a Mutemath record.

Lyrically, Paul Meany has always been very artistic and vague, disguising real life issues with rhetoric and metaphor rather than sticking to a particular them. This time around, however, Meany revisits his childhood growing up in a religious family and its impact on him as an individual. This is NOT from a Christian perspective though. Lyrically, Meany is very quick to talk about the problems he has with organized religion and his departure from it. While Mutemath DID come from the ashes of a former Christian band called Earthsuit, they will be quick to assure you that Mutemath is strictly a rock band. A self-proclaimed Universalist, Paul Meany conveys a message of frustration and cynicism on "Odd Soul". I was once a son, now I'm on my own. Wade through everyone, And I've got myself to show. The trials and tribulations seem to always track me down. Gonna ride off into the sunset and try me another town (Odd Soul). Haven't you suffered enough on the straight and narrow? Stand on your own (Cavalries). "Blood Pressure" seems to discuss the effects of legalism - Why can't you do a little more for Jesus? Why can't you? Blood pressure... keep rising. "Walking Paranoia" takes a different angle to the same idea. I am a nervous wreck. Jesus is coming back. Gonna catch me at a porno rack. I'm about to have a heart attack. Am I on hell's highway? Cause I'm walking paranoia. 

Each song on "Odd Soul" follows this theme. While it is depressing to see such frustration coming from such a talented man, Meany certainly raises excellent questions. What kind of a church did he go to that disillusioned him so much? Why is it that Meany must sing I'm undecided if kidding or not. Under the smiling, you never know. Fall in a line if you're standing around. Let the harvester carve your soul (Quarantine)? Both a musically and lyrically intense record, "Odd Soul" makes you think. I can't begin to touch the surface when it comes to the lyrical depth. Each song carries weight and rawness.

I would suggest that "Odd Soul" is Mutemath's strongest work to date. While much darker lyrically, the musical ingenuity is refreshing in a market flooded with pop clones.

Track Listing:
1. Odd Soul
2. Prytania
3. Blood Pressure
4. Tell Your Heart Heads Up
5. All or Nothing
6. Sun Ray
7. Allies
8. Cavalries
9. Walking Paranoia
10. One More
11. Equals
12. Quarantine
13. In No Time