Posted by: ericclark | February 23, 2009

Punk-rapper P.O.S. truly ‘Never Better’ on new album

"Never Better"                                                                                                                                                                                            “Never Better” by P.O.S.       

I first saw P.O.S. opening for  fellow Minneapolis duo Atmosphere a few years ago at The Picador in Iowa City. When P.O.S. took the stage, his boyish face and gentle speaking voice made it hard to believe he was going to be any good as a rapper. But as soon as P.O.S. started rapping…whoa. He was a beast, spitting out rhymes with a tough and angry flow that made him sound like he was Chuck D’ s kid brother.

P.O.S. (real name Stefon Alexander, with P.O.S. said to stand for Pissed Off Stef), just released his third album, “Never Better,” and  he’s getting more publicity and critical acclaim than ever before. Add this critic to the list: “Never Better” is a triumph, one of the better hip-hop albums I’ve heard in the last few years. At times, the album reminds me of Nas’ hip-hop classic “Illmatic.”  

Early Nas is a pretty good  comparison to P.O.S. This guy is as much about influencing minds as getting booties shaking on the dance floor. His lyrics are whip-smart and his flow is strong enough to start a revolution. Plus, P.O.S.’s beats are some of the most innovative the rap scene has seen in years. So much so that you can buy an instrumental version of “Never Better” if you want. But I’d go with the real thing. 

Watch the video for P.O.S.’s “Drumroll” below, and hear more from him at his MySpace page.

What do you think of P.O.S.?

Posted by: ericclark | February 16, 2009

Beirut: Natalie Portman’s favorite band?

Beirut                                                                                                                                                Zach Condon of Beirut

In last week’s edition of Hoopla, I admitted that actress Natalie Portman is one of my celebrity crushes. While there are many reasons I like Natalie, one of the most important is that she has great taste in music. A couple years ago, I read an interview with Portman where she said her favorite band of the moment was Beirut. I hadn’t heard of Beirut. So I gave them a listen.

Needless to say, I was impressed. Beirut now is one of my favorite bands. But who are they? Beirut is led by singer and multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon, a kid in his early 20s who’s pretty much a musical prodigy. Beirut sounds a lot like an old-time gypsy orchestra, with plenty of horns, accordion, ukelele and acoustic guitar. It’s all topped by Condon’s deep voice and gorgeous melodies.

This week, Beirut releases a new double-EP, titled “March of the Zapotec/Holland.” The first half, “March of the Zapotec,” finds Condon performing with a 19-piece orchestra from Oaxaca, Mexico. The second half, “Holland,” is just Condon singing over electronic beats.

I haven’t heard much of “March of the Zapotec/Holland” yet, but I’m very familiar with Beirut’s previous work. I recommend the group’s second album, 2007’s “The Flying Club Cup,” and the “Lon Gisland” EP from the same year. Below is the video for the song “Elephant Gun” from the “Lon Gisland” EP. It’s my favorite Beirut song.

Thanks, Natalie. If you ever want to get together and talk music, that would be greeeaaat.

“Elephant Gun” by Beirut

Also check out Beirut’s Myspace page.

What do you think? Was Natalie on the right track?

21st Century Breakdown                                                                                                                                                                                                     “21st Century Breakdown” by Green Day

There it is.

That’s the cover for Green Day’s new album, the follow-up to 2004’s  immensely popular “American Idiot.” As you can see, it’s called “21st Century Breakdown.” No official release date has been set, but word is it’ll be out in May. It’s gonna be huge.

My first reaction to the cover is that it looks a lot like something My Chemical Romance might put out. In fact, it looks a little bit like the cover to My Chemical Romance’s 2004 breakthrough, “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.”

Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge                                                                                                                                                                                      “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” by My Chemical Romance

Interesting. What do you think?

Posted by: ericclark | February 9, 2009

Figuring out Franz Ferdinand’s “Tonight”

Franz Ferdinand                                                                                                                                                        Franz Ferdinand

It usually doesn’t take me very long to figure out if I like an album or not. Two, three listens and I’m pretty much sold or bored.  But Franz Ferdinand’s new one, “Tonight,” is taking some time to sink in.

I was a pretty big fan of these Glaswegian dance-rockers’ self-titled debut back in 2004, and I really loved the first half or so of 2005″s “You Could Have it So Much Better.” I’ve been enjoying “Tonight” so far in a handful of listens, with first single “Ulysses” and 8-minute synth freakout “Lucid Dreams” standing out.

But it seems like the highs on “Tonight” aren’t as high as on past albums. Likewise, the lows don’t seem to be as low. There isn’t a song on here that I’ve taken to skipping, but there also isn’t one that’s truly blowing my mind.

I guess I’ll just have to give it more time. Have you heard “Tonight”? What’s your take?

In the meantime, check out the video for “Ulysses” below. I like it when singer Alex Kapranos whisper-yells “Last night was wild!” Or check out some other songs on the group’s MySpace page.

Posted by: ericclark | February 2, 2009

The Bird and The Bee seduce with electro-lounge sound

Ray Guns are Not Just the Future                                                                                                                                                                         “Ray Guns are Not Just the Future” by The Bird and The Bee

Plenty of reviewers have been saying The Bird and The Bee’s new album, “Ray Guns are Not Just the Future,” seems tailor-made for National Public Radio fans. I’m not a huge NPR fan myself, but I’m still finding lots to like about The Bird and The Bee, and I actually think the group stands a chance at crossing over into the mainstream as the year progresses.

“Ray Guns are Not Just the Future,” The Bird and The Bee’s second album, perfectly captures vocalist Inara George and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin’s electro-lounge sound. Most of the album’s songs find George singing in her wispy voice over Kurstin’s programmed beats, sounding like something you might hear in a the world’s coolest retro lounge.

The video for the album’s first single, “Polite Dance Song,” is below. However, I think the songs on the band’s MySpace page – especially “Love Letter to Japan” – better represent the overall feel of the album. The Bird and The Bee remind me a bit of Mates of State crossed with The Postal Service. It sounds pretty good to me.

Watch middle-aged people dancing to The Bird and The Bee!

So, what do you think?

Posted by: ericclark | January 23, 2009

Concert review: Jewel overcomes din of crowd in Dubuque show

Jewel                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Jewel

 DUBUQUE — Jewel got just a little bit testy Thursday night at Diamond Jo Casino’s Mississippi Moon Bar.

“I know there are a lot of people here on dates hoping to hook up after the show,” said the multiplatinum singer-songwriter about a quarter of the way into her nearly two-hour set. “But, guys, she’s already made up her mind, and all the talking while I’m singing won’t help your case.”


There was a lot of talking while Jewel was singing, but I blame the venue, not the crowd. This was the first show I’ve attended at the Moon Bar, which opened late last year. It’s a very attractive venue, with chic design and decor that gives it the feel of a trendy Las Vegas music club.


The problem with the Moon Bar, though, is that it’s split into four different viewing areas. The floor and loge are reserved seating areas with magnificent stage views, while the second-level bar area and fourth-level mezzanine are general-admission standing areas with terrible sightlines. Many people in those areas seemed to give up on the show and chat with their friends instead.


After Jewel’s admonishment to the crowd, everyone quieted down enough that I finally was able to focus on the show. Jewel, her long blonde hair flowing over her shoulders, looked playful in a flowing green blouse and black tights and high heels. Her distinctive voice was in fine form, with a massive range that allows her to sing in everything from a quiet mumble to an ear-shattering yodel.


Jewel, 34, who performed solo, opened the show with an a cappella version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which probably would have sounded nice if I had been able to hear it over the crowd. She also ended the show a cappella, showing off her impressive yodeling skills. That was easy to hear.


The first of many hits Jewel played was “Hands,” from her second album, 1998’s “Spirit.” The song’s slinky chorus sounded even better live than it does on record. Right after that, Jewel put on her best vocal performance of the night on another “Spirit” song, “Down So Long.”


Throughout the night, Jewel acted like a stand-up comedian between songs, telling funny stories about the many adventures she’s had hitchhiking across the country and living in her car, making me feel like I’ve led a very, very dull life.


Jewel saved a couple of her biggest hits for near the end of the show, “You Were Meant for Me” and “Who Will Save Your Soul,” both from her 1995 debut, “Pieces of You.” Both songs sounded great, and Jewel even joked that the first time she heard “Who Will Save Your Soul” on the radio, she was upset no one had told her she sounded like Kermit the Frog. Talented, and funny? What a combination.


Were you at the show? What did you think?

Posted by: ericclark | January 19, 2009

Glasvegas debuts with stadium-worthy sound

Glasvegas                                                                                                              Glasvegas

There are plenty of arena-rock bands out there. But there aren’t many stadium-rock bands. U2? The Rolling Stones? Yes and yes. This year, it might be time to add Glasvegas to that short list.

Not to say these rugged Scots are on par with U2 or The Rolling Stones, because they’re not even close. But on Glasvegas’ self-titled debut, officially released Jan. 6, Glasvegas creates a humongous sound that would rather reach for the stars than the rafters.

Glasvegas (the name is a combination of Glasgow and Las Vegas) accomplishes this by glazing its music with reverb and distortion, sounding like its echoing out of a stadium with 75,000 fans howling along to frontman James Allan’s heartfelt songs about social workers and deadbeat dads.

Plus, doesn’t Allan (second from left in the photo) look just like the late Joe Strummer of The Clash?

Watch the video for Glasvegas’ “Geraldine,” or check out some songs on the band’s MySpace page.

How do you like Glasvegas?

Posted by: ericclark | January 5, 2009

Falling for Fall Out Boy…again

Fall Out Boy                                                                                                                                     Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy has done it again.

Just about two years ago, when the Chicago pop-punk group was taking over the world with “Infinity on High,” I wrote a column about how I’d fallen for Fall Out Boy. Before that, I refused to give them a chance, getting scared away by cred-shattering terms like “Top 40,” “mall-punk” and “multiplatinum.”

But I gave “Infinity on High” a chance, and it ended up being about the only thing I listened to for most of February 2007. Despite singer Patrick Stump’s assertation in hit “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” that Fall Out Boy’s bandwagon was full, the group gladly let me hop on for the ride.

So when Fall Out Boy’s follow-up, “Folie a Deux,” was released in December, I probably couldn’t wait, right? Wrong. Somehow, my love of “Infinity on High” didn’t make me very excited for more Fall Out Boy music. Maybe the music snob inside of me was coming back to the surface. My response to mid-tempo first single “I Don’t Care” was not to care, and I kind of figured I’d take a pass on “Folie.”

I don’t even know how it happened, but a few days before Christmas I was on and happened upon the MP3 download page for “Folie a Deux.” The album was on sale for $3.99. What a deal! It’s about time download services  learned what a sale is. Figuring $4 was a fair price for “Folie,”  I picked it up.

I haven’t stopped listening since. Fall Out Boy once again has won me over. Now that I’m familiar with “Folie a Deux,” I’d say it’s a better album overall than “Infinity on High.” At least 10 of the album’s 14 songs are excellent, and even those remaining four are above average. Even though there seems to be more of everything on “Folie” in terms of instrumentation and production, somehow the thing comes together as a cohesive whole that I actually want to listen to in order from start to finish.

There are so many hooks on these songs that, at first, it’s a little bit difficult to figure out which is which. Songs like “She’s My Winona,” “(Coffee’s for Closers),” “20 Dollar Nose Bleed,” “What a Catch, Donnie” and “Disloyal Order of the Water Buffaloes” each have three or four hooks that could’ve served as choruses for three or four times more songs.

I’m not saying Fall Out Boy is the greatest band ever. Most of bassist Pete Wentz’s lyrics don’t make any sense and, all in all, “Folie a Deux” is as shameless as a mid-’80s hair-metal album. The thing is, I can’t get these songs out of my head. And that’s a good thing.

Have a listen:

“She’s My Winona”

“20 Dollar Nose Bleed”

“What a Catch, Donnie”

Yes or no?

Posted by: ericclark | December 16, 2008

My favorite albums of 2008

Frightened Rabbit

1. “The Midnight Organ Fight” by Frightened Rabbit 

Don’t be, um, frightened by Frightened Rabbit’s fey name and blurry album cover. This Scottish foursome put out one of the most brilliantly heartfelt rock albums of the year. Singer Scott Hutchison sounds like a drunken poet as he sings about falling in love, breaking up and doing it all over again, while his band churns out scrappy arena rock with shades of U2.

Hutchison definitely has a way with words, dropping bon mots like “While I’m alive, I make tiny changes to earth” on “Heads Roll Off,” “Poke at my iris, why can’t I cry about this” on “Poke” and “My clothes won’t let me close the door, my trousers seem to love your floor” on “Backwards Walk.” “The Midnight Organ Fight” is a major breakthrough from a band with seemingly unlimited potential. By the way, Frightened Rabbit is scheduled to play at The Maintenance Shop in Ames on Jan. 23.

“The Modern Leper”

2. “The ’59 Sound” by The Gaslight Anthem

 If Bruce Springsteen had grown up on punk rock, he might sound something like The Gaslight Anthem. This New Jersey group’s songs are drenched in allusions to “the good old days,” a time when boys greased their hair, girls wore long dresses and everybody danced all night by the light of the moon.

While this might seem like an odd thematic goal for a contemporary rock band, The Gaslight Anthem pulls it off, with singer Brian Fallon’s slight Southern accent leading the way. “We could run all night, and dance upon the architecture,” Fallon sings on “Casanova, Baby!” The Gaslight Anthem makes me want to do just that.

“Casanova, Baby”

3. “Re-Arrange Us” by Mates of State

 Husband-and-wife duo Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner keep getting better with every Mates of State album. Hammel drums and sings, Gardner plays piano and sings, and the result on “Re-Arrange Us” is heavenly. Anyone who thinks marriage equals boredom needs to listen to Mates of State.

Domestic issues usually aren’t a hot topic for a pop band, but Mates of State not only tackles these subjects, they make them sound catchy as all get out. “Bought a home, we bartered right/Two kids two cars, delight,” Gardner sings on “My Only Offer.” And all the cool kids sing along.

“My Only Offer”

4. “Heart Burns” by Tom Gabel

Tom Gabel is the frontman for political-punkers Against Me!, and “Heart Burns” is his first solo outing. Gabel quickly is becoming this generation’s Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer rolled into one, here singing about John McCain (“Cowards Sing at Night”), the election (“100 Years of War”) and sacrifices made by soldiers (“Amputations”). 


5. “III” by The Bronx

 Anyone disappointed by Axl Rose’s over-the-top “Chinese Democracy” might want to check out The Bronx. The Los Angeles band’s searing boogie-rock has been getting some comparisons to early Guns N’ Roses (although overall The Bronx’s sound is a bit heavier). “III” finds The Bronx streamlining its hard-rock sound but maintaining its intensity.


6. “Conor Oberst” by Conor Oberst

On “Cassadaga,” Conor Oberst’s 2007 album with his band Bright Eyes, a symphony orchestra appeared on several songs. Here, on Oberst’s solo debut, there’s nothing nearly as pretentious, as Oberst settles down with some solid roots-rock musicians and puts out an album that’s nearly perfect in its simplicity. 

“Souled Out!!!”

7. “Float” by Flogging Molly

 Flogging Molly slowly has become one of the world’s most popular Celtic-rock bands, with fourth album “Float” debuting at No. 4 on Billboard’s album chart in March. Singer Dave King’s displaced Irish brogue is the band’s biggest strength, and his songwriting reaches new heights on this album.

“The Lightning Storm”

8. “Acid Tongue” by Jenny Lewis

 “Acid Tongue” is Jenny Lewis’ third album in three years, counting 2006’s solo “Rabbit Fur Coat” and 2007’s “Under the Blacklight” with main band Rilo Kiley. “Acid Tongue” finds Lewis embracing the famous Laurel Canyon, Calif., sound of the ’60s, updated for the new century with some hints of snark.


9. “Alas I Cannot Swim” by Laura Marling

 U.K. soul singers Duffy and Adele got all the attention this year in the wake of Amy Winehouse, but here’s betting U.K. folk singer Laura Marling will be the name that lasts the longest. Marling’s voice is a treasure, and her beautiful, world-weary songs belie the fact that she’s only 18.


10. “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay

 Coldplay accomplished the nearly impossible with “Viva La Vida” by creating an album adored by both mainstream listeners and snooty music critics. Brian Eno’s production heightens Coldplay’s artistic tendencies, while the band still reaches for the sky on songs like “Viva La Vida” and “Violet Hill.”

“Viva La Vida”

What are your favorite albums of 2008?




Posted by: ericclark | December 1, 2008

Laura Marling: 2008’s best 18-year-old British folk singer

Laura Marling                     Laura Marling

Following Amy Winehouse’s breakout year in 2007, this year other young U.K. singers like Duffy and Estelle received plenty of attention in the U.S. Flying a bit more under the radar has been Laura Marling, an 18-year-old British folk singer whose debut album, “Alas, I Cannot Swim,” is one of my favorite albums of the year.

Despite Marling’s age, she has nothing in common with the Britneys and Christinas clogging the pop chart. Marling comes across as an old soul, steeped in both 1960s folk and today’s sharp-tongued indie rock.

And oh, what a voice Marling has. I’m a sucker for a British accent, but that’s not all Marling has going for her. Her voice is crisp and full-bodied yet often trails off in whisps of introverted alienation. She probably could be a jazz singer if she didn’t have so much on her mind.

Below is the video for Marling’s “New Romantic,” which is one of my favorite songs of the year. For some reason, “New Romantic” wasn’t included on “Alas, I Cannot Swim,” so be sure to download the song if you end up picking up the album.

Also check out Marling’s MySpace page.


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