Another Earth – music by Fall On Your Sword

It’s an interesting notion, pairing a somewhat morose, navel-gazing (but still compelling) movie with a soundtrack that veers between percolating electronica and moody piano and cello, but the resulting soundtrack is an interesting new entry in the debate about electronica-as-film-score (a conversation that’s been unavoidable since Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won an Oscar with their music from The Social Network.

The main themes of the movie are laid out in two punchy pieces of electronic music, “The First Time I Saw Jupiter” and “Rhoda’s Theme”. The former isn’t a piece of music with any great variety – it stays mostly within a single chord – but it does have an insistent, almost Morse-Code-like rhythm. “Rhoda’s Theme” is more interesting musically, by far, with a repeating but long-lined tune that evolves additional layers and counterpoints, eventually including a wordless female vocal and cello. A new sound emerges in “The End Of The World”, but as it mostly consists of a wall of noise and industrial percussion, it’s difficult to classify it as a theme.

Tracks like “The House Theme” and “Naked On The Ice” are no less synthesized than the tracks mentioned above, but they achieve a more “organic” feel simply by leaving the drum machine off. “The Specialist: Am I Alone?” and “Making Contact” lean more heavily in the electronic direction, without becoming dance tracks like “Rhoda’s Theme.” “I Am Over There” and “Purdeep’s Theme” employ percussion without quite becoming rave-worthy.

Fall On Your Sword turns in a decent score, but somehow it never 3 out of 4quite fits the movie like a glove. The subtler cues are the most at home within the movie, and the more “active” music, while it’s a better stand-alone listening experience, never quite fits as well. It may be best to hear the soundtrack before the movie, and soak up the music independent of the imagery, rather than the other way around.

Order this CD

  1. The First Time I Saw Jupiter (2:54)
  2. Bob The Robot (1:12)
  3. The Specialist: Am I Alone (4:52)
  4. Naked On The Ice (1:46)
  5. Rhoda’s Theme (5:54)
  6. The House Theme (1:22)
  7. The End Of The World (1:54)
  8. Rhoda’s Application (1:37)
  9. Making Contact (1:15)
  10. I Am Over There (4:14)
  11. Purdeep’s Theme (4:22)
  12. The Cosmonaut (2:01)
  13. The Specialist: Look At Ourselves (3:59)
  14. Sonatina In D Minor by Phaedon Papadopoulos (1:18)
  15. Rhoda’s Theme / Running To John (3:50)
  16. Forgive (2:39)
  17. Love Theme (1:58)
  18. The Other You (1:43)
  19. The First Time I Saw Jupiter / End Titles (5:21)

Released by: Milan Records
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 54:11

fun. – Some Nights

fun. - Some Nightsfun.’s debut album was one of those musical first-stretches-out-of-the-starting-gate that made one wonder how the group would top that in the second leg of the race. It turns out they’re doing it quite nicely, even though there are a few stylistic quirks to Some Nights that left me feeling a little bit old. The rock-solid songwriting is more evocative of Queen than ever, and that alone makes fun. worth following.

When I reviewed the group’s first album, I found myself wondering if their chosen band name might be a liability. Perhaps I was worrying too much – in the months leading up to the release of Some Nights, fun. managed to step up its promotional game considerably. The song “We Are Young” was highlighted on Glee months in advance of the album, and it’s also been picked up for a major national advertising campaign as well. This sort of thing shouldn’t be considered “selling out” – if anything, in the download age, strategic licensing of one’s music is bread and butter, and I don’t hold it against anybody trying to get a song placed in an ad campaign. These alliances have served as a showcase of fun.’s music, giving the band the kind of exposure that, in these dying days of radio, no amount of payola can buy.

And it’s really good music. That’s already been mentioned, hasn’t it? It’s really good music. The title track is split across an extended intro and the main song itself; if for no other reason than the prominent F-bomb, the intro will likely be skipped in nearly every broadcast venue. (It’s rather stunning that there’s a video for it, and an uncensored one at that.) “Some Nights” is the first indication that the album of the same name is an entire album of anthems – nearly every song is a celebration of its subject matter, whether it’s youth and the excesses that go with it (“Some Nights” and the perfectly-pitched ’50s rock pastiche “We Are Young”), and resilience in the face of opposition (“Carry On”, “It Gets Better”). With the exception of the world-weary but beautiful “Carry On” (my early favorite out of the entire album) and “Why Am I The One”, Some Nights is upbeat and fun.

If I have a bone to pick with Some Nights, it’s the utterly bizarre use of auto-tune on several songs. I know it’s standard-issue in any studio at this point, but I can’t think of a band that needs it less. After Aim & Ignite, lead singer Nate Ruess was almost inevitably compared to Freddie Mercury of Queen, and given the very operatic, Queen-like “Some Nights Intro”, it would seem that he’s cool with that comparison (and really, what a voice to be compared to!). If there’s a voice in rock music today that needs auto-tune less than Nate Ruess, please point me that way because that person’s probably singing some good stuff too. It’s used here as a style choice, just another tool in the studio arsenal, but I can’t help but feel that it mars the proceedings when it rears its head. Nate Ruess does not need auto-tune. He may just be the best voice in rock today, and I’ll bet he could’ve hit every note without the studio trickery – it cheapens that voice 4 out of 4to turn him into a singing robot.

Give or take a couple of production choices that make it unwisely easy to downplay what an amazing voice fun.’s frontman has, Some Nights is definitely worthy of the hype and build-up that it got. You should definitely keep your eyes and ears on fun.

Order this CD

  1. Some Nights Intro (2:17)
  2. Some Nights (4:37)
  3. We Are Young featuring Janelle Monáe (4:10)
  4. Carry On (4:38)
  5. It Gets Better (3:36)
  6. Why Am I The One (4:46)
  7. All Alone (3:03)
  8. All Alright (3:57)
  9. One Foot (3:31)
  10. Stars (6:53)
  11. Out On The Town (4:21)

Released by: Fueled By Ramen
Release date: 2012
Total running time: 45:49

Read More

Liam Finn – FOMO

FOMOThe eagerly awaited second effort from Liam Finn was a major event for indie music in 2011; indeed, it was easier to find his new album than it was to track down the latest efforts from his famous father or uncle. I’ll Be Lightning had set the bar incredibly high, with across-the-board great songwriting, crisp (if occasionally slightly lo-fi) production, and mind-boggling performances from Finn, who played and sang every note on the album. How could he surpass that opening act?

With FOMO, it would seem that he wasn’t trying to surpass it, but to steer clear of it. As universally lauded as Lightning was, it was a pretty good bet that the follow-up wouldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. FOMO‘s lead single, “The Struggle”, was a sonic mess compared to Lightning‘s panoramic production and gorgeous harmonies – swampy, even more lo-fi, and more suited to fans of shouty punk rock than to fans of the previous album. It was evolved from the loop-based style that Finn had adopted during endless one-man-band touring for Lightning, but was a little off-putting if you’d grown accustomed to I’ll Be Lightning‘s house style.

Fortunately, it’s also an oddball song on FOMO, which opens with four songs as good as anything on Finn’s debut album. “Neurotic World” picks up where the Lightning‘s relaxing, harmony-based pop songs left off, while “Don’t Even Know Your Name” is a jumpier rock song with improbable ascending vocals in the chorus. The one-two punch of “Roll Of The Eye” and “Cold Feet” is the strongest pair of songs on FOMO, and it’s no accident that the latter was quickly rolled out as the album’s second single with an amusing video to match. It’s with these two songs that one of Liam Finn’s major influences can be found: while his father may be aspiring to be the 21st century’s answer to Paul McCartney, Liam is exploring Lennon territory and doing so boldly. If you’ve been missing the John Lennon sound, just as melodic as McCartney but occasionally bolder and more unpredictable, you need to be following Liam Finn’s musical exploits. “Cold Feet” was one of the catchiest songs I heard in 2011.

“Real Late” has a faux-Eastern flavor to it, but loses a lot of the energy built up in the first four songs. This is followed by “The Struggle” and “Little Words”, another low-key number with some great harmonies. “Reckless” gets things back on track with a jumpy punk-pop feel that – as much as I don’t want to make the obvious comparisons – would’ve fit right into the early ’80s Split Enz setlist. “Chase The Seasons” is a pleasant, beautifully-harmonized shuffle, while “Jump Your Bones” closes things out with a bit of a free-form jam – the closest any other songs on the album gets to “The Struggle”.

4 out of 4Most of the album is a real joy, even in its quieter moments. Liam Finn continues to show expert songwriting and performance chops, and some impressive production skill to boot – bits of “Cold Feet” are almost Lindsey Buckingham-esque (perhaps even moreso than anything Buckingham himself has turned out in recent years), and that’s not a bad thing.

Order this CD

  1. Neurotic World (3:00)
  2. Don’t Even Know Your Name (4:09)
  3. Roll Of The Eye (4:40)
  4. Cold Feet (4:16)
  5. Real Late (3:11)
  6. The Struggle (2:52)
  7. Little Words (2:37)
  8. Reckless (2:36)
  9. Chase The Seasons (3:01)
  10. Jump Your Bones (5:37)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 35:59

Read More

Tim Finn – The View Is Worth The Climb

The View Is Worth The ClimbA new solo album that put the lie to Split Enz co-founder Tim Finn’s claims that he was done with his solo career, The View Is Worth The Climb is a welcome, if slightly subdued, new chapter of that career.

A little over ten years ago, Tim Finn was railing against turning 50 by turning out throat-thrashing, experimental albums that dipped their toes into electronica and yet were still a great listen. Now staring down the barrel of 60, he’s mining his material from the almost-normal home life that eluded him for so long, and it’s translating into pleasant listening that’s solidly in middle-of-the-road rock territory rather than actively looking for barriers to break down; it’s no accident that the album’s first track is “The Everyday.”

The lead single “Going Going Gone” is an apt opening act for The View Is Worth The Climb, demonstrating the album’s acoustic-leaning sound and hopeful lyrics. The only tracks that even threaten to break the album’s mid-tempo groove are “Wild Sweet Children” and “Can’t Be Found”, and those are really only a faster flavor of mid-tempo. My two favorite tracks, “Certain Way” and “Keep Talking”, dispense a bit with the carefree tone of the rest of the album, and the latter of the two almost has a ’70s AM radio groove going on.

3 out of 4Overall, The View Is Worth The Climb is a very pleasant listen, if not necessarily one that’ll get everyone out of their seats to dance. Laid-back and relaxing, it’s a nice bonus round of new music from someone who – as of his career-spanning retrospective just a couple of years ago – said he was ducking out of the studio for a while.

Order this CD

  1. The Everyday (3:13)
  2. The View Is Worth The Climb (3:57)
  3. Going Going Gone (3:49)
  4. All This And More (3:59)
  5. Wild Sweet Children (4:13)
  6. Everybody’s Wrong (3:16)
  7. Can’t Be Found (3:40)
  8. Opposite Sign (4:07)
  9. People Like Us (4:06)
  10. Certain Way (3:39)
  11. Keep Talking (3:49)

Released by: ABC Music
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 41:38

Read More

fun. – Aim & Ignite

fun. - Aim & IgniteWhat happens if you splice the DNA of Queen and ELO? You get something not unlike this east coast indie rock treasure’s debut album.

Brimming with unconventional instrumentation for an indie group – there’s a small string ensemble on most songs, and a few songs even add a small brass ensemble and a gospel choir for good measure – fun. is nothing if not confident that their material is strong enough to shine through the unusual approach. (An arrangement assist from Jellyfish alumnus Roger Joseph Manning Jr. probably didn’t hurt – that alone, basically constituting a stamp of approval from a key member of the last band that I can remember storming out of the starting gate with this much originality, should excite fans of good music right there.)

It doesn’t hurt that fun.’s lead singer sounds a bit like a young Freddie Mercury. His range is incredible, and we’re not just talking about a purely mathematical measurement of how many octaves he covers. He can go from sweet balladeer to roaring rocker in an instant – the thought occurs that, on stage, this guy is probably one hell of a showman. (I don’t make comparisons to Mercury lightly, either – that’s hallowed ground for anyone who’s been listening to rock music longer than ten minutes, and [dude] is striding across that ground with remarkable self-assurance.)

Highlights include “Barlights” (normally I wouldn’t get too attached to a song about going on a pub crawl, but the odd juxtaposition of having the praises of the aforementioned pub crawl sung by a gospel choir makes this an instant classic), with “All The Pretty Girls” reminding me strongly of ELO’s “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” with its punchy backbeat and infectious harmony. “I Wanna Be The One” and “Light A Roman Candle With Me” will also be a favorite among people listening for the group’s ELO influences; though the songwriting style is not at all like Jeff Lynne’s, the way the songs are performed and produced is like a comfortable old shoe for those of us raised on Lynne’s repertoire. I also have to give a shout-out to the mad reggae-inspired stick work on “Walking The Dog”.

4 out of 4fun. has a new album coming out in February, Some Nights, which fans are looking forward to eagerly. If it sounds even remotely like fun.’s debut, we might just have a new pop supergroup in the making. The fact that fun. songs have been covered on Glee would seem to indicate that the groundswell of support for them is just beginning – and the amazing thing, in this music-video-dominated age, is that all this goodwill seems to be about a bunch of damned good songs and amazing performances.

Order this CD

  1. Be Calm (4:09)
  2. Benson Hedges (4:00)
  3. All The Pretty Girls (3:22)
  4. I Wanna Be The One (3:36)
  5. At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be) (4:06)
  6. Light A Roman Candle With Me (3:09)
  7. Walking The Dog (3:39)
  8. Barlights (4:17)
  9. The Gambler (4:11)
  10. Take Your Time (Coming Home) (7:51)

Released by: Nettwerk Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 42:15

Read More

Ben Folds / Nick Hornby: Lonely Avenue

Ben Folds / Nick Hornby: Lonely AvenueEver since this album was first announced as a project where Folds would be putting Hornby’s words to music, one question kept running through my head: since when does Ben Folds need help coming up with lyrics for story songs? I mean, the man has practically assumed the story-song-writer throne abdicated by Billy Joel, and almost all of his output is a story song of one kind or another. I mean, if you’re going to have help, you might as well have help from an award-winning novelist, but… Ben Folds needs an assist writing story songs? Really?

As it so happens, it’s not such a bad deal. Folds and Hornby have a mutual admiration society going on, so they’re on each other’s wavelength. And there are some great results from that collaboration, even though at its heart, Lonely Avenue lives up to its name – it’s a bit of a bummer of an album. At the very least, a lot of the songs deal with relationships fraught with mistakes; zoom in a little bit further, and quite a few of them concern themselves with infidelity of one kind or another. Lonely Avenue isn’t the sunniest album to arrive in the past year.

Not that this means there isn’t some great music on there. The highlight of the album is “Password”, which starts out painting its protagonist in a slightly creepy, stalker-ish light as he guesses his way through his significant other’s passwords. His confidence that he knows everything about her vanishes as soon as he gets far enough to figure out that – surprise, surprise – there’s another man. The dramatic payoff is nicely handled musically, and the rest of it is just a gorgeous song with some of the best vocal harmonies anyone recorded in 2010.

A close runner-up for the great harmonizing award goes to “Claire’s Ninth”, which deals with a child of divorced parents wishing she could have “two birthdays” like all of her friends, as opposed to the awkward event that she’s putting up with where various family members are barely maintaining civility.

Somewhat more raucous are songs like “Your Dogs” (a litany of complaints sung to a white-trash neighbor) and the other highlight of the album, “Levi Johnston’s Blues”, chronicling what was likely going through the mind of Bristol Palin’s boyfriend at about the time her mother was announced as a vice-presidential candidate. Its hilarious, not-safe-for-work lyrics are surprisingly apolitical – by the end of the song, no one mentioned in the lyrics really comes across as an angel, not even Johnston himself. And in places, despite the hard-driving chorus, the song is surprisingly pretty.

4 starsOverall, the music is great, and the lyrics are unusually dark – and yes, I do know that I’m talking about someone who once spun a radio hit out of a story about taking his then-girlfriend to get an abortion. Folds has never shied away from heavier lyrical material (and I love him for it), but Hornby’s words seem to lack the deft wit that Folds has used in crafting lyrics before – ironic, since the author of books such as “High Fidelity” isn’t without a sense of humor himself. Lonely Avenue is a lovely ride into some not-so-uplifting territory – music to go along with a rainy day.

Order this CD

  1. A Working Day (1:50)
  2. Picture Window (3:42)
  3. Levi Johnston’s Blues (5:15)
  4. Doc Pomus (4:13)
  5. Your Dogs (3:23)
  6. Practical Amanda (3:52)
  7. Claire’s Ninth (3:49)
  8. Password (5:21)
  9. From Above (4:04)
  10. Saskia Hamilton (3:09)
  11. Belinda (6:13)

Released by: Nonesuch
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 44:51

Tim Finn – North, South, East, West…: Anthology

North, South, East, WestIt’s something of an understatement to say that Tim Finn has earned a best-of album by now. The only catch is that it’s taken so long that there’s probably a whole generation in New Zealand – never mind everywhere else – asking “Tim who?” Hence, North, South, East, West… has a bit of an identity crisis: it’s not just a Tim Finn compilation, but crams in the better part of a best of Split Enz best-of album and selections from Crowded House (well, after a fashion) and the Finn Brothers, in addition to the obligatory new songs designed to hook in everyone who’s already bought all of Tim’s previous work.

With that in mind, you have to forgive North, South, East, West…‘s inherent schizophrenia. The one common thread linking all of this very disparate material is Finn’s extremely versaitle voice. Whether it’s the very orchestrated sound of Split Enz or the relatively stripped-down guitar wash of Crowded House or the Finn Brothers, Finn’s voice cuts through the whole mix every time. His solo work has darted back and forth between more ornamented, Enz-like songs and more acoustic fare, so even if you set aside his non-solo projects, there’s no one sound dominating the entire 2-CD set.

The obligatory new material includes songs we haven’t heard before, and new recordings of songs that we have. Finn covers Split Enz’s “Stuff And Nonsense” as a duet with Missy Higgins, and gives Crowded House’s “It’s Only Natural” a similar treatment with Bic Runga riding shotgun. He also covers the Crowded House hit-in-some-parts-of-the-world “Weather With You” with Neil and Liam Finn. Also included are very stripped-down new versions of “So Deep” (from his very-produced, dance-rhythm-heavy second solo album Big Canoe) and Crowded House’s “How Will You Go”, and an instrumental piano cover of a portion of Split Enz’s “Poor Boy”. I felt that a partial cover was a little bit of a cheat (especially when it’s done so well), and “So Deep” already wasn’t my favorite song from Big Canoe, and it doesn’t really benefit from the toned-down rethink. I’m much more partial to “How Will You Go” in its original form, so this new recording, relieved of most of its beautiful vocal harmonies, certainly doesn’t supplant the original. It’s interesting to note that none of the Crowded House songs on this collection are the original recordings – all of them are re-interpretations.

Fortunately, the genuinely new tracks are a treat: “Into The Water” and especially the jumpy “Light Years Away” are up there with the best of Finn’s output over the past decade, and “Nothing Unusual” winds up being a kind of theme song for the whole compilation: it borrows the main riff from “Many’s The Time” and namechecks Enz chestnuts like “Maybe” and “Malmsbury Villa”, and the lyrics talk about the inspiration for songs in general – it’s a song about when one writes and performs songs, a bit of a meta-song, and a pleasant one at that.

Listening back to the songs chosen from Finn’s large body of solo work, I have to say that generally, the songs are very well-chosen; it seems like Big Canoe and Finn’s self-titled 1989 album were buried for some reason (and I still count the latter among his very best solo work), and his work from the musical stage production Steel City isn’t represented at all, but as many labels as Finn has 3 out of 4been on over the years there may be issues there (which may also explain the Crowded House oddity noted above). Once the compilation moves on to music from 1993’s Before & After, things tend to line up, more or less, with the Tim Finn best-of mixes that I’ve been creating for myself for years. Considering how hard it’s become to find some of Tim Finn’s material, this compilation is probably a good idea for those curious about his work.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. I See Red performed by Split Enz (3:17)
  2. My Mistake performed by Split Enz (3:02)
  3. Poor Boy performed by Split Enz (3:23)
  4. Six Months In A Leaky Boat performed by Split Enz (4:23)
  5. I Hope I Never performed by Split Enz (4:36)
  6. Dirty Creature performed by Split Enz (4:01)
  7. Maybe performed by Split Enz (2:53)
  8. Stuff And Nonsense performed by Tim Finn & Missy Higgins (3:27)
  9. Fraction Too Much Friction (4:10)
  10. Made My Day (3:20)
  11. So Deep (4:15)
  12. How’m I Gonna Sleep (3:52)
  13. Not Even Close (4:18)
  14. Many’s The Time (4:20)
  15. Persuasion (3:52)
  16. Into The Water (3:14)
  17. Nothing Unusual (4:02)
    Disc Two

  1. Weather With You performed by Tim, Neil & Liam Finn (3:43)
  2. How Will You Go (2:59)
  3. It’s Only Natural performed by Tim Finn & Bic Runga (3:44)
  4. Underwater Mountain (3:55)
  5. Dead Man (4:04)
  6. What You’ve Done (3:43)
  7. Subway Dreaming (4:16)
  8. Angels’ Heap performed by the Finn Brothers (2:50)
  9. Disembodied Voices performed by the Finn Brothers (3:37)
  10. Luckiest Man Alive performed by the Finn Brothers (3:59)
  11. Winter Light (4:11)
  12. Couldn’t Be Done (2:53)
  13. Astounding Moon (3:36)
  14. Straw To Gold (3:58)
  15. Out Of This World (3:01)
  16. The Saw And The Tree (4:05)
  17. Light Years Away (3:09)
  18. Poor Boy (instrumental) (1:31)

Released by: Capitol / EMI
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 64:25
Disc two total running time: 63:14