The Futureheads-News and Tributes
We’ve all heard the descriptors “angular,” “guitar-driven,” “post-punk” and “new wave” describe lots of releases in the past few years. Many bands these words describe have come from across the Atlantic and are surrounded by absurd amounts of hype. Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party alone received as much indie and mainstream press as anyone has in the past five years. One band that fits the description, and, at the same time rises well above its peers without any hype at all is The Futureheads.
The Futureheads self-titled debut album was released in 2004 and was generally overshadowed by somewhat similar, though much less intriguing, albums that came out that year. It was released in the UK months before its U.S. release on Vice Recordings and while stacked in Best Buys across America, it failed to bring them the recognition they deserved.
The Futureheads debut contained fifteen frantic, meticulously written pop songs that are impossible to take in upon first listen. All four members sing and play at such a frenetic pace that it’s a wonder they have the stamina to play a live show longer than 10 minutes. While comparisons to early XTC and The Police are evident, it doesn’t take long to find out they have a sound of their own.
Their second record News and Tributes, despite being released on Vagrant Records, continues where they left off with their debut. While Vagrant Records is a seemingly odd label to distribute the band in the states, it seems to have worked fine for both parties.
The four part harmonies and ridiculously tight musicianship are still very present. As with the debut, offer a lot to take in upon first listen, but this time they show their ability to bring back the tempo and impress you in more ways than one. Two perfect examples of this are “Fallout” and “Back to the Sea”—both draw you in close then hit you over their head with solid hooks. Every Futureheads song has the characteristic of being quite complex and well thought out. You’d be hard-pressed to find any filler on either album they’ve released. News and Tributes is an extremely well written, original record that distinguishes itself from many releases in the first part of 2006. Hopefully the band’s smart, distinctive pop sensibilities will allow them to continue succeeding album after album in the years to come. -Eric VanValin
Guster- Ganging Up On the Sun
On their third studio album, 1998’s Lost and Gone Forever, Guster achieved something few bands can claim: They took their sound completely to its limits and made the best album possible. To keep with their trend of improving and expanding with each album, Guster tore down their self-imposed walls and embraced the drum kit and bass guitar on 2003’s Keep it Together. Their live show was also bulked up by the addition of Nashville-based multi-instrumental wizard Joe Pisapia for their subsequent tour.
Pisapia officially joined Guster when they began recording their
latest effort, Ganging up on the Sun. Half the tracks were recorded in Pisapia’s home studio in Nashville and produced by Pisapia himself. The other half were recorded in a secluded mountaintop studio in New York and produced by Ron Anello, who produced four tracks on Keep it Together.
Right from track one Ganging up on the Sun has a more sober and mature feel than previous Guster albums. On "Lightning Rod," a dark song ripe with political undertones, lead singer Ryan Miller’s voice swells with dissent and frustration. But while dissent and political awareness are common threads throughout the album, the catchy pop melodies that Guster is known for still abound, as "One Man Wrecking Machine" and "C’Mon" will attest.
Throughout the album’s 12 tracks are Guster’s hardest rocking songs ("The New Underground" and "The Beginning of the End"), their most self-aware lyrics ("Empire State") and their best country song ("The Captain"). Also on this album is Guster’s first seven-minute song, the epic jam "Ruby Falls." Complete with a muted trumpet solo, it sets a new standard for Guster’s musicianship.
Even though this album does contain some of Guster’s more cynical songs and ominous lyrics, it also holds some of their more sincere and optimistic ones as well. The closer "Hold On" rings with rugged determination, and Miller’s voice contains a hard-earned optimism that can only be born after realizing the pitfalls of mankind, the theme for the darker tracks on the album.
While Ganging up on the Sun may not hold any smash radio hits in its dozen tracks, it is a classic Guster album: solid, consistent, musically and lyrically stellar and brimming with catchy melodies. If it is a sign of things to come for the quartet, the future is brighter than the Olympic torch.
Grandaddy –Just Like the Fambly Cat
Maybe Grandaddy wasn’t meant for rock stardom. With their customary beards, caps and beer bellies they’ve always looked more like a travelling trucker support group than a rock band. Maybe they sang too many songs about computers. Perhaps the group from Modesto, California was just too, well, modest, never grasping how influential they were.
With crunchy guitars, contagious melodies, swirling synthesizers and more facial hair than any band since ZZ Top, Grandaddy trademarked a catchy, charming and occasionally challenging style that for better or worse came to be known as “space-pop.” Maybe they could have been big, but now, after 15 years of being under-appreciated and broke, they are calling it quits.
You can hardly blame them. Despite writing brilliantly catchy songs, they never had the surprise single or O.C. appearance needed to launch them into the upper echelon and tax bracket of the indie rock world. Guitarist Jim Fairchild was even run over by his own tour bus (and yeah, alcohol was involved). So when front man Jason Lytle sings “might as well give up, old friends,” on the album highlight "Rear View Mirror," you can only sympathize with the timid high-pitched admission of defeat.
But it is sad to see them go, especially on such a high note. Just Like the Fambly Cat is the sound of a band on the brink of giving up, but far from giving up the ghost. The typically strong but spotty album is easily their darkest or at least most despondent, sounding more like a synth-soaked suicide note than a fond farewell. It’s clear throughout that this is the last we will hear from the scraggly band. Fambly Cat is Grandaddy’s Black Album, but unlike Jay-Z, they leave little doubt that this is the end. By the time the album fades out with Lytle solemnly singing “I’ll never return,” you know he means it.
Fambly Cat is arguably the band’s most accessible album, if not necessarily their best. Perhaps it could have been Grandaddy’s breakthrough album. But now we will never know.