Category Archives: Music Reviews

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Chevelle – Hats Off to the Comfortable Old Model


The early generation Chevrolet Chevelle models were fast, powerful and muscular. Over the years, they morphed into a safer more reliable, and less exciting product.  Unfortunately I see the same thing happening with Chevelle, the hard rocking trio from Chicago.

Their sixth album, Hats Off to the Bull was released last month and generally has got their same comfortable feel, with a few strong songs.  Overall, it seems like the same old safe, mass produced rock and roll.

If you’re a fan of Chevelle, you’ll likely find this year’s model to your liking, especially the first single off of the album “Face to the Floor.”  It’s been a staple on rock stations since it’s release because it’s a powerful, memorable song with an excellent guitar riff and a nice hook that superbly features the guitar and vocals of front man Pete Loeffler.

A few songs later, the album takes a slower and deeper turn with “The Meddler” and it works extremely well.  After “Face to the Floor,” “The Meddler” is the best song on the album.  Unfortunately, it is surrounded by a lot of mediocrity.

Other than the two aforementioned tunes, the rest of the album is really quite average.  There are a few strong rockers in the mix, particularly “Ruse” and “Pinata,” but overall most of the rest of the album blends together.

The band also throw in their now standard offering of one ballad, and it’s one of the highlights of the album, “Prima Donna.” It’s a nice acoustic number and seems to be a good comfortable place for Pete Loeffler.  He’s toyed with the thought of an all acoustic effort in the past and it looks like it would be a nice future project.

All told, it’s a decent album, but like many other contemporaries in the post-grunge arena, this effort seems to be stuck in the same old rut as the prior models.

2011 Top Rock Songs

2011 was an interesting year for rock music, with a tremendous focus on artists with original sounds.  Sure, a few of these tunes have a familiar feel, but far more offer us a unique new sound.  That’s  exciting stuff and leaves me anxiously awaiting 2012. Check out the RARAsFarm Top 25 and let us know what you think.

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Bonus Track: Songbird – The Drowning Men. This album was released in 2009, but just re-released in the US this year. “Songbird” is a fantastic song that evokes darker memories of The Arcade Fire.

25. Shake It Out – Florence and the Machine. She’s back with a new album. Honestly, Ceremonials is not as powerful as 2009’s Lungs, but this tune is solid.

24. Get Some – Lykke Li. The Swedish muse told us this one was about power, everyone still believes it’s about sex.  Either way – the song rocks.

23. Sing – My Chemical Romance.  This is probably the most mainstream song the band has ever released.  It’s a synth-laden anthem in waiting.

22. Burn – Papa Roach. This was one of the few new ones on their live Monsters of Annihilation album. Glad we didn’t need to wait for their next studio album for this one.

21. You Are A Tourist – Death Cab For Cutie. The band’s first number one hit, and well deserved. The guitars and layered vocals are beautiful.

20. The Roller – Beady Eye. Liam Gallagher seemingly channeling the Beatles, and it works very well.

19. If You Wanna – The Vaccines. A fun little ditty that will leave you singing. Reminds me lots of their UK brethren The Kaiser Chiefs.

18. Howlin’ For You – The Black Keys. This one was off of their previous album Brothers. The trance-like bass and drums are addictive.

17. Go Outside – Cults. A great debut from the young duo out of Manhattan. The sound is fresh and new. and features a xylophone solo.  Nice…

16. Help Is On The Way – Rise Against. The band’s highest charting song, and first to really garner some overdue mainstream attention.

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15. Changing – The Airborne Toxic Event. The West Coast rockers do it again. This one again features superb vocals from Mikel Jollet.

14. Baby Don’t Dance – Mother Mother – Ryan Guldemond’s unique vocals highlight this quirky hit from North of the Border.

13. New Low – Middle Class Rut. Finally a commercial success for this under appreciated band out of Sacramento.

12. Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People – The hip, happy song with the dark lyrics swept the world and the festival circuit this summer.

11. Black Night – Dodos. The freight train drums and addictive lyrics powered this song to the band’s most significant airplay.

10. The Sound of Winter – Bush. Gavin and Company are back after a ten year hiatus. and sounding as good as ever.

9. Crystal Vases – The Last Royals. This catchy tune reminisces on a relationship gone bad, and is the highlight of the band’s excellent debut EP.

8. Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant. The best song on our album of the year, Thank You Happy Birthday. The lyrics reflect on life’s disappointments while hoping for something better. (Check out The Albums of the Year)

7. These Days – Foo Fighters. It’s Dave Grohl’s favorite song that he’s written, ever.  Mine, too.

6. Colours – Grouplove. Christian Zucconi’s unique vocal stylings, grunts, groans and a distinctive sound make this the best offering off their excellent debut.

5. What About Us – Handsome Furs. This one brings back memories of a great 90’s rock dance tune from another excellent young Canadian band.

4. Lonely Boy – Black Keys. The only band with two songs on this list, and this might be their best ever. Great stuff off the just-released El Camino.

3. My Body – Young the Giant. These California rockers, created this gem in ten minutes at the conclusion of what was otherwise a crappy day. Amazing.

2. Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall – Coldplay. I think it’s their best ever, and we’ll be listening to this one forever.

1. The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie – Red Hot Chili Peppers. It started with a bass chord Flea couldn’t get out of his head.  It morphed into be the best Rock song of the year.

You can sample all of the songs below…

Rock On – Cretin

The Best Albums of 2011

When I started this, I suspected that when we look back on 2011, we wouldn’t consider this an amazing year for music.  Unlike the amazing contributions we heard both twenty and forty years ago, this year’s contributions seemed a bit  more mediocre.  Nonetheless, after digging through the candidates, it became clear there were a few future classics out there.

So, grab your favorite beverage, crank up the music and check out the RARA’s Farm Farmer’s Dozen, the Top 12 albums of 2011.  Take a look and a listen, and let us know what you think:

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Bonus Selection: The Last Royals EP (read the RARAs Farm review)
This eponymous debut from a talented band out of New York City was one of the best discoveries of 2011.  Everyone knows their wildly popular “Crystal Vases,” but the rest of the EP is just as good, and quite diverse, especially for a four song sampler.  These guys have a ton of potential; look for their first full length album, Twistification hitting the streets soon.

12. Angles, The Strokes
Returning after a five year respite, the lads from New York are back, and in great form.  All of the classic garage sound we’ve come to love from the band, as well as some more modern stuff, and an occasional retro rock flashback – the result is a long overdue strong return. The first cut “Machu Pichu” is a great example of their newer sound.

11. White Rabbit, Egypt Central (read the RARAs Farm review)
The second album from this Memphis based quartet was one of the best hard rock offerings of the year.  Kick Ass features a wide variety of polished powerful rock and has prompted well deserved airplay on stations like SiriusXM’s Octane. The title track is an excellent hard rock tune, while “Goodnight” spotlights more of the ballad side of their repertoire.

10. Move Like This, The Cars
These guys are back for the first time since the eighties.  The only original member missing is the late Benjamin Orr who passed away ten years ago.  The rest of the band sounds eerily similar to their trademark sound that made them New Wave royalty.  It’s odd that so many other bands are tapping into that 80’s vein nowadays, but these true masters couldn’t get a sniff of airplay.  Nonetheless, it’s a nice overlooked return effort.

9. Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie
Benjamin Gibbard and Chris Walla took a new approach for Death Cab on this album, eschewing their previous guitar laden sound for more of a keyboard driven groove.  It’s a refreshing change and makes the album more enjoyable than their previous six.  “You Are a Tourist” and “Stay Young and Go Dancing” are prime examples of the excellent new sound.

8. Torches, Foster the People
A nice debut from the L.A. trio includes their huge breakout hit “Pumped Up Kicks.” Their sound is modern through and through and Mark Foster’s vocals truly unique.  Admittedly there are a few weak tracks on the album, but the good far outweighs the bad.  Make sure you check out “Helena Beat” and “Don’t Stop.”

7. Covering Ground, Chuck Ragan
The long-time punk rocker turned folk troubadour gifted us with this excellent collection of introspective songs early this year. His gravely voice is paired perfectly with the stripped down instruments: an acoustic guitar, a fiddle and a stand up bass.   The songs reflect on a tough life on the road and the loved ones in his life.  Grab a whiskey and give it a listen.

6. Suck It and See, The Arctic Monkeys
Album number four is the band’s best yet.  It’s a different sound for the foursome, and a welcome change.  “She’s Thunderstorms” is a great opening cut on an album packed with excellent tunes all the way through to the closer  “That’s Where You Belong.” “Piledriver Waltz and “Black Treacle” are two of the stronger offerings. Listening to the band I’m reminded of a comfortable old favorite: Echo and the Bunnymen – good stuff!

5. Eureka, Mother Mother (read the RARAs Farm review)
In our album review, we described their unique sound as a diverse collection of alt-country-dance-funkadelic-harmonic rock. It’s impossible to classify their sound as anything but original; they sound like Mother Mother, period. Their sound is all their own, and it’s great stuff. The group revolves around the infectious harmonies of brother/sister combination Ryan and molly Guldemold. The Canadians really shine on “Baby Don’t Dance,” “The Stand” and “Chasing It Down.”

4. El Camino, The Black Keys
The Akron based duo broke through last year with the hugely popular album Brothers. This one might be even better.  There’s a bit more commercial appeal to this one, and the songs will translate well into live versions on their forthcoming tour. It’s straight forward, stripped down raw rock and roll; sounds a bit like a modernized version of Bad Company, if you can imagine that.  “Lonely Boy” is one of the best songs of the year, and has plenty of competition on the rest of the album. “Money Maker” and “Hell of a Season” are two other powerful tracks.

3. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher and friends prove that there is life after Oasis for both brothers.  Liam’s Beady Eye project was decent, but Noel’s new offering is great stuff.   The talented guitarist penned all of these tunes and nails the vocals throughout. Some of the tunes will remind you of What’s The Story Morning Glory era Oasis (“Dream On” and “AKA What A Life”), which is a good thing, and all of them are well produced and written. Favorite track: “The Death of You and Me.”

2. Never Trust a Happy Song, Grouplove (read the RARAs Farm review)
A great collection of songs from this quintet who met by chance at an artists’ retreat in Crete a few summers ago. The band has put together a fantastic assortment of Alt Rock anthems.  The feel of each song is distinctive yet they weave together nicely thanks to the consistent strong vocals from Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi. “Chloe” is the best cut on the album, but has plenty of company including “Colours,” “Lovely Cup,” and iPod favorite “Tongue Tied.”

1. Thank You Happy Birthday, Cage the Elephant
Fantastic album that also has a cool back story: The band basically had an album in the can ready to release when they realized no one was really passionate about what they recorded. They started over leveraging songs that the band members were planning to use for their own side projects.  The result is a tremendous passion-filled trip from the opening notes of “Always Something” through all dozen tunes.  “Around My Head,”  “Aberdeen” and “Shake Me Down are already classics for the quintet from Kentucky. It’s only their second album, but these guys are key linchpins for the future of American Rock and Roll.

There you go, twelve great albums that will define 2011 music for years to come.   Let us know what you think; what did we leave out? what doesn’t belong? And, if you want to take a trip down memory lane, check out how these discs compare with some classics: The Best of 1971 and The Best of 1991.

Rock On – Cretin

 

Checking Out The Perms – Sofia Nights

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The Perms recently released fifth album Sofia Nights spotlights their melodic pop rock blend of music.  The Winnipeg, Manitoba trio has been around for a decade plus and continues to turn out likeable rock music.

The album kicks off with High School High,” a catchy ditty reflecting on those halcyon high school days gone by.  The song has a nice hook “It’s my life and I’ll do what I like, because I’m just another kid and I’m wound up like a string too tight.”  On this tune, and throughout, the threesome’s sound reminds me a bit of The Kooks and maybe even Simple Plan, without the edge.

“It’s You I’m Thinking Of” and “Live For the Day” are two other fun and catchy alternative rock tunes with hit potential, featuring the vocals of brothers  Shane (bass) and Chad Smith(guitar).  The latter has been stuck in my head for days and grows on me with each listen.  They are good representations of the album – generally happy, melodic tunes.

I’d describe the band as power-pop.  It’s good stuff, but I don’t see a breakthrough single on the album.  I liked most of the tunes and was also drawn to the songs where the instrumentation was stripped down a bit, such as the slower “Make It Through” and “Manheim,” which showcase the fine drumming of John Huver and features some of the strongest vocals of the album.

It’s worth a listen.  Check out the album now on iTunes.

Rock On! – Cretin

Drowning Men Beheading The Song Bird

The Drowning Men
The Drowning Men

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Damn, just seeing that album title convinced me that I needed to listen to this band.  Beheading of the Songbird?  Twisted? Maybe. Interesting? For sure. I think I’d describe it as eclectic and hectic – and good for the ears.

I first became aware of this San Diego area quintet when Flogging Molly brought them on tour and subsequently signed them as the first act on their new Indie label Borstal Beat.

The album was originally released in the UK two years ago, but has just now been released in the United States.  It’s an excellent introduction to their powerful and divers music.  It’s a unique sound. I would imagine the progeny of Arcade Fire and The Pogues would have resulted in a band just like The Drowning Men.

Their music is deep and layered, packed with dark lyrics and filled with passion.  It seems as though it would translate fantastically into an excellent live show.  And, you’ll be able to see for yourself this fall, as they tour the country supporting The Airborne Toxic Event.

The selections on Beheading of The Song Bird are hit or miss, but the best tunes are very strong.  “Songbird” is a future anthem in the making. It’s a song about a troubled youngster struggling with the aftermath of something horrible he’s done: “I took all his worries, I cut away his charm. From the nest to the hand, What a mess Iʼve done.” The song starts with some nice keys from Gabriel Messer and features moving vocals from Nathan “Nato” Bardeen throughout; where he seems to channel Arcade Fire’s Win Butler.

“Oracle Meets Weeping Willows” is beautiful and is a fitting intro to another strong song, “Down These Days,” which resembles Arcade Fire.  “Get A Heart”and “More Than This” are also excellent arrangements that spotlight the band broad musical talent. The songs that feeatured piano and keyboards were the most memorable.

The cut with the greatest potential for airplay is “Rita” driven by the powerful drums of Rory Dolan, and melancholy vocals of a relationship gone bad.  It’s got a nice sing-along vibe despite the dour message.

“Courageous Son” is my personal favorite. The lyrics reflect tough times adjusting to life in America. “This is the wishy washy land, That you hold so dear. This is the final cure, This is America. In their hearts you will never win!” The music belies the lyrics and conjure images of a crazy musical carnival ride. It brought back good memories of The Killers and Pogues. Good stuff!

Check out the tracks on iTunes.

Rock On – Cretin

Grouplove – You Can Trust These Happy Songs

Never Trust a Happy Song
Grouplove's latest album Never Trust a Happy Song

I was intrigued by this band the first time I heard their quirky Alt-Rock hit “Colours.” It’s a catchy tune that immediately grabs your attention with the unique and edgy vocals of Christian Zucconi and a memorable chorus.  I was expecting an album packed with similar songs, but “colour” me surprised, as it is a very diverse collection of mostly excellent songs.

The album, Never Trust A Happy Song kicks off with a cool handclap intro to “Itchin’ On A Photograph,” and bounces across the spectrum with a bunch of clever, original, happy pop tunes.  It’s good stuff for the most part and definitely worth a listen. The quintet is clearly taking chances on this album; there’s no cookie cutter recipe for success here.  They throw out a bunch of stuff, lots of different sounds and approaches, and although they’re not all perfect, this album is packed with excellent tracks.

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The first four cuts are all mainstream Alt-Rock tunes, with “Colours” and “Itchin’ On a Photograph” the two with potential to get the most AltNation-like airtime.  But, the album grinds to a halt on the aptly titled “Slow.” Not a bad tune, but it belongs somewhere else on the album. The next few songs are back along the happy vein, “Naked Kids” is a fun ode to adolescent fun, and “Spun” is a catchy tune with a great ukulele intro, another nice surprising nugget on an album packed with them!  Then, it’s another trip down the roller coaster for “Betty’s a Bombshell.”

The next two back-to-back tracks are my favorites on the album. “Chloe” is a fantastic song. Absolutely fun – a blast to listen to, and one of my top 2011 discoveries.  It’s got a bit of a rockabilly sound and features powerful drumming from Ryan Rabin, the son of uber-talented Trevor Rabin.  “Love Will Save Your Soul” is another great track, and spotlights Hannah Hooper’s superb vocals.  Along with “Colours,” these two are the highlights of the album.

As the album winds down, the last few cuts continue to highlight the band’s diversity, “Cruel and Beautiful World” offers Zucconi’s strongest vocals and great harmonies from Hooper and the rest of the band.  It is a beautiful song, and destined to be a soundtrack staple for years to come. On this song and throughout, Ryan Rabin’s production is fantastic.

I have to give the band credit. They’re talented and they’ve experimented a bit here – and it works.  There are a few misses, but for the most part, this is a strong and deep album that features a handful of great songs, and a few more that are destined to grow on you over time.  Buy the album; just rearrange the songs on your playlist.

Cretin

 

Grouplove’s Official Website

Egypt Central’s – White Rabbit Album Review

While doing some online music browsing recently I stumbled across Egypt Central. “White Rabbit” is their sophomore album and one that took some time to produce. This twelve track CD hosts a wide variety of musical tastes, as some songs are all-out hard core rock songs, while others are slower rock.

The lyrics are all very personal and clearly based on personal experiences. Egypt Central doesn’t just make up words for their songs, they sing about things they have experienced, hardships they face, and feelings they must deal with. I think the personal side of their music makes it very easy for people to relate. They sing about such a wide variety of stuff; drugs, heartbreak, abandonment, fear and power, so that almost any person of any background can relate to at least one of their songs.

Their first song, “Ghost Town” opens the album on the calmer side. This is not one of my favorite songs, there’s no real hook and the beat is kind of hard to get into. I thought this song was an odd choice to open the album and it didn’t really leave me dying to listen to the rest of the CD… but boy am I glad that I did.

“White Rabbit,” their second track and first single is one of my favorites! I could listen to this song over and over again. The chorus is extremely catchy, reflecting about Alice from Alice in Wonderland and her magic white rabbit. The lyrics talk about how they keep diving down the hole and can’t seem to break out of this terrible addiction that they have. The more I hear this song the more I love it. There is a line in the middle of the song where John Falls sings; “I won’t be pushed aside, I will be heard. I will get what I want, what I deserve.” And then the entire band repeats the line with much more heart and you sense that they are passionate about these lyrics.

“Goodnight” takes things a little slower. Another one of my favorite songs on the CD, this one really brings out Falls’ focal talent. He spends a lot more time in this song singing soulfully as opposed to screaming and rocking out. The tune shows a softer side to Egypt Central singing about a relationship that didn’t last – “Goodnight, goodnight, this pain won’t last forever.” Once again a very catchy song that’s extremely relatable, and by far one of the best displays of vocal talent on this album.

“Are you ready too… are you ready to… Kick Ass?” The fourth song and currently the band’s most popular, “Kick Ass” has been heard on radio stations and is quickly climbing the charts. I must say I don’t completely agree that this is the best song on the album. It is catchy and a good crowd pleasing song but I feel like there are other tracks that deserve more recognition. “Kick Ass” is probably the most upbeat, head-banging song on the CD. A very hard rock beat with loud vocals, it’s sure to get any rock and roll fan going.

“Change” is another more alternative rock cut and one that also accentuates the singer’s vocals as well as some good guitar riffs. I didn’t love nor dislike this song, it is a good track and suits the album well but nothing extremely different. It is once again a relatable song for most people who need to step up and make changes in their lives before it’s too late.

The sixth song on the album “The Drug, Part 1” is a fun song! On this one in particular, I really enjoy the guitar and drums more so then the vocals. It’s a very fast paced track that keeps my head nodding the entire time. It’s written about drugs, hence the name, and the band’s personal preference on their choices and beliefs on the drug scene.

“Down in Flames” is my least favorite song on the album. It’s not a bad song, just nothing special in my mind. They open with a man talking as opposed to music and the lyrics and beat just don’t really do anything for me. One thing I will say about this song is the guitar has some nice solos in the middle of this song.

“Enemy Inside, Part 2” is another one of my favorites, and another very slow paced song. I really like when Falls slows down the music and you can really hear his voice – which sounds amazing in the beginning of this song. The first verse gives me chills listening to his vocals. You can feel his relationship with the song. I like the lyrics, too, talking about the enemies we all battle inside ourselves. Sometimes our dark problems take control of us – “one last time to feed the enemy inside.” This is a great song.

Ah number nine, “Blame” – This song is a completely different type of song from any song on the CD; a very upbeat, fun song to listen to. The chorus is the highlight of this song – very catchy and the music backing up the lyrics works perfectly. We hear some of Falls’ more raspy vocals in this song and also a bit of his screaming talent. “Blame it’s a dangerous game to play, you better watch who you betray”- the lyrics couldn’t be more true.

“Dying to Leave” is probably the saddest song on the album. Basically a song where a guy just needs a girl to make up her mind and decide if she wants to be with him or not. This is a typical heartache song, well written and performed.

“Surrender” opens up with a very fun guitar, bass, and drum solo. They keep this upbeat tempo going throughout the entire song. It’s a very fun almost dance type track. Definitely not a song you can sit still and listen to. I guarantee you’ll be bobbing your head and tapping your feet by the end of this one. I love this cut and I think it’s very fun.

The last song on the album, “Backfire,” is an interesting way to close out an album. I love the song, it’s very slow, and the vocals once again are amazing. At first I doubted it was even Egypt Central; it sounded so different, but after a few listens I really like it. This track also features the other members of the band singing and it adds a lot to the song. An unexpected end to the album but I was pleasantly surprised.

Check out the album at iTunes:

Mother Mother – Eureka

Eureka! Yup, I’m a little late, but I finally got my hands on Eureka, the third album from Mother Mother, a talented and under-appreciated quintet from Vancouver, British Columbia. Definitely worth the wait for this diverse collection of alt-country-dance-funkadelic-harmonic rock. It’s impossible to classify their sound as anything but original; they sound like Mother Mother, period.  And, that’s just fine for open-minded rock and roll animals like myself.

The album is pretty damn entertaining and definitely worth a few listems. I strongly recommend giving it a few spins (and “yes” it is available on vinyl), as these ditties grow on you.

Eureka is produced by Ryan Guldemold, the band’s principal writer, lead guitarist and male vocalist. Mother Mother also features the vocals of Ryan’s sister Molly and Jasmin Parkin and their three part harmonies are found throughout. Those smooth harmonies coupled with their quirky distinctive music deliver a handful of unique infectious tunes.

The first four tracks are all excellent. “Chasing It Down” kicks off the album. The song is a roller coaster ride of mixed tempos, and features a hook from Ryan’s distinctive falsetto that will bounce in your head for days.  The harmonies from the ladies and 70’s influenced organ riffs are unique and entertaining.  It is followed by “The Stand” the first single released by the band, which features a humorous Boy vs. Girl call-and-answer vocal performance from all three singers. The song is not great, but the lyrics are, as evidenced by Ryan explaining his vices; “There’s women on bikes or just women who straddle.”

“Baby Don’t Dance” is my favorite track off of the album. I reflexively cranked up the volume to this tune, and it became an instant favorite and is just a total blast to listen to. Fantastic vocals, great keys, cool bass and guitar. Simply described, it’s just a great party song, possibly one of my Top 10 for the year. You may find yourself reminiscing about classic B-52 dance tunes. “Original Sin” gets off to a mediocre musical start, but the vocals as usual are superb, with all three vocalists playing key roles.  It’s another one that you’ll find yourself singing along with.

Those first four tunes are all very strong.  Afterwards, some of the songs seem a bit over-produced, but do a good job highlighting the band’s intricate harmonies and clear musical talent, including bassist Jeremy Page and Ali Siadat on drums.

“Simply Simple” is a beautiful song with amazing lyrics from Ryan, clearly showcasing the high end of his great range.  Again the harmonies are dead on.  They remind me of the beautiful harmonies from the 90’s talented yet under-the-radar Voice of the Beehive. “Simply Simple” is immediately followed by “Problems,” which again accentuates the band’s incredible diversity.  This ditty hearkens back to the more rockabilly sound from their earlier recordings.  The guitar is great, Jeremy Page’s bass is superbly hypnotic, and it’s just a blast to listen to. “Oleander” is a big song that again features great vocals, and nice keys.

The remainder of the songs are enjoyable, if not unremarkable.  I feel as though the band was trying to highlight their musicianship, harmonies and diversity. Personally, I’d prefer a few more like “Baby Don’t Dance!”

Check out the album linked below from iTunes, where you can get the entire thing, plus a few bonus tracks for an excellent price of $7.99.