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Maria Taylor’s 11:11

April 20, 2006 Leave a comment

Simple answer: release it on your own label. That’s what Bright Eyes’s Conor Oberst did with Maria Taylor’s debut solo effort, 11:11. Conor’s label, Saddle Creek, is now legendary for its emo content. Emo, for those that don’t know, is–on its most basic level–music that is derived from Weezer. Bands include the aformentioned Bright Eyes, Cursive, Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and Taylor’s main band, Azure Ray.

Maria’s career got a major boost when she added backing vocal’s to Bright Eyes’s 2001 album Lifted, or: The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, on the song “Nothing Gets Crossed out. Her performance on that track is, simply put, enchanting. Her voice has a tenderness and sweetness that added to the track about 1000%.

But this isn’t a review of that album, it’s a review of Taylor’s.

11:11 is, without a doubt, one of the best albums released in 2005. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in North Dakota until about last month, at which point I snatched it up and started absorbing. (Yes, I know one can find it on Amazon.com–or through Saddle Creek’s own site–so stop saying “Yeah, but…” I know.) That’s the problem with having an indie label. Luckily, the Fargo-Moorhead area is a college town (we’ve got 3 four-years, a two-year tech college, and a business college), so indie releases show up more often than not. Sometimes they just take some time. Anyway, I digress.

This is the album Conor Oberst wanted to make with his 2005 Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The problem is that Conor’s voice doesn’t lend itself too well to clicks, pops, synth pads, and washes of delay and reverb. Maria’s, on the other hand, does, and does so beautifully. The production is top-notch, and her melodies and multitracked harmonies are open, airy, even dreamy. I said that the first time I listened to it that it made me sleepy, in a good way.

The production, as I said, is fantastic, and I don’t think I could say enough about Mike Mogis and And LeMaster’s productions, as well as their programming. The string arrangements are great, too, and really add depth and emotional swells to the album. The whole album is crisp and clean without being overly sterile. The only production problem I have with it is that essentially all of the lead vocal tracks were double-trackes which makes some of it feel disconnected and unusual.

And with that, we dish out the bad. While this album is markedly better than the same style album from Bright Eyes, Conor’s influence is all over the album. When he makes his vocal cameo on the second track, “Song Beneath the Song”, his voice sticks out like a brain dart, and won’t go away. In a production so clean and perfect, Conor’s voice-that-takes-a-getting-used-to is so out of place, it makes me wish they would have left it out. It’s not bad, just… annoying.

All in all, though, 11:11 is fantastic, and it boasts a few different styles and influences over the course of its roughly 35-minute length. There’s some straight-up singer/songwriter stuff, some fun digital pop bits, and a lot of emo-tinged girl-view rock. I like this album a lot, and the flaws hardly outweigh the achievement.

Now to go buy some Azure Ray…

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Why Maynard Maybe SHOULDN’T Do Side Projects

April 16, 2006 Leave a comment

inre: New Tool single, “Vicarious”

Vedict: alright. Not the best song they’ve done, very “typical” Tool. Maynard’s lyrics are kinda trite, and the vocal style is more like A Perfect Circle than Tool. I’ve heard that they were going to bury the vocals under the instrumentation in the mix, and to a point that’s true. I think with every album, the drums get further and further out front, burying everything else. Mind you, Danny Carey kicks 110% ass, but I really wish I was getting more guitar. The whole thing seems like it’s missing that. Even the more “solo” moments seem buried under the super-out-front drums and bass.

Also, since this is the first single, I’m thinking they went with the same formula as “Schism”, because that’s what it sounds the most like. In fact, it sounds like what I would think APC would play if they wrote “Schism”.

Having said that, though, it seems that they’ve managed to combine the more “metal” moments of Undertow–and, to a lesser extent, Opiate–with the dynamic and more “crushing” sound of Lateralus. But I think everything sounds too tight, too dry. Whereas with Lateralus there was an atmosphere, a feel to the record, this just sounds like A Perfect Circle 3.0. While the there’s some neat syncopation at the end, and Adam whips out some pretty killer arpeggioes at the end, I don’t know how much I really like this song. It doesn’t have the dynamic range that I think it really should, but that may be due to internet compression. I can’t make a final judgement until the album release, but if it sounds like this, I hope the rest of the album is a hell of a lot better, because this is just average. Granted, average for Tool is amazing for most bands, but I’m just not terribly impressed.

Incidentally, that weird thing that sorta sounds like a shaker in the intro and breakdown is actually a Mandala drum pad, made by the guy at Synesthesia and developed with Danny Carey. I suggest checking out the videos of that thing in action. Technology = go.