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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pete & The Pirates : Little Death

It's a snow-covered, bleak, cold Saturday here in Michigan. We haven't seen the sun in several days, maybe even weeks until just moments ago when the sun made an appearance through the clouds. We're not sure when the last appearance was. All we're sure of is that the warm days of spring seem to be so far off, we can barely comprehend that something so wonderful can exist here.

Sanity is one of those things that is sometimes difficult to capture and hold during the dead of winter in the north country. Some achieve this noble goal through heat lamps and tanning beds. Some shackle their sanity in winter hobbies and sports. Some just let it go; this is my explanation for all the horrible winter drivers. Some, like this humble writer, find the feeling of warm summer sand between their toes in certain records.

I've been a long time enthusiast of British neo-retro rock. The Brits are masters of taking something old, worn, mostly-cliched, but still loved and turning it into something wonderfully fresh and tasty. Pete and The Pirates are no exception to this statement.

This record pulls elements of almost every major genre of popular music from the past 40 years, blends it seamlessly with a heavy late 60's pop sensibility and masterful songwriting in a package that is not over-produced, well-arranged, and just fun to listen to.

Even the non-upbeat tracks on the album remind me of warmer days and sunshine. The lyrics portray their message very well without being obvious. Most of the tracks are songs of longing and perhaps that's what speaks to me about the days of green grass and warm southerly breezes.

The band is a group that is very good at making music together, but each is not particularly talented in their own right. Musically, the record is not challenging, but the emotion of music is compelling and drives one to continue listening. Throughout, the record is a collection of listenable pop tunes with very little if any filler.

British pop is always a good remedy for the dark days of winter. Pete and Pirates succeed magnificently at re-creating the warmth of summer for those of us trapped in the alpine north country.

A solid 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Carry The Weight - Denison Witmer

Official Website: http://www.denisonwitmer.com
Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/denisonwitmer

While killing time at Schuler's today I came across a "Paste Recommendations" shelf. On that shelf was Denison Witmer's, "Carry The Weight". The name seemed familiar, however I could not put my finger on the music of Denison. After scanning the label and briefly listening to a couple tracks I decided on this over Fionn Regan's, "The End of History", which I had been carrying around for the previous hour or so.

Across the street my wife was catching up with some girlfriends from highschool. She had our two children with her. I had all morning to read through the staff reviews and decide on something, after all I had a giftcard that had to go toward some sort of purchase.

It wasn't until I got home that I really truly listened to the album. The way I listen to albums for the first time probably isn't the way a proper album is to be listened to. Generally, I'll tear open the case and check out the artwork and booklet (if there should be one). During this process I have also started the music and typically I'll listen for 20 seconds or so before switching to the next song. I do this until I reach the end and then decide on the songs that I connected with. Then I go back through listening to my intial "favorites".

Every album has an evolution process with me. Some songs that initially garner my attention, often end up seeming trite in their repetition. Other songs that seem slow moving often show their beauty in their build... and then there is my mood to factor in too. Oh, it can be complex.

Anyway, back to Witmer's music.

1) Beautiful Boys and Girls
The album starts with Beautiful Boys and Girls. With full band instrumentation, and Witmer's soothing and simple vocals. Honestly, the song (as of now) seemed a bit like a boring start to me, and the chorus seemed to repeticious. Although, I did like the change in flow during the bridge and the harmony sung during the chorus. The electric guitar sparked a little more interest toward the end, but just as it seemed to be taking off the song ended (maybe a good thing).

2) Life Before Aesthetics
Life Before Aesthetics is an upbeat tune that proclaims that life is more than just material things. It's a bob-your-head song, a catchy tune with some great organs that kick in during the chorus. I love a good hammond (by the way Blake Wescott is credited for playing that, as well as acoustic and electric guitars, bass, wurlitzer, vocals and producing the album). The end is great with the layered vocals of verse and chorus filling the space simultaneously.

3) From Here On Out
This song starts with a fingerpicking reminescent of Ben Gibbard's playing on "Follow You Into the Dark". In fact, Witmer's voice (especially on this song) is also reminescent of Gibbard. The bass and wurlitzer kick in at the start of the second verse and from there the song just continues to grow. The song ends with, "from here on out it looks like you and me." After just today's listen - this is my favored track - I'm sure that will likely change (see above comment about 'evolution of an album').