Swedish indie punk-pop band, Peter Bjorn and John, released their new album Gimme Some last month. With this album, they returned to the roots of their first widely successful release by bringing the energy back to their music that they had lost in their previous record, Living Thing. In Gimme Some, they drifted away from the heavier content of Living Thing, replacing the monotony with buoyant lyrics and catchy beats.
PB&J’s story is a common one. Many bands break into the limelight with a catchy single and great album like these guys did with the song Young Folks on their record Writer’s Block. Then, trying to avoid the pressure of recreating the greatness that was their prior album, they decided to go a different direction with the next one. That direction: boring. This happens all too often. Then, after seeing the disappointing results of that new direction, the band comes to the brilliant conclusion that maybe with their next album they might benefit from going back to the style that made them famous in the first place. Genius! What a surprising twist that would be! For Peter Bjorn and John, Gimme Some is that “unexpected” back-to-basics comeback album.
Though the situation these Swedish rockers found themselves in is commonplace and predictable, they defeated the odds and actually made a pretty decent comeback with Gimme Some. The first track on the album, Tomorrow Has To Wait, provided a strong opening for the record. The song employs call and response, which normally fails miserably, but works remarkably well here. The prominent percussion mixed with the simple, yet catchy lyrics and melody ensures that this song will be stuck in your head for some time. Or at least until the next track begins.
The first three tracks on the album make for a good introduction. Dig A Little Deeper has a reggae feel throughout, which the guys emphasize by adding an onslaught of bongos at the end. Following the island flair comes the single from the album, Second Chance. This song has recently been popping up on my ipod quite often lately, and I find myself jamming every time. It’s an all around catchy song, with it’s woo ooos and simple, pop chorus. PB&J use the cowbell in this song– a lot. But, it works. More cowbell! (I couldn’t resist)
Although the remainder of Gimme Some isn’t filled with anything too memorable, it is all good stuff. Peter Bjorn and John kept the upbeat theme going throughout, aside from a couple songs such as May Seem Macabre and Down Like Me. With Cool Off, they bring a more 80s feel into the mix, and it works. Black Book delivers that old school garage punk sound PB&J fans love. The last song of the album, I Know You Don’t Love Me, made for a strong finish; however some people may have checked out by the time the song picks up around 1:45. With simple lyrics and a steady march toward crescendo, the song ends at its very climax.
Peter Bjorn and John made a good album with Gimme Some. Their tactic? They told Spin Magazine that the days of writing and recording were fueled by alcohol, and lots of it. Sounds like a good method to me. The CD begs to be popped in on a bright summer day. None of the songs will be going down in history as anything spectacular, but there’s nothing really wrong with them either. Gimme Some surely won back the fans they lost with Living Thing, and it’s safe to say PB&J won some new fans with it as well. Will Gimme Some be on my playlist this summer? You better believe it.
A couple of friends and I went to a (very) small show tonight. We went out for drinks after, so I am posting-under-the-influence. Hemingway would be proud.
Anyway, the show was to benefit the University of South Florida chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms, which is an organization that acts against self-hatred, suicide and the like. The good cause is the only reason I was alright with paying a ten-dollar cover to go to a place filled with young kids and no alcohol. And an unpredictable lineup.
I had seen local musician-god John Gold play many times back in the day when a few friends had a band that played around town at the same venues he happened to play. Everyone loved him then, with good reason. He is an extremely talented musician and gets the audience involved in ways today’s top artists can only aspire to match. I hadn’t seen him perform in years. When my friend mentioned he was playing this show, and when we found out TWLOHA was benefitting from it, we had no choice but to lace up the chucks and attend.
I had never been to Transitions for a show before. It’s located on the same property as the Skate Park of Tampa, thus it is a grimy little hole-in-the-wall that is teeming with sweaty pubescent adolescents. I have nothing against grimy hole-in-the-walls, in fact I’m quite partial to them. They have character. They have stories. As a writer, I appreciate anything (or anyone) with a good story. It’s too bad the kids get in the way of such delicious filth. With their own filth.
Seriously, son, put on some damn shoes.
I’m getting irritated. Back on topic. (Whatever that is)
We pull into the parking lot and find a space directly under a power-line that is ominously bending under the weight of about fifteen pairs of sneakers (Maybe that’s what happened to that kid’s shoes). We take notice. Typically, a pair of sneakers thrown over a power-line and left hanging by their laces is intended to be a sort of memorial for someone who died. I’d like to know if the large amount of shoes is meant for one person or many. Or if the artisan of the hanging footwear exposition was even aware of the implied meaning behind his piece.
Either way, it was quite an entrance. As if to say, “Welcome to the Skate Park of Tampa, be fucking careful.”
Good thing we came for the music.
We walk into the cramped room. Our wallets are then raped by charity. We are banded. And we find a place to sit while the first band sets up. They begin soundcheck.
I can’t sit through this. It’s a 12×12 room and the sound technician is under the impression it’s an amphitheater. The double-bass drumming begins. The depths of hell open up and surge out through the gaping mouth of the band’s front-man. We get the hell out.
And so does everyone else, apparently. There’s a pretty large gathering around the entrance. We sit outside through the entire first set. It was unbearable. We watch as people file out of the building, a little bit disoriented and with pained expressions on their faces. It’s ok, we understand. You’re in a safe place now.
Forty-five minutes later, the noise eases. John Gold goes back inside to set up and we follow. So do about thirty others.
We re-claim our seats and the show begins. Even John’s sound check was beautiful.
The tiny room is full again, and a feeling of optimism has filled the air at the site of an acoustic guitar. John picks up his roughed-up old instrument. With the improvised shoe-lace guitar strap around his neck, his back faces the crowd. A distinctive drumming begins and is sent cascading over the crowd from the speakers. John continues beating on the body of the old guitar.
Fueled by the heartbeat of the percussion, the melodic guitar begins and John Gold is in action. Every single person in the room is immersed in the aura of John’s talent. He is infinitely better than I remember. No amount of written words can aptly describe the music John so deftly and fluidly creates and performs. It must be experienced.
The skillfully picked strings, effervescent beats and unrestricted vocals are backed up by the distinct passion John puts into every lyric, chord and rhythm.
This is the gold of local music. This is why we go to shows. This is why we sit through ear-piercing screeches and set after set of mediocrity. This is where it all becomes worth it. This is when we are truly moved.
It takes sifting through a whole lot of dirt and commonplace rock in order to get to the Gold. (How’s that for a metaphor?)
Despite my lack of a sweet-tooth, I have always loved Cake (cue the rimshot). Their music has been on my playlists, mix CDs, and radio stations of choice ever since I can remember. I probably listen to at least one of their songs every day. Excessive? Maybe. But certain music is the bread-and-butter of our lives and of what composes our taste. Cake is one of those bands for me. I like weird. Cake is weird. Whether you like them or not, you can recognize one of their songs almost immediately. So many bands these days sound nearly identical. Cake will never fall into that category. From the vocal style that is a semi-monotonous cross between singing and talking (nothing like Ke$ha, don’t worry), to the eclectic mix of musical styles (alternative rock, ska, rockabilly, jazz, rap), to the lyrics and word-play, Cake is unmistakeable. Being so different comes with its downfalls, though. For example, hatred. That’s cool, whatever, to each his own. But Cake rocks and you must hate all music, rainbows, and your mother if you disagree.
But onto the subject of their newest album, Showroom of Compassion. I’m not going to beat around the bush like so many others do. I don’t really care what obscure old school song Federal Funding kind of reminds you of. What I do care about? The fact that Cake let us down. Keep in mind I am comparing Cake to themselves and only themselves here. They’ve done better. They create classics. There isn’t one classic-to-be on this album. It seems they just really wanted to come out with one last record, and the result was watered-down versions of their old stuff and weak attempts at different styles. I will always respect Cake as a band. That will never change. However, they need to realize that there is a time to stop putting out music if you don’t have something as good as what you did before. There is a name to be upheld, and it is delicious. By releasing simply decent music, they diminish the value of their old stuff– the great stuff. Let your timeless songs be timeless. Don’t soil your good name.
Don’t get me wrong, the album isn’t terrible by any means. In fact, it’s pretty good. If it came from some no-name, unsigned, up-and-coming band I would be thoroughly impressed. But like I said, Cake has standards to live up to. If I look at Showroom of Compassion independently of the band’s past albums, it’s more than redeemable.
Let’s go through this track-by-track. Because half-assed means somewhat thorough, apparently. At least when I’m stuck inside due to a tornado warning it does.
Federal Funding- The first 3 seconds or so are promising with a catchy melody. Lead singer John McCrea keeps with his usual style, which is good. But the lyrics are straight up lazy. Maybe that’s the point, after all it is entitled “Federal Funding”.
Long Time- The bass in this song is good stuff. Vocals are more pop. The catchy bridge and bass groove keep me interested. Until about half-way through.
Got to Move- I like this. The sound of this song is reminiscent of The Beatles, but not annoyingly so. It sounds like a cute love song, but the lyrics contrast it (basically, the girl being sung about is a conniving, selfish bitch). I’m all about contrast in music (and life), so this one has won me over. The style isn’t necessarily Cake’s usual, but it still works.
What’s Now is Now- Another case where the song begins so promising. Great instrumentals going on. The introduction of the vocals is perfect. And then they get lazy and might as well put the dull chorus on loop for the next three minutes. Next.
Mustache Man- Yes! The vibra-slap is back from retirement with this one. And to make it better, it seems the band didn’t give up on this song halfway through like all the others. Great beat, trumpet, everything. Cake, you earned a couple points with this one. Too bad you waited until track five to bring out the goods.
Teenage Pregnancy- The song begins with simple piano. Calm and chilling. Enter drum & trumpet with an ominous sense of drama around the 30-second mark. What’s different with this song is there are no lyrics, aside from the occasional distant “yeahh.” The feel of the song is almost creepy, and seems better fitted to be the soundtrack to a crappy murder-mystery film.
Sick of You- I hear some faint vibra-slap in the background, woo-hoo. Cake is doing themselves again, and it is good. Perfect mix between pop-like signing and McCrea’s signature sing-talking. The band brought back and utilized all of its best traits here. I’ll definitely be downloading this song. It’s almost enough to salvage the album. Almost.
Easy to Crash- Hello, synthesizer. The lyrics here are good, but fall short. The concept of this song is great. But again, it seems they got lazy. The last minute & a half= good stuff. It’s like they snorted a line halfway through the song and finally got some energy in the end.
Bound Away- Love the beginning of this! Folksy-acoustic. Ahh! Great lyrics & symbolism. Not their usual musical style at all, but I don’t mind a bit (which says a lot, because I love Cake due to their individualistic style). Another hidden gem in the mediocrity. Another track to download.
The Winter- Sad tune. It’s okay, but not up to par with what it should be, coming from this band. Cliche, cliche. Ever have a friend go through a break-up and they just go on and on and on about how miserable they are? “The Winter” is that, with some trumpet crying in the background. I can do without.
Italian Guy- Some of Cake’s old weirdness that I love is back with this song. But, again, they let is slide the last half, and I’m put to sleep.
Showroom of Compassion is Cake’s first album release since 2004. Maybe they’re going through some sort of mid-life crisis. Maybe they needed even more time. I don’t know. But despite the mediocrity of this long-awaited release, we can rest at ease knowing we will always have Short Skirt, Long Jacket; Shut the Fuck Up; Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps; Rock N’ Roll Lifestyle; The Distance and Love You Madly, to name a few. Cake is one of the most talented and eclectic bands out there. They have been for decades. Because of that, I guess I can show Showroom of Compassion some compassion. (Sorry, I had to.)