Friday, April 17, 2009

Reel Big Fish - Monkeys for Nothing & the Chimps for Free (2007)

If you don't know Reel Big Fish, you didn't listen to the radio in 1997. Their mega-hit "Sell Out" smashed through mainstream playlists and blazed the train for the 3rd Wave punk-ska breakout of the late 90's. They followed that up with a decade of constant touring, honing their stage performances to near perfection, but I've always felt disappointed by their studio catalog since Turn the Radio Off. Their subsequent albums always felt tired, uninspired, formulaic and oddly flavored with more and more hardrock/metal. But after being dropped from Jive Records, Reel Big Fish turned it around with the 2007 Monkeys for Nothing & The Chimps for Free, which I would venture to call their best effort since Turn the Radio Off.

First and foremost this album is fun to listen to. Most tracks are quick, upbeat and have that effortlessly fresh sound that makes ska so fun. The crisp horn riffs, engaging vocals, hectic tempos and "snarky" lyrics that made Reel Big Fish world famous fly out of every track. And as every veteran act does eventually, RBF expands their style a little and ventures into some new territory on a few tracks. The harder, darker and more mature songs sound authentic and work really well here. The laid-back and chill songs feel forced and entirely miss the mark. The standout tracks come in an epic fan service that especially puts a smile on my face when RBF covers and slightly updates "Call Her" and "Hate You", two fan-favorites from their pre-breakout era.

Monkeys does have flow, but isn't bullet-proof as some tracks feel out of place and break up the overall experience. Also the trademark irreverence and "sillyness" critics love to praise RBF for venture into the sophomoric and mornic on occasion here. However, that shouldn't stop die-hard fans and newbies alike from jumping headfirst into Monkeys for Nothing & The Chimps for Free, Reel Big Fish's best studio work in a long time and the spiritual successor to Turn The Radio Off.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dubstep Allstars Vol.05: Mixed By N-Type (2007)

Dubstep is a relatively new genre of music with roots that can be traced back to the early 2K Garage Scene in the United Kingdom. Stylistically, it borrows elements from garage, grime, dub/reggae, and drum and bass to create a musical product that is often dark, sparse in rhythm, and bassy. Dubstep is still somewhat of an underground movement, but it has slowly been gaining popularity over the past few years thanks to moderate media attention. I was first introduced to dubstep a little over a year ago with the release of Burial's second album, Untrue. The album received so much critical praise and attention that I had to check it out. I didn't really know what to expect going in, but I wasn't too impressed, and the album remained on my computer untouched for many months to come. Several months ago however, something piqued my interest in dubstep again, and I gave Untrue another shot. I have since fallen in love with the album, and have been exploring this unfamiliar genre of music ever since (Burial's Untrue is probably one of the biggest gateways for new dubstep listeners).

Now when it comes to electronic music, usually the best way to get aquatinted with an unfamiliar genre is to listen to compilation albums. This allows you to get a general feel and explore different artists within the genre without having to acquire a bunch of different albums. This rings true especially for dubstep (any many other styles of electronic music), which revolves more around songs and tunes than full-length albums. The Dubstep Allstars series is one of the more popular (and respected) compilations in the genre, with new volumes being released on what is seemingly a regular basis. Many dubstep purists would probably want you to start with Volumes 1-3 of the series, or even The Roots of Dubstep compilation, but I'm going to tell you otherwise. And while I'm still new to the genre as a whole, Volume 5 is (to me) the most enjoyable of the series and probably the best place for a beginner to start. You can then start to identify particular artists/styles that you enjoy and move on from there. Even if you're already a dubstep listener (you haven't heard this yet?), it's still worth checking out.

Another few things I forgot to mention earlier: One of the cool things about these compilations is that they're mixed by producers from the dubstep scene (in this case, N-Type mixed Vol 5). So not only do you get to see what some of the more popular dubstep producers are digging, but all the tracks blend and transition seamlessly into one another. Perfect for extended listening. Also, to get the best listening experience for dubstep, a good soundsystem or a really nice pair of headphones is highly recommended. There's a lot of really low-end bass in there that might get lost or just cause distortion if your setup isn't up to par. Just something to think about.

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