CD reviews: Rascal Flatts good ol’ country-pop, Micachu & the Shapes forges a gem

BY DI ARTS STAFF | APRIL 07, 2009 7:30 AM

mp3 sample: Micachu & the Shapes


Micachu & the Shapes forges a gem out of the everyday

Micachu & the Shapes: Jewellery
*** out of *****

Youthful Mica Levi of the UK-based Micachu and the Shapes adapted the practice of making her own instruments to customize a novel pop sound. Old items around the house enjoy renewed purpose on the trio’s début album Jewellery. A once-forgotten CD rack now functions as a bowed instrument. Glass bottles and a vacuum cleaner make cameo appearances on the tracks. It appears Micachu and the Shapes has branched out of the Pringles motto, “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” Jewellery illustrates that any sound, no matter from what everyday object, can make up a quality beat.

The food processor approach of Micachu and the Shapes’ experimental combination of sounds has concocted a newfangled recipe book for pop fanatics. Even the vocals mix into the instrumental blender to become an altered liquid.

Confusion may ensue out of the band’s many sporadic jumps and sudden instrumental transitions. The opening of “Turn Me Well” begins with a Hoover’s airy whine soon accompanied by a catchy rhythm only to be thrown off by a procession of offbeat tinny taps. Nevertheless, the verses’ haunting vocals will entrance listeners into a subtle whirl of movement.

Often, ultra-modern art leaves the viewer or listener feeling like a victim of someone’s pompous temper tantrum against mainstream society. However, Levi and her band are genuine. After Jewellery ends, listeners fancy another go-around rather than ache to microwave the disc for its patronizing artistic insolence.

“Golden Phone” starts out in a flurry of action like after waking up late for a test or meeting. One can imagine Levi throwing clothes around her bedroom, struggling to pull herself together and make it out of the house in time. But her unaffected voice lilts in to subdue the commotion. Then, in the chorus, comes another more focused burst of energy that demands you bust a move.

The caffeinated ballad “Sweetheart” lasts as long as a sugar high, but just like any sweet frenzy, the song abruptly hits a wall.

Jewellery is an evolving chain of notes and noise from one verse to the next. Micachu and the Shapes achieves in assembling the individual sounds of everyday objects into convincing tunes. Once listeners disregard their preconceptions and progress further into each song, they’ll realize how great the music is.

Caroline’s Picks: “Golden Phone,” “Ship,” “Just In Case”

Just cuddly enough

It Hugs Back: Inside Your Guitar
**1/2 out of *****

Inside Your Guitar would probably be best while played during a long road trip.

This début album from the British pop band It Hugs Back is stocked with gentle songs that “melt layers of fuzzy vocals and guitars,” according to the group’s website. While the formula of gliding from one song into another is good for a laid-back, drawn-out ride, it doesn’t make for a very exciting listen on any other occasion. Zone out even a little bit, and the entire record will flow by before you realize the first song has ended.

This isn’t to say the music isn’t good. The combination of guitar, bass, drums, and organ melds a variety of upbeat moods throughout the roughly 40-minute album. Creating sunny vibes seems to be more important than showcasing guitarist Matthew Simms’ vocals, which are uniformly projected in a breathy whisper. Almost all of the lyrics are obscured by instruments, resulting in a sleepy, hypnotic effect.

The songs are distinguishable sometimes only during their intros. “Work Day” stands out with an energetic organ-supported guitar riff. Inside Your Guitar collapses near the middle after “Forgotten Song” and doesn’t pick up again until “Look Out,” the CD’s penultimate tune.

It’s an easy listen, but Inside Your Guitar’s songs are strongest when they’re played by themselves on shuffle.

Katie’s Picks: “Work Day” and “Forgotten Song”

Good ol’ country-pop

Rascal Flatts: Unstoppable
*** out of *****

With the release of its eighth album, Unstoppable, Rascal Flatts continues to infuse its country roots with pop melodies and mass appeal.

Rascal Flatts’ first album came out in 2000, and the band has enjoyed success ever since, including the 2008 release of a greatest-hits compilation.

The fittingly titled Unstoppable delivers what fans have come to expect from the country trio.

The album’s first single, “Here Comes Goodbye,” is the signature country ballad Rascal Flatts has triumphed with on past albums. A tale of the pain and heartbreak that comes after ending a relationship, the track has already reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Among many somber tracks, “Love Who You Love” picks up the mood. The tune shows off Rascal Flatts’ ability to combine great vocals with catchy melodies and lyrics. As the chorus declares, “Love who you love/With all that you have/Don’t waste the time that flies so fast,” one can’t help but feel inspired and uplifted.

Rascal Flatts goes back to its softer side on “Forever” and “Things That Matter.” As another ballad yearning for lost love, “Forever” feels similar to “Here Comes Goodbye,” but it picks up the tempo with a more rocking sound. On “Things That Matter,” the trio is able to deliver a quality track as well as a poignant message. The simple lyrics comparing what’s important to what’s not are enough to prompt listeners to re-evaluate what truly matters in life.

Rascal Flatts doesn’t stray from what it has done in the past with the release of Unstoppable, but that consistency is exactly what will keep the trio on top of the country music world and keep its fans wanting more.

Kelly’s Picks: “Love Who You Love” and “Here Comes Goodbye”

Just Coastin’ by

The Coast: Expatriate
*** out of *****

In the Coast’s début full-length album Expatriate, the group establishes itself as an indie band with elements of pop. The Toronto-based quartet’s sound is unlike that of its contemporaries, and the Coast’s bright power chords and heavy bass lines make for an enjoyable listen.

The opening track “Tightrope” serves as a strong start. The “Hey, hey you” chorus is very catchy and borders on anthemic.

The intensity of “Nueva York” builds throughout, starting with a piano, followed by a driving drum part, then vocals and bass before climaxing with the guitar lines. Though this song is musically pleasing the lyrics lack substance.

“No Secret Why” starts off slow but as soon as the bass comes in the tempo picks up. Like many of the tracks on Expatriate, this one is bass-heavy which moves the song.

The vivid imagery of “Ceremony Guns” makes it stand out as one of the few tracks that isn’t all about love. Also Ben Bowan’s trumpet gives the song a very somber feel which fits the riot theme well.

Expatriate also ends on a strong note with “All the Boys.” The laid-back tempo and heavy bass line makes it easy to imagine that the music video would involve the kind of animation often seen on MTVU.

“Song for Gypsy Rose Lee” and “Play Me the Apostle” are two of the slowest tracks on the album, and they both lack the instrumental color that Expatriate’s other cuts have.

The Coast’s music is pretty good, but maybe a bit too poppy at times. Lyrics are where the group really suffers. Most of the songs are just about love, a theme which is completely overdone on Expatriate.

Being that this is only the band’s second album, it is evident that the group has potential. The Coast’s ability to create music is above average, but the band is going to have to step it up in writing lyrics.

Nick Pick’s: “Nueva York,” “No Secret Why,” “Ceremony Guns”

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