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omized by James’s memorable, no-frills chorus (“i feel so wonderful, wonderful/wonderful the way i feel...”). “outta My system” exceptionally bridges country and indie-rock while standout “you Wanna Freak out” features a fiery distorted guitar solo and a palette of tasteful sounds. Penultimate cut “slow slow tune” features electric piano giving the band even more ‘soul credibility.’ superb all-in-all, Circuital, continues the band’s ascent as one of rock’s most captivating bands. brEnt FauLKnEr

tween songs, so if the listener doesn’t warm to the sound of a few of the tracks, they probably won’t like the album at large. still, the production is topnotch, the musicianship continues to hover well above that of their peers in the genre, and the lyrics remain interesting throughout. no,Vices & Virtues doesn’t quite match the grandeur and quirkiness of the band’s highly successful debut, but if you weren’t a fan of the experimental Pretty.odd. and its stylized ode to 60’s pop, Vices & Virtues is a return to form that won’t disappoint. ryan burruss

sPIn thIs! “dance,” “Wonderful (the Way i Feel),” “outta My system,” “you Wanna Freak out”

PAnIC! At the dIsCO Vices & Virtues

(decaydance/Fueled By ramen)

sPIn thIs! “Memories,” “trade Mistakes,” “the ballad of Mona Lisa”

the Cars break 20 year spell - and they haven’t lost a beat BrItneY sPeArs Femme Fatale (Jive)

splitting up a band over artistic differences after two well-received albums might seem a strange and potentially career-ending decision for a young band like Las Vegas’ Panic! at the disco, but judging from the quality of their recent third album Vices & Virtues, their future should no longer hang in the balance. though 2009’s exit of bassist Jon Walker and guitarist ryan ross left the current duo without their primary songwriter/lyricist (ross), lead singer brendon urie and drummer spencer smith seem plenty qualified to continue the band’s brand of highly orchestrated pop rock, returning to a style more akin to their first release, a Fever you Can’t sweat out, than the retro, beatles-inspired follow-up, Pretty.odd. though the cleverly verbose lyrics of their debut might have been heavily toned-down for Vices & Virtues, the album is rife with Panic’s trademark introductions, intermissions and instrumental arrangements, so fans should find themselves back in familiar territory with the new release. the album’s opener, “the ballad of Mona Lisa,” should ring a bell with its dramatic celesta line, highly narrative lyrics, and plucky strings before opening up into a high energy anthem straight out of the band’s instantly recognizable playbook. From here, the album’s inspiration wanes with less memorable numbers like “Let’s Kill tonight” and the dance-themed “hurricane” before arriving at the album’s strongest block of songs. “Memories” shows off the duo’s talents for oscillating between dramatic tension and release, while “trade Mistakes” starts slowly but builds to the type of soaring melodies urie has become known for, all atop the expected highly-produced bed of orchestral timbres and energizing guitar palm muting. the energy only lets up slightly with the call-and-response anthem “ready to go” (complete with a nod to “baba o’reilly” in the breakdown) before settling down with the lilting ballad “always” and its pretty brass and percussion orchestrations beneath finger-picked acoustic guitar. the last portion of Vices features the slightly too Fall out boy-ish “the Calendar” before heading into a solid conclusion with a pair of the album’s most eclectic songs, first with the quasi-gypsy vibe of “sarah smiles,” followed by the obvious closer “nearly Witches,” complete with a French-singing children’s choir and a half-time coda befitting such a bombastic and successful pop album. in fact, if there were a weakness to Vices & Virtues, it would be the relatively scant variety be-

DRIVE THRU SERVICE

a lot has changed since britney spears blew us away with her best-selling Circus album. With Ke$ha and gaga running the electro-pop scene, and with r&b and hip-hop now bending the rules to accommodate the bass-heavy, experimental synths of the club circuit, spears has no other choice but to leap into the fold to produce an entire dance record. as predictable as things seem on the surface, the pop princess, with seven no. 1 records resting comfortably on her shoulder, also knows that she’s just one of the only survivors of the “platinum record” age and usually champions the idea of innovating the pop world with more trickery and bio-lab fun. the burden to return strong, to prove she’s not just a follower and the even tougher responsibility to beat economists’ projections challenges the album making process. so, it makes sense that spears is surrounded by the heavyweights in pop music on Femme Fatale, her seventh studio record. dr. Luke, Max Martin cull out over half of the album’s tracks, while will.i.am squeezes himself in for one performance track on the flirtatious, roboticized “big Fat bass.” having the right producers is only half the battle, but spears luckily lands on Plymouth rock as she transforms into a studio lab rat on top of the catchiest, dance-pop of her career so far. “slave” and “toxic” bended the rules, falling to play it safe in the eye of pop purists, but the grooves on Femme Fatale are almost impossible to shake. Ke$ha contributes “til the World Ends,” the party opener with a singable “oh-oh-oh” chant of a chorus and indents of “We r Who We r.” the song slides right into “hold it against Me,” an emotional roller coaster loaded with cat-and-mouse teases and Janet Jackson energy. throughout the disc, spears’ voice goes through a myriad of transformations, from black Eyed Peas’ robotics to Madonna coys, from autotune slave to toni braxton swooning. it’s full of fun and entertainment, even if it feels as if spears is some top secret experiment in a producer’s workshop. but spears is well endowed with big melodies, catchy grooves and an euphoric dispensation of Eurodisco: “Criminal” feels like MJ pop on Middle-Eastern vibes; “trouble for Me” and “i Wanna go” sounds like hi-nrg donna summer; “seal it With a Kiss,” the heaviest of the Madonna spawns, is delicious enough to get a single’s release date. amazingly enough, the content documented the deluxe edition

F

lashback trip courtesy of dr. Emmet “doc” brown’s time machine to the nu Wave innocence of the Eighties: With a slight motivational push taken from duran duran’s 2010 comeback LP (all you need is now), the Cars are back. and they should be. before essentially breaking up as a band in 1988, the five-piece boston band redefined nu Wave with their heavy usage of rockabilly, powerpop and synth-driven garage rock, even influencing modern-rock bands like the strokes and Weezer. their biggest success surrounds hits like “shake it up” and “Magic,” but none of their Eighties output toppled the glorious adult contemporary apparition of “drive.” two decades later since their last album, door to door (1987), and after some of the members teamed up with todd rundgren with the hopes of reliving the glory years from each of their catalogs and after mourning the loss of bassist benjamin orr, the remaining members of the Cars (ric ocasek, greg hawkes, Elliot Easton and david robinson) are hoping to pick up where they left off. at first listen, Move Like this is exactly what the Cars is most remembered for. Like a mad rush of roxy Music and buddy holly, the tentrack collection opens up with effective pop-laden excavations on opening tracks “blue tip” and “too Late.” remarkably the Cars handle most of the album’s production with grace, allowing Jacknife Lee (r.E.M., snow Patrol) access to five of the album cuts. although lead singer rick ocasek handles all the lead vocals in his traditional david bowie-meets-Lou reed style, it’s hard not to miss orr, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2000. his dreamy vocals, best recalled on “drive,” and the absence of smooth aC filler leaves the album feeling more like the nonstop upbeat jam session it technically is. but “soon,” a mild-mannered peaceful tune, happens to trace some of the ambiance and romanticism of “drive” (“When the starry night is left to dawn/the thought of you just keeps me dreaming on”) and saves the album from being a total adrenaline rush. after awhile, ocasek’s sleepy vocals seem to drag the album’s tempo, slowing up delicious grooves like “drag on Forever,” but he does a fine job on the album’s first half where he pulls off performances reminiscent of MtV’s golden era, particularly on “Free” and the giddy oxymoron of “sad song,” where the upbeat cheerfulness of the bleepy synths and engaging rhythms contradict the nature of the obvious song title. some listeners will probably start questioning why ocasek didn’t assert some form of magnetism to auto-tune, or at least used some extra time on his pitch. With a little extra vocal homework from the Cars’ frontman, songs like “too Late,” where the band uses classic rock ‘n roll harmonies and a solid locomotive arrangement, would have easily transcended into an instant radio gem. but it is what it is – the Cars effectively sound as if they hadn’t missed one beat. unlike most bands who normally call it quits under unfortunate circumstances, they sound like one unit, performing effortlessly and revived. on a reunion album that never should have been from the beginning, coming from ocasek’s declarations of “never” back in 1997, the Cars break through the barrier of impossibility to reintroduce themselves two decades later and to make up for lost time. J MatthEW Cobb

the CArs

Move Like this (hear Music)

sPIn thIs! “sad song,” “soon,” “too Late”

HiFi Magazine #2 (Aug/Sept 2011)  
HiFi Magazine #2 (Aug/Sept 2011)  

HIFI Magazine is the new, official resource for the avid music lover. From rock to pop, R&B to hip-hop, HIFI Magazine strives to incorporate...

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