New Music Through Old Ears: Hurricane Pitbull’s Ayreon Shins

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It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from alt-rock duo Little Hurricane, prog rock journeyman Ayreon, indie rockers The Shins and the man known (at least to himself) as Mister Worldwide.

New Album from a New Artist

Little Hurricane:Same Sun Same Moon

Formed in San Diego, California, in 2010, Little Hurricane follow the path laid by duos like The Black Keys and The White Stripes, eschewing multiple layers of production and orchestration to produce a stripped back, minimalist sound. Led by multi-instrumentalist Tone Catalano, along with drummer CC Spina, the band quickly built a following in their home town, winning Album of the Year at the 2011 San Diego Music Awards for debut release Homewrecker.

Embracing the anarchic spirit of San Diego-set movie Anchorman, the band released Stay Classy (A Collection of Cover Songs) in 2013, including near-unrecognisable covers of Bad Moon Rising by Creedence and Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing by Aerosmith, transforming the soppy ballad into a folky, slightly creepy ode to obsession.

Around this time, the band were "discovered" by TV producers, resulting in songs appearing in shows like Revenge, Gossip Girl and Mistresses.

With influences from Paul Simon and James Taylor to Dead Weather and Gorillaz, Little Hurricane mix blues, folk and rock in a decidedly low-key fashion, letting the songs speak for themselves, rather than burying them in layers of production and overdubbing. Same Sun Same Moon is a contemplative album, with tracks like Bad Business and Lake Tahoe Eyes telling deeply personal stories over stripped-back instrumentation.

Perfect for a quiet evening and a bottle of red wine, Same Sun Same Moon is an album that will grow on you with every listen.

Standout tracks: Lake Tahoe Eyes, Bad Business, Same Sun Same Moon

Sample lyric: ‘You’re all the same, say yes to the money then pass the blame.’ (Bad Business)

Verdict: 7/10 — well worth a listen for fans of well written, minimalist blues rock.

New Album from an old Artist

Ayreon: The Source

Dutch born multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen has been producing albums under the Ayreon pseudonym since 1995, when he released The Final Experiment, a sci-fi influenced prog-rock opus that created a universe and was credited by many as the first heavy metal rock opera. Featuring a total of 13 different singers, the album charted a course that Ayreon would follow for the next 22 years, culminating in the 2017 double album, The Source.

Set on the planet Alpha in the Andromeda Galaxy, The Source tells the story of distant human ancestors who grew to rely on technology, only for that technology to surpass them in intellect and attempt to destroy the plague of life. It’s sort of like The Matrix meets Blade Runner, only with a lot more synthesisers.

Mixing heavy guitars and drums with mandolins, sitars and the occasional didgeridoo, The Source features a dozen vocalists from bands including Dream Theater, Kamelot, Symphony X and Nightwish. The result is a sprawling, immaculately produced epic that spans galaxies and generations, addressing issues like the rise of artificial intelligence and the loss of individuality in a digital world.

If you think that music reached its apex in the late 1970s with bands like Electric Light Orchestra and Tangerine Dream, then you’ll probably find a lot to like on The Source. If, on the other hand, you prefer light, three minute pop ditties then there is a good chance that this album will be absolutely baffling.

Standout tracks: The Day That The World Breaks Down, Everybody Dies, Planet Y is Alive!

Sample lyric: ‘Not ragged clothed or silver spooned, you’re all the same when extinction looms.’ (Everybody Dies)

Verdict: 7/10 — or 9/10 if you’re on acid. I would imagine.

Album I Expect to Suck

Pitbull: Global Warming

The man known to his parents as Armando Perez has never been short on self-confidence. After being discovered by crunk rapper Lil Jon in 2002, Pitbull released debut album M.I.A.M.I. in 2004, setting him on a path to global fame that resulted in the oft-used nickname "Mister Worldwide".

At his best when collaborating with other artists, Pitbull is often dismissed by critics for his somewhat derivative approach to music, but this hasn’t stopped him from having a string of top ten hits, including I Know You Want Me, Give Me Everything, and We Are One, the official song of the 2014 soccer World Cup.

Immensely proud of his Cuban heritage, Pitbull has done much to support Latino artists during his career, including heading up Bad Boy Latino, an offshoot of P Diddy’s Bad Boy Records. This has also led to collaborations with artists like Jenifer Lopez, Cypress Hill and Marc Anthony, frequent use of Spanish in lyrics and a version of We Are The World, called Somos El Mundo, recorded for the Haiti benefit charity. Despite these diverse efforts, his biggest hit to date was Timber, a collaboration with trashy/tragic singer Kesha, possibly the whitest rapper ever.

Featuring guest appearances from Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Joe Perry and Jennifer Lopez (again), Global Warming is Pitbull’s 10th studio album. For an artist known for his bombastic approach to life, the first half of Global Warming is curiously subdued, only really kicking into gear with the J-Lo collaboration Sexy Body and a reinvention of the Rolling Stones/Soup Dragons forgotten classic I’m Free.

Fun but disposable, Global Warming is good party music but doesn’t seem like an album that you’ll be listening to this time next year, which is fine because I’m sure Pitbull will have released half a dozen new projects between now and then…

Standout Tracks: Freedom, Sexy Body, Educate Ya

Sample Lyric: ‘As far as my eyes can see, you look better on me.’ (Better On Me)

Verdict: 6/10 — does not actually contain any songs about climate change.

Ch-check it Out…

The Shins: Heartworms

Formed in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1996, The Shins are one of those bands who got their big break from being featured on a movie soundtrack. The movie in question was Scrubs star Zach Braff’s shoegazing debut Garden State, which attracted a huge amount of love from hipsters when it was released in 2004.

The song was New Slang and had the added boost from romantic lead Natalie Portman, when she claimed:

“This song will change your life.” 

To be honest it didn’t do much for me, but you can make up your own mind…

After breaking big among the neckbeard set, The Shins suffered the familiar "little band breaks big" phenomenon, and founding member James Mercer fired the rest of the band, citing exhaustion and creative differences. Over the next few years Mercer developed something of a rodent fetish, collaborating with both Danger Mouse and Modest Mouse, all the while writing songs for future Shins albums.

With a list of former members as long as your arm, Mercer developed a reputation of something of a perfectionist, which is interesting considering the loose, tossed off approach that The Shins seem to take to music.

The songs on Heartworms wouldn’t seem out of place on any previous Shins album, sounding a lot like a bunch of stoners sitting around a campfire, making pseudo-profound lyrics up as they go along. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Heartworms is a bad album, but you definitely need to be in the mood for some quirky alternative folk rock.   

It would be wildly optimistic to think that any of the songs on Heartworms will change your life, but it’s a fine album to put on if you’re trying to impress a member of the opposite sex with ironic dreadlocks and a nose piercing.

Standout Tracks: Cherry Hearts, Rubber Ballz

Sample Lyric: ‘All my life, compromise on the wings of resignation.’ (Fantasy Island)

Verdict: 5/10 — if you’re a muso looking for a temporary job, why not give James Mercer a call? 

Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe.

Damnation's Flame is now also available in the IA store. Free postage!

You can follow JT on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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