CD reviews: New from Sandwich, Piano Guys, Tokio Hotel

By Jackie Dosmanos

Posted at Feb 16 2015 08:06 AM | Updated as of Feb 16 2015 04:35 PM

Sandwich
"Debris"

Sometimes rock is more about dynamics than distortion. On their eighth and latest album in a 17-year career, Sandwich plays music consistent with the band’s age in human terms – poised, elegant, thoughtful, neither spilling into puerile punk nor juvenile indie tropes. They act their age, so to speak, and operate as a seasoned collective.

Let’s start with the last track entitled “Sunriser.” It was recorded in the studio with an all-star cast of guitarists plugging into the amp. Coherent with its title, what could have been a metal splatterfest becomes a winding ode to a new day rising rendered in structured layered riffs.

In most other tracks on the 10-song album, the band applies its patented group approach: start hard and fast, explode to a mighty chorus, meander at the bridge then back again to the initial chord patterns. At times, their driving tunes achieve muscular lift-off like a less grandiose post-metal outfit and it’s always the powerful hooks and melodic fills that glue your undivided attention. Check out “Border Crossing”, “Kagulo” and Bato-Bato Pik” for details.

"Debris," in spite of insinuations of fragments, decay, post-disaster left-over, is really Pinoy indie rock at its peak. If the new album is pushing any boundary, it’s the bar Sandwich themselves set up with the classic “Five On The Floor” album in 2006. It’s that good.

*****

Tokio Hotel
"Kings Of Suburbia"

The German rock outfit stirred global fan curiosity with their pop rock singles swathe in glam swagger. In the five years after their last album, 2009’s "Humanoid," the four-man outfit must have had an extended fling with electronica such that in the new "Kings of Suburbia," Tokio Hotel’s big rock sound is moderated by dance-fixated EDM. It’s safe to say that the latest album reboots the band in a new direction.

That perspective is pretty obvious in the occasional vocoder-altered singing of lead vocalist Bill Kaulitz. Also, the former ubiquity of guitar riffs makes way for synth-pop colorings whose influences extend from Kraftwerk to Ultravox to A Flock of Seagulls. In upbeat tracks like "FIA" (aka Fit It All), title cut "KIA" and the twisted rockabilly of "GGAG" (or Girl Got A Gun), Tokio’s modified sound remains rock-worthy chiefly due to the punchy drums and elastic basslines.

Instead of propagating tension and remorse, "Kings of Suburbia" calls out to boys and girls to be free and learn that “Love is our gasoline/Livin’ on this endless dream.” It’s this generation’s spin on Bruce Springsteen’s summertime is for racing on the streets. The kids are speeding, all right, to a majestic future without borders.

*****

The Piano Guys
"Wonders"

Soothing music is for 50-something guys, right? Guess what, chart busters by way of YouTube The Piano Guys has a mash-up of Dave Matthews’ “Ants Marching” and Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” that should be right at home in a college freshman’s iPod. The pair of pianist Jon Shmidt and cellist Steven Nelson also have a cool interpretation of the soundtrack to the "Batman Evolution" movie as well as a charming rework of Musogorsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

The skilled performances themselves are a constant source of wonder. “Let It Go” from the film "Frozen" must have been rendered more often than any other song in the past year but The Piano Guys still pull out a few memorable nuances in their instrumental version. “Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends” is as breath-taking as its title suggests.

Those temped to thumb their noses on what appears to be another “new age” sell-out should check out the videos of selected Wonders tracks. In them, videographer Paul Anderson brings in gorgeous natural settings to go with the music. Organic virtuosity should not have an age limit.

****

"Pure… '80s Remixes"

The party mood and a little bit of the artistic inclination in the 1980s unite the four CDs in this collection. The DJ was as much a part of the scene as the legit revelers and gate-crashers, and the remix was his side-arm.

This four-barreled shooter leans closer to radio hits from Terence Trent d’Arby, Whitney Houston, Taylor Dayne, even James Brown and Bonnie Tyler. Remix ammo from the sidelines (of mainstream music) are supplied by Big Audio Dynamite, The Stranglers, Coldcut, The Weather Girls, and Thompson Twins.

Packed with the outrageous, the trashy as well as the sublime, "Pure…’80s Remixes" should fill some tiny gap in your music library between new wave and grunge.