Monday, December 21, 2009

On the Subject of Banners, New and Olde

looks more like me than... i dunno, me?

Oh what hey?? Yes you may have noticed that there is a new and wonderful banner at the top of this blog. It was created by none other than the ever-talented KC Green, a man who makes comics on the internet that are pretty much great all the time. Forever and ever amen.

Seriously though, I asked KC to help me out with this banner and he finished it within - I don't know, a week of me asking him for it?? I gave him the basic idea of what I wanted it to look like, but I did not need to tell him much 'cuz he pretty much nailed it as you can clearly see. He is a stand-up dude, he really is, not to mention that he is probably my favorite cartoonist on the web right now. Hey friends, here is a question: have you read Gunshow yet?? Well if the answer is "no" then congratulations, you have never read the funniest comic ever made. Or what about Horribleville? Come on, get with it people! These are all the best.

I have written about KC in this blog before but it was a long time ago and probably not very well worded. So I will just end this by saying that hey you should give this man all your money unless you are some kind of fool. Also KC was cool enough to make an extra-long post in his LJ about this whole mess, including all the full-size completed album covers he nicely drew for me! Yes, including the entire Hanson Middle Of Nowhere cover!! God I can't imagine how he must have felt, sitting there and drawing such a thing. THANKS AGAIN KC THE BANNER IS GREAT.

But now I would also like to give a long-overdue thanks to long-suffering blogfriend Stephen Winchell, artist of Phil for many years, who drew the last couple banners I proudly displayed here. Steve's banners were instrumental in building a "look" for this blog (whatever that might be), and he made them without me even soliciting him to do it, so I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

as you can see, Steve was nice enough not to draw me as the pathetic loser i really am

Steve's way of drawing me was the jumping off point for KC's, so I guess Steve had a little bit to do with this eh?? I don't know why he draws me that way but there is nothing I can do to stop him. But I have to thank him. He also likes to draw me vomiting, for some reason. Here, see:

Wow. So thanks Steve, thanks KC, these banners are the best, I don't deserve them etc. etc. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more requested reviews! The next one might be the most bizarre one yet, if it is the album I think it is. Who knows?? Stay tuned blogfriends.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Requested Review: "Wilco (the album)" by Wilco


My good buddy Matt Hoffman has been waiting for his requested review for a good long time now. And with good reason - he's been waiting since, what, July? Poor guy.

Matt asked me to review Wilco's new self-titled album (Wilco (The Album) as they call it), which I have had sitting in my iTunes since its release without having actually listened to it once in its entirety. I can't explain why this is; a few songs have popped up here and there, but I guess I have just been distracted with other records, which tends to happen often (I have a horrible attention span). But I consider Wilco to be one of my favorite modern rock bands, and so it is a little weird that I have ignored their new release for such a long time. I haven't heard Dinosaur Jr's new album yet either, which came out around the same time as Wilco's. Do I just not care anymore?? Oh jeez.

No, I don't think that's it. I am just not a man that gets very excited about new music releases from anybody (which is kind of weird since I run a music blog but let's get past that for a bit), so I just kind of let them fall by the wayside. The only new release that I have been excited about recently has been the Flaming Lips' Embryonic - 'cause, y'know, it's the Flaming Lips and all that. But I am also a pretty big Wilco fan so I still have no real reason to not be all excited about this album too! What is the deal here??

Hey it doesn't matter let's just talk about the album we have here. Wilco (The Album)'s first track is called "Wilco (the song)" and for the life of me sounds like a song that is actually about the band itself, which is the weirdest thing. I could be completely wrong here (and feel free to correct me if I am) but I think Wilco are quite possibly the first band to write a theme song about themselves since, oh I don't know, the Monkees? But that's the thing, 'cuz the Monkees' theme song was the first track on their first album, not to mention the opening theme song for a TV show based around them (and hey it wasn't even WRITTEN by them). Wilco, I will say, are the first band to write a track about themselves as the opener of their seventh studio album after a decade-and-a-half career in the music industry. "This is a man with arms open wide / A sonic shoulder for you to cry / ay, ay, ay, on, Wilco / Wilco will love you, baby." Hmm.

But besides that bizarre moment of self-mythology, Wilco's new album is not really anything new. I know I sound like kind of a dick saying that, but it's true; Wilco (The Album) shares the same down-home chilled-out atmosphere as 2007's Sky Blue Sky, but you'll hear some Yankee Hotel Foxtrot here and some Summerteeth there, and maybe even some hints of their earliest records. I wouldn't know, myself, because I'm a terrible Wilco fan and the only Wilco records I have heard are all the ones I just listed above. I'm a shallow shallow man.

Oh man I was going to talk about those other Wilco albums before but I forgot to! Let me fill you in. 1999's Summerteeth was the first Wilco album I ever heard and it is still my favorite. It's pop magnificence, man! Catchy hooks and great production and "A Shot In The Arm" and all that. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pretty good and I love "Heavy Metal Drummer" and all but I am not as crazy about it as so many other people are. I haven't heard it in a while, maybe that's my problem, but it's a little too moody for my tastes. Would you hate me if I told you I kinda like Sky Blue Sky a little better?? It's such a pretty album! I admit that it's not a "sonic masterpiece of this decade" or anything like that but it's just so amiable that I can't help but love it. "You Are My Face"? "Side With The Seeds"? "What Light"? Get out of my face, those are so good.

So in that context I would say that Wilco (The Album) sounds like a mix of Sky Blue Sky's mellow atmosphere and Summerteeth's immaculate pop songcraft, which is why I am confused that I don't like it a lot more than I do. I don't dislike it or anything, but I have listened through it four or five times now and my only reaction as been along the lines of "oh, that was pleasant." Pleasant, but nothing that grabs me, you know? Sky Blue Sky was "pleasant" too but it kind of sucked me in in a way that I can't quite pinpoint. Maybe I just liked the songs better?

That might be the case. My favorite songs here are the straight-up pop songs: the aforementioned "Wilco (the Song)", the groovy "Sonny Feeling", and the wonderful "You Never Know," the first single from the album. "You Never Know" is honestly a great single and probably the best and most inviting pop song Wilco has written since Summerteeth. Every time it comes on I have to sit there and listen to the whole thing, it makes me feel so good! And that cutesy George Harrison-esque guitar solo near the end? Jeff Tweedy are you trying to paralyze me with powerpop fanboy glee?? Man, what a good track.

There are a couple vaguely "artsy" songs on here, too - "Deeper Down" recalls Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with its unusual structure, and "Bull Black Nova" repeats this bizarre monotonous piano riff for a while before descending into a guitar jam not unlike Sky Blue Sky's "Impossible Germany." But besides these songs and the aforementioned pop-rockers, Wilco is a pretty mellow album, almost to a fault. Songs like "Country Disappeared" and "Solitaire" are quite lovely, really they are, and Tweedy's duet with Feist in "You and I" is nice and all. But it feels a little drab and there are times when I feel like they are retreading old ground - does "I'll Fight" sound a bit much like "On And On And On" from the last album or am I just paranoid? The whole album smacks of a "been there done that" sort of feeling for me. I think it's fine for a band to consolidate their strengths and write songs in a signature style that they know they're good at, and clearly this is what Wilco did on this album. I just feel like most of the songs are not as good as songs on previous releases.

But really - I'm being overly negative. If you are a casual Wilco fan I'm sure you'll like this album, because it certainly is a Wilco album! Jeff Tweedy sings on every song and there are guitars and catchy hooks and Americana and all that. Also the word "Wilco" is on the cover of the record so you know what you're in for. And "Sonny Feeling," hey, that's a fun little track huh? I think I would honestly like Wilco (The Album) a whole lot more if they'd stuck with the fun pop-rock of those aforementioned few tracks for the whole album, but that's just me and I am not the wisest man alive.

Matt, do you like it? I'm sorry if you do because I have been a dick in this review like always and I'm sorry to do this to you. I mostly like it! It just feels a little slow and samey sometimes. What can you do?

Whatever. I'm happy Wilco are still around. And when else am I gonna be able to compare them to the Monkees? Never, ever again. That is something to cherish. Oh, how I wish I could write this review of Wilco's 2009 release Wilco (The Album) for the rest of my life.

But no, I can't do that. Then when would I ever get to Limp Bizkit??

(Oh, and Matt - do you have a blog or a website or anything? If so gimme a shout and I'll link to it.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Requested Review: "Time" by the Electric Light Orchestra

remember the good 'ol 1980s??

Ahh yes, finally, a requested review from none other than good blogfriend and Phil writer Benjamin Vigeant! I'm not sure if anybody remembers this, but Ben was nice enough to request an album review of me about a year ago, the first time I actually bothered to ask people for requests in the first place. He actually requested a comic-review, if you can believe that, and I obliged him by writing one of the worst reviews/comics I have ever made. It was mean-spirited, obnoxious, and - worst of all - horribly horribly drawn. And it barely even mentioned the album he requested in the first place! I would like to delete it forever, but who am I to edit my own past?? I don't believe in that. I will at least not bother to link to it here - if you really want to fish it out of the archives, God bless you.

So now I hope I can make up for past mistakes with this, what I hope will be a proper review of the album Time by Jeff Lynne's Electrical Light Orchestra, released in 1981. I am under the impression that Ben asked me to review this one 'cause he knew that I would like it - and, well, he's right! I will admit that my personal history with ELO is a little limited; the only album of theirs I'd had before I heard Time was A New World Record, which I have always loved. But still, I admit that I feel a little out-of-place giving Time a positive review without being able to compare it to their more well-regarded 70's albums; I've only heard Eldorado a couple times and I haven't even approached Out Of The Blue. So what I'm saying is, Time could be a complete piece of shit and I'm just so green-behind-the-ears that I can't hear it!!

Well, OK, I'll get Time's most obvious flaw out of the way right now: it has to be one of the most dated-sounding pop albums I have ever heard. Everything about it, from the synth-drenched orchestration to the vocoder-filtered vocals to the "CRAZY FUTURISTIC" lyrics, screams "I AM A POP ROCK ALBUM RECORDED IN THE EARLY NINETEEN-EIGHTIES." So I would say that your enjoyment of Time will mostly be based on how many early 80's production cliches you will be able to stomach in the span of 45 minutes. I, personally, find it to be more cutesy than disgusting, but I am sure there are plenty of listeners who would not share my views on this. These people will not like Time in the slightest.

Oh, and it's a concept album too! A sci-fi concept album! I probably should have brought that up earlier. What from I can tell, the "plot" (and I use that term loosely) of this album follows some guy from the year 1981 (the year this album was released, coincidentally!!) who is kidnapped by some time-traveling nogoodniks and sent to the year 2095 for some reason that is not really explained. He tries to have sex with a robot, misses his girlfriend a whole lot, and I think is sent back to his own time in the end having learned absolutely nothing. I guess the future is a pretty depressing place, and he doesn't like it there so much. So he sings about going back to 1981 a whole lot, and then he does. I guess that's it? Don't ask me, I am not a genius raconteur like Mr. Jeff Lynne.

But let's just forgo all of that right now. Time, despite its near-crippling corniness, is a good album 'cause it's full of those fun and catchy melodies Mr. Lynne and company have always been known for. How can we, as a nation, deny the sheer hookiness of epic rockers like "Twilight" and "Hold On Tight," the adorable reggae-tinged "The Lights Go Down," or the wonderful balladry of "Rain Is Falling" and "21st Century Man"? We can't, we can't. These songs are so good that you can easily ignore their silly lyrical themes - I mean, I think "Rain Is Falling" is about a time machine or something, but who cares when the melody is just so good?? That's "Telephone Line" quality, my friend. There are also some neat moments of moodiness here, like the piano melody of "Ticket To The Moon" and the dark synth patterns of "Another Heart Breaks." Then there is what I would say is my favorite song on the album, "The Way Life's Meant To Be," with its lovely flamenco-styled guitar and a melody worthy of A New World Record. What a catchy song! It reminds me that my favorite songs on this album are the ones that sound like "classic" ELO: songs "Rain Is Falling" and "Twilight" would probably fit right in there with their 70s work. But again, that is a somewhat presumptuous thing for me to say, considering that I have barely heard any of their 70's albums in the first place! Man I should get on that.

There are a couple songs that should be brought to your attention, however. Those would be "Yours Truly, 2095" and "Here Is The News," far and away the two corniest songs on this record. Mr. Vigeant himself singled these two out just for their totally silly lyrics, and I have to agree with him. The former is a rumination on the protagonist's new robotic future girlfriend, described as he writes a letter back to his human girlfriend in 1981 ("I met someone who looks a lot like you / she does the things you do / but she is an IBM"). My favorite lines: "She has an IQ of 1001 / She has a jumpsuit on / and she's also a telephone." The latter song - easily the most ridiculous on the album - is meant to be a newscast from the year 2095, broadcasting a whole lot of FUUUUTURISTIC events ("The weather's fine, but there might be a meteor shower"; "A cure's been found for good 'ol rocket lag") over an insistent synth beat and random spoken-word snippets from FUUUUTURE TELEVISION. These are moments of such pure cheesiness that I just can't help but love them. Suffice it to say, if you can brave these two songs, you are probably going to enjoy Time just fine; if not, I guess I can't blame you.

But y'know - in the end it's just a fun pop-rock record. 45 minutes long, full of 3-to-4 minute songs that won't wear out their welcome. Nothing that's going to blow you away I'm sure, and there's plenty to scoff at here for fans of music that isn't totally embarrassing and dated. But you cannot argue with these melodies, man! They are just so good. I found Time to be a very entertaining trip down melody lane (ha ha) and I am sure you will, too. I'm not sure if this album would appeal to many outside of the hardcore ELO fanbase, but that's just their loss, huh?

So thank you Ben for recommending this album, and I hope this review rights the horrible ways I have wronged you in the past. I also thank you for not requesting another comic review, which I am sure would have turned out horrible (not because of you - because of ME). That goes for anybody who may request a review from me in the future: do not ask for more comic reviews, ever, please. Not that you would anyway.

So let's end this with the video for "Twilight," full of all those early-80's lightshow effects you all love so much.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Album Review: "Live At The Olympia" by R.E.M.

pretty sure Stipe stopped wearing that stupid facepaint for these shows

Oh hey! Today is Thanksgiving in these United States! I hope most of you have enjoyed your turkey and stuffing and gravy and naptime. To celebrate this holiday of thanks I will go ahead and write about a band that I have written about many times before and has nothing to do with Thanksgiving: R.E.M.

R.E.M. are one of my favorite bands ever. I have made this pretty obvious in the past, but it is worth repeating. They are a band that cuts me deep, you see. So when I heard they were putting out a double-disc live album, one that was getting more-than-decent reviews, I figured it was worth a shot. And not only was I not disappointed - I was enthralled. I mean, I expected quality, but I did not expect this much quality. For a huge R.E.M. fan like myself, it is a special treat.

Perhaps some context is necessary. R.E.M., surprisingly enough, have issued only two official live albums in their entire 25+ year existence - and they've both been released only in the past couple years. The first one, R.E.M. Live, came out in '07 and focused on a few 2005 shows in support of Around the Sun, quite possibly the least exciting R.E.M. album ever released. And the tracklisting bore this out: not only was Sun the most represented album there with a whopping six tracks, but most of the other songs were the usual, predictable hits (a little "Losing My Religion" here, a little "Everybody Hurts" there) and questionable album cuts (like "So Fast So Numb," a decent but middling selection from the otherwise lovely New Adventures In Hi Fi, and "I Took Your Name" from the always-bleghh Monster). As for their classic I.R.S. albums, "Cuyahoga" was the only out-of-nowhere choice there; otherwise, they were barely represented. The band sounded OK, but the album was nothing that was going to bring anybody back to the R.E.M. fold after almost a decade of mediocre albums. If anything, the band sounded more out of touch than ever, trotting out their biggest hits without much gusto. It was, in a word, depressing.

Fast forward to the present. We now have R.E.M. Live At The Olympia, a two-disc 39-song set recorded during their "working rehearsal" shows in July 2007. At this point, Around The Sun had been thoroughly panned and ignored, and the band were determined to write better material for their next record in the face of rapidly thinning fan support. Most of those new songs are previewed here, and would eventually see official release on 2008's Accelerate, far and away their best album in a decade; so while it's the most represented record on here, it at least deserves to be, unlike Around the Sun. And as for their older songs, well, let me put it this way: besides Accelerate, the most represented albums on here are (in descending order) Reckoning, Fables Of The Reconstruction, and Chronic Town (FOUR songs from Chronic Town - that's one song shy of the whole thing). Coming from a band whose setlists have been painfully 90's-heavy since, well, the 90's, this is pretty remarkable; I mean, maybe Reckoning isn't a huge shock, but Fables Of The Reconstruction? With FIVE songs?! And so much of Chronic Town? These are albums most R.E.M. fans assumed they had just plain forgotten about - and maybe they had, considering how cautious they are in the introductions to each older song (especially on "Kohoutek" where Peter Buck goes as far as to say to Michael Stipe, "You should probably apologize to the audience before we play this - it could be bad").

The important thing is, though, that these old hits sound great. I mean, it doesn't hurt that they're great songs to begin with - the early-mid 80's were a good time for this band - but here they sound even more energetic than ever. I can't imagine songs like "Maps and Legends" and especially "1,000,000" sounding better; they play these older hits as if they were Lifes Rich Pageant or Accelerate songs, with more muscular guitarwork and front-and-center vocals (Michael Stipe is in really good voice the whole way through - just saying). It's really something, man. And as for the less-represented albums on here, the song choices are surprisingly top-notch. What would you expect from Document: maybe "The One I Love" and "It's The End Of the World"? Try "Welcome To The Occupation" and oh-my-lord-yes "Disturbance At The Heron House." Murmur gets "Sitting Still"(!!) and "West of the Fields"; Lifes Rich Pageant gets "Cuyahoga" and "These Days"; and the wrongs of R.E.M. Live are thankfully righted with the inclusion of "New Test Leper" and "Electrolite" from New Adventures, two of the honest-to-goodness most beautiful songs in the band's catalog. There are times when I almost feel like this setlist was tailor made for me.

But there could be some complaints. If you are more of a fan of R.E.M.'s more commercially successful late 80's-early 90's work, this record will sadden you deeply. There's nothing from Green or Out Of Time here, and only one song each from Automatic For The People and Monster. Speaking as a diehard Automatic fan, this is a little upsetting, since its one song here - "Drive" - was also on R.E.M. Live (still sounds great though, and at least it's not the horrible "rock" version they used to play on the Monster tour). But it's a testament to the quality of this live release that I honestly don't even notice they're missing most of the time. Those old hits are just so overwhelmingly well played that it just doesn't matter. And hey - "Circus Envy," from Monster, sounds a lot better here than it has any right to.

As for the newer songs, well. Accelerate's songs are still wonderful, even in their early incarnations (and I am reminded that "Living Well Is The Best Revenge," which kicks off the first disc, might be the best song they've recorded in the past decade). There's also a couple of unreleased tracks intended for Accelerate that didn't quite make the cut: the so-so rocker "Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance" and the kinda-boring "On The Fly" which finds the band still grappling with the dull-as-nails Around The Sun sound. And speaking of that album, "The Worst Joke Ever" is on here, and isn't much more exciting than the album version. "I've Been High" from Reveal fares a little better - definitely a pretty song, but not a remarkable one. These are the only songs taken from their last few albums, however, and they stick out like a sore thumb (they are literally the SLOWEST SONGS EVER WRITTEN). It just goes to show how eager they were back in the post-Sun fallout to reconnect with the sound that made them great. Listening to this show all the way though, it is easy to see why Accelerate turned out so damn good.

Oh sure, you could trifle a bit with the song choices (as I just did). You could even think to yourself, "hey, maybe these live songs sound a little TOO good to not have been meticulously overdubbed," but then you would just be a nagging nelly, wouldn't you? Honestly, if you are an R.E.M. fan of any stripe, this is essential listening - ESPECIALLY if you fell off the wagon after Bill Berry left and haven't even bothered giving Accelerate a chance. This one, unlike the last live album, will convince you. This release reminds me happily of when I saw these guys live last year, just being shocked at how re-energized, charismatic, and entertaining they were. And hey, they brought out "Ignoreland" and "Find The River" for that show, so I'll excuse their exclusion of Automatic tracks on here for now. Consider us even, band I love so dearly!!

I'll end this with a couple videos for you to see: one from one of the Dublin rehearsals, with them playing "Romance," a B-side they hadn't played in about twenty years. (Stipe is reading from a lyric sheet, which I'm sure he had to do for most of these old songs.):

Also as a bonus, and old live version of one of my favorite Out of Time tracks, "Half A World Away" (which, in a perfect world, would be on this thing):

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Requested Review Two-Pack: "Strangeways, Here We Come" by the Smiths / "Viva Hate" by Morrissey

morrissey you could have tried a little harder with that there coverart buddy.

Oh, hello there again! Yes it has been a while since I last updated. Chicago was a good time. I ate a hot dog with a large pickle on it and bought a wood painting of a cute kitty cat. I could tell you more but that would be boring! Instead let's review some music why don't we.

Today's requested albums come from good friend and blogfriend Paul Grigas. He's been a good buddy of mine for many years. This guy, what a guy!! Paul's a Smiths fan, so it is perfectly logical for him to have requested these records, one being the last Smiths album ever recorded and the other being Morrissey's first solo album a mere six months after their breakup. Since Paul happened to request two albums of me instead of just one, I - like any red-blooded American - got real lazy about listening to both albums enough to write a decent review, and sat on my laurels for a good long time. But hey! That era of darkness has passed, and here I am, ready and willing to discuss this Morrissey and these Smiths.

(although I've still only listened to these albums about one-and-a-half times each and I just want to get this over with, but that shouldn't worry you my friend)

Just to preface, my current status on the Smiths is as such: I first heard their so-called "magnum opus" The Queen Is Dead way back during my freshmen year of college, and I pretty much fell in love with it. And unlike other albums I adored from that period that had already fallen to the wayside by the time I hit nineteen (sorry Oasis), The Queen Is Dead still sounds great to me. I will always dig that crazy Johnny Marr wah-wah guitar on the title track, those high-pitched "Ann Coates" backing vocals on "Bigmouth Strikes Again," and the over-the-top romantic fatalism of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out." It's just an album with a lot of good songs on it! Admittedly, I also picked up Hatful of Hollow shortly after Queen enchanted me and I just couldn't get into it, which began a solid three-year period of me not listening to the Smiths much at all. Until right now, of course!

It is nice to hear that Strangeways, the album directly proceeding Queen, continues the Smiths' then-current trend of writing a bunch of catchy, mostly-rockin' tunes. Right from the loopy opener "A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours," you can pretty much deduce that the rest of the album is going to be a good time. How about that grunty Morrissey vocal delivery? "ARRRRRRRush!" Yeah, man. And how about that riffin' guitar on "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish"? Or that background harmonica all over the "Vicar In A Tutu"-esque "Death At One's Elbow"? Yeah, yes. These guys got a good sound. The production's not too different in comparison to Queen, but it's a little fuller, with more strings and horns and maybe even some synth keyboards in the background (never pushed up front, of course - this is the Smiths after all).

Here are my favorite songs on Strangeways: "Girlfriend In A Coma," in just about two minutes, manages to be funny ("Do you really think she'll pull through?"), creepy ("There are times when I could have strangled her"), and - somehow - endearingly bittersweet ("Let me whisper my last goodbyes, I know it's serious") all at once. And it's catchy, too! "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" is typically well-written Smiths pop-rock; "Paint A Vulgar Picture" doubles as an entertaining critique of record companies' treatment of popular deceased musicians ("Re-issue, re-package, re-package / Re-evaluate the songs / Double-pack with a photograph / extra track (and a tacky badge)") and of their obsessive fans ("No, they cannot hurt you, my darling / They cannot touch you now / But me and my 'true love' / Will never meet again"); and "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" nearly tops "There Is A Light" in terms of sheer romantic tragedy. "Unhappy Birthday," too, is a dependable Morrissey kiss-off. While I can't say I like Strangeways more than Queen - the latter, in my eyes, still nails the whole "Smiths" formula better than anything else I've heard - I will gladly file it into the "Smiths Albums Sean Rose Enjoys" portfolio and just leave it at that. (I can see myself listening to it more than once in my leisurely time - this is a plus.)

Viva Hate, Morrissey's 1988 debut solo album, doesn't quite hit me like Strangeways. It's a little more mellow, with a little more emphasis on Morrissey's vocals (obviously) and - at the same time - is a little less gripping and melodic. For me, at least. To be honest, the sound of Viva isn't a huge departure from Strangeways (which isn't too surprising, considering how close those two releases are) but definitely downplays the guitar-driven energy of the last couple Smiths releases (the lack of Johnny Marr, while completely expected, is a bit of a drag). To be honest, I have listened through Viva Hate almost three times now and I have trouble remembering a lot of the songs!! This is not good, for a man like me.

But maybe that isn't fair. Here are some Viva Hate songs I love: "Suedehead," oh man, that song is beautiful. What a pretty guitar! Sounds like the Cure or something. "Hairdresser On Fire" has that lovely piano line and epic melody - that's a good one. "I Don't Mind If You Forget Me" is a Smiths-worthy pop-rock tune - energetic, funny, and complete with a synth-keyboard intro! Who saw that one coming? "Dial-A-Cliche" and "Margaret On The Guillotine" are both very graceful album closers (despite the latter's caustic anti-Thatcher lyrics) and "Atsatian Cousin," unlike the rest of the album, is even more guitar-heavy and bitter than the Smiths ever could have been.

I can't think of any songs on Viva Hate that I flat-out disliked, but after hearing Strangeways it just doesn't "get" me as much. It's a slower, longer, and more morose album than Strangeways so maybe it's just that. Or maybe I'm just being unfair; these reviews are all based on first impressions, after all. I liked Strangeways a lot more upon first listen, and as such I've been listening to it more. I can't help it, man!! Maybe Viva Hate will rub off on me the next time I listen to it, whenever that may be. Until then, I will stick to the Smiths.

Really, I have never been a huge Smiths fan but Strangeways has done a lot to pique my interest. Maybe I should give their earlier stuff another shot? It's worth it. I will say this - diehard fans of the Smiths would do well to seek out this Viva Hate record, as I am sure they would enjoy it a lot more than I have. As a guy who is not that big into Morrissey, I will have to settle for only midly enjoying it. But you don't have to be me! You don't have to settle!!

I am excited, though. My next requested review is going to be a lot of fun - one I have been looking forward to for many months. Look out for it. Also there is a new R.E.M. live album out that is really something special, you'll probably be hearing a lot about that too. Until then, I hope Paul Grigas will sleep well tonight, knowing that his absolute best friend has approved of his musical tastes!! (You know it, Paul. You do.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Obligatory Apology Post, Vol. 4

So yes, I finished that Flaming Lips review like two weeks ago and fully intended on getting back to my requested reviews the following week. Of course, fate intervened and the AV cable to my shitty Toshiba laptop snapped in half, and with no other cord available (and absolutely no desire to spend I don't know how much money on a new one) I was incapable of listening to any of the requested albums I downloaded some weeks ago - and, obviously, incapable of writing any new reviews.

But then, you know, I finally took action and bought a new computer. And for the past week, despite my iTunes library being completely disorganized, I have been perfectly capable of re-downloading the albums I was going to review this week, listening to them, and - you know - REVIEWING them. But this time, laziness (and Playstation RPGs) intervened, and now here I sit, with no review written. In most cases, this would be the perfect time for me to crack my knuckles, paint over every window in the house with the blackest of black paints, and get some serious work done.

Yes, this would all happen if I were not going to Chicago for a week. Starting tomorrow. And my laptop is not coming with me.


So yeah. No reviews for a little while. But don't fret! While I am gone, I will be listening to music in my leisurely time. So when I am not getting horribly drunk or seeing many Chicago sites or kickin' back with President Barack Obama (he still lives there I am sure) I will be listening to music and working out how I feel about it. Then I will come back in a week and write all those feelings down, just for you!

So have an nice week without me. You deserve one. In the meantime, please enjoy these videos, currently the best videos that are on the internet right now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Album Review: "Embryonic" by the Flaming Lips

MUAHHHHHH (give it a kiss)

So yes, once again I am delaying my next requested review, which I will take care of next week. If this upsets or surprises you, I don't care because there is a new Flaming Lips album out and if I don't review it soon I am going to drive myself insane!

In all honesty, I have a lot of trouble reviewing records by bands that are very important to me; so many thoughts and emotions bubble to the surface and I want to get them all in my review, but I never do. As such, I never feel that I've said enough and in the end I am not satisfied. So, in that regard, it doesn't get much worse than reviewing Embryonic - not just a new record by the Flaming Lips, a band I consider one of my long-time personal favorites, but one that is seventy minutes long and is easily one of the densest and most complex records they've ever released.

In other words, there is no way I am going to be happy with this review. There are so many things that I am going to forget to say. So I might as well just go with the flow.

I won't bore you with my extensively personal experiences with the Flaming Lips' music. I'll save that for another time. Anybody who knows me well, however, knows that I have been a big fan for a while. And while - not unlike another favorite band of mine, XTC - I have barely ever written about them in this blog, they are written into its very DNA: their 2006 record At War With The Mystics was the first record I ever reviewed in this thing a good three and a half years ago. And it is funny, considering how enthusiastic I am in that review about an album that, in retrospect, did not thrill me - and one that I didn't listen to all that much following its release. Chalk it up to being a younger man in the midst of a year-long rush of euphoric Flaming Lips fandom, I guess, but even back then my reservations about the album - which would become more explicit the more I listened to it - would pop up more than once, like in my summary of "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song":

"My problem here - it's the Flaming Lips trying to sound weird, which they really don't need to do. You're already fucking weird, Wayne. You know it!! You don't need throw random arcade noises and "funny" stuff like that in a song like this to make it sound weird. You couldn't be normal if you tried. But still, it's a cool song that doesn't quite represent the rest of the album."

I was being polite here, because I did not want to admit that I was not satisfied with a Flaming Lips song. Until "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", I felt that the Flaming Lips could do me no wrong, and I wanted to maintain that excitement. But for a moment there, I think I hit the nail on the head: The Flaming Lips, all of the sudden, were trying way too hard to sound weird. And while I stand by that statement, in retrospect I feel the problem ran even deeper than that: worse than weirdness, the Lips were trying to sound cutesy, bubbly, or that dreaded descriptor: quirky. It was indie-quirk pandering, to put it bluntly, and even now it bugs me. It bugged me then, too, but I didn't really know how to put it into words. With Mystics, it felt as if the Flaming Lips - a band known for taking risks and defying audience expectations with each new album - were pandering to a group of people who viewed the Flaming Lips as cutesy, uplifting bunnysuit-wearing happymen who wrote songs for Spongebob Squarepants movie soundtracks. It did not make me happy. (Nothing against Spongebob, but y'know.)

At War With The Mystics did bother me, but - and it's obvious from that review - I still liked it a lot. Because, well, it's not that bad of an album! The whole "we are the crazy quirky Flaming Lips and welcome to our sunshine-and-balloons factory" attitude definitely kills some of the songs' impact ("Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Free Radicals" being the obvious examples), but the songs that cash in on the Lips' trademark beauty are typically wonderful: "Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," "Vein of Stars," "Sound of Failure," etc. But the one song that still stands out to me - and to a lot of people, I think - is "Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung," an echo-laden bass-driven prog epic that is still one of the most exciting tracks they've ever recorded. That song, unlike everything else on Mystics, sounded like the Lips pushing themselves into something new and great, and as I said at the time: "If the Lips ever did a straight-up prog-rock album in the style of this track I have no doubt it would be fucking awesome."

And so. Now we have Embryonic. I could get all prophetic and congratulate my 18-year-old self for accurately predicting what the next Flaming Lips release would sound like, but that would not be right because none of Embryonic's eighteen tracks sound a whit like "Pompeii." To be honest, in terms of attitude and structure, Embryonic has no obvious forebear in anything the Flaming Lips have released previously, which I think is giving people a lot of trouble. Most Embryonic reviews I've read have people attempting to compare it to some other album they've done, or - more frequently - touting it as a "back to basics" album, returning to the reckless spirit of pre-Soft Bulletin releases like Telepathic Surgery or Priest Driven Ambulance. This confuses me, because let me tell you, Embryonic sounds nothing like their older stuff. Their 80's records were more psychedelic and fractured, to be sure, but even their darkest and noisiest moments were always leavened with pretty acoustic guitar ballads and a goofy sense of humor (why else would Priest Driven Ambulance end with a sincere, noisy cover of "What A Wonderful World"?). If the Flaming Lips wanted to record a "back to basics" album, they would have ditched the widescreen studio production, returned to the two-guitars-bass-and-drums setup of their early 90's work, and let the guitar noise rip. And that's not what they do on Embryonic.

So why are people so quick to compare Embryonic to those records? Well, you see, Embryonic is a dark record - much darker than the musical therapy of The Soft Bulletin, the brooding yet lovely Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and especially the in-your-face cutesiness of Mystics. So, of course, the most obvious conclusion people can make is that Embryonic is a return to their pre-Soft Bulletin records, a knee-jerk reaction that simply isn't true. Embryonic is the darker than those albums too, and is just about the darkest record the Flaming Lips have ever released.

Now, I should clarify that statement (and I should also start talking about what Embryonic sounds like considering I've spent too many paragraphs talking about what it doesn't). The Flaming Lips, even in their most uplifting moments, have always had a dark undercurrent to their work - a recognition of mortality, the inevitability of life and death and whathaveyou. Clouds Taste Metallic, one of their happiest albums, featured a song called "Evil Will Prevail." Soft Bulletin, probably the most uplifting thing they could possibly record, ends with a song called "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate." Yoshimi's "Do You Realize??," the other most uplifting thing they could possibly record, has really fucking depressing lyrics (not to mention that it is followed up by the defeatist anthem "All We Have Is Now"). But these records, despite the aforementioned moments of depression, offered an answer to life's worries: "Hey man, it's okay! Life can be tough - real tough - but everybody's gotta go through it! We'll all go through it together, and we'll all be okay!"

Embryonic doesn't have these answers. It is not designed to give you a hug and make you feel OK - instead it buries you deep, deep down into the murk and never pulls you back up. The only song on here where Wayne Coyne sings like the Wayne Coyne we all know and love is "Evil," a song that could probably fit comfortably on Yoshimi with its warm electronics. But it's a trick, see - "Evil"' leads directly into "Aquarius Sabotage," which immediately attacks the listener with manic drums, screeching guitars and an unsettling bass line. "The Impulse," which might have been one of the prettiest songs on the album, is marred by Wayne's creepy vocoder-processed vocals. "I Can Be A Frog," which could have been a cutesy joke song on Mystics, features vintage horror-movie backing music and Karen O making a bunch of creepy animal noises. While Embryonic is just as lavishly produced as their last few albums, it exploits their sonic palette in a much darker way, making every potentially peaceful moment sound sinister, unsettling, and uncomfortable. There is no "Do You Realize??"-esque moment of release - it's all downhill.

And Embryonic's darkest tracks? Hoo-ee. "See The Leaves," with its overpowered drums, bendy bassline and unwelcoming Wayne Coyne vocals, has to be one of the darkest songs they've ever done. You remember Mystics' "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion"? With Wayne warning against those pessimistic folks who "see the sun go down, but don't see it rise"? Well, let's sample some lyrics from "See The Leaves": "See the leaves / They're dying again / See the moth / It's flying again / See the grass / It's dying again / See the sun / It's trying again." Well well. So much for optimism! The jerky psych-rock album opener "Convinced Of The Hex" continues this darker trend, as does the bass-driven tribal chanting of "Sagittarius Silver Announcement" (is that Wayne singing lead on that, by the way? If it is, Jesusss) and the formless murk of "Gemini Syringes," featuring echo-laden Wayne vocals and a monologue from German mathematician Thorsten Wormann on what I assume to be the nature of the universe. At times these songs can feel formless, murky, and incomprehensible, but they all manage to sound cohesive in the context of the album, which is no small feat.

I'll be honest - upon first listen, Embryonic was just so downtrodden and long that I did not manage to get all the way through it. To be fair, I was just streaming it casually off of, and it was like 3 in the morning, so the circumstances were not ideal. But it does show that Embryonic is an album that requires a few listens, 'cause there's a whole lot here to absorb, which might be a bit much if you're not a diehard fan. But when it comes right down to it - and forgive me for generalizing - Embryonic is just cool. It can be a little dark and draggy, yes, but it's all worth it for songs like the pulsating groover "Silver Trembling Hands," the epic power rock of "Worm Mountain" (featuring MGMT, apparently), or the remarkable album closer "Watching The Planets," one of their most apocalyptic songs to date. Considering that these guys are not getting any younger (or, in Wayne Coyne's case, pushing 50), it is great to hear them still pushing the boundaries of their music and trying new things, at the risk of alienating the mainstream audience they have built up over the past decade. Mystics had me worried that they were running out of ideas; Embryonic, thankfully, has proven me wrong.

In preparation for this review I have spent the last few weeks listening through every Flaming Lips album since 1986's Hear It Is (with the exception of Zaireeka, which I will get to soon I am sure). I was a nice reminder that I seriously love this band, and that Mystics is the only record they have put out that leaves a bad taste in my mouth - and even that one is pretty good. I am happy about Embryonic's critical success but I am a little upset that people are using it as an opportunity to diss on Bulletin and Yoshimi in the same breath as Mystics, which has happened in a few reviews I've read. Let's get this straight: The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots are wonderful albums that everybody liked upon their release, and for good reason. Embryonic is practically as good as they are but for completely different reasons. What I'm trying to say is, if you're going to diss on a recent Flaming Lips album, make it Mystics. That one actually deserves it.

One last thought before I finish this and never ever talk about the Flaming Lips again until their next album comes out - and maybe this will give you a better impression of what this album is like, considering that I have done a less than adequate job of describing these songs to you. I was a little worried before I heard Embryonic, 'cause you know, their last album was Mystics and I wasn't sure what it would sound like. And what worried me especially was the fact that there were guest artists on a Flaming Lips album! That ain't never happened before! I mean - two songs with Karen O? I half-expected some lame quirky duet between her and Wayne to clog up the proceedings here. But man - if you're going to have guest artists on an album, you gotta do it like Embryonic. Karen O's vocals just add a creepy texture to her songs rather than overpowering them, and MGMT's appearance on "Worm Mountain" just make it even more brutal. Hell, you can barely tell they're there, but they make the songs cooler!! It's a good album, guys. Check it out.

So that'll do it. Next week, I promise, will be a requested review - two albums in one, actually! So check that out. As for the Flaming Lips, I may end up doing a career-summary post for them sometime in the future, considering I just sat through all of their albums and have so so many thoughts about them. I'll probably do what I did for that Radiohead overview from like a year ago and just recommend a bunch of tracks from each album that I like. Sound good to you? Sounds good to me.

(Also a quick note: if you have just listened through Embryonic and are wondering out-loud to yourself "Jeez, where CAN these guys go from here??," the answer may surprise you.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Album Review: "Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Banke

literally the least rowdy group of teenagers you will ever meet

Sad news this week: due to a computer hiccup, I do not have access to my music, and as such I do not have access to the requested albums I was planning on reviewing this week: the Smiths' Strangeways Here We Come and Morrissey's Viva Hate, both requested by my good friend Paul Grigas. Tragedy! Fortunately, other good friend Emily Vasseur has adopted my shitty laptop and I will probably be able to get it back without erasing my hard drive. So this is a good thing. Whenever I do get it back, I promise you that requested review post haste.

In the meantime, let's talk about another record that has enchanted me over the past couple months - Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke, which despite its misleading title actually has more than two songs on it! There are nine other tracks besides those two classics and they are mostly all good. If you don't know anything about the Left Banke, they were a 60's pop-rock group mostly known for epitomizing the "baroque pop" genre - that his, pop music with a whole lot of harpsichord and strings thrown in there. At least, that's the Left Banke definition. Keep in mind that this music sounds little to nothing like the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson style of baroque pop recorded around the same time ('66-'67), with super-complicated song structures and vocal arrangements and whathaveyou. The songs on Walk Away Renee aren't even heavily influenced by classical music, at least not to me - they're just pop songs with a whole lotta harpischord.

Thankfully, they're really good pop songs! Great, even. "Walk Away Renee," obviously, is the classic and the biggest hit, good enough to be covered - with equal greatness - by the Four Tops a couple years later. "Pretty Ballerina" is the other hit, one of their prettiest and most alluring songs, defined by Steve Martin Caro's plaintive vocals. There's also "She May Call You Up Tonight," my favorite Left Banke song and one of the best songs ever. It's a wonderful, catchy pop tune driven by a jazzy piano - like Vince Guaraldi or something. If nobody sang on it it would sound like "Linus and Lucy" or something. But man, the vocals are so CATCHY! It's a great song, and the entire reason I got into the Left Banke in the first place, thanks to Adam Spektor playing it on his radio show.

It's not very "baroque," though. Actually, a lot of songs on here aren't baroque in the slightest! It's funny, 'cause if you listen to songs like "Barterers And Their Wives" or "Shadows Breaking Over My Head" these guys sound like the most polite and reserved rock band that has ever existed. But THEN, you've got songs like "Evening Gown," a peppy harpsichord-driven rocker (??) with Steve Martin Caro almost YELPING his vocals, and "Lazy Day" which features an actual FUZZ GUITAR! Like some kind of NUGGET or something! But that's not even the weirdest part - "What Do You Know"? It's a COUNTRY ROCK SONG. Like "What Goes On" by the Beatles or something. Twangy guitars and everything. Lead guy sings like Ringo Starr all the sudden. HOW IS THIS BAROQUE IN ANY WAY YOU IDIOTS.

So yeah, the random stylistic diversions are unusual and unexpected, ESPECIALLY if you've only heard "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina." They aren't bad songs, though. And the ones that aren't whacky diversions are simply beautiful songs that deserve all of this world's love. Mysterious, subdued, yet accessible pop music - it's all here!

Oh, one more thing about the Left Banke. Michael Brown, their pianist and main songwriter - the guy that wrote every great song on here - was sixteen at the time. Sixteen!! Man, what were you and I doing at age sixteen? I was playing "Enter The Matrix" on Gamecube and writing Mega Man X fanfiction. This guy was writing "Walk Away Renee." Sheesh.

That's it for now. I am waiting for my comptuer to return to me, and once that happens you will be getting two things: 1) more requested reviews, and 2) a review of the new Flaming Lips album! Oh man it's a good one! I am actually gonna wait on the latter there until the album is officially released, just to be fair and decent, but that's coming up pretty soon anyway so I am not worried. Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Requested Review: "Black Sea" by XTC

it is an album full of whaling chanties (or is "chanties" not a word?)

Ohhh folks. We've got a scorcher for you tonight. This here review has been requested by none other than a living legend - my freshmen year college roommate Nick Hennessey!

Now, OK. In a perfect world Mr. Hennessey would need absolutely no introduction - you would simply see his name and nod to yourself in instant approval, a Pavlovian response to his inimitable genius. But sadly, we do not live in this world, so I will explain. I lived with Mr. Hennessey for a year, and what a trailblazing year that was. Before college I was a nascent waif of an eighteen-year-old, with my only known methods of "partying down" being reading Final Fantasy VIII guidebooks and drinking Mountain Dew Code Red by the liter. A year with Mr. Hennessey changed all that - and when he wasn't busy introducing me to the pleasures of hard liquor and fast women, he was blasting great music into my face every morning noon and night, whether I was prepared for it (read: awake) or not. The list of bands he turned me on to that year - most of which are now among my favorites - is pretty startling: you got your Undertones, your Replacements, your Wilco, your Beach Boys, your Smiths, your Television... the list goes on and on. And it wasn't just music - the guy showed me the British Office for the first time, too. Yes, that British Office! The one that is like my favorite show now. Mr. Hennessey's taste surely knows no bounds.

So yes. Along with close high school bros Luke Coryea and Adam Spektor, Nick Hennessey is one of those indispensible "threw a lot of great music at me all at once when I was a teen'ger" sorts of dudes. A solid guy. And yes, the album he requested for me tonight is one by none other than the biggest band he got me into during my freshmen year - XTC! One of my favorite bands ever thanks to him, and unusually enough, a band that I have not discussed in this blog even a single time. And I have been writing in this blog for, what, almost four years now? Yikes.

Now, mind you, I had been planning on reviewing an XTC album here for quite a long while - my all-time favorite, 1999's Apple Venus Vol. 1. However, the album Mr. Hennessey has requested of me is 1981's Black Sea, a completely different sort of album by what might as well be a completely different sort of band. While Apple Venus is a studied, graceful record by a band in their waning days, Black Sea is a twisted, guitar-driven slice of kinda-sorta-New Wave with a kooky lead singer. It's one the last albums the band made before lead singer/songwriter Andy Partridge developed some unfortunate stagefright and kept the band in the studio for, you know, the rest of their career. So here on this album you've got the sound of a live band: pounding drums, screechy guitars, forceful vocals, and so forth (I guess there's a bass in there too). At this point XTC were definitely more Devo-sounding than the Beatles/Beach Boys pastiches of their later work - nearly every song here sounds like, you know, something is horribly wrong. But in a good way!

There are differences in vocal delivery as well. Andy Partridge, in comparison with his more pop-friendly late 80s/early 90s vocals, sounds straight-up frightened in these songs, his voice teeming with wild teenage awkwardness. At this point in his career he did not feel the need to make his voice sound "accessible" in any sort of way - he just sounded like a yelping, nervous man, and he was all the better for it. Then there is the George Harrison-esque Colin Moulding, who at this point in his career had the exact same voice that he would have for the rest of his career, and was also all the better for it. He's a great vocal counterpoint; whereas Partridge sounds like he has something broken deep inside of him, Moulding sings like a nice, charming Britishman, no matter what song he is singing. "Generals and Majors" is an obvious war satire, to be sure, but with Moulding's straight-up adorable vocals it doesn't feel bitter in the slightest. Just fun!! Hey, that's XTC.

Enough with this. Let's talk about the songs, because those are the most important things on a record album, are they not? The first two tracks here are two of the best two XTC tracks ever, all two of them. Andy's screechy tune "Respectable Street" and Colin's aforementioned jaunty "Generals and Majors" both border on experimental dub-influenced New Wave, but are really just great pop songs: why else would the former include those "Oooh-eyy-oooh-eyy-oooh-oooh!"s in the verses, and why else would the latter feature one of the catchiest little guitar riffs EVER?? Yes, yes the answer is obvious. These guys were raised on the finest 60's pop, and it shows. It doesn't let up from there - if anything, things get a little more exploratory, and a little weirder. You've got Andy's hammy vocal delivery in "Living Through Another Cuba," those loopy phaser effects in the piano-driven "Rocket From A Bottle," more super-catchy poppiness with the classic "Towers of London" - the fun does not end, not ever! And while pretty much every other song on here is written by Partridge, the one other track Moulding has - the cutesy, riff-driven "Love At First Sight" - is a real keeper that you'll want to hear. These guys are good.

Oh, no no, I'm not done describing songs yet! "Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)" is a goofy little song that I used to not like much but has grown on me over the years. It popped up in Hot Fuzz and man that was a good movie, wasn't it? And this is a good song, featured in that good movie. Admittedly "No Language In Our Lungs" and "Burning With Optimism's Flames" have never been my absolute favorites but I like them pretty good. Oh, and man, how about those two atmospheric tracks that do not sound like conventional songs at all?? I used to not like those much either but they sound so much cooler to me now. To be fair, "Paper And Iron (Notes And Coins)" isn't that atmospheric, but it does start off with that echoey guitar effect that always makes me swoon like a man. And then there's the album closer "Travels in Nihilon" which I just now realized is like the neatest album closer ever. Those tribal drums! That uncharacteristically creepy Andy Partridge vocal delivery! Those vocal-echoing guitars in the chorus! The fact that it doesn't get boring even a little bit for a full seven minutes!! Oh maaan. That's a good song. Sadly, after '82 they would never write another song like it ever, and where does that leave us? (Not a rhetorical question. I need the answer to this.)

I think a lot of people might have trouble with Andy Partridge's voice. If there was any point of contention anybody could have with early XTC, it is that. He just doesn't have a pretty voice! Not yet, anyway. Even when they write a pretty tune, he does not want to sing it in a pretty way. For me, that makes it sound a whole lot more interesting, but for others it might just sound ugly (and it does kinda sound ugly to me too, but hey, I'm a forgiving man). And sometimes he can get a little hammy or over-wordy. But what can you do? The guy was a great songwriter. I don't know if I can recommend this as a "First XTC Album" - you might want to ease in with their poppier late 80's stuff, I don't know. I don't know how you feel about all this, readers. I don't know what music you like. If you're an ELO fan, check out their later stuff. If you're a Talking Heads fan, check out this one. It 'twill not disappoint.

Thank you for reading, True Believers. As a gift for you, I will present you with nary a slice of Nick Hennessey's genius: the classic "Fresh Lettuce," performed as his rappin' alter-ego Pauley Boom:

Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Requested Review: "Jupiter One" by Jupiter One


Friend and blogreader Dan Yepes has done America a great service through this album request. Because, when it comes right down to it, I think he has been the only person to request an actual modern-day indie rock album! Perish the thought! Looking through all the requests I've gotten, most seem to run the gamut of classic rock to jokey party rap, but nothing I could classify as "hip" with today's indie-rock crowd. That Songs: Ohia review came kinda close, but jeez that album came out when Marcy Playground were still a hot commodity. Honestly, I expected a whole slew of indie rock from you guys, but I haven't seen that much! Oh well. Looks like I'll have to focus all of my unabashed hatred of all things indie into one article. Sorry, Jupiter One - you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Aha. No, I'm generalizing. I don't hate modern day indie rock - I just feel that most of it is, more often than not, on the "Last Train to Dullsville" (heheheh, ya like that?!?). So I guess it's not too surprising that the Jupiter One album by so-called indie-rock group Jupiter One does not do all that much for me in the "excitement" department. See, before I started listening to them I somehow got the impression that I would be listening to an electro-pop group, and the opener "Intro for Ani Endorda" confirmed this suspicion. But then, I heard "Countdown" and realized that what we REALLY have here is your basic modern indie rock group: clean, post-punk-influenced pop rock with an 80's dance bend, fronted by a disaffected singer who sounds like Alex Kapranos without the spunk. Your Interpol here, your Coldplay there. Sometimes the lead guy sounds like Sting, actually - usually in the chorus of each song, where he decides to sing a slightly more "uppity" voice. But it's not a common occurrence.

Okay - and I mean it this time - since when does this count as indie rock? I mean, I don't want to belabor the point, but none of this music sounds the least bit "indie." It's cleanly produced dance-pop-rock with electronic flourishes. That's it. Is it "indie" 'cause the singer doesn't sound like he's enjoying himself even the slightest bit? Is that it? How about the occasional faux-Britishness? That too? Or maybe I'm focusing on the wrong thing here. Maybe they're on an indie label? So were the Offspring. I don't think that counts. You know - yeah, I'm not going to talk about this. I'll stop here. Because, in the end, who gives a shit? People have been arguing about the "indie rock" label for decades now, and it's only gotten worse in the past five or six years. So I'll do you (and myself) a favor and move on amicably.

(pshh. "indie rock." PSHHH)

My problem with Jupiter One isn't that they're "indie." It's that they don't seem to be doing anything new or interesting. Now, I'll clarify - I don't think that a band needs to be shockingly original in order to be good. If that were the case, there would not be much room for Hanson in my heart, would there?? But there needs to be some distinction - some guts, some verve - that makes an otherwise run-of-the-mill band stand out from its peers, and Jupiter One doesn't have it. When I can't listen to a band without immediately thinking of every other band from the past five years that sounds exactly like them, then something is wrong.

It's a little upsetting. I don't want to hate, you know? Despite the potentially inflammatory title of this blog (which I came up with on a whim like three years ago and would LOVE to change, but at this point it's kinda stuck hasn't it), I don't enjoy ranting about bands I don't care about and never listen to. Once in a while it is definitely therapeutic for me to get angry about a band I don't like, but, y'know - not when it's public. When I type out my "I hate indie rock for this and that reason" schpiel, not only is it never as effective and "cutting" as I picture it to be in my head, but it just comes across as petty and mean. Which it is of course.

So here is what I will say about Jupiter One. They do not excite me the least bit. Something I do like about them: once in a while they will write an eerily hooky chorus that makes me say "oooh." Like "Moon Won't Turn" - kind of a "meh" song, but with a spacey, harmonized chorus that reminds me of early 70's Pink Floyd. And once in a while, they'll pull out a surprisingly fun jaunty song - "Unglued," for instance, a song I think I would enjoy much more if someone else sang it. But then, you know, the annoying parts stand out too - like the BLUGGH vocals in "Wrong Line," or the overuse of that crappy synth-violin sound you hear bands like the Killers use. It crops up on a few songs on here, and man I HATE it so so much. It just sounds so sterile. Good song: the closing track "Way To The Floating Hospital / The Miracle Of Flight," an ethereal piece of nigh-baroque pop, with harmonized vocals and a loopy electronic coda. "Oooooh" I say! "Bluhhhhh" to most of the rest of the album, though. There is just nothing to see here.

I'm sorry, Dan. I really wanted to like this one! I listened to it like three times hoping it would eventually become my favorite record, but that did not happen. As such, I must be moving on.

Final thoughts: I can see why people would like this album. It's well-produced, occasionally catchy, and features a cool "I-don't-give-a-shit-bout-nuthin-including-the-song-I-am-singing-right-now" vocalist. But it's not for me. In a word - and I guess, now that the decade's almost over, I am free to say this - this album is so 2000s.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Requested Review: "Outlandos d'Amour" by the Police

it's french. i know because i am fluent in the language

Tonight's review from blogfriend Nick Stevens is a doozy, folks. And by "doozy" I mean "a really easy review of an album I really like by a band I already really like."

Let me explain. Mr. Stevens, like Mr. Coryea before him, gave me a few options for albums to review. One was Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, an album I love but one that I know just a little too well. Maybe the stuff of a future review, why not? Another was Cat Stevens' Teaser and the Firecat (or was it Tea For The Tillerman? I'm too lazy to look it up) but, y'know, I'm not always in the mood to "mellow out" with Mr. Yusuf Stevens. The last, of course, was the album you can see in the title of this post. And in the large album cover photo I am sure I have posted at the top of this page, with those three fresh young faces with unusually blotchy blond hair. I figured, by now, I've reviewed plenty of requested bands I don't know anything about - why not review a band I already know and really like, for once?

To be honest, though, the only Police album I had in my possession before Outlandos D'Amour was Zenyata Mondatta. It's a great album, but, you know - that was the only Police album I had. They had a lot of albums. What if I hated everything else they recorded? What if Zenyata was their only decent album and nobody bothered to tell me?!?

But of course, none of that is true. Outlandos is a really good album. I honestly don't have too much to say about it 'cause - c'mon, in the Police. C'monnnnn. So what I will do is take the same cop-out route I took for the Appetite For Destruction review and go over my thoughts point-by-point. This will be easier for you to read - and more importantly, easier for me to write, because I am lazy and tired.

- This was the Police's debut album, from '78. As such, they sound like a group of peppy young bucks playing punk-pop new wave on the fan-tahstic opening track "Next To You." It is a song that will get you on your feet and make you groove 'round and 'round!! Then "So Lonely" comes on and you're realizing that you're actually listening to a reggae band. WAAAAT

- Speaking of that "new wave" label: I would only apply it to a few songs. The rest are reggae-influenced punk-pop, but not quite "new wave." The new-wavey songs are the aforementioned "Next To You," "Peanuts," "Can't Stand Losing You," "Truth Hits Everybody," "Born In The 50's," and "Be My Girl - Sally."

- Actually, that's most of the songs on here, isn't it? Shit.

- "Roxanne" is on here too, but I'll be fucked if I'm gonna talk about that one. WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY SAY??

- "Born In The 50's". Let's talk about that one. This track in particular gets singled out as one of the weakest on the album, at least in most of the reviews I've read. It's not a bad song - musically, I enjoy it - but I will admit that the lyrics are a little preachy, and Sting's raspy vocal delivery in the verses makes it sound like he's trying too hard to be righteously angry. Also - and get ready to be shocked, readers, 'cuz I just found this out - Police guitarist Andy Summers wasn't "BORN! BORN IN THE FIIIIIFTAYES" at all! In fact, he was born in 1942. 1942. To put that in context, the man is the same age as Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, and about a full decade older than the rest of the band. And here he is, the old fussbudget lost in a sea of swarthy young punks. In fact, before he joined the Police (and, coincidentally enough, when he was around the same age that the rest of the band were on this album) he played on one of those later-period psychedelic Animals albums, his only appearance on record before Outlandos. Fun facts all around!!

- Speaking of Mr. Summers, his out-of-fucking-nowhere monologue in the middle of "Be My Girl - Sally," which seems to be a whimsical tale about marrying a blow-up-doll, has to be one of the most un-Police-like moments I have ever heard on a Police album. What is wrong with you, you randy old hippie?? The rest of the song is pretty basic pop rock, but made a hundred times more interesting by that interlude.

- "Can't Stand Losing You" is not only catchy as heck, but it's funny! REAL funny. Something tells me they lost their sense of humor right quick once they became more and more popular, but who am I to say?

- I definitely prefer the poppier, more rockin' numbers to the slower reggae stuff. I mean, they do reggae just fine, but how can you deny that rock-solid pop songcraft?! You just can't. It does bother me a slight bit that it takes the album a little while to regain its momentum after the epic opener "Next To You" - after hearing such a fast-paced rocker, I expect (nay, DEMAND) more of the same! Goddamn you, Policemen, for being so diverse!!

- That's it. In all honesty, I just found out that the Flaming Lips' new album Embryonic is streaming on the Colbert Report site, and I am considering staying up for another hour tonight just to hear the whole thing. The stuff of a future review, I'm sure!

- Shit, I'll review it right now, if you want me to. Right in the middle of a Police review, the new Flaming Lips album, reviewed in its entirety, track by track! Jeez, isn't that exciting and unexpected?? Never know what's gonna pop up in the well-renowned "WHAT IS THIS SHIT" music blog.

- No. No. I'm going to sleep.

- I'm not proofreading this.

-UPDATE 9/17/09:, alright, I'll proofread it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Post About The Small Faces (Why Not)

the fuck

Hope everybody's been enjoying the requested reviews! I read through some of them and I think they have gone perfectly OK. If you haven't been particularly excited by the requested selections so far (I don't know why in God's name you wouldn't be excited by an LMFAO review, but then again I'm not you), no need to worry! We're not even halfway through the requests I've gotten and I've saved some of the more compelling ones for last. (By that I mean, I'm doing them in the order that people actually requested them and I'm not actually choosing the order myself, so apparently I am a complete and total liar who should not be listened to.) So sit tight and you will receive more of them in due time.

It is honestly shocking to me that I last asked for these requests way back in early July. That's almost two months ago! And in that time I've listened to all these other records of my own choosing that I've listened to more than the requests! Jeez. Not very nice of me. I can say with a bit of pride, however, that those aforementioned request-delaying albums were all real good. I already talked about one of those a couple weeks back, so I figured it might be nice of me to talk about a couple more: The Small Faces' There Are But Four Small Faces and Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, two albums that were way way way too good for me to ignore.

One thing you might notice is that, yes, like the other album, these Small Faces records also feature Ronnie Lane. I'll do you a favor and not talk about how much I enjoy his cherubic feel-good personality for the umpteenth time. The Small Faces, in case you do not know, were a British mod-pop-rock group from the mid-to-late 60's. Their lead singer/songwriter/guitarist was a man by the name of Steve Marriott, whose speaking voice was the most cockney British thing you could possibly hear and whose singing voice was the best Sam Cooke-inspired vocal thing you could possibly hear. He was very good at switching between goofy over-the-top British snarls and powerful rock 'n roll bellows, often within the same song. The bassist for this band was the aforementioned Lane, who wrote songs with Marriott and sang lead once in a blue moon; I won't say any more about him. The other two dudes were Ian McLagan, who didn't sing at all I don't think but was a very talented keyboardist, and Kenney Jones, whose poundy-pound-pound drum sound (I don't know how to describe the way drums sound) gave every Small Faces song a super-heavy backbone. Once Marriott left the band in '69 to do music things with the great Pete Frampton, the rest recruited the now-very-well-known-but-not-so-much-so-in-ninteen-sixty-nine Rod Stewart and the kinda-sorta-well-known-now-but-only-cuz-he's-in-the-Stones Ronnie Wood and became the Faces, another real cool band that were great for completely different reasons (The Faces = loose, sloppy and rootsy; The Small Faces = tight, poppy and rockin'). Then they broke up too, at some point. The end.

I judged the Small Faces harshly before I even heard one song by them. Once I was told they were considered "rivals of the Who" in their prime, my initial response was something along the lines of "Pshhh. Also rans." I was a hardcore Who guy at the time, you see, and I had no more room in my heart for Mod-influenced British rock groups. From their band name and image, I'd always thought of theme as a bunch of whimsical British flower-power men. Their big hit was called "Itchycoo Park," for crying out loud!! But of course I was wrong about all of this, like usual. "Itchycoo Park," while a little cutesy, is the greatest song, featuring a classic call-and-response between Marriott and Lane that alternates between Lane's innocent questions and Marriott's unhinged responses ("What didja do there?" "I GOT HIIIIIIIII-IGH!"). Then I heard their classic '68 concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, which features some cute-yet-sinister whimsical Britishisms ("Rene" and "Lazy Sunday", the latter being the best possible example of Marriott's ability to switch between vocal mannerisms) and songs like "Song Of A Baker," maybe the most (read: ONLY) badass song ever written about baking. How could a song featuring the lyrics "I'll jug some water, bake some flower, store some salt and wait the hour" be badass, you ask? Especially one sung mostly by all-around nice man Ronnie Lane?? You'll just have to listen for yourself, friend.

That was what really surprised me about the Small Faces - they were a pretty rockin' band! Sure, they would sometimes be prone to the cutesier side of British psychedelia (see the entire second side of Ogden's), but most of the time they had as heavy of a sound as anybody during the mid 60's - and that includes the Who. Hell, if anything, they were heavier than the Who - on record, at least. While the Who were always powerful onstage, by the time of The Who Sell Out (and especially Tommy) they were adopting a more pop-oriented sound. The Small Faces wrote pop songs as well, but even on Ogden's the force of their sound is unrelenting. My love of that album eventually led me to pick up There Are But Four Small Faces - the album immediately preceding it - on vinyl, and I would have to say I like it even better. It's an American version of the original British release, so purists may take issue with the tracks on here, but I certainly can't complain - a bunch of great, great singles are tacked on, including "Itchycoo Park" and "Tin Soldier," the latter being maybe my favorite Small Faces song ever. Not unlike "Song Of A Baker," I expected it to be almost Kinks-ian just from its title (see the Kinks' goofy "Tin Soldier Man"), but instead it is one of the most powerfully soulful songs they ever recorded! Who knew?? That, and you've got "Green Circles" and "Here Come The Nice" and "Get Yourself Together" - there is not a track on this album that I do not like. While the second side of Ogden's can be a little off-putting, Four Small Faces is primo British psych-rock from top to bottom. Twelve great tracks. Not bad at all.

So yes, yes. The Small Faces were one of those "really great bands from the Sixties" that you hear so much about. I don't have their first album but one day I am destined to own it. And, by extension, every album by the Faces and the Humble Pie (ehhhh not so sure about that last one). If you don't believe me about These Small Faces, take it from a band that was influenced by them a heckuva lot - the Greatest Band Alive, OASIS.

Hah! Yeah, that's right. God-damn OASIS. If you don't love the Small Faces just from hearing that name, what kind of awful good-music-hating cretin are you? The worst worst kind, that's what.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Requested Review: "Sailin' Shoes" by Little Feat


Before I delve into this sure-to-be-a-winner Little Feat review, I would like to take a moment to apologize for last week's post in which I claimed blogfriend Ben Vigeant was "legitimately upset" with an old video game review of mine. It was unnecessary and simply not true! Which I guess goes for that entire video game-related tangent in that very same post. You would all do well to ignore it next time the urge to read my Sebadoh reviews hits you. Which I'm sure will be a frequent problem.

Moving on then. Tonight's review was requested by none other than my good friend Luke Coryea! I have known good 'ol Luke for a very long time. Kindergarten, at least. It is not much of a stretch to say that, without Luke's musical influence on me during high school, I would not be writing in a blog about music much at all. He was inadvertently responsible for most of my sudden classic rock obsession during my teenage years, and for that I owe him quite a bit! Without him I would probably not know a single thing about Todd Rundgren. What kind of life would I be leading without knowing what album "Bang The Drum All Day" was on??

Well, anyway. Luke gave me a few options for albums to review; one was a Todd Rundgren record that I didn't do 'cuz I already reviewed like 5 of his albums at once, and another was a Stephen Stills album which I didn't do because I actually know who Stephen Stills is. The last one was Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes, which I chose mostly 'cuz I remember Luke talking about how much he liked them back in high school. I knew nothing about them then, and until about a week ago, I still knew absolutely nothing about them! So I figured that would make for a kinda-sorta interesting review.

What are Little Feat, anyway? Who IS Little Feat? When was Little Feat?? So so many questions about these Feat. Well, the main dude (at least in the early 70's, when Sailin' Shoes was recorded) is a man named Lowell George, who sang, played guitar and wrote most of the songs here. There's also a bunch of other dudes whose names I do not know, so let's not worry about them. Sailin' Shoes, released in '72, sounds to me like a mix of country rock with a tinge of Stonesy hard-rock and blues, not to mention some occasional early 70's pop-rock. The latter is most evident on "Easy To Slip," the first track on here; it's a sweet, easy going piece of pop-rock that almost sounds like Jackson Browne at his most slick. I mean that in a good way, though, since "Easy To Slip" might be my favorite song on here. The guitars are chimey and twangy, and the vocal melody is remarkably amiable - it's a good time, is what I'm saying. A pleasant early-70's vibe. It makes a man feel good.

The rest of the album isn't quite as poppy as the opening track. "Cold, Cold, Cold", "Cat Fever" and (obviously) "A Apolitical Blues" all dip into the blues; "Willin'" "Trouble" and the title track are pretty much straight-up country; and "Tripe Face Boogie" and ESPECIALLY "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" are rock rock rockin'! The latter is almost punk-rock, one could say! (Not really, though. It's pretty much just fast rock 'n roll. Not all fast rock 'n roll is punk rock. I would do well to remember this.) So while there is some stylistic diversity on here, the whole record as a pretty clear, poppy production. Nothing really sounds raw or legit bluesy - it's a well-produced album. And that's not a detriment; this album has a very amiable sound, and the production reflects that.

Pshh. I don't know what I'm talking about. "Production" - sheesh. Let's talk about what songs I like on here. "Easy To Slip," I already talked about that one. "Trouble" is a sweet little country-rock tune. "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" is - well I'm actually not sure what to think about it. Something about it puts me off. Lowell George's vocals? He kinda sounds like he's trying to hard to force a "rockin'" voice out of his usually amiable country-boy vocals. Jury's still out on that one. "Got No Shadow" starts off with a lite-funk keyboard that doesn't really appeal to me, but turns into a melodic laid-back jam that does, so that's a good thing. "Willin'" actually has a story behind it: apparently, Lowell George used to be in the Mothers of Invention for some strange reason, and ended up getting kicked out 'cause he offered Frank Zappa the aforementioned track. According to him, Mr. Zappa was so opposed to recreational drug use that any endorsement of it in a song like "Willin'" was grounds for termination. Now, to me, that seems like kind of a silly reason to kick someone out of a band, but who the hell am I? I'm no musician from the early 70's. I have no idea what actually happened. Either way "Willin'" is a cute country-rock ditty with mostly spoke-sung verses. I think it's from the point of view of a trucker? Either way it mentions drug use a lot. There you go.

"Texas Rose Cafe" feels like an unusual way to end an album. Not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination, but hey, what's with that falsetto vocal from Mr. George? What's up with that? Actually, you know, hearing it again that's probably the only unusual thing about the song. Otherwise it's a bluesy-rock road song. Or maybe it's not a road song. Let's not worry about it.

I don't always like whiteboy British blues songs but I like "A Apolitical Blues" enough. It's not my favorite song on the album but it's got a nice sound. Everything here sounds good, and hey, to record an album as likeable as Sailin' Shoes is certainly no little feat. Heh. Heheh HAHAHA!! I'm sure you saw that one coming.

Apparently the misspelling of "feet" is supposed to be a tribute to the Beatles? That's nice. They don't sound anything like the Beatles even the slightest bit but it's cute.

Lowell George died in '79 of a heart attack. A heart attack? The guy was in his mid-30's! That's rough. That's kind of scary. Unless it was drug related. Then it makes perfect sense and we can move on without issue.

Unfortunately, there's not much to move on to! This is a pretty likeable album that you might enjoy if you like early 70's country-pop-rock (or "classic rock," as you could call it, although that's not much of a genre). You'll probably like it. Apparently Little Feat are still recording and touring! And sometimes they have album covers like this one:

These guys sure had zany album covers!!!

This review isn't very interesting huh.