Friday, February 27, 2015

The Top 15 Albums from 2013

Yes, it's a year late.  But better late than never... plus, we'll start 2014 reviews immediately.  Well, almost immediately.  Shortly?

In any case, without further ado... The Snilch Report's Top 15 albums from 2013:

15. Anoraak - Chronotropic.  "
Of all the electronica I heard this year, this album seemed to incorporate the best parts of all of them, adding in a confidence and a self-assuredness that comes off as 'relaxed expert,' and not 'annoyingly cocky.'"  Original review here.

Anoraak - "Behind Your Shades"

14. Speck Mountain - Badwater.  "It's a nice mellow listen, best enjoyed with a good book on a bright sunny day on your porch, or with your favorite medicinal drug of choice."  Original review here.

Speck Mountain - "Badwater"

13. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Unvarnished.  Anyone who wants to tell me that there's not great music out there any more can just look at this list.  The fact that Joan Jett is this low tells you there was a ton of good music in 2013.  Just watch the video.  "This is quite simply, a great, classic rock album.  It's not a throwback, it's timeless.  It's got an edge and an intensity that is surprising after all these years.  It's classic Joan Jett, and that is a damn good thing."  Original review here.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - "Any Weather"

12. Brent Amaker and the Rodeo - Year of the Dragon.  "This sounds like Calvin Johnson from Beat Happening traded his lo-fi bandmates for Johnny Cash's backing band. It's uptempo country, fun storytelling extolled in a lighthearted tone (even when the lyrics are dark)."  Original review here.

Brent Amaker and the Rodeo - "Tequila Cerveza"  Warning: the video is very sacreligious at points.

11. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages - Dig Thy Savage Soul.  "Barrence... well, he's got the voice of an angel and a devil, all rolled into one.  Simply ridiculous. That is worth the price of admission alone."  Original review here.

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages - "Corner "

10. Cage the Elephant - Melophobia.  "It's a snapshot of a band still growing into their sound, which is scary as this is already really good....  It's a listen that will satisfy pretentious snobs (like me) and 'I like what sounds good' lunchpail joes (oddly enough, also like me)."  Original review here.

Cage the Elephant - "Take It or Leave It"

9. Bored Nothing - Bored Nothing.  "This is excellent, accessible, and well produced; it's everything you'd want in an album to listen to and enjoy.  Not a bad song in the bunch.  I'll take Big Star 2.0 any day."  Original review here.

Bored Nothing - "Let Down"

8. Grant Hart - The Argument.  "It's a breakthrough recording for someone you could have written off years ago.  Hart is clear and focused, wasting no space vocally in his quest to win the argument."  Original review here.

Grant Hart - "Morningstar"

7. Eric Salt and the Electric City - Please Say Yes.  "In the end, this feels like a mixtape of the best songs Salt has written in the past four years, but it works.... [A]ll in all, it's a great listen and an album I'll be revisiting again and again in the near future."  Original review here.

Eric Salt and The Electric City - "Women I've Loved" 

6. Luscious Jackson - Magic Hour.  "Hearing Glaser and Cunniff trading vocals, and Schellenbach's drumming style brought together again... well, it's just awesome."  Original review here.

Luscious Jackson - "Show Us What You Got"

5. Curt Smith - Deceptively Heavy.  "In the end what comes through is the combination of confident experience with the restless energy of an artist.  It's just another amazing offering from a great musician."  Original review here.

Curt Smith - "Suffer the Silence"

4. The Black Angels - Indigo Meadow.  "I could listen to this album again and again -- it's got just enough pop to be accessible, and just enough edge to keep it fresh and interesting.  It's an impressive offering, produced expertly."  Original review here.

The Black Angels - "Don't Play With Guns"

3. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2.  "Musically and lyrically, I can't imagine any album being more musically intricate and emotionally disturbing at the same time.... His lyrical ability to paint a sharply focused picture is unparalleled; his combination of ignorance, brilliance, mental instability, perfect clarity, brick-headed self-centered stupidity, and introspective objective empathy simply weaves too well together to be anything but intentional."  Original review here.

Eminem - "Bezerk"
Cameos by Rick Rubin, Kid Rock, and Kendrick Lamar
Samples of The Beastie Boys and Billy Squier (including video from "The Stroke")

2. Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes.  "It's an easy listen, but holds enough edge and challenge to ensure you'll be back for more.  I'm not the first to say it, but that don't mean it ain't the truth:  this may be the best album of his career."  Original review here.

Tom Keifer - "It's Not Enough"

1. The Black Watch - The End of When.  "It's dreamy rock that's smooth and smart, emotional and poppy.... Simply great."  Original review here.

The Black Watch - "Meg"

And there you have it.  Next up:  an interview with John Andrew Fredrick of The Black Watch, a roundup of some other stuff I have been listening to... and then it's on to the 2014 reviews!

- Snilch

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sleater-Kinney at The House of Blues Boston, 2/22/15

One of my all-time favorite bands, Sleater-Kinney, got back together (okay, okay, "returned from hiatus") and hit Boston last night at The House of Blues Boston.  Bubba, The Deadly Bishop, Mrs. Snilch Report and I had been looking forward to this show for months.  

So when I say we left early, you'd probably be surprised.  Especially when Mrs. Snilch and I shelled out $75 for our tickets.  And even more so when I tell you that Sleater-Kinney was putting on a great show, from what we could hear.

The problem:  we couldn't actually SEE the show.

Here's the issue:  The House of Blues Boston has three levels -- Floor, 2nd level, and 3rd level.  The Floor was packed, but there were still places you could stand in the back.  The 3rd level (which had seats) had plenty of room for people to stand behind chairs, but none were.  

Unfortunately for us, we were on the 2nd level.  Dead center was four people deep across the entire back, as were each of the front corners.  The back corners were two deep, but given the angle, it was impossible for us to stand together and have more than one of us actually see the show.

Further complicating the situation is that The House of Blues blocks off part of the 2nd level for VIPs/season ticket holders in the front right corner.  There were three to five  people standing in this area the whole night.  Finally, there are walls that come down to about 4 feet off the 2nd level, cutting off 20-30 feet of potential viewing area on each side.  (You can actually bend down under the wall to try and watch the show... but Security would not let people stoop down in this area to do so.  Thanks, HOB!)

So we were stuck watching monitors on the wall near the back corner.  But THAT didn't work because Bubba (who is hard of hearing) couldn't hear the show from back there.  So we had to move up closer to the speakers.  And therefore, here was our view:

This is what $75 got my wife and me.  And the video feed was awful:  the focus was soft (i.e., the images were not sharp) and the image was very dark (as the stage wasn't lit for video).  And there were at least (my best guess) 50-75 people in the same boat as us, with no view of the stage.

Now I've been in situations where I've been uncomfortable and crowded, had my view partially blocked by a mass of humanity, or been at large outdoor festivals where I had to watch video monitors with the band a mile away -- I am well aware that not every concert experience is going to be ideal.  But this is definitely the first time I can say that it was physically impossible to watch the show.  As Mrs. Snilch Report said, "If I wanted to watch a video, I'd just wait for the DVD to come out."

And that is why this situation was unacceptable.  Totally, thoroughly unacceptable.

The ultimate fault lies with HOB Boston.  They oversold the 2nd level, and would not allow overflow into the 3rd level or the Floor.  I find this practice disgusting and, frankly, unconscionable.  The tickets do not say "obstructed view," which these clearly were in our case.  And even if we had gotten there early enough to get on the rail, the problem would just have been transferred to four other people, who would be feeling the same way that my friends and I did this morning.  In other words, like we collectively took $150 and flushed it down the toilet.

I hope that when S-K comes back to town someday, they don't come back to the House of Blues.  In the 15+ years I've been a fan, it's the first time I've walked out on them -- one of my favorite bands and live acts of all time.  And it's not because of performance or material, but strictly because of the venue.  I'm positive that this situation will be news to them.

As for the House of Blues... I enjoyed my experience there watching The Cult, but until you change your ticket policy for the 2nd level, you can count on me and my friends never coming back.  I can't believe someone could take Avalon and screw it up more than previous versions of the venue, but congrats -- you have climbed that mountain!  

Your attitude toward your patrons is unacceptable and callous.  You got me this time, but the next potentially 5 or 10 shows I would have attended are definitely not going to happen.  I think that math is not in your favor.

Readers:  I encourage you to warn your friends about this, so you don't suffer the same disappointment we did.  And please let the House of Blues in Boston know that this is not acceptable to you either.

- Snilch

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Black Watch - The End of When (2013)

We've finally reached the end of the 2013 reviews, and we've saved one of the best for last.

I'm not sure how this happened, but this release was not on my radar in 2013 at all.  My everlasting love of The Black Watch is best articulated here, here, or, most descriptively, here.  (The latter post can give you the band's entire sordid history.)

Before we get started, there are two things you need to do when you listen to this album:  1) listen to it with good headphones, and 2) (since you're likely a bit dim like myself) LISTEN TO IT WITH GOOD HEADPHONES.  Case in point:  I initially tried this album in the car and it didn't work.  (Please note:  when you convert this album to crappy, lowest common denominator mp3s, then listen to it with your iPod earbuds and complain "it doesn't sound great," I'm going to hit you over the head with a tire iron, as that is not even close to following instructions.  You've been warned.)

The album opens with "I Don't Feel the Same," a fuzz rock anthem that's worth the price of admission alone.  The guitar tone alone makes me feel happy to be alive to appreciate it.  From the get-go, the band sounds super tight -- it's a lush, rich, fully cohesive sound.

Then they go straight into "Meg" -- a dreampop contrast, a classic Black Watch offering with a freshness I can't quite define but definitely appreciate.  It's relaxed, confident, and unhurried; a conspicuously languid counterbalance undercuts the song's unrest, and the "Hey!" background vocal punctuation somehow propels the song to the next level.  By "Hardly Nothing Never Ending," it's clear that this album is a precisely produced, expertly arranged masterpiece.  And by "Oh Oh" I was texting and emailing music pals to pick up this album.  So damn good.

The Black Watch - "Meg"

It's dreamy rock that's smooth and smart, emotional and poppy.  It's a rare "album," complete from front to back.  It's a must pickup:  my immediate thought (based on pure speculation, not on any sort of a factual basis) is that this is the culmination of the long road back from the sudden departure of J'Anna Jacoby a decade ago.  It's not as if John Andrew Fredrick has failed to produce great albums in the intervening years; this is just the best, most fully realized expression of the group since that time.  Simply great.

As a bonus for fans who don't know the band, there's a bonus disc that gives some highlights from their previous albums (although I do have an issue with some of the songs that were left off).  So quit procrastinating and go get the CD.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Curt Smith - Deceptively Heavy (2013)

Following Curt Smith's excellent 2008 album Halfway Pleased, I anxiously awaited a next album... but given Tears for Fears recent uptick in activity, it looked like the band would release something first.

To my surprise, I discovered last week that Curt had actually released an album... in 2013.  Always on top of it, clearly.

In any case, it's new to me and likely to you.

From the opening notes of "Beautiful Failure," this sounds like Halfway Pleased 2.0 -- the same beautiful and dreamy music, shimmering vocals, and twisted dark lyrics.  I settled in for more of the same of what the first album gave us.

Then "Suffer the Silence" happens.  Then "Hold It Together" happens.  It's enough of a change in terms of musical texture that the charge here is clear:  capture the brilliance of the last album, but expand on it without losing the plot.

The result?  I love it.  I love it, I love it, I love it.  Smith plays to his strengths without being held captive by them.  There still is plenty of mellow here, but there's also experimentation.  

In the end what comes through is the combination of confident experience with the restless energy of an artist.  It's just another amazing offering from a great musician.

CD Placement Rating: You want to guess? Car iPod.

- Snilch

Monday, December 29, 2014

NYPC - The Numbers (2013)

In 2007, New Young Pony Club released Fantastic Playroom, which was a great start for a young band, and included the epic song "The Bomb."  They were a young five-piece indie rock dance band from the UK on their way up, and with ridiculous upside.

Flash forward to 2013.  They've changed their name to NYPC, are on the third album... but now they're a two-piece band, and sound kind of tired.

What happened?  I wish they could go back to 2007... well, why describe it.  I know this is the wrong album, but check this jam out:

Then:  New Young Pony Club, 2007 - "The Bomb."  NOT on this album.

Here's NYPC, 2013:

Now:  New Young Pony Club, 2013 - "Hard Knocks."  This IS on this album.

Instant analysis:  just not good.  What happened?

CD Placement rating:  Sell-back 1.  Only "Overtime" (which may or may not make it anyways) gives this one a reprieve from the Pile of Death.

- Snilch

Sunday, December 28, 2014

CSS - Planta (2013)

For their fourth album, CSS is back without their songwriter, producer, and drummer.  (They're all one person... and the only guy who was in the band.)  Without him, they lean more towards the light dance/poppy sound, but retain some of their edge as well.  This album sounds like a poppy/super excited Suzanne Vega over electronica. It's more polished than their debut, less indie rock than their previous couple of offerings.

But ultimately... it's a little thin and one-note-ish on the whole.  It's a great note, mind you; it's just a lot of the same throughout.

CSS - "Dynamite" (My favorite song from the album)

Overall:  pleasant but not ground breaking. It's a fine, fine soundtrack for a sunny afternoon.  Well, most of it, at least.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case... as the album drags on, it slides into the CD Rack. 

- Snilch

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cage the Elephant - Melophobia (2013)

It took an appearance on Later... With Jools Holland (hmmmm... I wonder where I am catching new music these days) to more thoroughly investigate this band.  They've been on the periphery of my radar for quite a while.

This album, their third, is great. Think quirky, edgy, alternative/indie pop.  For a band from Kenutucky, the vocals are actually are most reminiscent of the English band Arctic Monkeys.

It's a snapshot of a band still growing into their sound, which is scary as this is already really good.  Their sensibility in layering sounds and changing tempo are both already at an expert level.  The band meanders purposely throughout.  It's a listen that will satisfy pretentious snobs (like me) and "I like what sounds good" lunchpail joes (oddly enough, also like me).  "Spiderhead" and "Halo" are my personal favorites here.

Cage the Elephant - "Come a Little Closer"

This is a very good album, but I suspect their next one will be epic.  Get on board now.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch