Friday, January 17, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #14 -- It's a Roundup!

Surprise!  I haven't done one of these for quite a while... I feel like I am overdue.

I'm also going to introduce new ratings systems where appropriate here.  I hope you will enjoy.  (Editor's note:  he really does not care either way.)
  • Boise Cover Band - Unoriginal Artists (recorded in 2003, released in 2007).  Doug Martsch of Built to Spill put this group together.  I liked their cover of The Pretenders "Chain Gang," which is an instrumental.
    Using the "Yes/No" rating system, I'm going to give this one a solid "No."  (If you need further details on the nuances of this ratings system, please feel free to Comment or contact me offline.  Based on your confusion, however, I'm guessing you probably can't figure out how to do either.  But rest assured, that makes you no less valued as a reader.  And yes, I'm looking right at you, Bubba.)
  • The Call - Into the Woods (1987).  Thanks to Scott, a band I've always been intrigued by but never investigated makes its way into my collection.  Is this The Call album I've always imagined I'd hear?  Great guitar, and of course, synths, synths, synths.  A very solid rock album with solid bass lines; it's a little 1980s Golden Earring-esque.  (And I MAY like Golden Earring.)  But then -- "Too Many Tears" happens.  It's on the level of "Everywhere I Go," which is high praise when you consider that I still enjoy that song after 25 years.  It's a lost classic:  epic pain, rage, and hope all combined into a strong man's rock package.
    "Yes."  (Not a lot of nuance with this rating system, come to think of it.)
  • J Church - The Precession Of Simalacra - The Map Preceeds The Territory (1995).  I love me some J Church.  I caught on to them late, but before Lance Hahn passed away.  This one is indie grunge punk in its best simple brilliance as always.  The hooks may not be complex, but they are always catchy.  As always with J Church, there are hits and misses; here (as usual) the good outweighs the bad.
    Verdict:  Using the "Binary" rating system, I'm going to give this one a solid "110011101."  (Hint:  more 1's means I liked the album, more 0's means I didn't.  Hope you like math!) 
  • Land of Talk - Applause Cheer Boo Hiss (2005).  Starting out with a hooky open will always get my attention.  These Saddle Creek Favorites are freaking good.  For some reason, when I first listened my notes read:  "I'm wicked pissed I never listened to these guys and gals earlier.  (I have no idea where this is going.)"  (Editor's note:  using the "Binary" rating system, we're going to give this last sentence a solid "0.")  Harmonies and overdubbing of vocals drive this fun rock/pop jamboree -- it's very reminiscent of Pretty Girls Make Graves.  "Speak to Me Bones" and "Summer Special" are great songs highlighting a tremendous album.  It's great music, but the vocals take this to the next level.  Think Edie Brickell combined with Scheer (gritty with great vocals).  A quintessential college/coming of age album, this (much to Mrs. Snilch Report's dismay) is going to inspire me to pursue their entire catalog.
    Verdict:  1111001111.
  • Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2011).  Southern California's punk icons are back, for the second time without founding member Dennis Danell, who passed away in 2000.  It's taken 15 years to produce two albums since the 1996 offering White Light, White Heat, White Trash, and this album is clearly a departure for them.  With fuller, more traditional arrangements (and, much to Matz's dismay, female backing vocals), this is much more an attempt at blues/rock or rockabilly/soul than at punk.  It's odd from the beginning:  starting the album with an instrumental that stands alone, followed by a cover is really odd, and honestly doesn't work.  "Machine Gun Blues" and "Alone & Forsaken" are highlight songs.  In the end, it's not bad, it's not not good, and it's not particularly memorable.
    Verdict:  110011001111001000111011010011110101010000011010100111010101000011.
  • Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012).  Thanks to Andrew for this recommendation.  This is sweet (not sure where I got that adjective from) trance-like music that washes over you like a gentle spring rain.  Its lyrics, meanwhile, are actually a bit dark, which (to me at least) makes a great contrast.  I'd describe this as  "oddly laid back cacophony."
    Verdict:  Enough math; let's get more artistic.  And what could be more wicked artistic than colors?  
    (Editor's note:  "0.")  So I'm going to give this a rating of "yellow-green."
  • Guns N' Roses - Live Era '87-'93 (1999).  One of the big points that Slash made in his autobiography is how important and treasured live albums were to him.  Thus, he said, Live Era '87-'93 was an album he really treasured putting out.  I'm not sure why.  The pretentious "Recorded Across the Universe Between 1987 and 1993" should have been a warning shot across the bow.  But, much like the idiot in the horror movie who insists on investigating that noise rather than call the authorities, I decided to move forward. The versions do not feel inspired or have that extra punch of live energy you'd expect.  "Nightrain" is bad, but the version of "Mr. Brownstone" so eviscerates the original that somewhere Jimbo is gasping for air like his twin just lost his kidney.  "It's So Easy"?  Awful.  "Welcome to the Jungle?"  Awful.  The low-tempo version of "You're Crazy?"  Awful.  Amy's favorite, "Rocket Queen?"  Awful.  "Knockin' on Heaven's Door?"  "Patience?"  The 12:30 version of "November Rain?"  Awful, awful, awful.  For God's sake... my favorite, "Sweet Child O' Mine?"  Nope, awful.  One last chance... the closer, "Paradise City."  Awful.  Awful, awful, awful, awful, awful. awful, awful.  The one word I'd use to describe this album is (of course) "terrible."
    Verdict:  I'll give this a solid "red" (as in "avoid" or as in "I am still seeing").
  • Sun Dial - Reflector (1992).  Sun Dial is an interesting project, with albums often widely varying in approach (Andrew and Mark will remember "Believe in the Spaceman" from a few years ago).  The title track "Reflector" leads off -- and it's an epic rawk track.  This may be their second best album (next to 1990's Other Way Out, which Mojo went as far to call "The greatest unheard psychedelic album ever"), which is high praise.  This is a heavy album without being too heavy, and epic while remaining grounded.  There's a great base of sound here, combined with great hooks and great harmonies.  It's a very persistent album.
    Verdict:  I'll give this a "brilliant yellow" (like the sun - get it?).
  • Weezer - Raditude (2009).  As The Red Album was Weezer's best since Pinkerton, it's time to take them off the "avoid" list and see if this was a one-off brilliance or a turning point.  Sure, "I'm Your Daddy" is paint by numbers classic Weezer, but if you make a great chicken fried steak, you should serve chicken fried steak.  In this case, I am happy to eat the same thing all the time.  "Put Me Back Together" may have a little Kill Hannah in it, but I like that band too.
    Verdict:  I'll give this a "blue-green" (like their album cover colors).  
    (Editor's note:  yes, we realize the "Color" rating started out based on a traffic-light type of system, then somehow became the sun, and now means basically nothing.  So Spiritualized and Weezer are Portable CD Case, Guns N' Roses is Pile of Death, and Sun Dial is Car CD Changer.  And for those who are too lazy to (i.e., can't) add, that number for Social D came out to "1," which means it is a CD Rack album.  We'll be back to our regularly scheduled program next time.)
- Snilch

Thursday, January 16, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: Lucky #13, The Big Sleep - Nature Experiments (2012)

Following the excellent 2008 release Sleep Forever, The Big Sleep return with raucous force, surprisingly blasting right out of the gate.  By the second song, it was already my favorite album of the year; after listening to the whole album, I think the back half of the album might actually be better than the first half.  Yes, it's THAT good.

The Big Sleep varies between lead singers, resulting in alternating male and female call-and-response vocals from song to song.  Except that they don't alternate, and it varies from album to album whether one leads, the other does, or neither (complete instrumental).  They serve the songs first, and it shows.  While Sleep Forever was very good, Nature Experiments almost sounds like a different band with the echo-ey vocals and guitars (or synth/organ), and no instrumentals at all.

The Big Sleep - "Valentine."  Decent song, gross video.

Throughout, epic guitar tones are just wonderfully set up with synths, vocals, or whatever.  When I first heard this, I wrote, "Please let me stop reviewing this so I can keep reviewing it again and again."  (I'm not sure who I was asking permission from.)  After hundreds of more listens, I can assure you that this is an album I will be listening to again for years.  It's an ALBUM, and there is not a dud here.

iTunes:  "Ace," "Red Carpet," "Ladders," "Four Wishes," "Popcorn Soda Candy."  Yes, that's five of the twelve songs on the album, and that makes the video I posted at best the sixth best song on the album.

CD Placement rating:  Car CD Changer.  If I had a higher rating, I'd give it.

- Snilch

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #12, My Bloody Valentine - M B V (2013)

Finally!  The Chinese Democracy album odyssey of the indie rock world ultimately comes to fruition.

A brief background:  in 1991, My Bloody Valentine released Loveless.  It is considered by many (including me) to be the best "shoegazer" album ever.  It is also considered by many (including me) to be one of the best rock albums ever.

Island Records signed them to a huge contract (reportedly $500K), which they sunk into the production of a studio.  Over the next seven years, depending on who you believe, they recorded somewhere between two albums and 60 hours worth of music.  The net result?  Zero releases.

Next were rumors in 2003 that they were recording material for a box set.  Still... nothing.

In 2008, they reunited and performed live for the first time in 16 years.  And they went on an extensive tour that lasted into 2009.  Then they stopped... to record their next album.  (To be clear, no one believed this was actually happening.)

Yet, just four short, agonizing years later, they finally released it.  22 years after Loveless, finally came M B V.  (Hey, Chinese Democracy took only 17 years.  Seeing as they both released their previous albums in 1991, Axl was five years faster in real time than MBV.)

With all that buildup, and following one of the greatest albums ever, there was basically no way Kevin Shields and Company could match expectations and anticipation here.


Well, there is no "but" in this case.  It just doesn't meet those expectations.  It's good, very good, just not as great as Loveless.  "New You" is a gem, but otherwise, this fells like Loveless 1.5.  A little tired, a little dated, a little small.

My Bloody Valentine - "New You"

It's something I never thought would actually happen... ultimately, I'm glad they finally put another album out.  I just wish it were a little better.  I'm sure the next one in 2035 will do the trick.

CD Placement rating:  Where it belongs:  CD Rack (maybe even Sell-back 1).  Where I will keep it in hopes it grows on me:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #11, The Corin Tucker Band - Kill My Blues (2012)

We're picking back up today after a couple of days down due to a stomach bug.  Good times!

This is the second offering from Corin Tucker post-Sleater-Kinney.  Unlike Carrie Brownstein's high profile acting career (as co-star of "Portlaandia"), NPR blog, or supergroup affiliation with Wild Flag, Tucker has been more under the radar with her project, playfully named ala The Marshall Tucker Band.  (And she is all in on this -- she named her oldest child Marshall.  True story.)

Her first album, 1,000 Years, was one I reviewed for The Whiskey Dregs, and was a Sell-back 1.  I was not expecting much more from offering #2.

Fortunately, I was wrong.  This is a solid, solid rock album, and feels a lot more comfortable in its own skin than 1,000 Years ever did.

The Corin Tucker Band - "Neskowin"

On Kill My Blues, Tucker showcases her other-worldly voice and gets strong musical support from her bandmates.  Is it a little too consistent (i.e., "same-y")?  Maybe.  But I'll take the consistency over the hit or miss, the more mature approach that is never forced and still interesting musically.  In the Brownstein/Tucker split, I figured to be fully in the Brownstein camp, but it's surprisingly Tucker who has created the best post-S-K album yet.  Give credit where credit is due.

CD Placement rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Saturday, January 11, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #10, Jesu - Heart Ache/Dethroned (2004 - 2010)

Jesu:  the best, cheeriest kind of slow gloom rock you will find.

Somehow they make the whole experience inviting and comforting.  I'm really not sure how.  It's droning, reverberating, insisting progressive rock at its most natural grimy extension.  I always imagine Jesu as those fat twins on motorcycles that were in the Guiness Book of World Records in the 70's.  (In other words, a reincarnation of Screaming Trees, whose rhythm section was basically the same thing.)

This project (as opposed to 2007's Conqueror or 2009's Opiate Sun) is not a standard "next release":  disc 1 (Heart Ache) represents a long out of print 2004 EP, while disc 2 (Dethroned) was started at the same time but completed in 2010.  Keep in mind:  during that time period, Jesu released 4 full albums and 4 EPs.  That's a considerable amount of music in between the start and the completion of Dethroned, and thus a lot of room for their music to evolve.

Jesu - "Dethroned"

Besides all of that, it's just great music.  It's the musical equivalent of the most romantic pieces of a rainy day:  it's dark, it's threatening, yet it's inexplicably refreshing and uplifting.  

It's a fine place to start listening to Jesu, or the next album of theirs that you should pursue.

CD Placement rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Friday, January 10, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #9, Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You (2011)

My problems with this album began even before they had finished recording it.  IMHO, there are two types of Red Hot Chili Peppers albums:  the ones with guitarist John Frusciante and the ones without John Frusciante.  I felt he took the band to the next level -- both after replacing the late, great Hillel Slovak and after replacing the not so late, not so great Dave Navarro.  Mother's Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Californication, and Stadium Arcadium are their best albums, in whatever order you want to put them in, and all feature Frusciante.  

Seeing as Frusciante left the band in 2009, I was not inclined to pick up the album.

However, after seeing two excellent songs from this album as videos on 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield (which has since gone off the air -- thank you MTV, for eliminating the one music video show worth watching of the 3 hours of music you actually play each week), my fate was sealed.  Against my better judgement, I picked up the album.

The first listen brought up my second problem with the album:  I did not like it one bit.  (In the music listening business, this is a pretty serious problem.)

As I continued to listen, it started to grow on me... this is what I wrote at the time:
First thought:  Hate it.
Second thought:  This will remain in my music collection.  This album definitely focuses on the funk/pop side more -- there are electronica elements present here that you will not find anywhere else in their catalog.
Third thought:  The album is annoying.  It sounds tired.  Or all over the place.  Some good songs, but not a cohesive sound or album.
Sell-back 1
Sometimes that's the way it goes.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Look Around"

I did have one other note:  "NEED TO LISTEN AGAIN -- ALL SINGLES."  That was actually the only thing worth keeping from those first ramblings.  Once I thought of the album as a collection of one-off songs as opposed to a one unified, cohesive thought, I did really enjoy it.  It's not their best album, but definitely an enjoyable listen and their best non-Frusciante album.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #8, The National - Boxer (2007)

This was an Eric Lax suggestion.  (Aside:  there appears to be a "deep voiced lead singer" pattern in his suggestions [except for Alt J, which I promise I will get to], which leads me to believe that Eric was strongly influenced by Joy Division.)

But I digress.  I was really concerned about this on the first listen -- the first track is unremarkable.  But then "Mistaken for Strangers" takes over, and I am there.  It is compelling; the best way to describe it would be to say "it insists without being insistent."  There is tension and beauty wrapped into low to mid tempo rock.  It's the highlight song of an very decent album -- the best analogy I could be to make would be to describe it as the "Rise" to American Music Club's album Everclear.  

The National - "Mistaken for Strangers"

A precisely considered, meandering rock/pop travelogue, this is definitely worth checking out.

CD Placement Rating:  A CD Rack album that "Mistaken for Strangers" puts on its shoulders and carries to Portable CD Case land.

- Snilch