Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentlemen (2013)

I've got a weird relationship with Robert Pollard.  I've seen him live -- he's unreal.  I own a couple of Guided by Voices albums that I really enjoy.  There are other various reasons I should like him more:

  • he's constantly rocking, which may scare some (I'm looking at you, Denis) but is a big plus in my book;
  • he's indie and under the radar (right in my wheelhouse);
  • he's prolific and writes great singles; 
  • and he's from Ohio (the ultimate trump card).
So why don't I like his music more?  I'm not sure.  

As for this album (his fifth release in 2013, not including his singles box set), it once again just doesn't do it for me.  It's ultimately both not that interesting and lacks the energy he usually brings to the table.  It's a languid sludge and ultimately a bit boring.  

And it's not like I am going to listen to the the three other releases this year, or the ones from the last year or the year before.  Based on this, I'm afraid to bother with Honey Locust Honkey Tonk, which I heard was good... but I heard the same about Blazing Gentlemen. 

So readers, please direct me to what I SHOULD be listening to, especially the new stuff. 

CD Placement rating:  Sell-back 1.

- Snilch

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - Unvarnished (2013)

I hadn't given Joan Jett much thought in a number of years, to be honest, until I saw her on a session of Guitar Center Sessions.  The show tends to be uneven in terms of band performances, but this was one where your instinct afterwards was to immediately drive to a music store and buy everything she's ever done.

The highlight was the song "Any Weather," which I couldn't believe I had missed over the years -- when in the 80s did this come out?  Nope, it turns out that this was the lead track on her new album, with her legendary backing band The Blackhearts, no less.

I don't think it's an incorrect or gender-insensitive to say this:  Joan Jett is still the man.

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.

Joan Jett - "Any Weather"
(I prefer the version linked above but YouTube won't let me link to it.  Bastards.)

A surprise comeback, a welcome return, a fresh and brutally honest set, and a mature rock record that doesn't sound old.  She just kills it from start to finish, and I love it.


CD Placement rating: Car iPod.

- Snilch

Friday, August 08, 2014

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP2 (2013)

This album is... complicated.

On the one hand, you want to hate Eminem.  He's a mysoginistic hate-mongerer.  No, he's still a sympathetic little kid kid who got bullied.  He wants to kill his mother.  No, he loves her and sings her a sweet ballad.  (There's no doubt he hates Dad, though.)  He's full of himself, a self-aggrandizing, self-promoting immature thin-skinned brat.  No, he's just telling the truth, with some of the most raw and honest lyrics you'll ever hear.  He's nuts.  No, he's brilliant and trolling all of us.  He's over the hill.  No, he's just hitting his stride.  Wait, did he just rap as Yoda?  You know what, he IS brilliant.  No, he really IS nuts.

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

What can't be debated:  the guy has unreal talent and has produced an old-school rap album with actual samples.*  (Just check out "Bezerk.")  He samples The Zombies "Time of the Season," Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good," and even "Ode to Billy Joe," among others.  His rhetoric is definitely not PC.  Hell, he leaves PC at the door in the first song, a fantasy breaking-and-entering leading to a revenge murder.  Or maybe it's a suicide.  In any case... it's not for the faint of heart.

Musically and lyrically, I can't imagine any album being more musically intricate and emotionally disturbing at the same time.  You can't deny his talent, but it undoubtedly will not be for everyone.  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.

It's... complicated.

CD Placement rating:  Car CD Changer.  But I hate myself a bit for that.

- Snilch

* The reason most artists don't sample now (like artists in the 80s and 90s did) is because copyright and royalty agreements are now strictly enforced.  Credit to original artists, giving royalties to the original artists (see "Queen vs. 'Ice, Vanilla'"), and even permission to use tracks (which artists can charge an additional one-time fee for) were not enforced strictly until the early 90s.  Before then:  everyone sampled whatever they wanted, and old school hip-hop flourished.  After that:  sampling became a dead art, as it was too expensive to pursue, and thus old school hip-hop quietly became a lost cause as well.  For this album to contain the amount of sampling it does, Eminem had to be all-in financially to make it happen.  Kudos to him.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

10,000 Maniacs - Music from the Motion Picture (2013)

Sometimes, my stance on not reading reviews before not listening to albums really hurts me.  

So the gist of the latest 10,000 Maniacs album that I got was "first album in years" and "reunion."  What was not clearly stated in what I saw summarized was "Natalie Merchant is still not back after 21 years, and she ain't walking back through that door anytime soon."  

Therefore, this is more folk-rock with a Natalie Merchant sound-like vocalist, rather than alt-rock with Natalie Merchant.  And it's okay.  But that's all.

Then the unthinkable happens:  male lead vocals.  Bail.

CD Placement rating:  I am so full of rage I can barely see through the red to type this.  Who knows if it's any good, I will never listen to it ever again.  Pile of Death, you Natalie Merchant-less hippies.

- Snilch

Monday, August 04, 2014

Various Artists - Sound City: Real to Reel (2013)

The Dave Grohl documentary about the Sound City recording studio is amazing -- check it out when you have a chance.  This studio (now closed) produced albums by bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield, Dio, Metallica, Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and an album by Nirvana you may have heard of called Nevermind. 

The compilation that accompanies the film is what we are reviewing here.  Grohl has coerced a number of musicians to create some new songs for the soundtrack, all recorded in analog with the Sound City soundboard.  

We'll depart from the usual review format with a track-by-track review of the album.  (Grohl plays on every track.)

1. "Heaven and All."  This collaboration between half of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Grohl is classic BRMC, with Grohl mimicking their sound perfectly. A very solid start to the album.

2. "Time Slowing Down."  It's mainly the half of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave you don't know.  It's a little languid, but the track shows off the vocal production capabilities of the board early, and the guitar possibilities late in the song.  Not my favorite track.

3. "You Can't Fix This."  The first superstar track, and she sounds great.  It's a classic Stevie Nicks track, highlighting her timeless delivery.  The right kind of groove to feature her with.  Well done.

4. "The Man That Never Was."  Rick Springfield?  Are you kidding me?  Awesome!  Backed by the entirety of the Foo Fighters doesn't hurt either.  It's a good solid tune, and a rocker to boot.

5. "Your Wife Is Calling."  Fear's Lee Ving (if I've heard a Fear song, that's news to me) fronts thrash meeting Sound City. Clearly, Grohl will take all comers.  A little simple vocally, but spirited and fun; still, it ultimately falls a little short.

6. "From Can to Can't."  Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) meets Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) in a nice, lower tempo rocker.  This builds up nicely with surprises and vitriol.

7. "Centipede."  This one starts as classic Josh Homme.  It takes a while to get to a cacophony of guitar, but just when you think it's just never going to get there at all... it hits you in the most pleasant way.  Nimbly composed and produced post-grunge rock.  (I just make these genres up, remember.)

8. "A Trick With No Sleeve."  Another Homme tune, an okay track that doesn't go anywhere.

9. "Cut Me Some Slack."  Why is this the highlight track?  A few reasons: 1) all of the surviving members of Nirvana (Grohl, Krist Novaselic, and Pat Smear) recording a track for the first time since the band ended; 2) the song won a Grammy; and 3) oh, did I mention the band is fronted by PAUL MCCARTNEY?  It's a great track with a nice fuzz guitar - it has a Beatles White Album vibe - and rhythm section brilliance in its subtlety.  When the song hits overdrive, it's really wonderful.  Sir Paul still has it.

10. "If I Were Me."  Finally Grohl does some vocals.  You wouldn't expect this to be ballad-y, but it is, and it really works.  A nice soft song.

11. "Mantra."  Grohl, Homme, and Trent Reznor?  Yes please.  The song was more fun to watch being constructed in the doc than to listen to.  It takes a long time to get to a quick resolution, then abruptly ventures into a complete song change.  It takes the journey from very repetitive to very interesting, but it takes a while.

Overall?  It's good but not truly great.  Not a session listener but worth revisiting.

CD Placement rating:  Portable CD Case.


- Snilch


Friday, August 01, 2014

The Cult - Electric Peace (2013 re-issues)

Electric is my all-time favorite album by The Cult. Cult fans fall into one of two categories:  the ones who think Love is the best album they ever did, and the ones who think Electric is. Love fans are wrong, but you can't hold it against them as they are clearly missing some crucial part of their soul. (You can read here for more on Love.)

For me, this re-issue/re-master was a must-buy, because it came with a second disc, Peace.

Peace is The Cult's legendary, unreleased opus.  It was fabled to be some sort of cross between Led Zeppelin IV, Nirvana's Nevermind, Electric, Love, Van Morrison's Astral Dreams, The Beatles' Rubber Soul, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction, and Hanson's Middle of Nowhere.  The album was finally made available as part of the limited run of The Cult's Rare Cult Box Set, which quickly sold out.  In this mp3 day and age, there are few true rarities out there -- this is one of them.

Let's get the boring part out of the way:  Electric STILL kicks serious ass. The 26-year anniversary edition (really? 26?) is an amazing rock album, and a tour de force from front to back.  Still completely listenable after a quarter century.  

Now, to the main event.  There's no way else to describe it:  Peace sucks.

Don't just take my word for it.  Here's the blazing opener from Electric, "Wild Flower":



Here's the Peace version:  (link only, as YouTube is being weird) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LbrioVdYtI

Let's try "Love Removal Machine."  Here's the Electric version:



And the Peace version:



And every single song comparison is like this.  Except most are worse than this.  

I seriously have listened to this album twice.  Listening to it a third time should violate some portion of the Geneva Convention.  It's brutally awful.

Peace proves that Rick Rubin (who turned Peace into Electric) is truly a genius, and just how valuable a producer can be.  He unearthed the great songs that lie buried under crappy mixes; it's amazing that this gold could be mined from the steaming pile of Peace he was handed.


CD Placement rating:  Electric - can I go higher that Car iPod?  Peace - can I go lower than Pile of Death?

- Snilch

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rise Against - Long Forgotten Songs (2013)

I am not the biggest Rise Against fan (that might be Scotty Matz), but I have to say that I've never heard anything from them that I haven't liked.  It's probably more that I need to hear more from them to draw a conclusion than anything else.

Admittedly, starting with a group of B-sides is not the ideal scenario.  But Amazon had a Lightning Deal, and I have little impulse control when it comes to acquiring music.  Poor Mrs. Snilch Report.

So common sense aside (clearly never a problem for me to ignore), Rise Against tiptoes the line between hardcore thrash and pop, where melody and poetry rubs shoulders with pure noise and screaming.  It's an intoxicating combination that's tough to beat.

At times, lead singer Tim McIlrath sounds like a screaming version of Against Me's Laura Jane Grace (a.k.a., Tom Gabel pre-gender re-assignment surgery).

It's smart, SMART music, sharp tempo changes, and (well) smart, SMART lyrics.  Even as a collection of B-sides, they show their expertly deft handling of this medium.  Highlights like "Elective Amnesia," "Dirt and Roses," "Ballad of Hollis Brown" (a country folk rock thrash), and "Lanterns" make you wonder how some of this stuff did not make it onto their albums.  And great covers like Survivor's "Any Way You Want It" and Nirvana's "Silver" round out a very stout collection.

Sure, some songs don't work.  But surprisingly, that's the exception rather than the rule.  I think it's the best B-sides compilation I've heard since Sugar's Besides in 1995.

CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Monday, July 28, 2014

Transplants - In a Warzone (2013)

Transplants is a punk "supergroup" featuring Tim Armstrong from Rancid and drummer Travis Barker from blink-182.  Their first self-titled album in 2002 had a couple of great songs:  "Diamonds and Guns" (which found its way into a shampoo commercial) and "Tall Cans in the Air" (which, as Scotty Matz can attest to, found its way into the must-hear category for tailgates, although Matty Squarepants may disagree).  The promise of that first album (and those two singles in particular) is that this group would one day turn in a definitively great, consistent album.

In a Warzone, the band's third, is not the album.  It's unintentionally the most effective PSA against vocalists who smoke three packs a day for twenty years.  Their voices are all completely shot.  While the first album uses, shall we say, "non-traditional" vocalizations as a contrast to more classic rock vocals, there's no such contrast here -- it's rough vocally all the time.  "Heaven All Over Again" makes me shudder.  

And for whatever reason, the boys are now on a political rant, but in a vague, sloganistic way.  It's just jargon:  there are no clever one-liners, no intensity, and no feel of any realism.  The charm and verisimilitude that pervaded the first album is also gone -- it's just lifeless and seems forced on every level.  The production does not help this at all, either.  It's a poorly mixed, sludgy overwrought, stilty bass piece of crap.

But the drums are good.

CD Placement rating: Pile of Death/Peaches Pile.

- Snilch