Monday, July 21, 2014

Luscious Jackson - Magic Hour (2013)

Luscious Jackson started out in the early '90s as an all-female group on the Beastie Boys label Grand Royal; in fact some dubbed them "the female Beastie Boys" (ironic since drummer Kate Schellenbach was actually a member of the Beasties in their hardcore punk stage).  EPs Daughters of the Kaos and In Search of Manny hinted at potential greatness; 1994's full-album debut Natural Ingredients filled that promise, featuring the classic single "Citysong."  1996's Fever In Fever Out was a very solid followup for the quartet; 1998 saw keyboardist Vivian Trimble leaving the band for the (now) trio's highly underrated Electric Honey, which (objectively) is probably not their best album but (subjectively) might be my favorite.

And then... they just faded away.  Sure, primary songwriters Jill Cunniff and Gabby Glaser each released solo albums in 2007 (you can read the reviews here and here), but for a group that charged through the 90s (including multiple side projects), the post-LJ era seemed like it was just not happening.

Fortunately, it did happen in 2013, as Luscious Jackson released not one but TWO albums.  (The second, Baby DJ is a children's album that I will review once all of my nephews and nieces under the age of 10 listen to it.)

Right off the bat, "You and Me" is an instant classic.  It's Luscious Jackson at their best:  Schellenbach's unique beat-frantic drum styling, the contrast of Cunniff and Glaser's voices played against each other, a not-quite-rap, not-quite-dance, not-quite-indie, guitar/bass/percussive pop tour de force.  Smartly produced, first rate "kitchen sink without overwhelming" instrumentation with a beat you can dance to.  Just great.

The second song, "#1 Bum," can only be compared to XTC's "Stupidly Happy" or Big Dipper's "Lord Scrumptious":  if I could just obliterate the lyrics and pretend they were singing in Farsi, I'd be very happy.  I really wish this were about a homeless person rather than lyrics like "I got your back," "Your bum is number one," and "Where'd you get those buns buns buns buns."  I can't make this stuff up.  They even made a video for it, which, while predictably awful, is made worse by the subtitling of the lyrics.  It's like watching someone make the worst possible decision on a reality show and then beamingly brag about it.

Those are the highs and lows, all at the front of the album.  The rest of the album is rock solid, with highlights being "Are You Ready?," "Love is Alive," "Frequency," and my other favorite on the album, "We Go Back."

It's one of the most welcome comebacks of the year; I wasn't even aware of it until Ryan told me about it.  Hearing Glaser and Cunniff trading vocals, and Schellenbach's drumming style brought together again... well, it's just awesome.


CD Placement rating: I'll be skipping one song, but despite that, it's still Car iPod worthy.

- Snilch

Friday, July 18, 2014

Superchunk - I Hate Music (2013)

Admittedly, Superchunk is not a band I typically listen to.  But I was assigned 2010's Majesty Shredding, which was great.  So this one I picked up without hesitation.

Now I do have to say that calling your album I Hate Music means either that you've got a great sense of humor, or you're the kind of miserable person who opens a bar called "I Hate Alcohol and Sports on TV."

It all starts well enough; "Overflows" is a very nice opening track.  It's storytelling indie-rock, and this offering is politely loud.  Maybe "Me & You & Jackie Mittoo" would be great if I were a musician, but it sounds a little like inside baseball to me.

What's most surprising, though, is that this album isn't that adventurous.  The elements are all here for great songs or even a great album; but (at least to me) it never becomes cohesively interesting as a group of songs.  Now when they do pull it all together (e.g., "Low F," "Breaking Down," or "Your Theme"), you get a reminder of what made them alt rock legends:  they bend the music to their will in a way that was (and is) "good."  (This is a technical term that I won't explain, but please feel free to look up.)

In the end, I'm not enough of a Superchunk fan to appreciate this in context, and the album isn't good enough to work as a standalone.

CD Placement rating: Sell-back 1.

- Snilch


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Todd May - Rickenbacker Girls (2013)

This album was a total shot in the dark, but it proves that if you put an image of the state of Ohio on the cover of your album, I may just pick it up.  (I will also be tempted by any reference to Goofus and Gallant.)  So I had no idea what I was in for -- I didn't even look at reviews.

It opens as a bluegrass/country/rock hybrid with emphasis on organ/keyboards.  And that's how Todd May rolls.  

It's ultimately a good album but not for me.  I'll keep "Mercy," "Better Way to Build a Rocket," "Why Don't You Come Out Lately" (where they veer into Drive-by Truckers territory), and maybe "Gadflies and Magpies." 

Ultimately it's not quite country, and it's not quite rock 'n roll, which is good and bad.


CD Placement rating: Sell-back 1.

- Snilch

Monday, July 14, 2014

Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)

Following 2009's Black Gives Way to Blue, Alice in Chains returns with their second album post-Layne Staley.  I was pretty sure after the first listen that this was a major disappointment, possibly even Pile of Death material.  But with multiple listens and a good set of headphones, the album slowly began to unfold to me.  This slow progression does not happen often with me these days -- a good comparison may be Bob Mould's 1990 album Black Sheets of Rain, which is the only other album I can think of that I appreciate more and more each year.

The gritty guitar riffs paired with vocal harmonies are excellent.  It's pretty much formulaic Alice in Chains, but it does not seem stale or repetitive.  A very solid offering.  It's not Dirt, but then again, what is?

Alice in Chains - "Stone"

It's classic grunge (can I start calling classic rock from the 90s "classic grunge" yet?  too soon?) and very listenable if you like Alice in Chains.  Of course, if you never liked them in the first place, you'll hate this.


CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Friday, July 11, 2014

Big Dipper - Crashes on the Platinum Planet (2012)

This legendary Boston band (you can read about their excellent box set here) returns with a surprise release we never thought we'd ever see.  (Note: yes, this is a 2012 release, not 2013, but I've never really colored completely in the lines before, have I?)

Now when you first start playing the album, don't be put off by "Lord Scrumptious."  It's really good... musically.  Lyrically, it's just weird (yes, even for Big Dipper).  The second track, "Robert Pollard," is classic Big Dipper - a great track and tribute. (Pollard is a big fan and did the cover artwork as well.) Track 3, "Princess Warrior," is a Jeff Oliphant track; unfortunately, his songs don't work as well.  Yes, you may skip past this track.  And (spoiler alert) you may also skip all of the other tracks he's the lead singer on.  They should be on his own solo album, seeing as, stylistically and lyrically they don't play well with the other songs.  And (another spoiler alert) they're a level below the rest of the offerings here.  It's almost exactly the same as the Bad Lieutenant setup (which you can read about here):  Tom Brewitt, Gary Waleik, and Bill Goffrier good, Oliphant bad. To be blunt, Oliphant's tracks don't sound like Big Dipper, which I am calling a bad thing.

Big Dipper - "Robert Pollard"

Other highlights are "Hurricane Bill," "New Machine," and "Guitar Named Desire:  The Sequel." So it's part Portable CD Case, part Pile of Death. I'll meet them halfway.

[EPILOGUE] Let's go back to "Robert Pollard," as I've been listening to this song pretty much non-stop. Here's some reasons why the song is pop-rock gold:
  1. Open letter from a fan.  This is always appealing (see The Replacements - "Alex Chilton"), as in itself it means you have to be honest and open.  And this song is.
  2. Name-dropping.  Not only do they mention some of the legendary names in rock, but they dare to chide them.
  3. Self-analysis.  They don't just chide the stars, they take a verse to deride themselves.  It softens the overall blow and feels like you are witnessing an open wound, someone's private insecurities shared with the world.
  4. A great metaphor, which happens to coincide with the band name.  It's a perfect metaphor of fading stars, which works on multiple levels.  Just brilliant!  (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)  
  5. Melancholy and the sense of a real ending.  It's an epic theme:  their heroes are slowly fading from relevancy, as are Big Dipper themselves, and that there's little time to make a final statement before they all fade away forever.  There's genuine angst here, rage against the dying of the light.
  6. The music.  Well, duh.  But it's a great song to start with.
  7. The video.  It's a personification of the song, and I'm not sure why, but I love its earnestness.  It's just really well done, filled with humor, fun, and conveys the excitement of the song.  I just love it!

And that's why you should click on the video above.  See for yourself!

CD Placement rating:  This one went through many stages for me.  On first listen:  Sell-back 1.  After a few listens, CD Rack.  Now it's Portable CD Case.  Who knows, in a few listens I may be embracing the Oliphant songs and calling it Car iPod.  But Portable for now.

- Snilch

Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors (2013)

Following up on a great Record Store Day find, I decided to check out Rogue Wave's fifth studio album.  This album comes across as a light pop version of Sunny Day Real Estate, and if you're reading this blog, my guess is that you are into light pop about as much as I am.

The album is musically sound, and many of you might like it. But the album is curiously antiseptic, and void of any real life.  


Rogue Wave - Used to It

The other thing that this album suffers from is that there's a big difference between being quiet and being too simple.  I'm pretty sure they were aiming for the former, but I hear the latter.  I want to like this (I really do)... I just can't in good conscience.


CD Placement rating: "Used to It" saves this from the Pile of Death, but only by the hair of its chinny chin chin.

- Snilch

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes (2013)

The frontman from one of the '80s best (and underappreciated) "hair bands," Cinderella, finally released a solo record last year. This is, as far as I can tell, Tom Keifer's first release of new songs since the band last released an album in 1994; this gulf is partly because Keifer's voice has finally recovered after years of issues with his vocal chords.  

History:  Cinderella passed the "eye test" as a hair band, but their music was far more a blues-rock effort than their peers in the genre.  I saw him on That Metal Show with a guitar, no band, and figured this album would be a blues-y, folk-y, one-man-acoustical-jam-with-occasional-screaming, introspective comeback.

Wrong.

It's a full-on rocker from the get-go -- think Cinderella 2.0.  The first track, "Solid Ground," makes it clear immediately that this is a two guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum attack.  Despite his past vocal issues, Keifer can still hit the high notes, although the lower range shows some signs of wear and tear.

Tom Keifer - "Solid Ground"

Other highlights:  "It's Not Enough" grooves, shimmies, and shines through a blues wave.  "Cold Day in Hell," "Fool's Paradise," "Babylon," and "Mood Elevator" are all plus tunes.  In all honesty, there isn't a dud on the album.

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. (Which is saying something, I know.) Whether you are jumping back on board or getting on the train for the first time, this is definitely worth listening to.


CD Placement rating:  Car iPod

- Snilch

Monday, July 07, 2014

Grant Hart - The Argument (2013)

I won't rehash where I stand on the former Hüsker Dü co-frontman turned recluse; while this is only his third album in 15 years, it is five years after his last effort, which is progress.  (Hopefully he can crank out the next one in in 2 1/2 years.)

This album is crazy ambitious in both scope and creative thought -- it's a concept album based on John Milton's Paradise Lost.  Hart has hit for the fences in the past, with both brilliant and awful results.  If the mix is too self-indulgently complex, it becomes pompous crap.  If it's too poppy, it's simply drivel.  So you have to give him credit for pushing all of his chips to the middle on this one.

And in this case... it really does feel grandiose, right from the beginning.  Hart really hit it on the head; the album sounds inspired, and like a total home run.  I'm not quite sure what chamber music combined with ethereal rock sounds like, but I'd imagine it sounds like this.  Highlights for me include "Is the Sky the Limit?" and "It Isn't Love."

Grant Hart - Is the Sky the Limit?

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.  (See what I did there?)  It's his best album since Nova Mob's The Last Days of Pompei, which (for me) is saying quite a lot.


CD Placement rating:  Car iPod

- Snilch