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 along the lines 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 a must-hear 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 album, is not the album.  It's unintentionally the most effective PSA against smoking for vocalists.  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 jargon, no clever one-liners, no intensity.  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 bass piece of crap.

But the drums are good.

CD Placement rating: Pile of Death/Peaches Pile.

- Snilch

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wire - Change Becomes Us (2013)

Wire is (in my book) a unique band.  (Please note that there is no adjective before "unique."  There are no degrees of uniqueness; something either is unique or it isn't.  Please behave accordingly.)  Their biggest creative periods have been from 1977-1979, and from 2003-present.  NO ONE has done that -- it just does not happen.  (Note:  they were still making music in the 80s and 90s, just not at their prior or later levels.)

Of their return albums, 2008's Object 47 has been the best, while 2003's Send, 2007's Read and Burn 03 EP, and 2011's Red Barked Tree are all Portable CD Case or better.  (I'll get around to reviewing Red Barked Tree at some point; I too closely associate that album with my buddy Jamie passing away, and thus haven't been able to pick it up for quite awhile.)  

This album was released alongside a Wire autobiography, which I got partway through before Jeff Shaara's latest demanded my attention.  So I was hoping to review both now, but that's not going to happen.

To the matter at hand:  this album is another excellent offering, though not exceptional.  It's surprisingly sparser and more than expected, which is not bad but not great either.  Definitely a headphones/nice stereo listen; on the crappy boombox all is lost.  "Magic Bullet" is a highlight for me.

Wire - "Magic Bullet" 

While I appreciate the album, the thing that sticks with me is that it hasn't really moved me yet, either positively or negatively.  That's really unusual for a Wire album; only time will tell if that continues to be the case.

CD Placement rating: Functionally, I need to figure out where this is an excellent slow burner or a fizzle, so this will reside for the time being in the Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law (2013)

Thanks to The Deadly Bishop for this one.  This is classic alt rock, with lead singer Rhiannon "Ritzy" Bryan's vocals propelling the musical narrative.

This is their second album; this band is still coalescing, but it's already produced a very pleasant listen with the promise of greatness to come.

The Joy Formidable - "This Ladder Is Ours"

I may not have a lot to say about the album, but that doesn't mean I don't really enjoy it.  It should be a little shorter, but otherwise, I have no complaints.

CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

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 and You and 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