Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Afghan Whigs - Do the Beast (2014)

After seeing their performance on Later... With Jules Holland, I was totally stoked to hear this album. I've always liked some of their stuff, but never enough to keep a whole album.

It turns out the studio versions just don't do justice to that live performance. The slowed-down, sandpaper-clean production smooths out all of the interesting rough edges, leaving me wanting to go back to that live performance and junk the CD.

The Afghan Whigs - "Matamoros" (Live - Later... With Jules Holland)

I'll keep "Matamoros," "Royal Cream," "These Sticks," and "The Lottery," at least initially. So there's that.

CD Placement Rating: Sell-back Pile 1.

- Snilch

Monday, June 29, 2015

10 Songs I'm Constantly Listening to These Days

In alphabetical order:

1. Able Baker Fox - "Stuttering" (2008)

2. Alvvays - "Adult Diversion" (2014)

3. bis - "Cubis (I Love You)" (2014)

4. Cloud Nothings - "Cut You" (2012)

5. Dum Dum Girls - "Cult of Love" (2014)

6. Future Islands - "Seasons (Waiting on You)" (2014)

7. King Tuff - "Headbanger" (2014) (there's a cameo from Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols)

8. Tralala - "No Pain No Pain" (2005 - great for the harmonies alone)

9. TV on the Radio - "Happy Idiot" (2014)

10. The War on Drugs - "Under the Pressure"

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (2014)

There's no doubt Sharon Van Etten has a great voice, and this comes through in songs like "Your Love Is Killing Me."

But ultimately... that's it. I don't find the music that interesting. If I were to use a word to describe this album, it would be "boring." As I listened to it, I really was just waiting for it to end. Waiting, hoping, and praying. I did listen to the whole thing, but it took me two days. (Although I have to admit, the last song ("Every Time the Sun Comes Up," is very good. And saves this album from a worse fate.)

In conclusion: this may be your cup of tea, but it ain't mine. I'd prefer Cat Power, Shelby Lynne, or even Teddy Thompson to this.

CD Placement Rating: Sell-back Pile 1.

- Snilch

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Black Watch - Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy (2014)

If you don't know The Black Watch by now, I'm either not doing my job or you're not paying attention. Therefore, I'm blaming you.

I've approached this review with some trepidation because, as I told John Andrew Frederick himself, I found it confusing. My first impression: it's an album that was half finished. The back half of the album seemed more and more like demos as it progressed, as opposed to the lush and layered production I'm used to from The Black Watch.

On second, third, and fourth glance, this album is still a bit confusing and complicated, but gradually begins to open up. It may have been my huge expectations or experience with the band, but finally songs like "There You Were" or "Scream" (which did not sparkle on first impression) began to come in better focus as standouts with more listens. And the solid nature of the album began to come through.

The Black Watch - "There You Were." You might as well listen, there's a lot more to read.

Compared to my 2013 album of the year (The Black Watch's previous album, The End of When -- album review here, 2013 Best of list here), the album still feels a little more stripped down and low-key, in terms of both intensity and mood, although you wouldn't know that if you had never heard the band before. It's unfair, objectively -- I am comparing this release directly with last year's best album, which I'm not doing with any other albums. So the issues I have with this album are probably more directly related to the artist's 25+ years of standout music, rather than to the album itself. It took me a while to realize I was not separating the two.

The other issue (and yes, this review is much more "stream of consciousness" than I typically write) is the grouping of four acoustic/non-drum songs to finish the album. After a number of listens, I realize THIS is where I am getting the demo idea from; they feel a bit same-y and incomplete as they are so stripped down and back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Once again, to my ears; for unknown reasons I'm having an oddly strong reaction. Would it be different if the song order were mixed up? Possibly. Or maybe the album is as stream of consciousness as this review is. Who the hell knows?

So: let's take those songs out. Let's pretend for the moment that this is a seven song album (or eight with just one of those acoustic songs). In that context, this is an excellent album, and one that I'm much more accepting of. Thus, I'm going to pretend this is an eight song album with three "bonus tracks." Now we're getting somewhere.

Which brings me to how to rate the album, which for me personally turns out to be a matter of curved grading. This is an excellent album when compared with all of the 2014 albums; but what I keep doing is comparing TBW to their extraordinary catalog. So while The End of When is overall better than this one, it's not fair to knock Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy down completely, as it's still better than 95-99% of what I'll hear this year. Thus it gets two ratings: an objective listener rating, and a rating as compared to the rest of the catalog.

CD Placement Rating:  Objectively, this is another great Black Watch album, so it gets a Car iPod Rating. On The Black Watch scale, it's more a CD Rack/Portable CD Case rating, which speaks to the outstanding output of this band.


- Snilch

Monday, June 22, 2015

Doug Gillard - Parade On (2014)

The first shock when listening to this album is how laid back the musical approach is by the former Guided By Voice's lead guitarist. Starting with a primarily acoustic opening track, "Ready for Death," Doug Gillard proves more than capable with pop melody and composition in a non-electric setting. 

And to me what holds it all together is the magnificent "Your Eyes," which strikes the delicate balance between sweet serene and sickly sweet. It's a song that needs to be handled deftly, and it is. I love it, and am not even embarrassed to admit it.

Doug Gillard - "Ready for Death"

He does go to some more standard rock fare as the album reaches its end, but it's still a bit more laid back than you'd anticipate. In a good way, though.

It's definitely not what I expected. But that's definitely not a bad thing.

CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Friday, June 19, 2015

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream (2014)

Think Paul Simon went alt rock. (Maybe a little Drivin' 'N Cryin' as well.)

It's simply a great album, right from the get go. Relaxed yet insistent, it's seriously casual and meticulously free-form. A classic summer or winter album, actually, capable of sparking unexpected reactions and emotions, and multiple feelings depending on your mood.

"Under the Pressure" is such a tremendous opener, it's tough to imagine they can reach such heights on the rest of the album. But "Red Eyes" is a strong offering, as is "An Ocean in Between the Waves."

The War on Drugs - "Red Eyes"

It's simply an outstanding album and a great listen. Highly recommended.

CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.  And I'm definitely buying it on vinyl.

- Snilch

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Real Estate - Atlas (2014)

Real Estate is reminiscent of a million different bands and a million different nostalgic places in time.

It's chill, guitar driven, 80s alternative inspired, "farmhouse" rock. (That's in quotes because I'm making up this genre. It's a wonder that my egomaniacally-enlarged head can make it through the doorframe to allow me to leave the house every day.)

The album is very well and precisely finished. It lacks a little oomph that makes it more than just pleasant, in my book. When I started looking at how much time was left to listen to the album, I knew there was trouble.

Real Estate - "Had to Hear"

If this hits your emotional register or is a bulls-eye for your musical sensibilities, you're going to love this. For me, it just doesn't.

CD Placement Rating: CD Rack.

- Snilch