Friday, September 21, 2007

10 Songs I'm playing constantly these days

  1. David Bazan - How I Remember
  2. Idlewild - No Emotion
  3. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Cities in Dust
  4. James Dean Bradfield - That's No Way to Tell a Lie
  5. The Fall - Idiot Joy Showland
  6. Charlotte Gainsbourg - The Song That We Sing
  7. Year of the Rabbit - Rabbit Hole
  8. Scott Bishop - Kitten's Got Curves
  9. Bob Mould - Paralyzed
  10. Uncle Tupelo - I Wanna Destroy You

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Review Process: Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)

We'll take a "break" from the earth-shattering speed that I am documenting my road-tunes experience to honor a request, as I have significantly underestimated the time it would take to go through all of those damn albums again. Clearly.

One of the six of you who read this has asked me to detail what my CD review process consists of. Normally I would just ignore any type of "request," but it turns out that a 17% drop in readership would be pretty significant. So, despite my strict anti-social and overtly antagonistic tendencies, I am forced to comply with this AND the request to enable comments. I've officially lost control.

Our subject for this exercise will be the new Arctic Monkeys album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. (For the record, I decided on this album to document the review process before giving it a single spin.)

Not every album gets this rigorous of a listening regimen, but at least 1 or 2 of these steps are always included. The general idea is that not all albums are going to "open up" to a listener in every format -- some play better on the lower-fi end of the spectrum, others need as high a fidelity as can be found. And different listening devices actually shape the sound differently -- you'll potentially hear a "different" album on your iPod headphone than you might in your car.

So my "method" attempts to cover as many of these options as possible. The order doesn't matter and varies from review to review. I'll generally got through all for highly recommended albums I can't seem to appreciate.

For this album, I started with the Boom Box listen. This generally occurs while I'm reading, doing the dishes, or showering. (Ha ha! That mental image should cure any thoughts you had of lunch, gentle reader.) The boom box is a solid listening start -- the pro and the con here is that it tends to "flatten" the music. In other words, you get the melody, the vocals, and the beat, but any subtlety gets mashed together. The Sloan track "Another Way I Could Do It," for example, sounds much better in this format (i.e., when it's more "2D" than "3D").

Also, this is a good "attention grabber" listen -- if you're doing dishes and daydream away tracks 1-6 without even noticing the album, that's not a good sign. If you start to notice the music and not the silverware, you've probably got a good album and grimy forks.

In the case of the Arctic Monkeys, what I hear is a band trying to follow an impressive debut by trying too hard. My initial thought is that 2 tracks really grab me, but this is "Sell-Back Pile 1" material. Hopefully there is a lot going on here that I am not hearing on this listen -- I had high hopes here.

Next, we move to the Car Stereo. This listen can be misleading, as there are plenty of "driving CD's" that are "great" in the car but only "good" elsewhere, and some are terrible in the car but still great albums -- it's just the wrong format. (This is the same with some Video Game albums.) But this does step up the fidelity chain, and, for an uptempo album like this one, it's a great way to listen to the album uninterrupted. Except, of course, for the occasional obscenity and/or brush with death thrown my way by the moronic drivers in the state. (Here's a hint, drivers: you don't always have the right of way.)

In this case, after the first 3 songs I was convinced this album was a Car Stereo all-star. But it didn't hold up all the way through -- the middle of the album is still murky. Top few and last few songs are really solid, but I need more time with it. On the plus side, I'm now thinking I was a bit harsh initially and this is probably going into the CD Rack.

Our next step is the Headphones listen. Certain albums (Built to Spill's Keep It Like a Secret is a perfect example of this) are a completely different listen through headphones -- I can't precisely articulate this, but I'll try. For music that is very layered and dense, you can hear everything that is going on; sonically, it tends to separate the musical spectrum into components (bass vs guitar vs guitar vs guitar vs keyboard vs vocal, in the case of Built to Spill) that can be appreciated, rather than sounding like a muddy mismash of sounds when heard in other formats. I listened to Keep It Like a Secret 5 times, thinking it was a piece a trash; my friend Jim gave me his pair of headphones and insisted I listen to it one more time. It's now one of my favorite all-time albums.

For the AM's, this listen revealed a little more depth, although the fact that I am tuning out tracks 6-9 and that the last track is terrible musically AND lyrically is a bit disheartening. The first 5 tracks and 10-11, however, are worth the price of admission.

Lastly, we need to put this bad boy through the Big-Ass Stereo listen. Since I've been writing this blog, I've made this my last stop -- it's a great way to listen to the album one more time in high fidelity with good space to confirm or refute my previous opinions. This is really the "truest" test, so many times I'll run an album exclusively here.

On this listen, the first two tracks ("Brianstorm" and "Teddy Picker") still hammer like nobody's business. A song like the fourth track ("Balaclava") really gets helped by the high fidelity treatment for sure. And those first five tracks still hold up.

I am seeing why tracks 6-9 have been tough for me to remember. I am really forced to pay attention to them now and unlike smoked meat, they're just not getting it done: "The House is a Circus" isn't terrible, it's just not that great either. This should be an EP -- take out tracks 6-9 and 12 ("505", which I will never listen to again) and move on. IMHO, of course.

Then we get to "The Bad Thing." Wow. I put the stereo up to 11 and thank the Lord that Mrs. Snilch is not here to witness the smackdown I am giving to both our future neighbor relations and our house's foundation. I start to see cracks in my windows midway through the song, but realistically they needed to be replaced anyways. If you ever actually listen to this track, you will undoubtedly wonder why I am so into it (which admittedly is not the be-all, end-all rock anthem by any means), but I am a sucker for this kind of generic guitar-rawk song. You have to know your weaknesses.

The final verdict?

CD Placement rating: At the end of the day, this album just makes it into the Portable CD Case. It's too good to go lower and not good enough to go much higher. So there you have it.

iTunes suggestions: A new feature for all of you who want to see Newbury Comics go out of business, or just want to sample the wares. My suggestions: "Brianstorm," "Teddy Picker," "Balaclava," "The Bad Thing."

- Snilch

Monday, August 13, 2007

Quick Hits - The Losers List

There's nothing like 25+ hours in a car over a long weekend to help separate the wheat from the chaff in your CD collection. While there were a bunch of nice surprises to pass the time, the following made the trip seem even longer -- avoid them. In alphabetical order:

  • Bad Religion - New Maps of Hell (2007). It's not bad, it's just not good either. It's exactly like all of their other albums since The Grey Race. They are still angry, which helps, but they're also old.
    Verdict: Pile of death.
  • The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia... (2006). Their 2nd album falls into the category of "you have a lifetime to write your first album, and one year to write your second." The vocals sound great. The drums sound great. The piano sounds great. They just don't seem like they belong in the same song most of the time. The lyrics feel like they're an attempt to top the quirkiness of the first album. I still love these guys despite this.
    Verdict: Pile of death.
  • Enuff Z'Nuff - Live (1998). You may be surprised that I own 3 albums by this group, and that I believe they are quite good as a band. Not so much in this live recording, however.
    Verdict: Pile of death.
  • The Happy Accidents Soundtrack (2001). I had thought this was a "Dusty Trails exclusive" soundtrack, but they actually only are responsible for 3 of the 14 tracks. There are only 3 tracks worth keeping (wanna guess which ones?). Dusty Trails is/was Josephine Wiggs (bassist for The Breeders) and Vivian Trimble (keyboardist for Luscious Jackson). They only released 1 full album, which they called a "soundtrack album without a film." These are the last 3 songs released commercially from a very promising band that just faded away.
    Verdict: Sell-back pile 1.
  • Grant-Lee Phillips - nineteeneighties (2006). I love the era. I love cover albums. And Phillips is enigmatic but occasionally brilliant, which seems like the recipe for at least limited success. Surprisingly, he takes 11 songs and covers every one the exact same way. It's terrible. I figured there'd be at least 1 song worth keeping, but that must have been my unbridled optimism.
    Verdict: Pile of death.
  • The Rogers Sisters - The Invisible Deck (2006). I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was certainly something better than this. Once I heard "The Clock," I was filled with a homicidal rage, which I was forced to quell with the soothing sounds of Motorhead. Seriously, one of the worst songs I've ever heard. That was it for this album, although there were a couple of songs worth keeping.
    Verdict: Sell-back pile 1.
  • Van Gogh's Daughter - Shove (1995). It's always a bad sign when the one song you know from the album turns out to be a mix of a bad album track. The album is generic and pretty bland. The video was cool back in the day...
    Verdict: Pile of death.
We'll have news from some of the better albums in the coming days.

- Snilch

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Baby Ray - Low Rises (2005)

All right, all right. This album is dated 2005 and the band is no longer together. And I've actually been listening to mixes of the thing for three years.

As you may have figured out, I have no qualms about any of this. Low Rises is an excellent album by one of my all-time favorite local (Boston) bands.

If you don't know Baby Ray, think an XTC/Guided by Voices 2-guitar attack with a great rhythm section. Primary songwriters and guitarists Eric Groat and Ken Lafler switch off on vocals as well.

It's a shame that the band broke up after Low Rises -- as much as I loved Monkeypuzzle, Do I Love America and Demonstration, I think this album is their best. The whole album is a nice combination of their pop melodic sense with complex arrangements. My personal highlights include "Superbitch," "The Idiots are Out," "Red Flags," "Rocket-O," "I Look, There You Are," "You Could Go to College" -- who am I kidding, except for one song, the whole album is absolutely great.

I'd encourage you to check them out: here is where you should buy the album. This band is not going gold from sales anytime soon, so just suck it up and get the damn thing. It'll make Ken happy and help put his kid through college.

Merch rating: My commemorative T-shirt and mug combination is apparently on back-order, although the action figures just came in yesterday. I'd obviously go see them if they ever played again. And of course if I didn't already own the album, I'd be buying it here.

CD Placement rating: This goes into the Portable CD Case, but it has spent time in the past in the Car CD changer. So go buy it already!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quick Hits - Hardcore Part 2

To remind everyone: back in February, I posted Part 1 of the hardcore music I got into after reading American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush. You can read the rest of the preamble and excuses there, the second half of the review here. In alphabetical order:
  • Bad Brains - I Against I. Now here is an album where I can get behind the Bad Brains. "I Against I" is a great opening track, and you can hear how great these guys are musically on tracks like "She's Calling You." A very nice album all around.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD rack.

  • Black Market Baby - Coulda... Shoulda... Woulda. Remastered compilation. Another DC hardcore outfit, this band had only one proper album release. Pro: sounds like a truly "in the moment" experience, reflecting the energy of the scene and the state of music at the time. Con: sounds like a truly "in the moment" experience that I wasn't part of. So it remains stuck in the early 80's for me.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back 1.
  • Dag Nasty - Field Day. The first song ("Trouble Is") instantly alerts you that this is going to be something really special. This album doesn't really qualify as hardcore, more as heavy power pop, which is probably why it's as good as it is -- it's even bluesy at times. And it has excellent, smart lyrics too. The song "Dear Mrs. Touma," says, "might be the band's high-water mark, and one for punk in general" -- what can you say to that? I was going to criticize "Never Green Lane" for being a completely wimpy effort, but with a refrain like "I remember your mouth/You never kept it shut," I found there was more than enough vitriol to... well, to keep my mouth shut. It was almost impossible to find, but I'm really glad I did.
    Verdict: Highly recommended (if you can find it). Portable CD case.
  • Duh - Blowhard. I had high hopes for this one. The best songs are "Solo Hanneman", which lasts for 9 seconds, and "Solo King", which lasts for 5 seconds. The other 34:50 last interminably.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Pile of Death/"The Peaches File".
  • JFA - We Know You Suck. Compilation. JFA (a.k.a. "Jodie Foster's Army") put a hardcore twist onto what was known as "skatepunk." Too bad I don't skateboard. They actually have a song called "JFA" -- IMHO, you can really only only do a song with your band name in it if your band is called "Damn Yankees." The surf guitar songs resonate with me, but otherwise -- not bad, just not my cup of tea.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back 1.
  • Nomads - Showdown! (1981-1993). 2-disc Remastered Compilation. This album was very difficult to track down and thus the main reason that Part 2 took so long to come about -- and here I had always heard Swedish hardcore was easy to find. Who knew?

    The opening track, "The Way (You Touch My Hand)" I instantly recognized, although I'm not sure from where. This was 1981? Sounds like Nick Cave if he picked up the pace a bit and picked up a surf guitar sound. They're really a garage band -- most of their materials are either covers or "originals" the take bits straight from other songs -- and Disc 1 is a lot of fun and very listenable. Disc 2 is more "demos and rarities for the real fans" but still has nice nuggets throughout. In any case, this album is not really hardcore (at least my perception of the genre), but a great listen for fun, familiar sounds.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD case.
  • J Church - The Horror of Life (2007). No, this band (essentially Lance Hahn and a cast of rotating characters) was not in the book. No, they did not even exist during the hardcore era. No, this is not even listed in alphabetical order. But as I listened to this album, I realized that it belonged in this list as the contemporary embodiment of the values espoused by hardcore back in the day.

    I have yo-yo'd back and forth on this review. The best songs here have the best names: tops is "If I Have to Dance Then I Don't Want Your Revolution", followed by "Vampire Girl Prefers Me Alive"(which I'd like even more if it were a bitter, rather than happy, song), and "We Play Secular Music." So it's good. However, I would pick up J Church's 2000 classic
    One Mississippi (a power pop album) or 2004's Society is a Carnivorous Flower (harder, punkier power pop) before this one. So it's not that good. However, this is better than 95% of the stuff out there. So it's better than most and definitely worth checking out, especially of you like the more frenetic stuff.

    Lance Hahn is amazing -- he's currently on dialysis (and may need a kidney transplant), yet he still is putting out albums and running his own label. (In case that isn't enough, he has been hospitalized because of an enlarged heart and high blood pressure, and has seen his business and apartment both burn to the ground in the last 5 years. Not sure where the bitterness comes from.) Go out and support him, people!

    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD case.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Loomers - Today Tomorrow (2006)

Albums given to you by friends are a tricky thing. Half the time they are gold, but half the time... well, you can form your own mental picture.

So when my friend Andrew gave me The Loomers Tomorrow Today, I was doubly concerned, as he has racked up somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 hits on this site (seriously -- he's lost his mind) and thus I might be dooming my blog readership if this album turned out like the "other" half of the time. And it's not in my nature to not rail against something if it's not up to par... so you see my dilemma.

Fortunately for me, Andrew may have poor taste in blogs to obsess over, but he does have an excellent ear. The Loomers are a very good listen and definitely recommended. They fall somewhere in the folk-rock genre, tending more towards the fun and whimsy side. I'd almost call it a "children's album," but that would be denigrating the musical chops here -- this is a very pleasant, light, fun (there's that word again) romp with some very nice highlights ("Have a Ball," "Hard to Believe," and my favorite, "Pocketful of Change"). Sometimes the lyrics are slightly cliché (to be fair, sometimes this is clearly on purpose, like on "Love Right Now"), but at this point I'm trying to find something to criticize so you all don't think I've gone completely soft. A very nice listen and one that I'll enjoy again in the near future.

Merch rating: I definitely will go see these guys when they play in Davis Square again. I'll buy the next album but probably not any other merch.

CD Placement rating: This goes into the CD Rack.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Peaches - Impeach My Bush (2006)

I want to thank whoever screwed up when I was ordering The Nomad's Showdown album and mistakenly sent this masterpiece in its place. I've heard varying things about Peaches and her music, and this golden opportunity just planted itself (as if by fate) in my lap for a musical journey. And what a short, strange trip it was.

This is my second listen, which at least doubles the amount of time this album deserves -- and it proves that this is truly as god-awful as I thought it was the first time. The tough part is deciding whether the music is more insipid than the lyrics or vice versa. I'd reprint some of the words, but there may be kids reading. Here's the PG-13 version: "Love me" or "I will love you" or "You and your friend will love me" or "I will love you, your friend, and another friend to be named later," etc. There not a lot of subtlety, thought, or originality here. The music is equal -- trite, thin, and repetitive. But if you are vapid, soulless, and dumb enough to still think that Hussein was behind 9/11 (don't laugh, 41% of the country still believes this), this may be the ticket for you.

Merch rating: I got this album for free, and that was way too expensive.

CD Placement rating: I may be re-naming the "Pile of Death" the "Peaches File." I probably won't sell this, because I believe karma would find a way to repay me shortly thereafter, like by running me over with a bus. On the flip side, this would be a great album for someone trying to stretch an hour into seeming like a whole day. Maybe even a week.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Quick Hits

Here's the latest on a few albums I've checked out recently. In alphabetical order.
  • Menomena - Friend and Foe. 2007. Like Of Montreal's piss-poor offering detailed in an earlier post, this was recommended by Pitchfork. Much like that album, it's got great packaging. At least here there are a couple of tracks that are interesting ("Muscle 'N Flow," "Wet & Nasty"), and it's well-produced. But it's by no stretch a "great" or even "very good" album. I'm starting to work up an opinion on what it is that Pitchfork likes these days, which has changed from where they were at a couple of years ago (and where I am still at, apparently). Maybe I'll even write about that soon.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-Back Pile 1.

  • On - Make Believe. 2002. The full extent of my musical man-crush on Ken Andrews (frontman for Failure and Year of the Rabbit) will become readily apparent over the next number of posts. This is the second album of what was essentially a solo project of his, On. Ken is a great producer as well as an excellent musician, and thus at the very least his stuff all sounds great. Ken also understands what type of music best suits his voice and plays to that dirty guitar sound, all the while keeping his indie pop sensibilities about him. This is a bit more electronica than his other offerings, and not what I'd consider his best stuff, but still better than most music out there. Check out the very nice cover of "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around."
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Scanners - Violence is Golden. 2006. Yet another winner from the "Under the Radar in '06" column. When I first heard the opening track ("Joy"), I was sure I had found a complete classic. While the rest of the album does not hit that high point, and repeated listens have not taken this album to a new level, this is still a very good album. Think The Yeah Yeah Yeah's with more traditional rock/pop structures. I will be buying their next album (whenever they release it) when it hits the stands -- this has lots of potential.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.
  • Shapes of Race Cars - Apocalypse Hurts EP. 2004. I ended up with this album in some "3 albums for $10" offer from CD Baby. This is the best of that lot. The first track, "Angry Books," is great -- nice 2-guitar interplay and oddly sung vocals that work very well. The rest? Extremely formulaic and generic, but what can you really expect for 3 bucks? It's not great when the cover of "Tainted Love" isn't worth keeping.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back pile 1.
  • Ultravox - Systems of Romance. 1978, remastered in 2006. Think of this as the electronica cousin of Killing Joke's debut -- I think KJ fans will like this one as well. It really was ahead of its time. It's not as strong front-to-back as Killing Joke, but this is an excellent album in its own right.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hell on Wheels - The Odd Church (2006)

It occurs to me that perhaps I have wasted my life mastering the English language. Let's start here:

Åsa: "She said: I saw you last night on the telly/I heard you on the radio/"
Rickard: "And I picked up your signals up through the hairs that are my aerials. That lately have been working so, so"

What does this mean? Who the hell knows. It's got a great little guitar sound and great percussion running underneath it, and great echo vocal effects on top of it. Get on and enjoy the ride!

Here's another line:

Rickard: "Someday soon I'm going to leave this wicked circle/"
Rickard and Åsa: "My days are getting awful and dull/"
Rickard: "And condemn myself back to Scandinavia/"
Rickard and Åsa: "Where the ashtrays are full"

What does this mean? Dude, their names are Rickard and Åsa. I could probably swear at them in English and they would give me directions to the Dairy Mart. Good old Rickard sounds so much like Frank Black that... well, he just sounds a lot like him. (I was an English major and I can't express myself as well as our fjörd-loving, grammatically challenged friends in my native tongue. Of course, I am also an idiot.) Back to our Nordic heroes:

Rickard: "This recorder has stopped recording/It's been 15 years it's still not working/You have got to stop your mumbling/My ears have already been cut off"

All right, it's not exactly broken English. In fact, if there were one mother reference in the above lyric, I might seriously consider that this whole project just might be a big, fat Frank Black/Kim Deal joke. Although if that were the case, I'm sure Åsa's boyfriend Orld, her brother Njörd, and cousin Erik might have something to say about this to Black Francis and Mrs. Murphy.

CD Placement Rating: This is the third great album I've heard in a row. Directly to the car CD changer. Think Pixies with an accent, great guitar riffs and well arranged indie rock/pop. You will like this. Yet another great call from All Music's column "Under the Radar in '06."

Merch Rating: Åsa is now living in our house until she gets her green card. I gave Rickard my Abba box set and some roofies to quell his nerves. I co-signed Orld's car loan once I listened to "As We Play". (Any song with a refrain the begins with "The Act We Act....") And Johan (the drummer) has finally restored honor to a name so long ago besmirched by The Smurfs (stupid Pee-wee....)

- Snïlch

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Frames - The Cost (2007)

When you've heard what you consider to be a band's best album, the next album is a tricky thing: it's generally a trend towards either further greatness or "Use Your Illusion" spectacular disappointment. (Hint: it's more often the latter.) And when it's one of your favorite bands that has a "best one yet" moment, there is a lot of anticipation and trepidation when the next album falls.

In my case, The Frames' album Burn the Maps was (IMHO) the most consistent album the band had produced, and their best -- a great mix of their low-key and up-tempo strengths.

Thus, as Ireland's second-favorite sons released The Cost, I was a bit skeptical. When I heard it was significantly more low-key than Burn the Maps, I got worried. But (as the sucker I am), I still bought the album.

This album is, in fact, much more laid back than Burn the Maps, but there's such an intensity to Glen Hanard's performance (lead singer, guitar) backed with such beautiful melodies... well, I start gushing like a little schoolgirl, apparently. Think great lyrics and voice, backed by a charged up folk band (or quieted rock band), with well-placed strings and piano. Just a great, solid, almost Americana sound, with arrangements from sparse to almost orchestral. An all-around great sounding and well-performed album.

This is one of those albums I should not like, but I do. I love it. Absolutely a band at the top of their game -- eight of the ten songs are absolute gems (I'm listening to the album now and I've changed that number five times). And the other two are also very good.

And now, here's some trivia that should make you really care about the band:
  • Glen Hansard played one of the band members in the 1991 movie The Commitments -- the red-haired guitarist Outspan Foster. He also appears (as the lead) in the Sundance Audience Award-winning film Once, which came out this year, in his only other acting role.
  • "The Frames" band name comes from Hansard's habit of fixing the bicycles of his friends as a youngster.
  • All of The Frames' albums have gone at least Double Platinum in Ireland.
  • The Frames put on a hell of a live show.
Now that last one is not actually trivia, but it is a fact. My friend Denis and I witnessed what is still one of the five best shows I've ever seen live. I'd suggest going to see them live if you can -- hopefully they stop playing the Somerville Theater and play The Paradise again and make it a proper rock show.

Merch Rating: The beauty of having two ratings systems is that I can do whatever the hell I want to. In this case, the CD Placement rating doesn't work because I simply wouldn't play this in my car -- it's too mellow -- although (in terms of quality) it certainly deserves to be there. (Sean is trying to convince me that the new Eliot Smith CD should be played in the car, which I will trust him on, but generally I find low-key = driving off the road.)

I'd buy their next album, a t-shirt, go to the show (hopefully not at Somerville -- great venue, wrong band), and buy albums there I don't own by them. If they sold Frames socks, I'd probably buy them too. In short... listen to them, you idiot.



Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jill Cuniff - City Beach (2007)

So it's been awhile, which I blame on work. I'll try to play catch-up, as I've been listening to a lot of very good stuff lately.

First up, we have Jill Cunniff's release, City Beach. I'm surprised it's taken her this long to release something -- when Luscious Jackson broke up after releasing their final album (Electric Honey) in 1999, they ostensibly did so to pursue solo projects. However, this is only the second such project (the other being keyboardist Vivian Trimble's Dusty Trails s/t album in 2000), and the first from either of the principle songwriters (Gabby Glaser's solo album is due out later this summer).

In the Cunniff/Glaser debate, I've always cast Cunniff in the role of Grant Hart and Glaser as Bob Mould. (Not good for Cunniff.) Luscious Jackson may not have been as prolific as the powerhouse Hüsker duo, but they did put out two EP's (including the first ever release from the Beastie Boys label, Grand Royal) and three albums over a seven-year span. And some produced some excellent music - definitely one of my favorite all-time bands.

So now that I've heard City Beach... I'm changing my view on her role. Cunniff is a very talented songwriter, and it's pretty clear that a lot of what Luscious Jackson was all about was directly due to her. This album is very chill, very relaxed, a perfect summer album. And with a name like City Beach, one guesses is that what's she's after. I wish she hadn't waited eight years to make her first post-Luscious album, but it's worth the wait.

One question, then -- why the hell would you release a summer album in February? For a small release that will probably not be getting a lot (if any) radio play, this seems like a perfect example of what we call "lack of momentum."

In any case, the album is great. Some of the songs sound a lot like the lo- to mid-tempo indie rock/quasi funk/quasi dance groove that was Luscious Jackson ("Apartment 3" was probably written during the Luscious days; if I heard it out of context, I would have guessed it was on Fever In Fever Out). Others have an almost Brazilian bent that is totally distinct from that style. Her voice is extremely strong, and the music is well produced. As she says during "Warm Sound": "Let's start the century again/at a slower place." I'm not a guy who typically embraces the chill side of rock, but if it sounds like this, I'll take it. Highly highly recommended if you like music that doesn't suck.

CD Placement Rating: (If you've forgotten about the ratings, they're explained in the right-hand column.) This one went directly into the car CD changer. The high moments (like the ramp up on "Eye Candy") play great as "album flow" songs, but don't necessarily pack the same punch (or stand up) as singles.

Merch Rating: I will buy her next album pre-reviews, and probably anything else she puts her hands on as well. If she toured with a band, I'd go the show and buy a t-shirt and any additional music merch they had there. I probably would not see her solo acoustic (which is how she has been touring), as I don't see how this would hold up in that format.

- Snilch

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Quick Hits

Here's the latest on a few albums I've checked out recently.
  • Luscious Jackson - Greatest Hits. 2007. Luscious Jackson was one of my favorite bands of the '90's, and this compilation has all of their singles. But their albums were better as a whole, not as one-offs. It's not a bad place to start, but I'd take Natural Ingredients, Electric Honey, or Fever In Fever Out over this compilation any day. For diehard Luscious Jackson fans such as myself, there are a couple of rare songs ("Love is Here" & "69 Annee Erotique") worth grabbing, but the four remixes that are included as "new material" just don't cut it for me.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-Back Pile 1.
  • Love of Diagrams - EP. 2007. Thanks for the recommendation on this one, Yves. "Pace or the Patience" immediately grabbed me, but as I've listened to their EP I've grown more interested in the other two originals. Think slightly experimental, mid-to-up-tempo indie rock with a little fire in their belly. Great voice on Antonia Sellbach as well. Plus they throw in a Pylon cover ("Cool")! The kids know their musical history -- who knew? Their full-length debut will be released in the next two months, and I will be buying it.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? 2007. Thanks for the recommendation on this one, Pitchfork. Pitchfork put it into their "Best New Music" category and had this to say: "Their darkest and most experimental record to date... an album as harrowingly savage in its depiction of breakup psychology as it is inexhaustibly replayable." If by "inexhaustibly replayable," they mean, "playable twice," then I'm with them. This album does have great packaging, but that's about it. Otherwise it's not... good.
    Verdict: Perfect gift for people you want to piss off or sever future contact with. Not one redeemable song. Goes into The Pile of Death (formerly Sell-Back Pile 2).
- Snilch

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Film School - Film School

At the end of last year (amongst the "Best of" lists), I found a pretty interesting column on All Music, called "Under the Radar in '06." I haven't listened to all of these, but if Film School is any indication, these will be some solid recommendations.

Now Film School (2006) does not reinvent the wheel by any means. It sounds like a whole bunch of '80's bands expertly compiled into one sound, with (on the good tracks) a My Bloody Valentine influence. "On & On" and "Pitfalls" don't necessarily go anywhere, but are really nice to listen to. "11:11," on the other hand, has some nice twists and shows these guys are capable of surprises. They just don't throw them in that often.

All in all, this is a very worthwhile lo- to mid-tempo listen, even if you don't like hearing something that sounds like every band you've ever liked rolled into one.

CD Placement Rating: This goes into the portable CD case. Worth listening to again and definitely a keeper.

Merch Rating: I don't feel the need to go back and rediscover their back catalog, but if I could find a swim buddy or two for a show (max $12, I'd say), I'd be willing to give them a listen to see if their sound translates better on stage. And if they were unreal, I'd buy a t-shirt.


P.S. If anyone has heard Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, I'd love to hear what you think of it; I've heard mixed reviews. (If you don't own their Funeral, you should get it immediately. Seriously -- what are you thinking?) So send me an e-mail if you've checked it out.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sloan - Never Hear the End of It

I will be brief. Sloan's 2007 album, Never Hear the End of It, is the best of their career, and one you should definitely check out. It's as simple as that.

I will now open up the floor to questions.

Q: That's a great review. One thing leaps to mind: who the hell is "Sloan"? You could have just as easily said "My Next Door Neighbor," "My Dog," or "Vixen." No one's ever heard of them, dude.
A: If you lived in Canada, you wouldn't have any problem figuring out who these guys were, you jerk. This is actually their eighth album. Their first album went gold, their second was named "The Best Canadian Album of All Time" in a poll, their fourth album hit #5 on the Canadian charts, they released a compilation album (A-Sides Win) that had 16(!) singles on it with music videos for each song... you get the idea. They've been playing for 15 years. Deal with it.

Q: Okay. What does Sloan sound like?
A: Sloan is very Beatles-esque -- you can't miss it when you hear them. All four guys sing and write songs. Onstage, they switch instruments as well, so they're very talented. This current album is a throwback sound, but in general they can be described as mid-tempo poppy (if you want me to slap a label on them).

Q: Fine -- tell me more about this album.
A: Never Hear the End of It sounds great from beginning to end. I hate to make the comparison (and don't want to oversell this), but I think of Abbey Road when I'm listening to this album. It's not that album, but sounds like a cousin of it. The lyrics and song styles sound straight out of the sixties, in a good way.

Q: These questions here are ridiculous softballs -- who am I, Ahmad Rashad? Matt Lauer? Katie Couric? (They're no longer together, you know.) Anyways, it says here that I should ask you about your ratings of this album.
A: Just read the script, jackass. I put this album directly into my car CD changer. I went to show and bought the album there (for $5 more than I could have bought it at Newbury Comics). I won't complain -- it's well worth $15. If they had a decent t-shirt, I would have bought one of them too. I probably will buy the next one without even reading a review. What more can I say?

Q: You realize this bit is terrible, right?
A: I'm not sure I follow you.

Q: Well, I think it's safe to say that this attempt at "humor" and engaging yourself in some kind of critical dialogue is pretty lame. If I want this kind of entertainment, I'd go and see your friend Evan O'Television. He's got this shtick down, you're a pathetic wannabe.
A: I'm not sure I follow you. Are you sure you're really me? (Nervously laughs.)

Q: You are the same type of smarmy, self-indulgent reviewer you're constantly raving against, and this psychobabble only proves you're a bit of a looney as well. Your opions are lame and not well-informed, and I have a sneaking suspicion you just stole them all from All Music. You make me sick.
A: This interview is over.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bloc Party - Weekend in the City

Hey, it’s about time I started reviewing albums from this century, right? And this one is even from 2007. Who knew?

I loved the Bloc Party’s debut album, Silent Alarm, and was pretty psyched to hear the follow-up. So when I heard that the new album was not only a concept album, but also “a more mature effort,” I began to grow concerned. These are the equivalent of your team’s head coach getting the dreaded “vote of confidence” or finding out that while you were in Haiti you picked up “a little gonorrhea.” In music-speak, this means “you liked the first album, this next album will suck; prepare for a kidney punch.”

Weekend in the City… well, it doesn’t exactly suck, but it isn’t exactly great either. The lyrics are much more plain-spoken than on Silent Alarm, which could be a good thing. It’s not. Instead of being a real-life snapshot of life in the city (which, duh, is the concept), the lyrics come off as cliché and trite. At least to my ear. I mean, c’mon – the first track (“Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”) compares London to a vampire, and the second track (“Hunting for Witches”) is about, well, witches. Essentially, this is “Buffy the Bloc Party Slayer.” (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

And those two tracks are the only ones I’m keeping.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The songs I'm keeping are at least very good and pehaps even great. And I cannot fault the band for effort on the album as a whole – every song shows it. The instrumentation is excellent and the playing is more than solid; the bass, drums, guitar are all very good (on all the songs) and compliment the simplistic lyrics. I don’t know how else to say it: they somehow don’t all work together. There's something missing here.

In the end, the songs are simply not cohesively executed. The band wrote lyrics they thought would be smart and edgy, but they instead come off as what someone thought would be smart and edgy. The music progresses in terms of overall instrumentation, but lacks the punch, balance, and melody (read: guitar riffs) of Silent Alarm. In this case, more mature = less interesting.

Despite all that, it is a decent album, and not a terrible listen. I might even call this "good." For me, it’s just not worth keeping, but I could see how people might get into this album.

Merch Rating: I bought this album without reading reviews. I won’t do that again – I’ll wait until I hear they’ve created the “Album of the Year” before I buy another. I would not go to see them play – I saw them at Austin City Limits two years ago and my friend Scott and I walked out on them. (To be fair, we then headed over to see the Drive-by Truckers and walked out on them as well; we ended up seeing Roky Erickson, who was spectacular.) So a 0 on the Merch Rating.

CD Placement Rating: This goes into Sell-Back Pile 1, as I’ll keep a couple of tracks.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Killing Joke - Killing Joke (1980)

The other day, my friend Mark decided to mess with my head. (As most of you know, this is pretty easy when it comes to your humble reviewer, but apparently still provides infinite amusment to most of you.) He was playing songs off an unidentified CD, and I was stumped. It was doubly annoying because all the songs were great – how had I not heard this album? Finally he played “Wardance,” which I knew – but of course, due to a limited intellect, I still failed to identify the band. Turns out it was Killing Joke, from their self-titled 1980 album. So I went out and got it for myself.

Upon listening, it’s clear that this album isn’t good – it’s great. They have a deceivingly uncomplicated sound, highlighted by getting more out of monotonal guitar sounds than any band since The Smithereens. Unlike The Smithereens, they use the guitar as a texture, which they layer the other instruments and vocals around – a more appropriate comparison would be to Wire’s album Send. The rhythm section is great – the bass in particular is really key in moving the songs forward, taking advantage of the uncomplicated sound (I keep wanting to say “simple,” but “uncomplicated” describes it better). There is underlying synth throughout the album, giving this away as 1980 – but it could just as easily have been released in 1995.

The original album contained 8 songs, which was re-released in 2005 with five additional tracks (one additional song and four remixes/rough mixes). These extras are really only of interest to KJ diehards or someone (like Mark) who’s been listening to the album forever – the original album is very tight at eight songs and should be listened to that way.

Song highlights include “Requiem,” which is a great opening number; “Wardance,” which I always found very odd as a single but makes a lot more sense in the context of the album; and “Complications,” which I’ve been playing at volumes high enough to knock the snow off my roof.

Mark rightly points out that “you have to be in the right mood” to listen to this album. It is a little dark and dour in tone. It will probably scare Mark to know that I am normally in this mood. I’d recommend it for any setting personally, but at the least it’s a great album to drive to, play video games with, or drink heavily to. (We’re very thorough in testing albums out here at The Snilch Report.)

Merch Rating: Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply neatly here. Mark spoiled this by telling me this is the only KJ album worth getting (and he’s gotten most of them), so that kind of defeats the rating, eh? So instead we will introduce….

The CD Placement Rating. Yes, I am a geek. When I listen to an album and it’s good, I take it and give it a home in my CD rack. If it’s really good, I place it into my hardcase portable CD holder – these are albums I need to listen to more before sending them to the rack, and are a cut above. The best of these make it into my car CD player, which holds 12 discs. These are my favorite albums from the past two years.

On the other hand, albums that I recognize as decent but will never listen to again, as well as albums that are simply bad, go into one of two sell-back piles. One pile is for those that have a song or two worth listening to, which I’ll cobble onto one of my $15 Song CD’s. The other pile is for the complete mistakes and utterly worthless discs, that don’t have even a redeeming song on them and I won’t even keep as a coaster. (I think I’ll be reviewing one of these soon.)

Final verdict: Killing Joke ended up in the car CD player – I absolutely love it. Thanks Mark for recommending it, then hitting my website 700 times. (Andrew’s 3000-odd hits has him beat here, but it’s still impressive.) Highly highly recommended, go out and buy it now.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Quick Hits - Hardcore Part 1

I've been on a hardcore listening spree since I started reading the book American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush (thank you Scott!). It's an interesting read -- certainly someone who spent his years in the pits and on the road. So, I decided to listen to some of the seminal albums of the era (or at least according to him).

What I've discovered is that I'll never know what it was like to hear these bands when they originally came onto the scene. The historical context is lost on me, which I'm guessing is part of why they were considered so great, and what was a meaningful expression in the moment becomes just noise or something that has been copied by a zillion bands since that time, and thus seems unoriginal.

On another note, I am WAY too old to listen to most of this stuff and appreciate it. Which sucks. Bottom line: Don't get old, kids.

Any assistance or perspective on where I've gone horribly wrong in my assessment of any of these albums, or where I can find an "in" to figure out what some of these albums are all about, would be much appreciated. So without further ado... in alphabetical order:
  • Bad Brains - Bad Brains. Remastered album. Perfect example -- probably the most name-dropped hardcore band and album, and I can't hear what the fuss is about. Am I too old to listen to this or is it too late for me to figure it out? Sadly, I think I like the reggae songs on the album the best -- and I hate reggae. Please help me out here, people.
    Early verdict: I just don't get it.
  • Dag Nasty - Can I Say. Remastered album. I love a few songs, but most of the other tracks were just noise on my first listen. Still, I had this weird vibe (does this ever happen to you?) that this would be an album I would eventually really get into, even though I was toughing through it right now. Subsequent listens are helping but I'm not quite there yet. Lots of potential, very nice stuff.
    Early verdict: Recommended.
  • Effigies - Remains Nonviewable. Remastered compilation. It only took one listen to realize these guys (and this album) were special. To be honest, this is "cheating" -- it's really more heavy punk pop than hardcore. At times, they sound like the Ramones, other times the Misfits, and even like later-day Butthole Surfers. Very accessible and well produced. Intelligent lyrics and smart playing. It's not perfect, and it won't change your life, but it is very good and recommended if you like your music loud, fast, and melodic.
    Early verdict: Highly recommended.
  • Hüsker Dü - Everything Falls Apart and Metal Circus. Expanded original and original EP. You should be surprised it took this long for a Hüsker Dü/Bob Mould/Sugar reference. I know I am. But the book mentioned them. Everything Falls Apart is a little too fast most of the time, but at other spots it shows the pop and punk sensibilities that were the hallmark of the band's later great work. Metal Circus is less hardcore, more punk, but flat out great. There are 7 songs on this EP, and 4 are great (and I mean great) songs.

    Metal Circus
    final verdict: if you don't own any Hüsker Dü, buy New Day Rising and Zen Arcade (in that order) first. Then buy Metal Circus.
    Everything Falls Apart final verdict: For completists only.*
  • Scream - Still Screaming & This Side Up. Two original albums combined. I've been intrigued by the Stahl brothers (Peter and Franz, vocals and guitar, respectively) since they recorded a very very good song called "Kill the Crow" as part of their band Wool. The rest of the album was bad, but the song showed the potential for something great. I knew Franz went on to play guitar for the Foo Fighters, but otherwise they were a mystery to me. So you can imagine when I read that the Stahl brothers formed out of a legendary DC hardcore band called Scream that I was all over it. Turns out there were three good tracks. The rest sounded like a dog successfully giving birth to a goat. (Or perhaps unsuccessfully -- if I were less ignorant about hardcore I'd probably be able to tell the difference between success and failure here.)
    Final verdict: The most satisfying part of the whole experience was when I physically threw out the discs I burned from iTunes. Not recommended.
When I get a chance to listen to some more stuff, I will post a Part 2. I'll probably have a larger review this weekend. Until then...


You may have noticed, if you are a true nerd like me, that Land Speed Record (the first Hüsker Dü album and the most hardcore album they ever did) did not get a mention here. That's because I've listened to it once and that was enough. Final verdict: for the truly masochistic or hardcore purists.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible

The backstory of this album is almost as good as the album itself, which is saying something. The Holy Bible (1994) is not only a great album, but a snapshot in time due to the dramatic circumstances surrounding it.

The Manic Street Preachers broke significantly into public consciousness during a legendary interview with lyricist/rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards. The interviewer was grilling the Manics on live TV about whether they were really sincere or just faking it. After the show, Edwards, who apparently felt sick of answering these questions, met with the interviewer backstage and pulled out a razor, carving the words "4 Real" into his forearm. Next stop? The hospital for 17 stitches. Next question, please.

For the Holy Bible (their 3rd proper album), the Manics (a four-piece: singer/guitarist, bass, drums, "rhythm guitarist"/lyricist) relied heavily on Edwards, a self-mutilating, anorexic drug addict and alcoholic. (I'm sure he was fun at parties.) Despite all that destructive behavior, his lyrics were the driving force behind the album, although he did not sing (that was singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, who primarily wrote the music). Edwards was also in charge of the band's visual presentation and their overall "manifesto," but onstage it was pretty obvious he wasn't playing -- sometimes they did not even plug his guitar in. Very odd.

But Edwards was pivotal to the band's edginess and balance. In and out of rehab in 1994, Edwards was back onstage pantomiming in the fall of 94, and the Manics prepared to travel to America for their first big chance to make a big impact there.

On February 1, 1995, Edwards checked out of the Embassy Hotel in London, and has not been seen since. Seriously. Yesterday was the 12-year anniversary of his disappearance, which came and went without a definitive answer as to what exactly happened to him. Did he commit suicide? His car was found two weeks after his disappearance near a bridge known as a favorite spot in London for people to kill themselves. Did he deliberately disappear, fed up of the life and failed rehabs? He took 200 pounds a day out of his bank account for two weeks (2800 pounds total) before his disappearance, and left no note; his family had the option to declare him legally dead in 2002 and declined to do so. And there have been numerous sightings of him over the years, none definitive, of course. Hmmm....

If this sounds interesting, you can get the synopsis here: Or by searching Richey Edwards. It's all very bizarre but completely fascinating.

But I digress. Regardless of what happened, it's pretty clear Edwards was in a bad place. This resulted (as it often does) in a great album, both lyrically and musically. Bradfield in particular matches the lyrical intensity with a great grunge-ish sound that much grittier than you would expect from a typical UK band of the time.

The sound overall is heavy, but is very grounded in pop sensibilities. Bradfield's voice is a compliment to the driving guitar and solid rhythm section. Sean Moore is an excellent drummer and his chops show through on the album. Think punk-pop with R-rated lyrics, a great groove throughout. I find no true transcendent single on the album, but it truly is a great album from front to back.

Now, you're probably saying: "Yeah, that sounds great. Why the hell haven't I heard of it?" The Holy Bible was released in 1994 to great fanfare in Europe and to very little attention in the US.

How big is this album in Europe, you say? In July 2005, the BBC conducted a number of polls celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the show "Newsnight," asking their viewers about things like albums, books, works of art, etc., that were their favorites. The top album? The Holy Bible. 2nd was OK Computer by Radiohead, and 3rd was Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

Now that is high praise.

Now as for my Merch rating*: I paid $30 for the 10th Anniversary Edition of this album, which contained 2 mixes (UK and US) and a DVD, as well as extra tracks. This album is well worth that, and I'd suggest the US mix to listen to if you pick it up; the DVD is nice but the extras are better for a die-hard. Still totally worth it. I'd definitely go see them the next time they came in concert, but I think I'd draw the line there; I would not buy a t-shirt at the show. I would not buy their next album without listening to it first (see below).

Other albums: Everything Must Go (the album after this one) had much of the lyrical content written by Edwards before he left, and thus is the Manics other great album -- I will buy the 10th Anniversary Edition if it ever comes out in the US. These are the only 2 albums (IMHO) worth purchasing from the catalog -- it's pretty apparent that Feb. 1, 1995 was a huge turning point for the band. On the upslope side at the top of the hill is The Holy Bible, which represented a logical progression as the best of their first 3 albums and their most mature effort. On the downslope side at the top is Everything Must Go, released in 1996 (actually their best-selling album) and also brilliant. The albums that follow can't match it's intensity, intelligence, or insight: not their fault, they just really are a four-piece band who lost a member along the way.

I highly encourage you to listen to this one -- it is definitely a keeper!

- Snilch

*I'm not sure if I will make this my permanent rating system, but rather than going through the blah blah blah of 7.8, 4.5 stars, 18 Lucky Charms Marshmallows or some other system of arbitrary measure, let's just cut to the chase. Cold hard cash -- merch (merchandise) says it all, right?