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?


This blog is only a description of what I'm currently listening to, and any credit (or, more likely, blame) for this waste of Internet bandwidth lies with my friend Yves, who encouraged me to pursue this.

Who knows how often I will update this, but I'll try to be consistent about it.

If you've got suggestions, compliments, or nice things to say, please feel free to send them to If you have constructive criticism, virulent objections, or complaints, please send those to Or just stop reading.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!