Monday, December 29, 2008

Year-End Roundup, Part 3

Thank God for 10-12 hour car rides. Final installment for 2008.
  • The Cribs - The New Fellas (2005). After declaring these guys the next big thing on my radar, I felt a strong need to go back to check this album out. It's not as good as Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, but it is a solid, decent effort; there are more dead spots here, but it's still very good.
    Verdict: Recommended. It's a CD Rack-quality album that gets into the Portable CD Case based on their 2008 effort.
  • James - Pleased to Meet You (2001). Reviewed here, after their Greatest Hits compilation it seemed like the chapter was closed on these guys. This, their "spectacular" return to form (quoted from, is not as rock oriented as their previous efforts; lead singer Tim Booth has a great voice, but the previous successes of the band were based on contrasting his voice with the music. Here, they blend his voice with the music, which is fine, but just not as interesting to me. There's no song that reaches out and grabs you, which is what James is all about in my book; this is thus more consistent in a bad way. It needs more bite and a hit single.
    Verdict: Slightly recommended. This goes into the CD Rack for now, but I'd be surprised if the album is still there five years from now.
  • LCD Soundsystem - 45:33 (2006). This was commissioned by Nike to be a long-form song suitable for a 45 minute workout, which intrigued me. Here's what I read at Wikipedia (after I had bought and listened to the album): "The track is, strangely, 45 minutes and 58 seconds long, and was claimed to 'reward and push at good intervals of a run.' However it was later revealed that this was not the case, but that [LCD Soundsystem songwriter and frontman James] Murphy merely wanted the opportunity to create a long piece of music." Thanks for nothing then. In fact, the "track" is boring, monotonous, and plodding. (Hey, isn't that what we're trying to escape from during a workout?) I didn't like LCD Soundsystem before, and this effort and deception does them no favors with me for the future.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Run away (get it? get it? WOW I am clever). Pile of death.
  • Naked Raygun - Jettison (1988). Here's what you need to know about Naked Raygun: they know how to write a heavy guitar riff. It's old school, aggressive, viciously effective guitar play. This album includes four bonus tracks, which are well worth it: the cover of Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device" is absolutely great. If it were more consistent, it'd be in the Car CD Changer... but it's not. Still damn fine punk/rock 'n roll.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.
  • Ride - Nowhere (1990). Ride was a significant shoegazer band in the early 90's, but history swallowed them up (like most of the other bands in the genre) in the mighty wake of shoegazer geniuses My Bloody Valentine. This is a great second place to MBV; time and the rock canon appear to have conspired to allow this one to fall through the cracks. It shouldn't be. It's not as layered and flowing as Loveless, but it's great in its own right.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Car CD Changer.
  • Tears for Fears - Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (2004). This is a reunion I doubt anyone saw coming. Childhood friends Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith hadn't spoken since an acrimonious breakup of their songwriting partnership in 1992; Orzabal even made two more albums as TFF without Smith. In 2000, they were forced to communicate with each other for the first time since the break over some legal matters; they patched things up and decided to give it another go. Now, this is no Songs from the Big Chair (their 5x Platinum breakthrough), but it is a nice, pleasant, poppy, Beatles-esque album. It's listenable throughout, and a more mature sound, but "Quiet Ones"... well, that separates this reunion from others. It's classic TFF, and an absolutely sky-searing pop tune. Phenomenal. That song alone is worth the price of admission -- if they have more like this left in the tank, I hope they come back for at least one more rodeo.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. "Quiet Ones" takes this album on its shoulders and moves it from the CD Rack into the Portable CD Case.
- Snilch

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Year-End Roundup, Part 2

Our year-end cleanup, part deux.
  • Against Me! - Reinventing Axl Rose (2002). As indicated here, I did in fact decide to look at Against Me!'s back catalog; when I saw this title I knew that was the one to try. "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong" was a good start, but the rest is a bit raw; this experience dictates that I won't venture back into the rest of their catalog but will continue with them forward.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back Pile 1.

  • John Cale - Close Watch: An Introduction to John Cale (1999). After seeing him perform on Later with Jules Holland, I was intrigued. This album was less rock-oriented than the live effort, but nevertheless enjoyable. Think David Byrne meets Pink Floyd and Discipline-era King Crimson, with a dash of Arcade Fire and The Alan Parsons Project. Very sparse, very cool, sophisticated, and jazzy; at times the music is almost pristine, and at others it's very rough. I'll need a lot more time with this one -- it's complicated.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case. Great for the casual fan; for the hardcore fan, it's not worth the money.

  • Faunts - High Expectations, Low Results (2005). An aptly named album. After hearing the 2007 epic track "M4 (Part II)," I went back and found this album. I had high expectations. I experienced low results.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Pile of Death.

  • Haircut 100 - Pelican Brief (1982). I had never really had these guys on my radar until I saw their reunion as part of VH1's Bands Reunited (a canceled show that I am still obsessed with). Any band that can take the stage for the first time in 20+ years and make it sound like they had been playing together all along gets at least a listen from me. This album is so poppy it almost makes me sick listening to it. Yet... I find it really compelling. There's definitely something cool happening here. So, despite their terrible videos and occasional "teeny-bop" moments, I have to conclude that this album is excellent, fun pop that is well-produced; their songwriting and musicianship is too good to dismiss. It's too bad lead singer Nick Heyward had a nervous breakdown after the first album and this is their only group effort with him; there are solid foundations here that indicate this group could have gone on to do something great.
    Verdict: Highly recommended for a trip down cultural memory lane. Portable CD Case.

  • The Moonbabies - At the Ballroom (2007). I love The Moonbabies sound -- a little retro, a little ultra-modern, with great harmonies. The one problem I have with them is that they have dragged out the song "War on Sound" (granted, a fantastic song) around for three years, as its appeared on at least there (!) official releases. They have other strong songs as well, and this album is great; time to find another cow to milk, though.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • The Outfield - Any Time Now (2006). After the commercial blockbuster Play Deep in 1985, The Outfield actually released five more albums from 1986-1999; I still feel 1986's Bangin' was the only album of theirs worth owning (including Play Deep). This one, written over a four year period, is the second. It sounds like they wrote it in 1987 -- no surprises musically, although the subject matter (which is more political and religious than their early material) is a bit more mature. There are even a few excellent tunes here (like "No Fear"). They have no pretense of changing their formula, which is fine by me. The second half drags a bit, but it's a nice listen overall.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.
- Snilch

Friday, December 19, 2008

Year-End Roundup, Part 1

My goal: to get through all of my outstanding CD reviews before the end of the year. Here's part one of three.
  • Big Wheel - Slowtown (1993). Peter Searcy's first post-Squirrel Bait project. This band is simply not edgy enough for Peter's voice; it has potential to be much better but unfortunately is not. Too much sickly sweetness throughout. I'll take a few tracks and call it a day.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back Pile 1.

  • Eric Matthews - It's Heavy in Here (1995). I went out and found Eric Matthews' 1997 album The Lateness of the Hour, which I find to be absolutely fantastic. It's Heavy in Here is the (allegedly) breakout debut, which is well crafted, low tempo, orchestral, crooner pop. It's a great offering, but at the moment I'm really stuck thinking the second album is better, which might be due solely to the order I listened to the two albums. After this album, he stuck his head in the sand until 2005, and has released three albums since -- any Matthews fans here listened to them? The reviews were not great so I've shied away.
    Verdict: Still processing, but recommended. Despite the hesitation, it's good enough to hit the Portable CD Case.

  • Me'Shell Ndegéocello - Peace Beyond Passion (1996). Eh.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back Pile 1.

  • Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway (2002). This was suggested to me on the Sugarlist (a.k.a., the Hüsker Dü/Sugar/Bob Mould e-mail list) in a thread as a driving disc. When I listened to it in the house, it sounded really soft, so I was not that encouraged. I was therefore extremely surprised when I played this in the car -- it is not only absolutely a great car album, but a great album period. Who knew? It's beautifully sparse. Think Uncle Tupelo without the country conventions, fronted by Nick Drake. Occasionally I even hear Christopher Cross when listening to this. And still like it. Verdict: Highly recommended. Car CD Changer.

  • Serj Tankian - Elect the Dead (2007). The first question I have: Why is this necessary? Why not just make this another System of a Down record (a guilty pleasure I openly admit)? SOAD is better than this. Collaborate and get it right! In the end, though, despite the fact that it sounds just like SOAD, despite the fact that SOAD is better than this, and despite the fact that it does drag in a couple of places, Tankian is such an excellent artist that even this mis-step has its moments of brilliance, and is worth keeping.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.

  • Various - The Baxter Soundtrack (2005). This is an eclectic indie soundtrack with a few really strong songs; "Put" by Amy Miles is a real standout.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back Pile 1.

  • Year of the Rabbit - Hunted EP (2003). Containing two album tracks from their Car CD Changer-worthy full length self-titled album and two non-LP tracks, this one is for completists only. Yes, I am one of those people.
    Verdict: Recommended (completists only). CD Rack.
- Snilch

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Well, I just made this format up, so we'll see how it goes. The premise here is that I've recently listened to two albums by either the same band or bands that have something in common, and I'll tell you which one is better, worse, or just lame out and push. (I'm good like that.)

Here we go, in completely arbitrary order:

  • King Crimson: Beat (1982) VS Thrak (1995). In this corner, in the blue and pink trunks, we have Beat -- part two of the three part Discipline/Beat/Three of a Perfect Pair troika that King Crimson offered from 1981-1984 as part of a re-found identity of progressive rock meeting industrial pop. In the other corner, in the midnight blue and gunmetal grey trunks, is Thrak -- their first album since 1984 and ostensibly the partfour continuation of the three part series. At its simplest level, the comparison is as easy as their one-word titles: Beat is a real word; Thrak is made up. Beat sounds like a band in their prime making vital music; Thrak sounds like a band imitating their former selves. Beat is self-indulgence with a means to an end; Thrak is just self-indulgence.
    Verdict: TKO. Beat goes into the Portable CD Case; Thrak goes into Sell-back Pile 1. (Note: If I had never heard TOAPP or Beat, I'd keep Thrak; I've just heard them do better than this album.)
  • Billy Duffy side projects: Circus Diablo - Circus Diablo VS Coloursøund -Coloursøund (1999). We match The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy's side projects: both self-titled offerings that begin with the letter 'C.' Circus Diablo (which includes The Cult and Guns 'N Roses' Matt Sorum) sounds like it was intended to blow off steam more than anything; it's literally The Cult meets mainstream pop. It's a pretty safe attempt musically, harmless and inoffensive but fun. Coloursøund (which includes The Alarm's Mike Peters) sounds like it was intended to blow off steam more than anything; it's literally The Cult meets The Alarm meets unbelievably clichéd lyrics. It's a pretty safe attempt musically, harmless and inoffensive but fun; the lyrics really hold this album back.
    Verdict: There are no winners here, only a reviewer who has wasted time and money. Coloursøund wins a split decision over virtually identical twin Circus Diablo, but we stopped caring long ago. Better lyrics would keep Coloursøund in the CD Rack; instead it crumbles to Sell-Back Pile 1.
  • J Church: Nostalgic for Nothing (1995) VS Arbor Vitae (1995). The late, greatLance Hahn (who I reviewed here) will never get his due. He passed away a little over a year ago, and it's too bad that the music he brought to the world (as J Church is really just Lance with various rotating band members) still resides in virtual obscurity -- he really added a great melodic element to hardcore, or a nice hardcore edge to grunge, however you want to slice it. These two albums are a couple of his best efforts (although 2000's One Mississippi is [IMHO] his opus) but have very different approaches. Nostalgic for Nothing is consistently good for all 26 tracks; Lance tells weird off-kilter stories throughout an album that does not have his typical highs and lows (although "Hypothesis" is a standout). But a consistently excellent album with covers of Nick Lowe, Duran Duran, and Morrissey is a formidable beast. Arbor Vitae, on the other hand, exposes one of Lance's pet writing tricks: start with a typical 3-chord riff, then throw in an unbelievable hook and/or harmony waist-deep into the song. You go from generic to transcendent in 3.2 seconds -- I've never quite heard anything like it done so successfully AND repeatedly. "Church on Fire" is epic; "Waiting on the Ground" and "Sinking Seas" are also great. But the album is also good overall; not as consistent as NFN, but a good album nonetheless.
    Verdict: One ring, two champions. You really can't go wrong either way (or with One Mississippi), but the edge (and controversial Don King-influenced decision) goes toNFN. Both go into the Portable CD Case.
  • Rich Hopkins and Luminarios: Devolver (2000) VS The Best and Worst of the Luminarios (2004). Now it may seem odd to pit an individual album against that same band's greatest hits, but I think it's justified in this case. Devolver is supposed to be Rich Hopkins' (former Sand Rubies lead guitarist) opus -- so both should be equally good. The first three songs of Devolver start off with a lot of promise, but at this point the album could still go either way. Track four ("Elaine") is not a good turning point: Rich Hopkins' pet trick is a guitar lick that I've heard him use a dozen times on a dozen different albums. I draw one of two conclusions for this: 1) he wrote this lick when he was eight, and has been trying to (unsuccessfully) write the perfect song for it ever since, or 2) he includes a song with it on every album as his "signature." Either way... it's not very interesting or inspired to hear it over and over again. By track eight ("Tres Amigos") it's clear the album is not a great one; it's all fallen apart by this point. By the time The Best and Worst enters the arena, Devolver has collapsed in the corner as a self-indulgent puddle of gelatin. The Best and Worst is all you'll ever need.
    Verdict: The Best and Worst wins without throwing a punch. It ends up in the CD Rack;Devolver in the pile of death.
- Snilch

Friday, December 05, 2008

Yo Ho Ho

It's that time of year, kids! Here are a few suggestions on what to listen to as we hit the holiday season -- in other words, here are all the holiday albums I own:
  • The Carpenters - Christmas Collection (1996 - 2 CDs). The late, great Karen Carpenter could sing Coors Light commercials and make them sound classy. This collection contains their 1974 and 1978 Christmas releases, and they both are really top notch.

  • Various - Now That's What I Call Christmas! (2001 - 2 CDs). I feel like a complete fraud for owning this, but you just can't argue with the songs on this comp: Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Burl Ives... and those are (in order) tracks 1-10 of 36 total! There are some clunker artists/tacks (*NSYNC, Britney Spears), but it's otherwise an absolute classic and a great collection.

  • The Reverend Horton Heat - We Three Kings (2005). This one is tough to find but worth the effort if you are a fan of the good Reverend. Rockabilly Christmas, surprisingly conservative in their covers overall, but definitely off the beaten path. Throwing the riff from the "Batman" TV show theme into "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" borders on pure genius.

  • Sufjan Stevens - Songs for Christmas (2006 - 5 CDs). As with all Sujan albums, there's brilliance and peculiarity here, often all wrapped up in the same song. 42 songs, containing Stevens' five Christmas albums from 2001-2006. You're sure to get the same amount of big fans as well as quizzical looks with this one. I love it, although it does have its up and down moments.

  • Various - A Very Special Christmas (Vol. 1 - 1987, Vol. 3 - 1997). Volume 1 is a classic -- with Bruce Springsteen's "Merry Christmas Baby," Run D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis," and U2's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," how could you go wrong? A must-have for the 80's hipster or alt-reveler. Volume 3 -- well, I really got it for No Doubt's "Oi to the World," but the rest of the album is surprisingly decent and definitely worth a listen.
Happy Holidays!

- Snilch

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Compilate Me

Yes! More long lists of albums I'm catching up on! Terrible for you (the reader), great for me (the blogger). The beat goes on, in semi-alphabetical order:
  • Big Dipper - Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology (2008 - 3 CDs). Denis gave me Heavens and Craps to listen to, which led to this. This anthology is almost everything they ever recorded (the two albums mentioned above plus the EP Boo-Boo; only the album Slam is not included), plus bonus tracks, PLUS an entire unreleased album! All for under $20 as well. If you're a big fan like Denis, you get Boo-Boo, bonus tracks, plus the unreleased album that you never owned: quite a good deal. If you're just getting to know them, like me (although I did know The Embarrassment, Bill Goffrier's former band), you get most of the band's output, including gems like "She's Fetching," "All Going Out Together," "Man O' War," "Loch Ness Monster," "Younger Bums," and the epic "Faith Healer." Incidentally, those are just the highlights for Disc One (!). This collection grows on you as you give it more listens.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. As I wrote this review and listened to this album, it climbed from the CD Rack into my Portable CD Case, and eventually Disc 1 (
    Boo-Boo/Heavens) ended up in my Car CD Changer. Compilation index rating is high value: low on the longtime fan ripoff because of the price point versus the amount of rare/unreleased material AND the extensive liner notes (they have band comments on every song as well as commentary on the unreleased album), extremely high on the casual fan rating. Three CD's for $18... that is simply perhaps the best deal ever. Take them up on the deal, assuming there are any left (there were only 5,000 copies made).

  • The Godfathers - Birth, School, Work, Death: The Best of the Godfathers (1996 - 1 CD). The title track is what brought me here; they don't stray far from it with their other songs. I like the sound, although it is a bit repetitive. Less edgy rockabilly indie rock. I'll listen to it in the future.
    Verdict: Recommended if you like "Birth, School, Work, Death." Compilation index is low value for the collector, high for the average fan -- it's all the latter will ever want or need. CD Rack.

  • Guided by Voices - Human Amusements at Hourly Rates (The Best of) (2003 - 1 CD). Thanks for Scott for this one. Matador blows up the Compilation Index again (they are responsible for the Big Dipper anthology too) with this "Best of" CD, released at the same time as the "Best of" box set. This is what I am sure the record business calls a "worst practice": by giving consumers a choice, you immediately split your potential buying audience, as well as instigate the process of actual thought. For example, let's say Fred hears that GBV is releasing a greatest hits album. Fred's a "completist" (i.e., must own everything Bob Pollard and GBV have ever done, including things like one of the 200 vinyl singles they gave to friends in 1983, or copies of a "bootleg" of Pollard's piano recital at age 11), and thus his salivary glands are immediately activated; typical record policy is to keep him in this frothy, frenzied state until he and his hard-earned cash are soon parted. The "box set vs. single CD" options interrupts this state -- confused, Fred looks at the actual merits and tracklists of each and begins to use that part of the brain that controls rational thought as part of this process. Fred will then actually consider not only whether to get the box set or the single CD, but also the possibility that (gasp!) it's not worth the money because he has everything already. For me, this CD is just my speed: great overview with some tasty tunes. (As for Fred, he reluctantly give in to rational thought: it really wasn't worth it to get the either the single CD or the box set. However, in a moment of weakness, impulse control once again clubbed rational thought over the head with the notion that he needed all of GBV's music in ONE place [how convenient!], that he needed to support the band [how altruistic!], that he needed the 35-page deluxe booklet [how nerdy!]... basically, that he needed it. Six months later, he sits staring at the dusty box set, wondering what he was thinking.)
    Verdict: Recommended. High value for the casual fan; the hardcore fan will want the box set.
    CD Rack.

  • John Lennon - Lennon Legend (2007, 2003, 1997 - CD, DVD). What I want out of a John Lennon compilation is the best of the best of his solo work plus his half of Double Fantasy. I'm in luck! This is exactly that. It is TERRIBLE, however, that they are selling essentially the same compilation for the third time in the last ten years; undoubtedly they will sell a slightly repackaged version again in 2013.
    Verdict: Recommended if you fit my criteria. Compilation ripoff factor is off the charts on this one -- any time you keep trotting out the same horse with a different colored saddle you know it's not right. The DVD clips are cool.

  • Orange Juice - The Glasgow School (2005 - 1 CD). Edwyn Collins' old band. Things I liked associated with this album: 1) Collins' song "A Girl Like You," which he did solo; 2) the sentiment of the title The Glasgow School; 3) the joke that "O.J." is short for guilty. Things I liked on this album:

    Verdict: Not recommended. Pile of Death, which (as you might of guess) means the Compilation Index is pretty much at 0.

  • Jay Reatard - Singles 06-07 (2008 - CD, DVD). I mentioned Jay Reatard here, but this is a better starting point. It's more consistent yet more varied musically, and it's catchier yet darker. It's where I'd start -- a very nice compilation.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case. Compilation index is assumed to be high value, as I believe that only four tracks are available on CD at the moment, while at the same time it's a good overview.

  • Siouxsie and the Banshees - The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees (2002 - 1 CD). Ron got me back into Siouxsie after declaring "Dear Prudence" better than the original version by The Beatles (heresy!) and "Cities in the Dust" to also be "desert island CD worthy." Then I began taping 120 Minutes on VH1 Classic (not the original shows, which is too bad, but pop-alternative "hits" from the 80's and 90's) and realized there are actually a ton of tunes I really like by them.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. High on the ripoff scale for hardcore fans, but great for an overview of some excellent songs. A few mis-steps ("Peek-a-Boo" comes immediately to mind) keep this out of the Car CD Changer, and instead in the Portable CD Case.

  • Linda Thompson - Dreams Fly Away (1996 - 1 CD). Linda Thompson has an unbelievable voice. This compilation showcases that for sure, and it's the best album I've heard of hers. I was shocked at the amount of content that was unreleased on this compilation; that gives it value for completists and casual fans.
    Verdict: Recommended, and scores great on the compilation index. CD Rack.

  • Elliott Smith - New Moon (2007 - 2 CDs). There are certain artists that, on principle, I hate. Not dislike, not grudgingly acknowledge as "great, but," not "willing to listen to but not really into." Hate. I fundamentally hated Elliott Smith and his approach to music. Would politely listen while quietly seething underneath the surface. Hate. And the only way I even was willing to listen to this album was because of Sean -- he forced it down my throat. Bought a copy for me (and one for Scott), packaged it up, and sent it our way because it moved him so much. Love. I open the package. Hate. I listened to it. Confusion. Then again. Grudging acceptance -- no, more than that. I cannot bring myself to say it -- it's... it's... sigh. Alright, I can't deny it. It's... love. Love. Love, love, love. If I can love it, so can you.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Would be a Car CD Changer album if it were a little more up tempo. Love.
- Snilch

Monday, November 10, 2008

You Asked, So I Listened

Any of you who asked me to listen to albums may think you were shouting into a void, but, yes, I was indeed listening. Since I'm still clearing my backlog, I thought I'd acknowledge a bunch in one fell swoop. If yours isn't here, fell free to a) e-mail me and b) prepare to be further ignored. (I probably just forgot.) I do appreciate the suggestions, so feel free to keep them coming.

The list:
  • Bitch Alert - I Can Feel Your Bones (2006). This is from Andrew, who I think was legitimately shocked that I actually bought something by this band. I'd called it homogenized Finnish punk. "Skeleton" is an amazing tune - well, in a simple, catchy, well-harmonized, broken English sort of way. This album is decent, but it's more a novelty in terms of the way the album comes off. The ladies have some chops but it doesn't completely work. I really hope they didn't try and write this in English, because if they did, start digging for bodies in the backyard now. Maybe they were low on cash and just had Babelfish translate the album, although I'm not sure what you input (in Finnish) to output (in English) themes like stealing money from widows who just killed their abusive boyfriends, peeling skin and "feeling" bones, and asking to get beat up by your drug dealer, if you started with lyrics of, say, peace, love, and understanding. Not sold yet? Example one: they try to rhyme "star" with "star" in one song. Eight times. (To be fair, it's almost the same as trying to rhyme "orange.") Example two: they try to rhyme "worry" with "sorry." Example three: they have songs called "Would You Be My Mental Big Sister, June?" and "Please Let Me Die First." And I didn't even talk about the song told through the eyes of a stuffed bear that comes to life after hours and watches television. I am running away screaming.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back pile 1.

  • Donna the Buffalo - Sliverlined (2008). This was suggested by Dave, whose meetings and videos we produce. I was surprised to find out Donna the Buffalo has been around for 20 years - and Dave tells me they've got a rabid fanbase called "The Herd." I picked this album as the reviews indicated this was a good reflection of both their past and present. Now I'm admittedly not a huge jam band fan (as they were described online), which scared me, but I think that's an inadequate and facile description. They actually compare more favorably as a folk-rock (as opposed to country-rock) Drive-by Truckers - excellent musicians, multiple writers, different voices and styles on different songs, but all the while remaining true to their band's sound. I'm not sure what I was expecting; it was not something this fun, relaxing, and light. That does not mean they can't play, or that the songs don't have depth (they do); it just sounds like... well, like "summer." In the end, more poppy than I was prepared for (in a good way), and there are a few duds, but overall it's a great listen and well worth my time. And yours.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Shelby Lynne - I Am Shelby Lynne (2000). Another Andrew suggestion, who clearly feels I need some country music "cultcha." Very vocally aggressive -- it surprised me from the start -- and more soulful than I expected. It's pretty eclectic and it's very, very good. I'm glad I did not go in with any preconceptions; it was a much nicer surprise that way. Definitely worth a listen; I'd compare her voice to Bonnie Raitt, with a much wider range and more effortless delivery. If you're like me, you'll be hooked by the time you hit "Why Can't You Be?" And by the time you hit "Dreamsome," you'll realize why: it's her world, and you're just listening to it.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (2007). This one was not requested by Andrew, but he instigated the process by sending me a video for the single "Time to Pretend," which is a spectacular throwback track that vaguely reminds me of The Stone Roses (in vibe more so than music). I took a shot that the album would follow suit.; unfortunately, the rest of the album is pretty boring and a little full of itself. At times, it's an unfortunate mishmash of what sounds like spectacularly talented musicians all playing against each other. I'm not sure I can declare a winner of that battle, but I can declare the loser: me, for having bought the album.
    Verdict: Find an mp3 of "Time to Pretend". Pass on the album. Sell-back pile 1.

  • Motörhead - Overkill (1979). Yes, yet another Motörhead post. This one was suggested by Dirt Mall's Johnny Anguish. I had decided going in I only needed one Motörhead album; and at first, it did sound too much like Ace of Spades for me, so it looked like I was off the hook. But by the time I hit the end of the album I couldn't rightfully put it in Sell-back pile 1; the b-sides (included on the re-mastered version, along with two (!) versions of their cover of "Louie, Louie") hooked me. I am a sucker. This one is a keeper.
    Verdict: Recommended after Ace of Spades. CD Rack.

  • The Screaming Blue Messiahs - Bikini Red (1987), Totally Religious (1989). Liz lent me some tapes from the late '70's and early '80's, and thought I'd be into these guys. She was right. My much more clever comments on the band are here; these albums are both very good. The Messiahs are a UK band obsessed with America... so think of them as a rockabilly, remarkably less successful U2. And without the longevity of the Irish boys. These are fun albums that a niche audience will love.
    Verdict: Recommended, but these are long out of print; Bikini Red is better but tougher to find. I wouldn't go overboard to pay for either unless you've heard/love the band - hopefully the albums will be re-released someday. Both go into the Portable CD Case.

  • Dusty Springfield - Dusty in Memphis (1969). Well, Andrew certainly has a lot of suggestions, now doesn't he? Of course, he has excellent musical taste, so it's tough to go wrong with them. Sadly, going in I knew the name Dusty Springfield (born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien), but couldn't tell you a thing she ever did. This album is not my cup of tea; that should not necessarily discourage you. Clearly she has a great voice and the songs are well put together... I'm just not into it. I didn't realize she sang "Son of a Preacher Man," which is a great song. If you liked the original, you'll probably be interested in the Rhino re-release, which includes 14 additional tracks, 10 of which were "previously unissued."
    Verdict: I can't recommend it, but you may love it. For me, Sell-back pile 1.

  • Prinzhorn Dance School - Prinzhorn Dance School (2007). The only reason I'm writing this blog is Yves' challenge to me at his going-away party, and thus when he makes a request I am honor-bound to respect it. Plus he introduced me to Love of Diagrams, who I love. The liner notes state: "This record is meant to be played loud." When you hear the album, you understand why. It's minimalist in the tradition of Young Marble Giants, which would be the only minimalist album I own. Well, before listening to this album at least. I am not a minimalist fan, but this is truly, truly outstanding. IMHO, they are the best pretenders to the YMG throne in the 30 years since Collossal Youth came out. This is not for everyone, but don't be scared by the minimalist tag: it's a great album.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Car CD Changer album.

  • Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (2007). BFF Becky told me to check this one out. She does not know I am not a Wilco fan at all, despite a) numerous attempts to get into them, b) prodding by Sean, AND 3) liking both Uncle Tupelo and Gob Iron. Well, this is an interesting album - I have to admit that I did enjoy it. There still is something here I just can't come to grips with and totally embrace, but it's my first "in" with this band; we'll have to see if repeated listens opens that up even further. Good call, Becky!
    Verdict: Recommended, and I'd like to hear what Wilco fans think. CD Rack.
- Snilch

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Music, 2007-2008 - Part 3

Yes! The third of three parts. Onward:
  • Burnt Fur - Unfurl (2008). I listened to their tunes on their myspace page, and was duly impressed. So I figured it was worth the plunge to get the album. Describing themselves as Electro/New Wave/Experimental (and who am I to argue?), this Boston band's release is a tale of two albums: there's the half that sounds good, and there's the half that doesn't. When they are good: great mix of guitar, keyboard, and vocals that blend together. When they are not: the music and vocals don't jibe, and/or the music nudges over the fine line between "not complicated" and "simplistic." Overall, it's a nice listen, but you're clearly slumming. It's terrible in the car; it's good on my office boombox. Tracks 1, 3, 6, and 8 are, respectively, pedestrian; not bad but not good, and therefore not good; ripping off a band who was, in turn, already ripping off Nine Inch Nails; and awful. Tracks 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9 are, respectively, reminiscent of very early Ministry and therefore decent; pretty solid both lyrically and musically; ripping off Pearl Jam’s opening to “Corduroy,” with a solid (and original) remainder; good; and why I bought the album. There's something here, just not enough of it, or enough variation.
    Verdict: It's close. Recommended for the five tracks that are good. CD Rack.
  • The Cribs - Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever (2008). These guys are the real deal -- excellent musicians, smart lyricists, and thoughtful arrangers. Three is the magic number here. Three brothers from England, this is there third album and it boasts three great (and I mean great) tracks: the angular "Men's Needs"; the cacophonous "Ancient History" (chorus: "I drag up ancient history/Hope that they'll forgive me"); and the spoken word missive "Be Safe" (which features Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth). And the rest of the songs are either good or very good. The production is excellent -- they get a dynamic mix of sounds out of all of their songs, despite the standard rock instrumental setups. Quite impressive. They seem to be approaching alternative rock at its logical extension, and I think they've got a serious future ahead of them.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. You're damn right this is a Car CD Changer album.
  • Crooked Fingers - Forfeit/Fortune (2008). Eric Bachmann, the frontman and sole songwriter for this outfit, is pretty prolific to be flying under the radar: between Archers of Loaf, Barry Black, his solo work, and Crooked Fingers, he has now released sixteen albums and EP's since 1993. Not bad for a guy still living out of his car. Of those sixteen, I'd only call two pedestrian: his soundtrack Short Careers in 2001, and this effort. Neko Case injects some life into the last song on the album, but by then it's too late. Not bad, just not great. I'd characterize it as "pretty bland."
    Verdict: Not recommended. I'll keep it in my CD Rack out of respect to the man, but expect it to be gone by the next culling. The Archers of Loaf albums Icky Mettle and White Trash Heroes, Barry Black albums Barry Black and Tragic Animal Stories, and Crooked Fingers s/t debut are better places to start than this.
  • Millencolin - Machine 15 (2008). The eighth album by everyone's favorite Scandanavian skatepunks. Usually their albums consist of one or two mind-blowing tunes and the rest not hitting the mark, but here they are a little less aggressive and a little more consistent, which makes the album a nice listen front-to-back and surprisingly solid as a whole.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.
  • The Roots - Rising Down (2008). The veteran Philadelphia jazz-rap outfit is back, following up on 2006's brilliant Game Theory. Evan tried to get me to listen to these guys for years, and I can see why. This is very solid, although it's a little more mellow and a little less aggressive musically, and thus I prefer Game Theory.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.
  • Bruce Springsteen - Magic (2007). I heard "Radio Nowhere" and loved the song -- Bruce is back! So I bought the album... and not so much, unfortunately. Great song, though.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back pile 1.
  • Tapes 'N Tapes - Walk It Off (2008). Following up on their impressive 2005 debut The Loon, the boys clean up their sound with an overly produced effort. Sometimes production makes an album (like The Cribs, above); sometimes it completely takes the edge of the music and sanitizes it in a horrible, horrible way, wringing the life out of the music until the sponge is dry. You may have guessed -- this is the latter. It's just too clean; there are a few excellent songs here, but they rest have been polished to death. Did I mention I loved their debut?
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back pile 1.
  • Weezer - Red Album (2008). Now the first thing with this album is to listen to it in the correct order -- start with track 3 ("Pork and Beans"), play it straight through to the end, then play the first two tracks; "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" is a final track if I've ever heard one, but an odd choice for the second track of the album. Their track ordering choices are not good, but otherwise this is their best album since Pinkerton. "Pork and Beans" is absolutely fantastic, which always helps; the rest of the songs seem really autobiographical, which in this case works. It's really remarkably good, especially since (IMHO) they launched three bombs in a row before this one. It's an impressive return to form -- classic Weezer, which inevitably is good sounding, guilty pleasure rock. They do what they do, and they do it well.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.
  • Wire - Object 47 (2008). Wire's story follows a bit like the Buzzcocks: Wire released three seminal albums in the late 70's, went on hiatus, then released some tired-sounding albums from the mid-80's and early 90's before re-forming at the beginning of this decade. (Granted, in the Buzzcocks case they had a longer layoff to the early 90's, and a shorter time to reforming early this decade, but you get the idea.) Here's the difference between the two: the Buzzcocks have not been able to recapture the magic, but Wire has. At a Buzzcocks show, you feel the electricity through the old songs, and the lack thereof in the new ones; at a Wire show, it's a blur of electricity, front to back, no matter what era is being played. And this album is great. Anchored by the three great tracks ("One of Us," "Perspex Icon," and "All Fours", the latter starring Page Hamilton from Helmet), this album is a good listen. They're art rock at its finest, and have proven they still have their game after all these years, despite guitarist Bruce Gilbert leaving the band. Close your eyes -- you'll think it's a lost classic.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Car CD Changer.
- Snilch

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Music, 2007-2008 - Part 2

Part Two of our look at new music. Onward:
  • The Black Watch - Icing the Snow Queen (2008). One of my all-time favorite groups -- it's just too bad that no one has ever heard of them. They have an amazing story, which will have to wait until their next album, but here's a quick synopsis: The Black Watch (essentially John Andrew Fredrick and J'Anna Jacoby) had ten releases over a 14-year period, before Jacoby left to tour with Rod Stewart (!), leaving Fredrick on his own to release four albums and one EP since 2003. It has felt like a bad breakup; of the four post-Jacoby albums, this is closest to the classic Black Watch sound. Think The Cure meets My Bloody Valentine with pop sensibilities. I may enjoy Tattermedallion a little more this one in the post-Jacoby era, but this album is really nice -- if you like your music a little folkier, this is a great place to start with your first Black Watch album. And if this were a breakup, I think Fredick has finally been able to push past it.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. This album, Amphetamines, The King of Good Intentions, Lime Green Girl, Tattermedallion... I just named five of my favorite albums. Get one of them if you can find them (although Lime Green Girl is probably the best place to start). Portable CD Case "with privileges."

  • The B-52's - Funplex (2007). Hard to believe, but this is only their seventh album, and the first since 1992's Good Stuff. As usual,The B-52's bring incredible harmonies to the table to contrast with Fred Schneider's delivery (his best line: "I am a fully eroticized being!"). This does not feel like an album that they've been creating for 16 years, more like picking up where they left off with Cosmic Thing: danceable, poppy, quirky fun. No huge hits here, but enjoyable.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.

  • CSS - Donkey (2008). Album #2 from everyone's favorite Brazilian dance troupe finds the band adding a little more musical oomph to their sound, with mixed results. My favorite song is "How I Became Paranoid," which properly marries indie rock sensibilities, pop harmonies, and a dance beat (I give it an 89, Dick!) into a great pop song. That's a really tough thing to create. If they continue on this trajectory, I would not be surprised if their next album was landmark in quality. Still, this album is very very good and quite a fun listen. Hop on while they're still incubating.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Nerf Herder - IV (2008). Most famous for writing the title theme for the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the nerd indie rock boys are back. They've always struck me as being on the cusp of something really great, but that promise has never translated into a great album. That's the case here once again -- bits and bobs are decent, but the songs themselves are just lacking. I think they want to be this generation's Devo; they need to be smarter both musically and lyrically to get there.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Pile of death.

  • R.E.M. - Accelerate (2008). Let me start by stating that I am not an R.E.M. fan. I associate old R.E.M. (i.e.,1983-87, the I.R.S. records) with visiting my brother at Kenyon College in the early 90's -- that was the vibe of the campus and it seemed like we heard them everywhere we went. I associate Green (e.g., "Orange Crush," "Stand," "Pop Song '89") with my freshman year in college; when I hear anything from Out of Time (e.g., "Losing My Religion," "Shiny Happy People"), I think of my senior year in college. And when I hear anything else (1992-2007), I think of a band that lost its way (i.e., crap). This album makes me think of Kenyon. It's not quite as jangly as that era but it has that vibe. No real "hits" here, but I like this better than anything since Out of Time. Minus the regrettable last song, I think they've done what U2 has failed to do: recapture their magic from the 80's. (IMHO, of course!)
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Sloan - Parallel Play (2008). Sloan was on a bit of a run: the career compilation A-Sides Win was fantastic, the follow-up Never Hear the End of It (reviewed here) was absolutely great -- the best, most consistent album they've ever done -- and the show that followed it was a great mix of their new and old material. Their show on this tour (reviewed here) was a step back; Parallel Play (reviewed... well, I guess right here) is a further drop-off. I would not be surprised if these were castoffs from the aforementioned NHTEOI sessions... two excellent songs, the rest completely pedestrian and sadly disappointing.
    Verdict: Not recommended. Sell-back pile 1.

  • TV on the Radio - Dear Science (2008). When Scott and I saw these guys at the Boston Music Awards a few years ago, we were blown away by the first couple of songs, then not so much by the rest. And their Return to Cookie Mountain album (although it was universally praised) just didn't move me. But I heard something in their music that I liked, so when Chris Dahlen's review for Pitchfork said this was catchier than their previous albums, I felt I needed to take the plunge. And this is very good. It's like Bad Brains decided to mellow out and try to mimic Prince; at other times that have moments that recall Morphine, Hybrasil, or The Michael Stanley Band. (Okay, the latter is quite a stretch, but I couldn't resist the reference.) This may not be exactly up my alley, but it is really good. Headphones or big stereo listen for this one for sure.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.
- Snilch

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Music, 2007-2008 - Part 1

I'm sure most people want to know what new music I'm listening to -- that's usually what they ask me about as a starter. To be honest, I've done a pretty piss-poor job of spelling that out lately; so I'm going to make up for it and play catch-up with a bunch of albums from 2007 and 2008.

I'd like to make one general comment before beginning: the radio is terrible, and the current state of music is extremely pedestrian. There is a little voice in my head that keeps saying, "Guitar music is done, something else is next," but I can't see what or who that might be. This has been an incredibly stagnant decade for pretty much all forms of music, and thus nothing I'm going to review over the next few posts is revolutionary by any means. There is a lot of good music out there, just not the next Nirvana or My Bloody Valentine.

That being said... I've heard a lot of very good music this year, so I really shouldn't complain. Yet I still do. Ah, poor Mrs. Snilch Report...

In alphabetical order:
  • The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (2007). Now when I asked for any thoughts on this album last year, what I got back was resounding silence. So when I saw the album cheap, I figured I would give it a shot. This album is very good; it's just that their first (Funeral) was epic. And this is not. If you've never heard Funeral, it's similar to listening to U2's October without hearing Boy: on its own, it's a very good album; when compared with Boy, its warts begin to show. A couple of classic songs, but I'll pick up Funeral again nine times out of ten over this one.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Battles - Mirrored (2007). At times this sounds like a demented version of Jesus Christ Superstar; other times it sounds like Mars Volta. In either case it's a highly pleasing cacophony of sound.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.

  • The Big Sleep - Sleep Forever (2008). At that start, it appears this is album plodding and full of itself; the first three songs are instrumental. By the time the album hits track 5, the brilliant "Pinkies," it's apparent that this is more of a single thought stretched over the glorious map of an album. There's a wistfulness and an epic quality to their ambitions as a group that come through -- a little shoegazer, a little prog rock, and even a little stoner rock. (Okay, light stoner rock.) A little slow at times, and it feels longer than it really is, but still... Winner. Winner. Winner.
    Verdict: Recommended. Car CD Changer.

  • British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music? (2008). Album #3 from this English band, still trying to measure up to their impressive debut album from 2003, The Decline of British Sea Power. I like this album but it overstays its welcome a tad. It sounds very familiar, very safe, very 80's -- it's very "pleasant" music. Probably would be perfect to impress your new potential girlfriend or boyfriend that you're hip, while safe (i.e., not living in your mother's basement planning horrible revenge on people who wronged you in the fifth grade). Great for doing dishes or playing in the background while you're doing something else. I know it sounds like I'm damning this album with faint praise -- I like it more than that. Sort of. How about this: I'm glad I bought it.
    Verdict: Recommended. CD Rack.

  • M83 - Saturdays = Youth (2008). After the bomb that was Digital Shades Volume 1, I honestly wasn't sure whether M83 would ever touch the heights of Before the Dawn Healed Us. This one is not quite there, but it's a step in the right direction. This has a depth and a vibe to it that DSV1 did not; I don't like primarily keyboard music unless it can capture a spacey/dreamy aspect while having at least a slight edge. This does. I will still be enjoying this in ten years.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Jay Reatard - Matador Singles '08 (2008). This is a CD compilation of a series of limited edition 7"s released by Matador this year. If you don't know his work... well, let's just say Jay Reatard amuses me -- he writes bent pop songs. Great disc but definitely not for everyone. Generally pretty simple musically and lyrically; think Andrew W.K. with more wit and musical chops. He's mid-tempo indie/pop/punk rock... tough to absolutely classify, which is reason #212 I like him.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Teddy Thompson - A Piece of What You Need (2008). This is Teddy's third album (fourth if you count his album of country covers), and his best one yet. The only son of Richard and Linda Thompson, this album sees Teddy sounding absolutely confident, and surprisingly establishing his identity as a crooner. Think Eric Matthews meets Jens Lekman. Not my kind of music but my kind of album. I find myself shocked that he's progressed this far in such a short period of time. It's nice to hear him find his voice and his own identity outside of his famous folks.
    Verdict: Recommended. Almost CD Changer worthy, but ends up in the Portable CD Case.

  • The Thalia Zedek Band - Liars and Prayers (2008). Thalia Zedek has been fronting bands in Boston since the late '70's, including Uzi and Come, and I've always felt I should like her stuff on principle... but it's never happened. This album is where I can happily meet her halfway. Sounding like Courtney Love in about another ten years of serious smoking, minus the haughtiness, Zedek has a lot more life in her. Musically, it's a standard three piece plus a viola and a piano, which sound great. Vocally, she goes for it as well -- she's got the voice of wisdom combined with the earnestness of youth. The small complaint I'd lodge would be that there is not much variation from song to song musically; but, in the end, I still feel this is an under the radar, great sounding album.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.
Wow... uniformly positive. How did that happen?

- Snilch

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wax Ecstatic

I'm not sure if you've heard... vinyl is back.

CD shoved past vinyl in the late 80's, relegating the survival of the format to audiophiles and DJ's; now, in what might be a "Rocky"-type comeback, vinyl may now be spelling the end of CD's.

Yes, that's right. Those same large black coasters that have existed in your domicile primarily as nostalgic references to a time gone by... are now potentially pushing their commercial successors out of business. For the first time in the last 20 years, sales of vinyl are going up significantly.

How is this possible?

This is how we got here: in the past ten years, people who wanted the flexibility of music in an electronic format have turned to mp3's, which has (for quite some time) been driving CD sales downward. As the convenience that CD's has offered has been supplanted by mp3's, the audiophile vinyl-only purists (living amongst us like recessive genes) have kept the format on life support, evangelizing that a CD could never match the richer sound quality of an album.

So now we've come to the tipping point, where audio purists are becoming a larger segment of the record/CD-buying public. Don't believe me? The next time you go into Newbury Comics, look at the vinyl section. It's growing.

But the proof is in the pudding.
Having owned it for six months, it seemed like the right time to finally open the wrapper on the LP version of Bob Mould's Body of Song. I was shocked at how much fuller the sound was than on CD (the song "Paralyzed" in particular). So, a few weekends back, Scott, Bubba, and I got together to take a larger listen for ourselves. Cranking the stereo (with Mrs. Snilch Report wisely taking cover at the Jersey shore), we ended up finding that the music did sound at least as good, and often better, on LP than on CD. A few notables:
  • Hüsker Dü - Warehouse: Songs and Stories. (1987) I always wondered how this band went from a small label to a major, yet saw the quality of its mastering plummet. Well, here is the answer: the CD mixes were crap, the vinyl mixes were great. I've been listening to "Could You Be the One?" for 20 years now, and swear it never sounded as good as when I heard it on record. The drums sound much less tinny, the guitar much more rounded and full -- it's almost as if the album was originally "digitally sanitized" for CD. The other Hüsker albums we sampled (Metal Circus, New Day Rising) were also better than their CD counterparts, but not as strikingly better as Warehouse was.
  • The Dandy Warhols - The Dandy Warhols Come Down.(1997) This was a complete shock. I've always preferred their self-titled 1995 debut as an album front-to-back, and (confession time) I even made this CD a Sell-back Pile 1 victim. On vinyl, I was finally hearing the album as it should have been presented. It has a much fuller sound and a much better bass response than its CD counterpart, which is key to the their sound. My impression now? It's a totally dynamic album, probably CD (LP?) Car Changer worthy. I'm still in shock. I'm glad Scott brought this along, as it may have been the highlight of the day for me.
  • Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out. (1997) This is, IMHO, S-K's tour de force in a great catalog of albums, and yet I felt like I was listening to it again for the first time on vinyl. There was great sound separation and a clear bass sound (despite the fact that they don't use a bass, but a guitar with bass pickups). You could really hear the Rubber Soul guitar sound come through very clearly on "Turn It On." A very enjoyable listen.
And I could go on and on.... In the end, our small sample size revealed the ultimate advantages of vinyl to the ear: a richer, more rounded guitar sound; better bass separation and response; and a more "forgiving" and warmer overall sound. I think it's like watching film versus video: there is something inherent in the medium that adds to the viewing/listening experience and the overall enjoyment. I've always maintained that film "emotes" to some extent; I think vinyl does the same from a sound perspective.

So I'm sold. Dig out your turntable, hook it up to your stereo, and listen for yourself. Of course, there is one drawback: great turntables haven't been in production for a number of years... I actually only have mine as a result of Sean's leaving for Portland back in the day. And even that is having some issues; I am hoping it's simply a result of not properly grounding it and thus causing my left channel to freak out. (As opposed to being an issue with my receiver, but I'm not sure how to test that precisely.) But when I get that fixed -- it's back to the vinyl. Again.

- Snilch

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dirt Mall - Got the Goat by the Horns (2007)

This album is the first unsolicited request for review I've received from a band I don't know (total number: still standing at one); while I can't guarantee I'll give a favorable (or timely) review, I do promise to review any such albums I receive. So to those of you who've been considering sending me your latest offering (I'm looking squarely at you, Springsteen), feel free to ask.

Being from Waltham, of course, means that we do give Johnny Anguish and the rest of Dirt Mall a little extra grease for the review wheels. Fortunately, they really don't need it. I checked out other reviews on-line and they all name-checked the exact bands mentioned in Dirt Mall's own press release. Conclusion: these people are lazy. (Me? I'm cranking out these blogs every few months with blinding regularity.) But I still think that the best description of their sound is a cross between The Cult and Buckcherry, combining classic rock with garage rock and some Billy Duffy-ish guitar sound.

This is a very good album. I love the opening track, "Hello Los Angeles", as well as "Rows" and "I'm Not Saying What You Did Was Wrong But Your Timing Could Have Been Better" (also a classic title); in fact, seven of the eight tracks are good to great IMHO. If I was going to make a criticism (and apparently that's what I'm about to do), it's that I sense some restraint in the recording; I feel like when I see them live, there's going to be a lot more energy flowing from these songs. It just sounds a little too shaped, a little too formed; it should be a little looser and messier.

But in the end, this one is a keeper. I look forward to catching them live, as soon as a date at The Skellig is scheduled.

Merch Rating: I will definitely attend a show and would buy a t-shirt, especially one featuring a goat with crazy horns. I would buy the next album without listening to it. I would not buy the unreleased b-sides or singles just yet, unless they feature some cover like "The Brady Bunch" by Weird Al Yankovic. (I'm just saying.) I would buy a Johnny Anguish solo album, assuming it was titled as something like Alone with My Anguish, Solo Anguish, or Me and My Anguish: My Life After The Snilch Report.

CD Placement Rating:
This goes into the CD Rack, only because I have played it about 100 times in the last two weeks (not even exaggerating). Not a great car album, surprisingly, but I am telling you -- you will enjoy this, people. Pick it up from CD Baby.

- Snilch

Friday, September 05, 2008

Compilation Roundup

I have been listening to a ton of music lately, but all towards the end of my newest editions of the $15 Song CD's, which I will explain further someday. If you weren't convinced of my total insanity before that... well, suffice it to say that this will be the tiebreaker.

Instead, today we'll discuss compilations. As mentioned here, I've come up with a rating system just for compilations/greatest hits fare, which I have intended as transparent and merciless. As a reminder, the idea is that you want to be high on the casual fan rating scale and low on the hardcore fan ripoff factor. In lazy, non-alphabetical order:

  • Asia - The Very Best of Asia: Heat of the Moment (1982-1990) (2000 - 1 CD). Yes, this is how I've decided to start this mess. Asia sounds better in retrospective than it did back in the day, which will not save it from Sell-Back Pile 1. I am struck at how much Steve Howe's guitar sound from early Asia (1982) mimics the sound he was using for the Yes album Drama (1980), or how much their later songs tonally echo Trevor Rabin's sound (his replacement in Yes). Can't argue with "Heat of the Moment" or "The Heat Goes On"; the rest is best left to the radio.
    Verdict: Sell-back Pile 1.
    Compilation rating: Moderate. For the casual fan, this is great. For the hardcore fan, says "For diehards, it's essential for the three rare B-sides 'Daylight,' 'Lying to Yourself,' and 'Ride Easy' and the detailed liner notes," but that seems like a stretch. And those songs are not that good. I'd say this is a moderate ripoff for those fans.

  • Superchunk - Tossing Seeds: Singles 1989-91 (1991 - 1 CD). This is absolutely great. For the casual fan or the hardcore collector, this collection is not only full of great material, but collects all of their early 7" singles into one package. If you're not into Superchunk (like I wasn't), this is the perfect place to start.
    Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Very high. High marks for the casual fan, low marks as a ripoff since it's a great album on its own. Everyone wins.
  • Failure - Essentials (2006 - 2 CDs). This is great because you do get most of the highlights from Failure's brief but significant three album career; for the hardcore fan, you get a lot of unreleased demos and outtakes. This is not so great because they released a whole bunch of other demos and outtakes in 2004 in the DVD/CD compilation Golden. Methinks this is the end of the line for any material they have in the closet... or maybe we'll see yet another compilation in the next two years. Please stop now.
    Verdict: CD Rack.
    Compilation rating: Moderate to high. Great for the casual fan, and nice for the completist. But a lot to buy for the latter.
  • Idlewild - Scottish Fiction: The Best of 1997-2007 (2007 - 1 CD). Oddity #1: They released an original album (which is still in Car CD Changer, Make Another World) as well as this compilation in 2007. Oddity #2: Some of the tracks on the compilation are from that album (which seems to be a bit recent to include, no?). Oddity #3: They are still together and touring. Oddity #4: They are currently working on a new album. I bought this so I could get familiar with their back catalog, but this really is a total ripoff for loyal fans. It's a decent album, but totally a cash cow at this point in their career.
    Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Low. Okay for casual fans but a definite gouge for hardcore fans.
  • Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (2007 - 3 CDs). If you have never heard this album, you are not alone, but you are missing out on the finest piece of minimalist post-punk you will likely ever hear. Much like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, this album is something you listen to and wonder how it ever came together -- and yes, I am comfortable in comparing this album to MBV's absolute classic, which says it all. This set is basically everything they ever recorded -- their 1979 album (Colossal Youth), their 1982 EP (Testcard), the entire demos album that was released a few years ago (Salad Days), and even their John Peel Session from 1980. Plus, the remastering for this album really brings out the full sound of the albums, which I find to be exception rather than the rule. Finally, the extensive liner notes tell the whole band story. I'd put this in the "must-have" category, and you might as well get this compilation and own it all. It is worth it and a real slice of history.
    Verdict: A Car Changer CD comp that goes into the Portable CD Case only because of its style.
    Compilation rating: It's got to be high; even if you own their other stuff (like I do), it's great to have it all in one place and remastered, and the casual fan gets everything they ever recorded. High casual fan rating, low hardcore fan ripoff factor.
  • James - The Best of (1998 - 1 CD). Long considered a poor-man's version of The Smiths, James has some great songs and features the distinctive voice of Tim Booth. Known primarily for the songs "Sit Down" and "Born of Frustration," this compilation is exactly what I want out of this group -- all the hits and some quirky surprises. It's a nice summary and all I really need.Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Probably high.
  • Even as We Speak - A Three Minute Song Is One Minute Too Long/The Singles 1986 to 1990 (2005 - 1 CD). Category: best compilation title. Winner: Even as We Speak. This obscure Australian pop band really reflects the 60's, and what I'd consider "Australian pop," even though I'm not quite sure what that is. (And that's not INXS, which is more British or American in its sensibilities.) But like pornography, I can't define it but I know it when I see (er, hear) it; now that I think about it, I've always associated the quaint sound of The Moles/Richard Davies as "Australian pop," and this is definitely in that vein. This is a nice piece of history that shouldn't just go away.Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: High. This combines a bunch of long out-of print vinyl singles onto CD for the first time. As a first-time listener, this is a great summation of the band as well.
  • Snuff - Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other (2005 - 2 CD's). Thanks to the late, great, Lance Hahn, I checked these guys out. Much like the Failure compilation, it's got "greatest hits" on disc 1 and rarities, demos, etc., on disc 2. They've got a great sound from that grunge era and their original tunes are solid but not spectacular, but still definitely worth listening to. It's actually disc 2 that makes this so much fun -- I am a sucker for covers, and these guys have it in spades. "I Think We're Alone Now," "Don't Fear the Reaper," "I Can See Clearly Now," "I Will Survive," and "Hokey Cokey" (oh yes -- the Hokey Pokey meets punk!) highlight the surprisingly solid 2nd piece of the puzzle. A lot of fun, ala The Nomads.
    Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: High. High on the casual fan index, low on the ripoff factor.
  • Swervedriver - Juggernaut Rides '89-'98 (2005 - 2 CD's). This is one of those rare compilations where I really don't distinguish between the individual songs, but the blur is a really pleasant ride. The one song that really jumped out at me was "Planes Over the Skyline," which is a nice song. But when I mis-heard the lyrics as "Flames Over the Skyline" -- now that was epic. Too bad. "Never Lose That Feeling" and "Son of a Mustang Ford" highlight Disc One; Disc Two contains four unrerleased tracks, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason (and certainly no chronological order) to what went where. But someone had some sense of how to put this all together in a sensible musical order, because in the end it does work as a unified piece. Overall, I'm extremely happy with it, but would probably be pissed if I owned all of their albums and had to buy a two-disc set to get four songs. Think melodic grunge that's very cleanly produced. To be honest, I probably need more time with this one - my opinion nmght be different in two years, for better or worse. I'm guessing better.Verdict: Portable CD Case.
    Compilation rating: Low to moderate. For casual fans or the ultra-completist.
- Snilch