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