Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Old, Some New

Let's get right to it, shall we?

  • The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (2004). Thanks to Brian for recommending these guys. They're a two-man group, ala Local H or The White Stripes. Whereas Local H is more grungy and The White Stripes more crunchy alternative guitar/Jack White's vocals, The Black Keys are more deeply rooted in the blues. (Yes, I know The White Stripes visit the blues neighborhood, but The Black Keys live there.) It's pretty clear that the two musicians play multiple parts; what makes it most interesting is that they still retain the charm of a two-person approach. It's really quite ingenious. Apparently they opened for Sleater-Kinney in 2003, but I must have missed that tour. (Aside: has there ever been a band that has remained as below the radar as S-K that broke so many other acts? The White Stripes, The Gossip, and Yeah Yeah Yeah's immediately come to mind.) These guys are fierce and write amazing songs. Great stuff from Akron, OH. Who knew?
    CD Placement rating:
    Portable CD Case.
  • The Cribs - The Cribs (2004). The Cribs scoreboard stands at 1 up, 1 way way up. Their debut is the worst of their efforts thus far, but it's a Bob Mould scale: their "below average" is a B+ in any other book. There are still some gems here (like "The Lights Went Out," "Direction," and "Another Number"). New one is out now (with Johnny Marr on lead guitar) and I can't wait.
    CD Placement rating:
    Portable CD Case.
  • Merle Haggard - Country Roads (2007). Thanks to Tim for recommending this. Unfortunately, it appears I really, really don't like country (except for Johnny Cash), even if it's done very well (like it is here). I'll take a couple of tracks and move on.
    CD Placement rating:
    Sell-back Pile 1.
  • Mayfield - Mayfield (1998). Curt Smith's Halfway, Pleased was so good, I felt compelled to go back into his back catalog. This album is the product of a brief '90's project, and it does not disappoint. I'm not sure how I (and apparently, everyone else) missed the boat on a truly gifted artist, but I can't help to be continue to be impressed with his work. Unfortunately, (besides Halfway) his two other earlier solo albums and this one are almost impossible to track down. An aside: Curt, please come to Boston.
    CD Placement rating:
    Portable CD Case.
  • The Proletariat - Voodoo Economics and Other American Tragedies (1998). Thanks to Paul for recommending these long-gone (and mostly forgotten) Boston legends.  They sound a bit like an Americanized, slightly more mainstream poppy, slightly more politically pointed version of Gang of Four.  At 45 songs, you get pretty much all you'll ever need to hear of these guys; they were definitely ahead of their time and this is a very nice compilation.
    CD Placement rating:
    Portable CD case.
  • Ride - Going Blank Again (1992). Dan had recommended the band Ride when I reviewed them here.  However, I got the actual album he was recommending wrong -- I believe what he was referring to was Going Blank Again. (Well, at least I think it's the right album this time.) This is tremendous shoegazer pop, think a lighter/poppier My Bloody Valentine.  The 8+ minute opener ("Leave Them All Behind") does not feel long by any means, which said it all for me right off the bat.  Yawning guitars, a strong rhythm section, and lofty vocals on the more shoegazer numbers:  all tremendous. Jangly guitars, that same strong rhythm section, echoey but more down-to earth vocals on the more poppy numbers:  also tremendous.  When they come together (like "Time of Her Time"), it's even better.  Eclipsed by MBV at the time, these guys are absolutely fantastic.  How did I miss them the first time around?
    CD Placement rating:
    Car CD Changer.
  • The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues (1988). Thanks to Scott for this one.  The Waterboys are your favorite Irish pub band, just a lot better.  A very pleasant, upbeat, melodic Celtic folk-rock disc.  At times it's bouncy, others it's tranquil; it's always complexly arranged and very well produced.  It's purely speculation on my part, but I could definitely see them being an influence on The Frames.
    CD Placement rating:
    CD Rack.
- Snilch

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What I've Been Listening to Lately

Besides all of the other albums I've been reviewing... here are a few more I've been listening to lately:
  • Against Me! - Searching for a Former Clarity (2005). The Against Me! scoreboard stands at 1 up, 1 down. This was clearly another win from the start, insisting through all of the other clutter in my life and grabbing my attention. They scream intelligently, telling stories of despair, longing, loss, and addiction that ring true. Next album will be a must-buy; they are the new punks.
    CD Placement rating: Car CD Changer.
  • The Big Sleep - Son of the Tiger (2006). This is not quite as good as 2008's Sleep Forever, but it's damn impressive. Sprawling mid-to-lo tempo indie rock, with a soothing, pleasant tone that somehow drives all the way through the album. Me likee.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.

  • John Cale - Hobo Sapiens (2003). Having seen former Velvet Underground founder John Cale rocking out on Later...with Jools Holland, I went in search of the song I saw him play. I bought two albums; this is the first. He has definitely transitioned to a smoother, pop pock-ish sound on this album, which is quite a departure for him. It's quiet, but still quirky, and a great listen. He's really an underrated solo artist.
    CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Dropkick Murphys - The Warrior's Code (2005). Boston hardcore punk/Celtic icons, immortalized by the movie The Departed, is some people's cup of tea... not mine. This is a decent album, but at some point it all just runs together.
    CD Placement rating: Sell-back Pile 1.
  • Shelby Lynne - Love, Shelby (2001). Andrew has been pushing me towards Lynne's work; Part 1 was successful, so I decided to follow along on Part 2. She's ridiculously poppy (normally not a good thing), but in this case it really works. Lots of parental references and religious themes -- you can't help but think of Shelby at age 17, in her driveway, watching as her alcoholic father shot her mother dead, and then turned the gun on himself; the haunting cover of "Mother" makes your skin crawl. There's real depth here in all of the songs, and her voice is absolutely tremendous.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Pseudo Echo - Long Plays 83-87 (1990). Most of you have more self-respect than to admit to buying this, but apparently I have no shame. It was $2.99, I had fond fuzzy memories of their sound... sigh. What a disaster.
    CD Placement rating: Even "Funky Town" failed to hold up. Pile of Death. Sigh.
  • The Sheila Divine - New Parade (1999). Despite living in Boston for more than ten years, my first exposure to this Boston band was with Moira and Kevin... in Ohio. They've long since broken up (The Shelila Divine, not Moira and Kevin), but this album is undeniable for a few unbelievable tracks, a bunch of good ones, and a few yawners. Overall, I'm guessing it's their best album.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • David Shire - The Hindenburg Original Soundtrack (1975). My friend and soundtrack junkie Brian presented me with an irresistible paradox here: a long-lost, all-time great soundtrack by one of his favorite composers, buried and virtually impossible to find. (It's easier now, although the latest release is still limited to 3,000 copies.) Soundtracks are not my thing, but Brian did not steer me wrong here. I wish I had the musical vocabulary and background to say something intelligent about this... but honestly, I don't. I can say that it was a great listen; the spoken word portions of the soundtrack really added to the overall experience. Very cool stuff.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
- Snilch

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Re-issue Special

Ah, the re-mastered re-issue. The younger, scraggly cousin of the compilation, this record-company double-dip revenue generator can be a long overdue overhaul, or a minor redux to soak the fan base for more cash. An example of the latter would be Modest Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica, which was released in 2000. Sony had the gall to re-release the album four years later, a month before their next album of new material. Disgusting. I have still not bought the re-master, despite the fact that it's an all-time great album. Losers.

Not that I hold a grudge.

The following re-releases are 14+ years after the fact (almost 30, in one case), which is acceptable in my book. In alphabetical order:

  • The Cult - Love (2009; originally released in 1985). This release includes a full disc of extras, comprising the b-sides from the album. Two oddities: it's the 24th anniversary of the release (why not wait a year?) and the re-release is about 20 seconds shorter than the original CD. I'd describe the re-mastering (besides the obvious volume boost) as "Windex": it gets rid of a layer of muddiness you weren't even aware was there. This separates the treble above the rest of the mix and boosts the bass significantly. The end result is that I enjoy the album a lot more. The bonus disc has some good stuff on it (the long version of "She Sells Sanctuary" is very interesting) and is actually longer than the album itself; if you own the Rare Cult box set (and you are lucky if you do), then you already have everything on it.
    - Why you should get it: It makes Love sound like the best album in The Cult's discography, and I've firmly been in the Electric camp for 23 years. That plus the bonus disc, all for under $15 -- a must have for casual fans or ones who've had the disc for 20+ years. It's a classic.
    - Why you shouldn't bother: You hate The Cult. You pathetic freak.
  • Thomas Dolby - The Flat Earth (2009; originally released in 1984). Thomas Dolby's sophomore effort, after "She Blinded Me With Science" had transported him into the stratosphere of "one hit wonders," was recommended by Jamie. Now I knew Dolby's career arc did not go straight down; he actually continued to release albums as a cult act well into the 90's. What I didn't know was that his biggest hit in the UK was actually "Hyperactive," found on this release. This album is well worth picking up. I can't speak to how significant the re-mastering was, but the extras are all excellent. It's not as quirky as the "Science" single; it does show the class of musician that Dolby was back in the day.- Why you should get it: You don't own it -- you should. You do and you love it -- you'll like the extras. You are a Dolby freak -- you'll want the live version of "Marseille," which Dolby's liner notes calls "possibly the rarest Dolby song ever."
    - Why you shouldn't bother: You don't like '80's music. My follow-up: why again
    are you reading this blog? You really don't need to. Seriously, I won't be offended.
  • Joy Division - Still (2007; originally released in 1981). Well, a re-release of a compilation just beats all, doesn't it? I bought this because Yves gave me my CDR copy to evaluate and it's good enough to own. This re-issue includes the re-mastered album plus a live CD from 2/20/80 (including six songs from the soundcheck).- Why you should get it: You don't own the album already. Or you don't mind spending $20 for a live Joy Division performance and a minor re-mastering.
    - Why you shouldn't bother: You own the album and really don't need yet another live performance from Joy Division.
  • Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville (2008; originally released in 1993). This landmark album's re-release includes three additional tracks and a DVD. The re-mastering here we'll describe as "Pledge": it really restores the sound to another level, probably what it sounded like in the studio. It's really great, a re-master that seems worth the exercise. The three bonus tracks don't add much. The DVD, which reflects on the album and is produced and directed by Phair, is not really a professional product: for example, the basic requirement of interview audio is to actually mic the interview subjects. The story is strung together in order but is ultimately boring and primarily full of Phair navel-gazing. Also, she hints throughout that she can prove that the album is a song-by-song response to The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street... but she never actually does. By the time it got interesting an hour in, it was already beyond redemption.- Why you should get it: You don't already own it. Your life is not currently complete, please go get it immediately. And it's still worth picking up if you own it; I'd suggest buying the vinyl, as it comes with the CD and worth the tradeoff versus getting the worthless DVD.
    - Why you shouldn't bother: I really can't see why.
  • The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (2009; originally released in 1989). My brother really liked these guys when he was in college, but for unknown reasons I never went out and got this album. That was a mistake. I can't speak to the re-mastering or the "deluxe edition," although I've read that longtime fans will want to dig into that version. The album is great and it's a shame that I somehow failed to get into it for twenty years.- Why you should get it: You don't own it. You won't be disappointed. Or you are a fan and want to get the Deluxe Edition.
    - Why you shouldn't bother: You own the album and don't feel passionate enough about it to get the Deluxe Edition.
  • Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary, LP2 (2009; originally released in 1994, 1995). Confession time: when they came out, I loved Diary and sold back LP2. This seminal grunge band has re-formed with its original lineup for its first tour in fifteen years. In the interim, SDRE's subsequent releases (with different lineup configurations) and lead singer Jeremy Enigk's various solo/band projects have proved to be among my all-time favorites. For the tour, there's no new studio material; the only option for the record company to make a buck was to re-release the two albums the original band recorded. This is a straight re-issue; no re-mastering, but each come with two bonus tracks (which are excellent) and extensive liner notes. Diary is great; LP2 is surprisingly great, too. I think the single "Seven" overshadowed both albums in my mind back then; now I'm ready to embrace both albums. These albums are a must-listen for young drummers.
    Why you should get it: You don't own either album. Start with Diary, and get LP2 if you like it. You should own at least one -- this is a great, underrated grunge band that is and isn't grunge. Haunting vocals, incomprehensible lyrics, great guitars and a tremendous rhythm section.- Why you shouldn't bother: You own the albums, and they're still pristine. Buy the bonus tracks on iTunes and I'll lend you the liner notes.
  • U2 - Boy, October, War (2008; originally released in 1980, 1981, 1983). These are all great. Each album is worth getting whether you already own them or not, for the careful remastering and the fantastic book of liner notes (both by The Edge) that accompany each. Boy is my all-time favorite U2 album; the extras are here are very nice (there are six unreleased mixes/tracks here), with "Saturday Night" (an early version of "Fire" from October) and the live "Cartoon World" the highlights. October (which I've always loved) actually doesn't hold up over the years -- I now hear the flaws that other fans and even The Edge acknowledge. But the extras are great: the single "A Celebration" finally appears on a U2 CD, which makes this a must-buy in itself, and the live tracks are really cool. War ultimately has the least interesting extras, although you do get a chance to hear "Adam's first and only solo vocal on a U2 record"; but I don't need four mixes of "New Year's Day" and three of "Two Hearts Beat as One." All in all, I like these re-releases better than the 1980's/1990's b-sides compilations.- Why you should get it: You're a big U2 fan, or are looking to complete your past with their early material. You will not be disappointed by the extras and will enjoy the albums all over again.- Why you shouldn't bother: You think Zooropa or Pop were where U2 went right. You won't like these, and you're wrong.
- Snilch

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Three Nights, Three Shows

I used to get out and watch many more shows than I do now; age, responsibility, and the economy have curtailed that in the past few years.

Inevitably, every band I want to see comes to town in the same two week span. For example, this week I had to pass on Jay Reatard, The Beatings, and Grizzly Bear because of show conflicts, and work is probably going to rule out jumping down to New York to see The Black Watch in two weeks at CMJ (I am still holding out hope, though!).

The shows I did go to see were "must-see" shows. Lots of compatriots over the three days, although Scott was the only one brave enough to hit the trifecta with me (and he threw in a fourth show Thursday -- show-off). Let's start with Wednesday.

Bob Mould, The Paradise - Wednesday, October 7
I've seen Bob ten or fifteen times since 1995; this show was the noisiest of the bunch, and that's saying something. I've complained that Bob doesn't vary his setlist enough; he responded with a show that included six songs (by my count) he hasn't performed with a band in fifteen to twenty-five years. I counted only three missteps the whole night -- one new song and both songs of the encore -- but otherwise A to A+ stuff. Overall, this was more a noise and effort tour de force than a musical one, but in the best possible way. Bob was in a great mood, gave lots of energy to the crowd, and played his butt off. Hearing "Something I Learned Today," "In a Free Land," and "Poison Years" with this band was epic. Jon Wurster of Superchunk on drums: phenomenal technically and smiling the whole set. His positive energy was palpable, much like watching Matt and Kim. Jason Narducy of Verbow on bass, backup vocals, and the e-bow for "Sinners and Their Repentances": a pro all the way, a great compliment to Bob's vocals, and a luxury to have someone of that talent in this band. The
(typically lethargic) Boston crowd: as enthused as I've ever seen at one of his shows; Bob really should have come out for a second encore, the crowd was really ready to stay all night. Lots of great energy being passed back and forth. I left with my ears ringing (despite wearing plugs) and I couldn't care less.
Merch rating: I bought a CD on the way out, and would have bought more if I didn't everything already. He's still the best.

The Manic Street Preachers, The Paradise - Thursday, October 8
The Manics' first show in Boston since 1992 (they didn't make it this way in 1995, canceled last minute in 1999, and haven't come to the U.S. since) also did not disappoint. Despite James Dean Bradfield complaining of a cold and this being the last night of the tour (which, for any band, is typically a toss-up between total brilliance and utter disaster), the Manics started strong and stayed strong. I was surprised how few songs I knew; the new songs sounded great. They started with "Motorcycle Emptiness," which seemed to go on for ten minutes; they could have continued for another thirty. They were ferocious, they gave everything they had, and the crowd responded in kind. A great show.
Merch rating: The merch table was pretty empty, as these are the final pickings of the tour, but I would have bought a t-shirt or album if one had been there. I will definitely be picking up the new album and reviewing it.

Built to Spill, Middle East Downstairs - Friday, October 9
This was the first of three shows in Boston, supporting their new album (which I've seen very favorably reviewed but have not picked up yet). BTS has the potential for all-time great shows (I've seen them put on a few) and for pretty average shows (I've seen them put on a few), as well as anywhere in between; but I've never seen them put on a bad show. Until last night, that is. We actually walked out 2/3 of the way through their set, and we weren't the only ones. Something was wrong with Doug Martsch's voice -- he was slurring his words and had some weird head motions throughout the show. I was happy to see him play some more of the leads (as he should) as opposed to old shows; he was giving it his all, but the rest of the band was very flat. When Scott and I agreed we'd prefer sleep to watching any more, that was it for us.
Merch rating: Technically, the merch rating for this show should be that "I'll turn my back on them," but I've got too much of a history with this band to not give them a second chance. I will pick up the new album, but not because of this odd mis-step by a great band.

- Snilch

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Music Roundup, Part 2

Here's a bunch of new music I've been listening to:
  • Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (2009). The Arctic Monkeys came on to the scene as UK teenagers in 2005 with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, which was an album that actually lived up to the tremendous hype that preceded it. 2007's Favourite Worst Nightmare was a step back but still had good stuff. This album... wow. It's very rare that I don't listen to an album all the way through before giving up on it, but I did with this one. I couldn't help but think of Aztec Camera as I listened to this: UK teenager Roddy Frame wrote the brilliant High Land, Hard Rain in 1983, only to spend the rest of his professional career (which continues to this day, at 45) chasing that elusive brilliance while bristling at the characterization of "child prodigy, adult failure" at every turn. Roddy created seven albums as Aztec Camera; after being unable to escape the shadow of that name, he released three solo albums. He never quite found his way back to the start; lots of good, decent material, but nothing comparable to his inspired debut. I fear the Arctic Monkeys are in the same boat. They have lost their mojo or their edge, or both. This is uninspired, and that saddens me.CD Placement rating: Sell-back Pile 1.
  • The Black Watch - After the Gold Room (2008). We love The Black Watch. I could point out numerous reviews or just let our readers (like Scott and Yves, for example) talk about how great some of their stuff is. I wish they'd tour out this way (i.e., East Coast), but that appears not meant to be, at least for the moment. Their latest offering is an EP, which feels like leftovers from their 2008 album Icing the Snow Queen (reviewed here), as there are only four new songs here. But it's still The Black Watch, and that means that it's still very, very good.CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • David Byrne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008). Thanks to Donna and Jim for recommending this one. I have to admit -- I'm not a Talking Heads/David Byrne fan, so I was very skeptical. A car listen did not help dissuade me of that skepticism; but listening to it on my computer did. Eno really smooths out Byrne's rough edges while retaining his quirkiness. Kind of reminds me of Peter Gabriel's Ovo album, although I'm not entirely clear why. Very sophisticated pop with Byrne's distinct voice, and really nice stuff. Highly recommended.CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (2009). Their 2006 album, Let's Get Out of This Country, was understated but brilliant. This tries to copy that formula, but it's more of the same while not quite being as good. It's kind of boring, actually.CD Placement rating: This is not a fair rating, but for me it goes in the Pile of Death. Objectively, it's CD Rack-worthy CD I'd never listen to again.
  • Duchess Says - Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs (2008). Described as "new wave revivalists," I heard them first on a mix and had to check out the whole album. This is definitely NOT for everyone, but if you're looking for jangly and weird retro lo-fi indie rock/quasi electronica that ranges from low- to high-tempo with quirky cool instrument sounds, this may just be for you. (Who IS looking for that?) It's some crazy mashup of Team Robespierre, CSS, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Nine Inch Nails, The Dresden Dolls, Madonna, and The Young Marble Giants. (Don't believe me? Listen to all those artists, absorb them, then listen to this album, and we can discuss how Rush might be a very small part of the equation as well.) I can't decide if it's inspired, insipid, or insane; it vacillates between just noise and composed, frenetic confusion. Of course, that means I cannot resist it.
    CD Placement rating: Car CD Changer. Buyer beware, it may be Pile of Death for you.
  • The Fireman - Electric Arguments (2008). As The Beatles release two new box sets and Rock Band, it seems appropriate to review Sir Paul McCartney's side project. I'm just going to come out and say it: this is McCartney's best post-Beatles album, at least for me. After the breakup, I prefer John Lennon and George Harrison, and never liked Wings, so from my perspective this is not going out on a limb; on the other hand, I've never heard anything I'd call "best" from McCartney before this. It's raw, it's moody, it's got a snarl to it; even the vocals are rough and jagged. I really enjoyed it, and it's quite a surprise to see Sir Paul so edgy in his old age. Thanks for turning me on to this, Andrew!
    CD Placement rating
    : Portable CD Case.
  • Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (2009). Let's recap Franz Ferdinand's career:
    - 2004: Self-titled debut. Great stuff.
    - 2005: The follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better. Quite... quite terrible. Pile of Death.
    - 2009: Four years later, album #3: Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Good news: better than 2005. Bad news: still nowhere near 2004.
    - Conclusion: steer clear.
    Nice knowing you, FF.
    CD Placement rating: Pile of Death.
  • Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (2009). This is a great up-and-coming band; and this album has been universally hailed as great. It's tough to pigeonhole their music -- poppy folk? Folky pop? 70's retro? "Alt folk"? (Okay, I made one up.) It doesn't matter what you call them -- they're just really really cool. I wasn't in a "lower-tempo" mood today, but it simply did not matter; this album cannot be denied. This group is just plain good.
    CD Placement rating
    : Portable CD Case.
  • The Lost Fingers - Lost in the 80's (2009). Got this recommendation from Twitter. Imagine 80's covers from a Canadian jazz trio. Now imagine the song lineup includes Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Wham!, and Paula Abdul. The result? Well, it's hit or miss. However, the audacity of this album is totally worth the price of admission. Songs like "Pump Up the Jam" are genius; "You Give Love a Bad Name" is surprisingly not. I am a sucker for cover albums, and this one is unique. Definitely a keeper.
    CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • Red Red Meat - Bunny Gets Paid (2009). Pitchfork gave this re-issue album a rating of 8.9 and filed it under "Best New Music." I completely, thoroughly disagree.
    CD Placement rating
    : Sell-back Pile 1.
- Snilch

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Music Roundup

After many moons, it's that time again... here's a bunch of new music I've been listening to:
  • Blitzen Trapper - Furr (2008). For some reason, when Carrie Brownstein recommended this album from her Monitor Mix blog, I was under the impression that this album was much more edgy and upbeat. I'm not sure whether that expectation spoiled the album, or that this album just wasn't up my alley. In either case, it just didn't do it for me.
    CD Placement rating: Pile of death.
  • Longwave - Secrets Are Sinister (2008). Longwave's 2003's The Strangest Things was absolutely tremendous - it still is in my CD Changer (I may even review it someday, like I've been planning for the last three years). Their 2005 followup, There's a Fire, made it to Sell-back Pile 1. Not so good. This one is not quite The Strangest Things, but it's still pretty damn good. Dreamy shoegazer pop with shimmering guitars. Gets better with more listens.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Morrissey - Years of Refusal (2009). My buddy Gavin first properly introduced me to The Smiths, long after they had broken up. It seems Smith fans are broken into two camps about Morrissey's solo career: to them it's either genius or folly. I see it as more of the latter, to be honest, and this really does nothing to dissuade me. Unlike other albums, there isn't a standout track here either.
    CD Placement rating: Pile of death.
  • Screaming Blue Messiahs - Live at the BBC (2009). Reviewed previously here and here, it appears the Screaming Blue Messiahs may, at long last, have been revived as proper re-issues. Wounded Bird Records is re-issuing Gun Shy and Bikini Red this year, and BBC/Hux Records released this live recording this year as well. It's not as good as their 1987 live album release, but it's a nice document of a band that left the scene long before it should have.
    CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm (2008). I've been looking for a way into these guys since E-rock recommended them, and this fits the bill. It's low-tempo indie rock with Santana-effected guitar sounds; not something I have gotten into right off the bat, but it's one of those albums I sense I'll get into more and more as time goes on. It's odd when that happens, but nice when it does.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Silversun Pickups - Swoon (2009). Let's be clear: this is not as good as 2006's Carnavas (reviewed here). Once you get past that, it's still quite good and definitely worth checking out. It's a little more mellow, with a little less of their "fat" guitar sound, which makes it a little worse than its predecessor. But they are 3-for-3 in my book (including 2005's Pikul), which matches only The Cribs among newer bands. I hope they both keep it up.
    CD Placement rating: Car CD Changer.
  • Paul Weller - 22 Dreams (2008). Thanks to Donna for recommending this one. At first, I was ready to call her out for not telling me just how good this album is; in the end, I was glad she didn't, as it made the whole album and experience a complete surprise. It sounds like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Jesus Christ Superstar. I'm not a fan of The Jam or The Style Council, but maybe I should be. This is just great.
    CD Placement rating: Car CD Changer.
- Snilch

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's a Roundup!

Here are a bunch of albums that I've checked out recently. In alphabetical order:
  • Arrested Development - The Best of Arrested Development (2005). This is one of those "oh, they did that song too?" albums. I bought this cheap for "Tennessee," lucked into "Mr. Wendal" and "Revolution," and ended up with a nice collection of songs from a talented and long-forgotten rap/soul group from the early 90's. I'll get more out of this than I paid for it. Not worth it for fans, great if you want an overview of the band.
    CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • Brendan Boogie Band - Disposable Pop (2008). Once again, if you send me your CD, I will review it. (Perhaps not in a timely fashion, but I will eventually get to it.) First of all -- the CD design and concept (it looks like a Bazooka Joe Gum CD sleeve) is one of the most eye-catching ones you'll see. Very cool. And the songs live up to the album title: it is "disposable pop" in many ways. It's got good harmonies, smart melodies, and pop-smart lyrics, and a good bit of self-effacing humor to boot, plus, it's always helpful to have a standout tune, and "Pharmaceuticals" fits the bill. I'd like some more variety in their sound, and they can be a little paint-by-numbers at times, but in the end it's still fun pop, and better than just "disposable." That's good enough for me to keep it.
    CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • Devo - Freedom of Choice (1980). Now despite the fact that my man Sean has "D-E-V-O" tattooed to his fingers... sadly, I had never listened to this album before I went to pick him up at the airport en route to our buddy Scott's surprise 40th birthday party. (My indie cred just took a serious hit, I know.) This is a great album; but "Whip It" and "Girl U Want" alone are worth the price of admission. I'm glad I picked up this old chestnut from Akron's finest.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Buddy Holly - The Definitive Collection (2006). We all know that Buddy Holly died in the plane crash that also killed the Big Bopper and Richie Valens in 1959. Even though I've been listening to him since I was six, I never realized his "career" lasted a little under 18 months, and that he was 22 (and Valens 17) when they died. Despite that, his creative influence on rock n' roll was huge in that very short period of time -- calls Holly "the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll." This is a great retrospective or introduction.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Parts & Labor - Receiver (2008). This one was recommended by Dan. I first heard this in the car and couldn't see what he was talking about, other than "Nowhere's Nigh." The big stereo revealed "The Ceasing Now" and "Wedding in a Wasteland"... and a good, low-to-mid tempo, layered indie rock offering with a lot of interesting sounds. As much as I was ready to kick this to the curb, it turns out I can't. Thanks, Dan!
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case. Who knew?
  • U2 - No Line on the Horizon (2008). Full disclosure: I have not been a fan of any album by U2 since Achtung Baby. They do remain one of my all-time favorites, and I have really liked some of their songs in the interim; they just moved in one direction while I moved in another. After listening to this in the car, I came to the conclusion that this one was doing nothing to change my opinion. I even wrote the review prior to the final big stereo listen -- conclusion: Pile of Death. Midway through the opening track on the home speakers, Mrs. Snilch and I had the same thought: this is much better than either of us had heard on the radio or in the car. I love surprises like this. This will not make you forget The Joshua Tree -- it definitely has its flaws -- but it is a good album. I'll take that, and keep it.
    CD Placement rating: Rises out of the Pile of Death and into the CD Rack.
- Snilch

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (2008)

Oh, you had to know this was coming.

When this album finally got released, it looked like the perfect target: a bloated turkey crossing the road, iconic in its dalliance. (I know what some of those words mean.) I bought this, with high hopes to blow this ridiculous, bombastic journey to Mecca through rock's desert to pieces as I rained my sarcastic machete down on its undoubtedly subpar musical gizzard.

Let's put this in perspective: when Use Your Illusion I & II were released in 1991, Guns N' Roses was the biggest band in the world. After Appetite for Destruction and Lies (which were both in the Top 5 in 1988, the only band in the 80's to be able to say that), there were people sleeping out on sidewalks to buy the double album... er, two individual albums. Now that's gumption. And they debuted at #1 and #2 on the charts, the first band ever to see that happen.

17 years later, this is their next album of original material. Think about that. Four #1 or #2 albums to start a career... followed by 17 years off. We will never see anything like this again in our lifetime, I'll wager.

And this album... 14 years in the making. All original members except Axl Rose gone as of 1997, with multiple, wild lineup changes (18 band members total) throughout the process. The album got an official name 10 years ago. The timeline:

  • 1999: song "Oh My God" released from "the forthcoming album." Axl tells reporters he has re-recorded almost the entire Appetite for Destruction album with his new band.
  • 2001: GNR shows include songs from "the forthcoming album."
  • 2002: GNR tour scheduled to support "the forthcoming album." Most of the dates are canceled.
  • 2006: Axl tells reporters that the new album will be out before the end of the year. European and US tours happen. In December, new release date announced: March 6, 2007.
  • 2007: Band announces mixing will delay release date. Australian, Mexican, and Japanese "Chinese Democracy World Tour" dates happen.
  • 2008: Dr. Pepper announces plan to give everyone in America free can of Dr. Pepper if the band releases Chinese Democracy before the end of the year. Except to former guitarists Slash and Buckethead.
The most surprising thing of all was that Dr. Pepper had to pay up.

So after all of this time, all this hype, all these stops and starts, the reported $13 million spent in the studio, it finally has arrived: probably the most dissected, longest produced, most legendarily anticipated album we will see in our lifetimes. The question is: after all that, exactly how good is it?

It all depends on your perspective. If you look at this as Axl Rose's masterpiece, an album 14 years in the making, the successor to the GNR legacy... you are going to be disappointed. Very disappointed. There are very few albums that could ever live up to that kind of standard, and this one ain't it. There are no hits here, no transcendental tunes, no timeless classics. It just does not justify the amount of time spent to create it. And at times Rose's lower range sounds like a dead-on impression of the lead singer from Queensryche.

However, if you listen to this as an album by "some guy" with a revolving cast of thousands, who has a voice that still has fantastic range (possibly unparalleled for male vocalists even to today), that is meticulously produced, recorded, and mixed, it's quite good. It's a very good, well produced album.

Rose's main disadvantage here is that this album was begun before the internet, Napster, or ipods, and it sounds like he chose to ignore that trend we like to refer to as "mp3's." In the car, it sounds terrible; but loud and on the big speakers, you can hear the nuances he was going for. Unfortunately, that's not the way most people listen to music these days... and my guess is that Rose has been listening to this album in big studios, from well-appointed stereos, and in car speaker systems that cost as much as my house does.

In the end, even if this album were terrible I'd keep it -- it's a piece of history. As it is, it's good enough that I'll listen to it as well. As much as I would like to wind up and just blow this album to hell, I can't. Damn.

CD Placement Rating: This is a borderline call, but I have to acknowledge this album objectively -- it goes into the Portable CD Case. Nicely done, Axl.

- Snilch

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bob Mould - Life and Times (2009)

It's a pretty quick turnaround for another album by Bob Mould -- after all, District Line was released just last year. Prior to that, it's three years back to Body of Song, then three years back to Modulate, then four years back to The Last Dog and Pony Show. (Of course, if you count his album under the name Loudbomb or his collaboration with Rich Morel for Blowoff, that throws this math off. So we won't count either.)

This album shares much in common with District Line, which is also a departure from the last 15 years -- each album since the breakup of Sugar in 1995 has been a bit different from the last. As you may remember, District Line confounded me for quite awhile, but I basically couldn't put it away. And it still sits in my CD Changer -- er, visor. As for Life and Times, I can sum up the pro and con views fairly quickly:

Pro - This is a very solid album.
Con - This is a very solid album.

It's that type of cogent analysis that keeps you people coming back here.

There's a fine line between endorsement and damning with faint praise. The real issue here lies in Mould's body of work. From Hüsker Dü to solo to Sugar to solo again, I count 17 studio albums and an EP in 27 years; of those, I only count two I don't go back and listen to. And those two albums STILL have three absolutely great songs each, as well as being better than most of the music that came out that year. Not bad for your two "worst outings"; in reality, there's not a bad apple in the bunch. That's going to make any future album evaluation pretty damn tough -- and that's why some fans would equate a "very solid album" with "failure."

So how does L & T stack up? All the tracks are solid -- it's consistently good front to back, and grows on you over time. The first four tracks are solid, and "Wasted World" and "Spiraling Down" anchor the back half of the album. The only thing the album is missing is a truly great track like on his previous 17 -- but maybe I'm just not hearing it yet. In any case, I'd highly recommend it as a starting point to listening to his work, or for someone who is a longtime fan. It's really... well, it's very solid.

CD Placement Rating: Where the rubber meets the road -- this goes into the Car CD Changer. I'm sticking with that term for my rating; "CD Visor" doesn't have the same ring.

Merch Rating: I always buy Mould's CD's when they come out, so that isn't fair; I'd love to see him release some b-sides on a single or two which I'd buy. (This hasn't happened since 1996, so I'm not holding my breath here.) I'll buy whatever is at the show in October in Boston; at the last show I bought a numbered and signed print by a then-unknown Shepherd Fairey. That worked out pretty well.

- Snilch

Monday, June 15, 2009

Car CD Changer: R.I.P. (1998-2009)

Any of you familiar with my respective ratings systems understands the key role my Car CD Changer has played in my ratings process. Sadly, it is no more.

To be fair, this changer has not lasted 11 years -- this is the 2nd one I've owned. Number 1 lasted six years, number 2 lasted five. Number 2, though, was plagued with cabling and playback issues over its brief existence. And once the original head unit, a radio/tape player, had to be replaced with a radio/single CD player, my tolerance for the CD Changer's idiosyncrasies reached its limit.

So when I was told Number 2 had gone rather meekly into that good night, I reluctantly decided to simply move on rather than replace it. It's a sad day. Instead, I'll have a 20-CD sleeve holder on my visor... but it won't be the same.

Feel free to pay your own homage to my late, great Car CD Changer via any comments. We both thank you.

- Snilch

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Scott Bishop - New Lights (2009)

Full disclosure to start: Scott Bishop is one of my best friends, and I've heard many of these songs in one form or another over the last ten years. So I'm going to be as objective as possible in this review. Of course, he didn't bother to thank ME, just that ridiculous alter-ego that he always ends up with at The Field or Bison County. Bastard.

Scott and I first met about 10 years ago at a porno theater in Portland, Maine. Okay, so it was a converted porno theater (only in the previous few weeks... it was pretty disgusting, actually) the owners were trying to turn into a music venue, and he was playing on a bill with Baby Ray and Ross Phasor. When I look back on it, that was also the first time I met
Sean Hennessey, Ken Lafler, Paul Hilcoff, and Eric Groat as well, which actually is pretty epic considering the amount of time/shows/trips/basketball that resulted. Well, Scott was on fire that night, and I can honestly say I was first a fan and later a friend. Before getting back to Boston, I got both Scott's original demo tape (Detour on the Way to Being Human), and his Slippy Keane demo tape, and I was sold.

So as the years have moved along, Scott has gone solo, into Aura Phase, then back solo. I kept listening to his demo tapes and encouraging him to release something. And thus we come to New Lights. (Yes, I just condensed approximately ten years into three sentences.)

Objectively, I am happy to say that this album is excellent. Great pop songs, smart lyrics, and happiness, sadness, and angst. Quiet and loud, it offers a little for all and plenty for most. And it's got singles: "Dinner 1," "Number 16," and one of the best songs you've never heard, "Kitten's Got Curves."

If I was going to criticize something here, it would have to be the track order. The album works, but in this order it plays better:
  1. DC -- very versatile, nice vocals, previews acoustic and electric for the album
  2. Dinner 1
  3. Cable Knit
  4. Kitten's Got Curves -- 'nuff said
  5. Dinner 2 -- after the high of Kitten, this works very nicely and wraps up the narrative of D1/D2
  6. Sky Blue and Black -- to this point, tonally, 1 & 4 are "upbeat", 3 & 5 are "downers", and 2 is "neutral-upbeat"; so a "lighter" works nicely right here
  7. New Lights -- keeping the balance, we go softer again
  8. #16 -- needs some space from "Kitten" and really punches up the energy here; the anchor for the back half
  9. Temporary Condition -- works great off "#16"
  10. Blind Spot
  11. Other Explorations
  12. Ultra-violet -- REALLY works as the last song: a little whimsical, and very interesting musically; even the first note
I just wish someone had told Scott this before the album was completed. Wait, perhaps someone did, and perhaps Scott ignored him anyways. This may or may not have led to an inordinate amount of focus in his album review on the subject, as some form of "last word revenge." But no one knows.

In the end: get this album at CD Baby or iTunes. I've had it for two years and if anything I love it more now than I did when I got it. Friend or not, I can objectively say Scott's album is great.

Merch Rating: I would buy the single with b-sides that's never going to be released, as well as the entire box set I'll never get a hold of. I'll also buy the vinyl he's never going to press,
the poster he's never going to commission Sheppard Fairey to create, and the t-shirt he's never going to send to Taiwainese laborers to sell for $10 a pop. It's a rich, wonderful, and totally spend-free world I live in.

CD Placement Rating: This has sat in my car CD changer through many a culling, and unfortunately still sits there as the damn thing is now broken. It will remain there for quite some time even after I fix it.

- Snilch

Scott Bishop and Pie Factor Five will be appearing on May 21st at Porter Belly's in Brighton at 9PM.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Curt Smith - Halfway, Pleased (2008)

When last we left Tears for Fears, the boys (Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith) had kissed and made up for a strong return to form with 2004's Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (which is part of this post).

The post-script was Smith's solo effort Halfway, Pleased. I was not really sure what to expect with this album. TFF was Smith and Orzabal's band, but the songs were primarily written by
Orzabal; his main co-writer on Songs from the Big Chair was actually keyboardist Ian Stanley. This album is all Smith and co-writer Charlton Pettus (who also wrote with Smith and Orzabal on ELAHE).

Given that, I decided this album deserved the full workout, as described here. First listen: on the commuter rail. I went old school with my CD Walkman. My first impression was actually the CD artwork -- normally this is not a conscious factor (in fact, almost never), but it did strike me in this case. The artwork is simple: photos over white, with black italicized "wedding-type" font. (I'm sure it could be described more articulately than that, but that's all the cultcha I got.) The front picture (included above) is from behind, with Smith and his daughters. My immediate thoughts and impression are: a reflective, mature, sedate album. It may even be a kids' album, for all I know.

First song ("Perfect Day"), first verse: light, poppy, tuneful; Smith has a crooner's sensibility in his vocals and it sounds like I expected. Nice, safe, not terribly edgy; a little slower and more laid back than I thought. It's a song about a perfect day -- well told, but a traveled path. Dandelions. Sunshine. Puppies. No global warming. An economy not in total freefall.
Then we hit the chorus. "It's a perfect day/to blow myself away."


I rewind to make sure I heard that right. Yup, that's exactly what he said. This was the listening equivalent of sizing your opponent up in a boxing ring and getting sucker-punched in the back of the head by a previously unannounced third combatant. And right there, I knew this was not going to be what I expected. I wanted to see if this was just my reaction, so I tried the song out on Scott, without telling him what was up. Without prompting, he did the same double-take I did, and said, "What did he just say?"
Yup, that's exactly what he said.

This album, throughout,
mixes a child-like wonder with experienced cynicism. Smith deceptively combines gut-punch twists on children's nursery rhymes alternating with the aged wisdom of a one-legged sailor. And all with classic, pitch-perfect delivery on top of absolutely beautiful music. To make "low-key and sparse" work (at least in my book) is a tightrope-thin line between genius and inane. I generally don't like low-key at all, actually, but I just cannot deny this album. It's great.

Not only that, but it actually works in the car, even at low tempo. It defies logic AND my own personal opinion that car albums need to be at least mid-tempo. On the big stereo it sounds gorgeous. Absolutely great low-key pop -- Curt's superb voice with meticulously placed instrumentation. It's fabulous.

Merch Rating: We're slightly re-defining the Merch rating, starting with this album. At this point I'm collecting my favorite albums on vinyl when I can find them. Yes, I'm buying this on vinyl, assuming an album version was created. It's that good. Were I in LA in March on a Wednesday, there is NO DOUBT I'd be going to The Cactus Lounge to see him play. He is playing there for free. FREE. If you are there and not going, you are out of your mind. I hear that reservations are strongly recommended as the lounge books up quickly, which is not surprising given the price. FREE. Anyways, I'd definitely buy a T-shirt, vinyl (clearly), and any extras from this album. I'd buy his older solo stuff as well if he had it there. Hell, I'd pretty much buy anything at the merch table as he was playing for free, and probably even if he wasn't. Hopefully he'll be in Boston soon; if not, I'll just go to his website and buy some stuff there.

CD Placement Rating: You want to guess? Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Friday, February 27, 2009

Randy Bewley, 1955-2009

Yesterday was a very sad day: Pylon guitarist Randy Bewley passed away. Most of the obits run like this one, but I don't think they come close to encapsulating the kind of impact his playing, or his band, had on rock music.

I got to know Pylon after they had broken up the first time, when I was in college. I bought a cassette of Hits, which compiled 90% of their entire recorded output at that point (two albums and an EP) into one cassette. Serendipity intervened, as at almost exactly the same time the band re-formed and released their third (and final) album, Chain. I later went out and got Hits on CD as well. I rarely listen to this album, as Mrs. Snilch Report long ago hijacked it for her music collection (and there is no higher praise of my musical taste than that); it remains a thoroughly underrated pop gem. As a band, Pylon consistently remains one of my all-time favorites, despite such a small recorded output of material.

Pylon made their bones in the Athens, GA, scene in the late 70's/early 80's, breaking up just before Athens became ground zero for the next wave of music. Without them, R.E.M. is not R.E.M. - the B-52's and Pylon shaped the scene, and the rest followed. And when they re-formed, R.E.M. returned the favor, putting them on as the opening act for the Green tour. After that tour, Pylon broke up again; their final re-formation came a few years ago (after a 15-year hiatus), when they played the occasional show here and there, and re-released Gyrate. I never saw them live, and wish I had.

Pylon's music has be described as danceable pop tunes with simplistic lyrics. But it was more than that: musically, their songs had a strong sense of urgency, and were brilliant in a simple, understated way. They knew how to write a pop song with a edge to it. And their music did not grow tired after repeated listens.

Randy Bewley's guitar was at the heart of their sound. His playing was laden with hooks -- deceptively simple, consistently smart, and always interesting.
A lot of guitar players owe a lot to him. He's an underappreciated legend and a genius, and he will be missed forever.

Here is a much more thorough and well-written tribute, with videos to boot. Godspeed, Randy.

- Snilch

Sunday, January 25, 2009

mp3 Albums, Part Two

As promised... Part two of two:
  • Editors - An End Has a Start (2007). Eric Lax contribution number two. On this one, I hear a poppier Joy Division, as opposed to Interpol, which was my other touchstone for this one: the distinction lies in that they hit the higher notes vocally and musically, so the music is a little more uplifting, much like JD. I found four tracks I'd call great, and the rest I'd call solid. Very nice stuff.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • The Frames - Here Comes the Night (2001). Eric Lax contribution number three. This live double album, recorded on New Year's Eve, 2001, at Ireland's TodayFM studios, is a low-key acoustic effort that has a lot of charm (and a lot of covers). It's also a great snapshot of The Frames after they "made it big" the first time (i.e., before Glen Hansard really "made it big" with the movie Once). It's a great show for Frames fans.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • Klark Kent -Kollected Works (1995). Now, I'd happily buy this, but it's $50+ for this long out of print item... which is simply too much for any single album. So I'm stuck with a posted download instead. This is Stuart Copeland's one-man band side project while he was with The Police -- I still have the 1980 release Music Madness from the Kinetic Kid on green vinyl, with the album jacket cut into the letter "K." (It's truly unfortunate that the logo on the front is designed as "KlarK Kent" -- yup, KKK.) Despite what I will assume was a design "guffaw," I've always loved this album -- it sounds like an extension of the experimentation and wackiness from his songs on Regatta de Blanc. So I've been hunting this down, which is the CD version of the first album PLUS everything else he did as Klark Kent. I have to say, though, that something got lost in the translation from vinyl to CD. Think of this as a companion to work by The Police ("Police-lite," perhaps?), a piece of history that shows Copeland flexing his creative muscles at a very raw phase. This album is way too long, and not for everyone -- it fails when it teeters from quirky into self-indulgence. And it does, somewhat often. Also, I like his vocal style, which will not be everyone's cup of tea.
    Verdict: Recommended for Police completists. It will live in my CD Rack.

  • Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007). Eric Lax's final going-away gift. He did not know that I hate OK Computer, and pretty much everything I've heard from these guys since I fell in love with the song "Creep." I tried this first in the car... not a good start. I then played it on the small stereo in my office (JVC, decent fidelity) and I have to admit... it is pretty darn good. This will be my first successful entry into the Radiohead arena; is this the opening to the rest of their library or a one-off? Only time will tell.
    Verdict: Recommended. Portable CD Case.

  • The Suffocation Keep - A Few Minor Modifications of the Stars (2004). A free download, but this one I would have happily paid for. The brainchild of Built to Spill's Brett Nelson, this is just a great album. The vocals are a bit off at times, but I'll forgive them for that. They wear their influences are on their sleeves: the keyboardist clearly listened to a lot of Rick Wakeman (Yes), the guitarist loved Billy Duffy (The Cult), the drummer emulated Stuart Copeland (The Police), the vocalist wished he had the range of Tony Lewis (The Outfield), and the bass player... well, what bass player wouldn't emulate Chris Squire (Yes) or John Entwistle (The Who)? It all sounds great together... I'll have to find their commercially available release as well. I've been wavering on the vocals (I have to bring that up again, because they are a major factor here) between "great" and "off-key"... it changes from day to day. I still think it's great stuff.
    Verdict: Highly recommended. Go to their website and decide for yourself -- the link to the free album is available at their myspace page. Car CD Changer for me.
- Snilch