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