Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Scharling - Crown Remedy (2011) and Travelers and Thieves (2012)

From time to time here at The Snilch Report, we get accosted approached nicely by our friends to review albums.  So you all have Jimbo to blame thank for this one.  

The first of two albums from the upstate NY band Scharling 
(Crown Remedy) opens with a metal/grunge echo of The Cars classic "Just What I Needed," and then proceeds to go in a number of different directions.  They take a "kitchen sink approach" here:  by the second track, they've thrown the fastball, the slider, the curve, and the change up.  (We suspected a knuckleball as well; we got it on track 4's nod to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.) Vocally, these guys vary in sound between Creeper Lagoon and The OC Supertones (with even a little Jack Black thrown in at times); musically it's guitar/bass/drums, and an occasional '80's synth.  Ultimately it's a classic rock approach in both design and execution, with a little funk bass for good measure.

The production is really really good.  It's pristine.  The musicianship is excellent, and very clearly and cleanly reproduced.

What becomes clear is that this represents a band finding its voice, literally.  Songs like "Black Cats," "Everything You Wanted It to Be," "Fuzzy Dice and Neon Headlights," and (my personal favorite) "Mild Mannered" work really well because the songs fit like a glove for the singer's vocal range and abilities.  (Just ask Nikki Sixx what it's like to write for Mötley Crüe; all those songs are written specifically for Vince Neil's vocal range.)  Because of that, some of these songs work vocally, and others don't.

But I digress.  It's an album with a lot of promise and has a lot of elements that work really well.  Overall, it's an excellent and fun rock record.

2012's Travelers and Thieves definitely feels a little more bluesy than Crown Remedy -- and that's not just because of the introduction of the harmonica right off the bat.  At the start of "A Small Coincidence," there's a different energy:  confident, relaxed, more comfortable in its own skin.  It's a pretty amazing transition; this album is more Christian McNeill/Hybrasil, or the acoustic side of Fossil, than Bad Company.

Lyrically and vocally, they've also taken it to the next level.  It emphasizes the singer's vocal range; the lyrics are deep in meaning and resonant emotionally.  Going primarily acoustic guitar is a big risk, but it works here.  And the production from Crown Remedy is upped even further.  The sounds are all well placed:  something as simple as adding an organ on "Hymn for the Hopeless" makes this an anthem as opposed to just a great song.

I was really floored by this one.  Absolutely astounding.  It's nice to know that great music is still out there under the radar.  If I had to say something critical here, it would be that there appears to some type of obsession with nautical themes, and that the album flags a bit as it winds down.  But those are nitpicks on an outstanding album.

Folk, rock, and pop lovers, you will like this one.  Where have these guys been hiding?

CD Placement rating: Crown Remedy - Portable CD Case.  Travelers and Thieves - Car CD Changer.  Ragging on Jimbo for his musical taste will have to wait for another day.

- Snilch

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's a Baker's Dozen, Suckers: Nada Surf - The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (2012)

There's always a good dorky twist with this blog.  

Nada Surf albums fall into to categories:  great (e.g., The Weight Is a Gift, High/Low) and very good. Everyone knows this band as a "one-hit wonder" for "Popular," but they have churned out album after quality album; I'm sure it will surprise most to find out that this is their 8th in 17 years.

On first listen, I did not like this that much -- I thought it was generic Nada Surf.  A fresh listen shows I was a bit too critical.  It's actually quite good, with a few very good songs ("Clear Eye Clouded Mind," "Waiting for Something," "Looking Through"), although there is no show-stopper here.

It's "alternative" in name only -- it's really classic, smart pop rock.  They might be under the radar, but this is an excellent band and worth checking out.  I hope they continue to make music for many years into the future.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Twelfth Blog of Christmas: The Black Keys - El Camino (2011)

It's here -- day 12. And with 12 blogs! (Yes, I am as surprised as you are. You were correct to take the under.)

In case you were living under a rock last year, The Black Keys broke out last year the old fashioned way:  with a hit video.  (If you have not seen "Lonely Boy," consider yourself out of the loop.  And see below.)

El Camino is the most accessible album the band has ever produced -- Brian B. is a huge fan and passed along their early stuff, so I've listened to almost everything they've done.  Akron, OH's second favorite sons (sorry, you have to take a back seat to Devo, fellas) are normally a litle less slick and a little more bluesy than their latest; also, this album is the most "band-sounding" for the duo.

It's slick, sharp, and smart; it's got a killer single and a few other standouts ("Little Black Submarines," "Gold on the Ceiling," and "Mind Eraser"); so why was I not in love with this album right away?

Ironically, even though it's named after a car (and that is NOT an El Camino on the cover, for whatever reason) but it sounds terrible in the car.  I've had some serious auto issues recently, so perhaps I'm not listening in the correct environment, as on my 2.1 system on the computer this thing rocks.  It was Sell-back 1 in the car, but it's Portable CD Case here.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

Merry Snilchmas.  Back to hibernation.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Eleventh Blog of Christmas: The Cribs - In the Belly of the Brazen Bull (2012)

I've reviewed The Cribs a number of times.  I've called them "alternative rock at its logical extension", "solid, decent", "'below average' but still a B+", and "really pretty bland overall".  You see where their career is going.

At first blush, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull is a step back up.  The first three songs ("Glitters Like Gold," "Come On, Be a No-One," and "Jaded Youth") are right there with any album.  At that point, I really thought I was getting the next Sugar Copper Blue -- yes, it's that good.

The rest of the album, unfortunately, is more cutting-room floor material.  The dropoff is staggering -- it's like a replacement band stepped in and did the rest of the album.  I turned the volume up at one point to make sure I wasn't missing anything.  I was not.

In short:  one of the best 3 song EPs you will ever hear.  A rough 14-track album that just never, ever, ever seems to end.

CD Placement Rating:  I think it has to be Sell-Back Pile 1.  After those first three songs, that seems pretty much impossible, but it is what it is.

Merch Rating:  I'll have to downgrade their next album to "wait and see reviews first."  I will not being going to a show either.

- Snilch

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Tenth Blog of Christmas - $15 Song CDs

Advisory:  there is an unusually high level of rock nerdiness here.  (Even for this blog.)  So be warned.

You all have probably figured out that I own a lot of music.  There are further depths to my music depravity, as I am about to disclose.

As Denis and Ryan know firsthand, in 2001 I completed a set of CDs called "$15 Songs."  The basic premise:  you buy a CD for one great song, but the rest of the album is just awful; so, you essentially just spent $15 for one song.  

I expanded this to good-to-great songs from mp3 samples, compilation CDs, or one-off work purchases.  The first set (in 2001) consisted of twelve 80 minute CDs (about 16 hours of material).  Keep in mind:  these are just leftovers from albums I'm not keeping.

I decided in the summer of 2011 to create the next group of CDs as a further glorious display of musical mental illness.  After I had compiled everything together, I had on hand Volumes 13-55 (about 57 hours of music).  Once again:  LEFTOVERS.

My co-editor on these is Mrs. Snilch Report, who has dutifully checked these out with me. We're on our third listen now (yes, it's taken a year and a half), having eliminated a full 8 hours of music (last Volume is now #48) in the process.  The task has become much more difficult with the crazy amount of mp3s I get as samples now; some songs are a great first listen, but not so much on the second.

So what does a typical $15 Song playlist look like?  I've randomly selected one pre-1995 and one post-1995.  We're beyond the looking glass here, people:

Volume 24 - 1990
(19 songs, RT 79:20)
  1. Skid Row - "Youth Gone Wild" (classic song that didn't hit big until 1991; and yes, I have "18 and Life" on another volume)
  2. Morrissey - "November Spawned a Monster" (much to Paul S.'s chagrin, I really think he was better in The Smiths; therefore I have a lot of one-off Morrissey songs on these comps)
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Show Me Your Soul" (from the Pretty Woman soundtrack which Jay L. owned in college; I always really liked this one)
  4. DJ EZ Rock & Rob Base - "It Takes Two" (classic college, especially since BA absolutely despises it)
  5. Peter Murphy - "Cuts You Up" (from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, reminds me of when Mrs. Snilch Report and I started dating in 1862)
  6. Letters To Cleo - "Sister" (a very underrated band; their first album produced this classic but nothing else noteworthy)
  7. Alice In Chains - "Man in the Box" (Bubba owned this one before Dirt was a twinkle in Layne Staley's eye; I loved this track but I found the rest of the album uneven)
  8. Origin - "Growing Old" (classic Ryan college song; album has long since disappeared into the mists of time)
  9. They Might Be Giants - "Istanbul" (my late great friend Jamie R. loved these guys and turned me on to them in the last year; it's possible I may get this album later)
  10. Bad Religion - "Against the Grain" (thank you to The Dan Patrick Show for opening this tune up to me; I'm still not a fan of All Ages, much to Matz's chagrin)
  11. Madonna - "Vogue" (I have been told that "you have to own The Immaculate Collection," which is incorrect - I only need this song and "Burning Up")
  12. Aztec Camera - "Good Morning Britain" (at one point I really tried to believe that Aztec Camera was not a "brilliant debut album, crappy followups" kind of band; I was wrong) 
  13. Peter Gabriel Feat. Youssou N'Dour - "Shaking The Tree" (an extra track from 16 Golden Greats that does not appear on the more complete Hit/Miss)
  14. Poison - "Ride the Wind" (I came home from college one year and found this in Moira's collection; like Madonna, all I need from Poison is this song and "Fallen Angel")
  15. Even As We Speak - "Blue Suburban Skies" (great lost track from an Australian band, from their compilation with the legendary title A Three Minute Song Is a Minute Too Long)
  16. MC Hammer - "U Can't Touch This" (please Hammer, don't hurt 'em)
  17. Bruce Dickinson - "Tattooed Millionaire" (I had this goofy sampler tape that this was on; it's Iron Maiden's lead singer trashing Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe)
  18. Depeche Mode - "Enjoy the Silence" (not only one of the finest songs this band ever produced, but an all-time great song)
  19. Hindu Love Gods - "Raspberry Beret" (I like to end my comps with a cover when possible; this band is R.E.M. with Warren Zevon replacing Michael Stipe as vocalist covering Prince)

Volume 41 - 2005-2006
(19 songs, RT 79:17)
  1. Peter Bjorn and John - "Young Folks" (I like to believe that they named their band so they could shorten it to "PB and J"; the whistling is quite invigorating) 
  2. Neon - "He's a Whore (Demo)" (recommended by Bob Mould at one point; the rest of the EP was not that interesting, and I never saw a follow-up)
  3. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult - "Dope Kult" (I own one great MLWTTKK album; the rest is hit or miss for me)
  4. Deep Purple Helmet - "Spend Some Time" (Eric Salt in a long-forgotten Boston local supergroup; they only had a three-song EP, so all get into the $15 song pile even though I am keeping it, so I can listen to these tracks more)
  5. King of France - "Just a Body" (The Baxter soundtrack had some real quirky gems) 
  6. 50 Foot Wave - "Hot Pink, Distorted" (my favorite Kristen Hersh project, and it's free)
  7. A Band of Bees - "The Russian" (proof that this is where songs from Sell-Back Pile 1 albums end up)
  8. Gorillaz - "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head" (I'm not that interested in Gorrilaz, but I got this on a sample CD and really liked it)
  9. Copeland - "No One Really Wins" (I have had this for years, not sure where I got it from or why I never investigated the band further; great song)
  10. The Long Blondes - "Once and Never Again" (Lyrics:  "19... you're only 19 for God's sake/Oh, you don't need a boyfriend"... classic)
  11. The Posies - "I Guess You're Right" (this was a sample track included with a laptop I bought, of all things)
  12. The Hold Steady - "Cattle and the Creeping Things" (I'll just admit I'm not a big Hold Steady fan and we'll just agree to move on, okay?)
  13. Sloan - "Even Though" (bonus free download track from the album that needed a home)
  14. The Epoxies - "Synthesized" (classic $15 song: great track, so-so album)
  15. Amy Miles - "Put" (another track from The Baxter which is just amazing)
  16. stellastarr* - "Sweet Troubled Soul" (these guys have a limited 80's sound and I can only take so much; thus I own one album and the rest end up on these comps)
  17. Dropkick Murphys - "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" (don't hate me, but damn it's catchy)
  18. Deep Purple Helmet - "Fall for Grace" (because I sort by year, DPH has a second track on this volume)
  19. The Decemberists - "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (The Decemberists are either great or annoying in my book; this classic 8+ minute song is not a cover, but does scream "end of the line" to me)
If you've read this far, thank you for your patience or your sympathy for a relatable obsessive compulsive disorder.

- Snilch

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Ninth Blog of Christmas: Anthrax - Worship Music (2011)

What separates Anthrax from its thrash-metal peers is that they have always embraced melody.  And that's why they occasionally get knocked down a bit in the thrash-metal world, but have a wider reach into the rock audience as a whole.

Now a part of "The Big Four" tour (with Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica), Anthrax has produced what That Metal Show not only called "the best album they've ever done," but the second best album of the century.  It hasn't been an easy road; this album was written in 2008, recorded in 2009 (and even had a release date), then re-recorded in 2010 and finally released in 2011.  The problem?  Lead singers.  The background:  Anthrax recorded with Dan Nelson (and fired him), tried to bring former vocalist John Bush back in (and failed), and then turned to Joey Belladonna, their vocalist from 1984-1992, which is what most fans wanted anyways.  Belladonna is considered to be the voice of the "classic" Anthrax lineup; his return was the final piece to the puzzle here.

The album is very, very good.  I do not hear a single here, but a collection of really solid good to very good songs.  Surprisingly, it did not work in the car for me, which would seem like a natural fit.  In the end -- if you like this video (and I'm looking right at you, Bubba), you should get the album:

Now for a complete nonsequitor: rhythm guitarist Scott Ian is Meatloaf's son-in-law.  (We're full service here at The Snilch Report.)

CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Eighth Blog of Christmas: Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory (2012)

Thanks to Paul H. for suggesting this one.  On a first listen, the rock snob in me came out in full force, noting the  straightforward, repetitive lyrics and a somewhat simplistic guitar approach.  Rock snob was not impressed.

But sometimes you have to intellectualize your music, and other times you need to just calm the f*** down, take a step back, and enjoy.  And that's what I ended up doing, much to my benefit.  

The approach here is deceptively simple:  there is actually a lot going on and a well thought-out approach, but it doesn't open up on that first listen.  The lyrics?  Turns out that they work -- even when completely repetitive, they actually still say a lot to the listener.  I had to beat the snob up a bit, but all 17 of my personalities eventually got on board here.

To classify it:  Cloud Nothings is alternative/indie loud guitar that wavers between rock, pop, and punk. The music is catchy.  There's a great rhythm section that plows things along in a great way throughout.  The vocals are their own -- you will like them or hate them (they grew on me).  Highlights for me include "Stay Useless," "Wasted Days," and "Our Plans."

This and Bob Mould - Silver Age are probably my two favorite albums of 2012.  (Well, that I can think of right now.  I do have another four blogs to go.)  Both are strong from front to back, with serious standout tracks throughout.  Attack on Memory is highly recommended for those who want to hear the damn TRUTH in under 35 minutes.

CD Placement Rating:  Where else?  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Friday, January 04, 2013

On the Seventh Day... Bob Mould (Silver Age)

Fresh off his autobiography being published, Bob Mould announced that he would be touring in 2012 for the 20th anniversary of Sugar's Copper Blue by playing the album in its entirety. As an aside, he also indicated that he'd be including selections from his new album, Silver Age.

It's a typical rock move:  there are countless examples of groups where the fans stand up and scream for the classics, then sit on their hands for the new material that just can't hold its weight in comparison to past brilliance.

Copper Blue rightfully got the star billing, but in this case Silver Age is no haphazard add-on to the proceedings:  it's the best album Mould has made since Sugar.  Granted, standout tracks like "The Descent," "Fugue State," and "Keep Believing" are not quite all-time greats from Mould -- he's got a ridiculously consistent history of producing top-notch songs on every album he's ever done -- but the second tier of "Star Machine," "Silver Age," and "First Time Joy" are no slouches either; I've just named six of the ten tracks as excellent or better.  As for the rest, there are no duds here: from front to back it's very good to great.

What also makes this stand apart from, say, District Line and Life and Times is the production.  It's so nice to hear Mould back in a real studio for the first time in 14 years.  The mix makes a HUGE difference, as does the remarked less reliance on auto-tuning.  The "Splenda" lineup (get it?  as opposed to "Sugar?") of Jon Wurster (Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, Spl:t S:ngle) and longtime bandmate Jason Narducy (Verbow, Rockets Over Sweden, Spl:t S:ngle) is just rock solid.  The whole recording has a very live/spontaneous feel to it, as if Mould showed up to the studio and had them learn the songs on the spot.  (And perhaps this is exactly what happened.)

In short, it's the most focused and consistent work Mould has done since 1993, and his best album since 1995.  It's great for longtime fans who've waited for the "next great Bob record" and for general rock fans who want something new to check out.

CD Placement Rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Sixth Blog of Christmas: We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach (2011)

After a very short review of 2009's These Four Walls, I decided to give Eric Lax's favorite band another try.  In the Pit of the Stomach is much better front to back, with five very good songs and an overall enjoyable listen.  It's The Futureheads meets The Editors meets Idlewild meets Love of Diagrams*.  It's heavy alternative, upbeat, and very Scottish.  What more could you want?

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

* Please note:  these references follow the Snilch Axiom.  This axiom stipulates that "referring one obscure band to another obscure band, multiplied by the number of bands referenced and average critical rating, divided by the number of actual sales of that band(s), equals the relative impossibility for anyone to dispute said references."  Corollary effects of a high score using this axiom include strong indie credibility, disinterest/confusion/scorn/actual violence by readers, and a general avoidance of any outdoor setting by the author.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Fifth Blog of Christmas: Silversun Pickups - Neck of the Woods (2012)

This is why solo albums were created.  This does not play to what I perceive as their strength or sound; it's fine, just not as good as either of their last two albums.  That being said, if I had to give a one-word review, it would be "tepid."

What's most disturbing here is that since 2006's breakthrough Canavas, the Silversun Pickups are beginning to show signs of an Interpol post-Turn on the Bright Lights fall into less interesting music.  Let's hope the next one is back on track; otherwise, I'll wait on other reviews before plunging back in.

Sell-back pile 1.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Fourth Blog of Christmas: Ladyhawke - Anxiety (2012)

After 2009's self-titled album (which was simply one of the best Alternative/Electronica/Dance albums ever, in my book), this was bound to be a letdown.  And it is. It's still very good, mind you, just not great.  That should not deter you from buying this, however.

Portable CD Case