Thursday, February 21, 2013

Johnette Napolitano - Scarred (2007)

While the name "Johnette Napolitano" may not mean anything to you, the name "Concrete Blonde" certainly will.  "Joey" was a top 20 hit, and a number of other songs ("Caroline," "God is a Bullet", "Still in Hollywood," "Ghost of a Texas Lady Man," etc.) made them a huge act in the late 80s/early 90s prior to their breakup in 1993.  The have gotten back together a few times (even releasing two albums in the 2000s), but have generally been under the radar since their original breakup.

Napolitano, in the meantime, has been busy.  She's a sculptor, a poet, and (still) a musician (both her own releases and soundtracks).  She has released three other solo albums besides Scarred, but those were improvised and primarily electronic.  Thus far, this is her only true studio release.

Disclaimer:  I enjoyed the Concrete Blonde sound but cannot really be considered a fan; I don't own any of their albums.

That being said, let's get right to it:  it's great.  It's good enough that I wish I had heard it when it came out, as opposed to just discovering it now (six years later).  Napolitano's voice sounds better and clearer than ever, and it's evident that the songs are close to her heart:  at many points it's as if she's vocalizing a raw wound (in the best possible way).

After a few listens, I called this "uneven," but since then it has grown considerably on me.  I'd highly suggest a headphones listen on this one:  there is a lot of TLC in the production that you might otherwise miss.  As for the songs:  "Scarred" is a haunting picture of regret, anger, and sadness.  (Think Shelby Lynne's cover of "Mother" with more angst.) "Save Me" shows Napolitano at the top of her lungs best.  "Everything for Everyone" is a great confessional rocker.  "Amazing" sets the table for the album, with a well thought out  musical plan combined with a display of her amazing vocal range.

But the crown jewels here (for me) are "Just Like Time" and "I'm Up Here."  The former is pretty reserved in the context of the album, but it's an 80s/90s top 20 song that just happened to be created in 2007.  It's also the most Conrete Blonde-ish siong of the lot, which may be why I like it so much.  Great lyrics, smartly packaged musically.

"I'm Up Here," (which I have included here) on the other hand, is damn raw.  It's also all over the place, with plenty of twists musically and lyrically -- the refrain doesn't even hit until over two minutes in.  It's probably my favorite song:  deceptively simple, but unbelievably powerful. 

In the end, the music is very good, but the vocal performance is transcendent.  Amanda Palmer is the only other vocalist that comes to mind that regularly delivers this kind of emotion, but Napolitano does so with an out of this world register.  It's a great comeback and hopefully not the last one.

CD Placement Rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Friday, February 08, 2013

Songs to get you through Winter Storm Nemo

Today we'll be counting down the Top 10 "Snow/Winter Weather Storm Songs" in honor of Winter Storm Nemo. These are winter songs, so tropical/rain songs ("Rock You Like a Hurricane," "Rain," etc.) are not under consideration.

I'm giving bonus points for songs that are actually ABOUT weather. (On Twitter, I also timed this so the songs could be listened to between tweets.)

So let's get started.

10: "It's a Cold Night for Alligators" by Roky Erickson and the Aliens. (And indeed it is).

9. "Cold as Ice" by Foreigner.  (You can opt out of the ad.)  Not necessarily about weather, so classic song drops a bit.

8. "The Weather" by Built to Spill. Great song; we're now moving into ones that are actually more weather-related.  (This is actually from the album Ancient Melodies of the Future, which means our YouTube uploader was very, very lazy.)

7. "Ice Cold Ice" by Hüsker Dü.  It's kind of about the weather, right?  Right?  (You had to know Bob Mould was getting in here somewhere.)

6. "Snow Day" by Fossil. This is so obscure that there's no uploadable content for it. It's all about the joys of a snow day.  Rest assured, it's a great song.  Rest assured.  

5. "Blizzard of 77" by Nada Surf.  A favorite of Scott's, which is good enough for me. We are now fully ensconced in actual weather songs.

4. "Hazy Shade" of Winter by The Bangles.  Sadly, I did not know this was a cover until just now.  Don't look at me like that.  (FWIW, the YouTube clip sounds like it was recorded off a warped vinyl copy.)

3. "Like the Weather" by 10,000 Maniacs.  Ruined  Immortalized forever by my freshman roommate Sean's drunken warbling Bahstahn rendition. It went something like this: "Shiver in me bones just tinking... about the weathaaaah." (And yes, "tinking" is spelled correctly.)

2. "The Sound of Winter" by Bush.  A great song by a band who finally figured it all out 15 years later.

And at #1... drum roll please....

1. "Snow" by jj72.  It's just awesome. Such angst and confusion, it's really quite brilliant.  A long-forgotten Scottish Irish band.

That's my list... so what did I forget?


Thursday, February 07, 2013

Ride - Smile

You have to love 5+ hour plane rides...

After listening to 1990's Nowhere and 1992's Going Blank Again (both CD Changer albums), Dan suggested I look into the third piece of the Ride trilogy, 1990's Smile.  This is actually a compilation of their first two EPs (Ride and Play) and is just as high quality as their previous offerings.

There's no slouch in the bunch here, although the latter part of the album holds the two undeniable gems, "Like a Daydream" and "Furthest Sense."  It works as an album too:  much like Nowehere, Ride sets the mood early and then lets the big guns loose later to finish the album off.  "Like a Daydream" is personified by its dreamy guitar sound and cloud-like vocals (and I am not even being sarcastic here, but sincere, so pardon the appropriate puns); "Furthest Sense" can be summed up with the chorus "It's time for a change/I'm not asking, I'm telling you."  Indeed.

Ride - "Like a Daydream"

It's another great album by a band on top of its game.  I think of these guys as a shoegazer version of the 1970s Buzzcocks or Wire: an initial three albums of brilliance, followed by a serious come-down.  But they were awesome when they were on form:  a little bit of rock, a little bit of tranquil atmosphere, and a little bit of flowing vibe.

CD Placement Rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch