Friday, January 17, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #14 -- It's a Roundup!

Surprise!  I haven't done one of these for quite a while... I feel like I am overdue.

I'm also going to introduce new ratings systems where appropriate here.  I hope you will enjoy.  (Editor's note:  he really does not care either way.)
  • Boise Cover Band - Unoriginal Artists (recorded in 2003, released in 2007).  Doug Martsch of Built to Spill put this group together.  I liked their cover of The Pretenders "Chain Gang," which is an instrumental.
    Using the "Yes/No" rating system, I'm going to give this one a solid "No."  (If you need further details on the nuances of this ratings system, please feel free to Comment or contact me offline.  Based on your confusion, however, I'm guessing you probably can't figure out how to do either.  But rest assured, that makes you no less valued as a reader.  And yes, I'm looking right at you, Bubba.)
  • The Call - Into the Woods (1987).  Thanks to Scott, a band I've always been intrigued by but never investigated makes its way into my collection.  Is this The Call album I've always imagined I'd hear?  Great guitar, and of course, synths, synths, synths.  A very solid rock album with solid bass lines; it's a little 1980s Golden Earring-esque.  (And I MAY like Golden Earring.)  But then -- "Too Many Tears" happens.  It's on the level of "Everywhere I Go," which is high praise when you consider that I still enjoy that song after 25 years.  It's a lost classic:  epic pain, rage, and hope all combined into a strong man's rock package.
    "Yes."  (Not a lot of nuance with this rating system, come to think of it.)
  • J Church - The Precession Of Simalacra - The Map Preceeds The Territory (1995).  I love me some J Church.  I caught on to them late, but before Lance Hahn passed away.  This one is indie grunge punk in its best simple brilliance as always.  The hooks may not be complex, but they are always catchy.  As always with J Church, there are hits and misses; here (as usual) the good outweighs the bad.
    Verdict:  Using the "Binary" rating system, I'm going to give this one a solid "110011101."  (Hint:  more 1's means I liked the album, more 0's means I didn't.  Hope you like math!) 
  • Land of Talk - Applause Cheer Boo Hiss (2005).  Starting out with a hooky open will always get my attention.  These Saddle Creek Favorites are freaking good.  For some reason, when I first listened my notes read:  "I'm wicked pissed I never listened to these guys and gals earlier.  (I have no idea where this is going.)"  (Editor's note:  using the "Binary" rating system, we're going to give this last sentence a solid "0.")  Harmonies and overdubbing of vocals drive this fun rock/pop jamboree -- it's very reminiscent of Pretty Girls Make Graves.  "Speak to Me Bones" and "Summer Special" are great songs highlighting a tremendous album.  It's great music, but the vocals take this to the next level.  Think Edie Brickell combined with Scheer (gritty with great vocals).  A quintessential college/coming of age album, this (much to Mrs. Snilch Report's dismay) is going to inspire me to pursue their entire catalog.
    Verdict:  1111001111.
  • Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (2011).  Southern California's punk icons are back, for the second time without founding member Dennis Danell, who passed away in 2000.  It's taken 15 years to produce two albums since the 1996 offering White Light, White Heat, White Trash, and this album is clearly a departure for them.  With fuller, more traditional arrangements (and, much to Matz's dismay, female backing vocals), this is much more an attempt at blues/rock or rockabilly/soul than at punk.  It's odd from the beginning:  starting the album with an instrumental that stands alone, followed by a cover is really odd, and honestly doesn't work.  "Machine Gun Blues" and "Alone & Forsaken" are highlight songs.  In the end, it's not bad, it's not not good, and it's not particularly memorable.
    Verdict:  110011001111001000111011010011110101010000011010100111010101000011.
  • Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012).  Thanks to Andrew for this recommendation.  This is sweet (not sure where I got that adjective from) trance-like music that washes over you like a gentle spring rain.  Its lyrics, meanwhile, are actually a bit dark, which (to me at least) makes a great contrast.  I'd describe this as  "oddly laid back cacophony."
    Verdict:  Enough math; let's get more artistic.  And what could be more wicked artistic than colors?  
    (Editor's note:  "0.")  So I'm going to give this a rating of "yellow-green."
  • Guns N' Roses - Live Era '87-'93 (1999).  One of the big points that Slash made in his autobiography is how important and treasured live albums were to him.  Thus, he said, Live Era '87-'93 was an album he really treasured putting out.  I'm not sure why.  The pretentious "Recorded Across the Universe Between 1987 and 1993" should have been a warning shot across the bow.  But, much like the idiot in the horror movie who insists on investigating that noise rather than call the authorities, I decided to move forward. The versions do not feel inspired or have that extra punch of live energy you'd expect.  "Nightrain" is bad, but the version of "Mr. Brownstone" so eviscerates the original that somewhere Jimbo is gasping for air like his twin just lost his kidney.  "It's So Easy"?  Awful.  "Welcome to the Jungle?"  Awful.  The low-tempo version of "You're Crazy?"  Awful.  Amy's favorite, "Rocket Queen?"  Awful.  "Knockin' on Heaven's Door?"  "Patience?"  The 12:30 version of "November Rain?"  Awful, awful, awful.  For God's sake... my favorite, "Sweet Child O' Mine?"  Nope, awful.  One last chance... the closer, "Paradise City."  Awful.  Awful, awful, awful, awful, awful. awful, awful.  The one word I'd use to describe this album is (of course) "terrible."
    Verdict:  I'll give this a solid "red" (as in "avoid" or as in "I am still seeing").
  • Sun Dial - Reflector (1992).  Sun Dial is an interesting project, with albums often widely varying in approach (Andrew and Mark will remember "Believe in the Spaceman" from a few years ago).  The title track "Reflector" leads off -- and it's an epic rawk track.  This may be their second best album (next to 1990's Other Way Out, which Mojo went as far to call "The greatest unheard psychedelic album ever"), which is high praise.  This is a heavy album without being too heavy, and epic while remaining grounded.  There's a great base of sound here, combined with great hooks and great harmonies.  It's a very persistent album.
    Verdict:  I'll give this a "brilliant yellow" (like the sun - get it?).
  • Weezer - Raditude (2009).  As The Red Album was Weezer's best since Pinkerton, it's time to take them off the "avoid" list and see if this was a one-off brilliance or a turning point.  Sure, "I'm Your Daddy" is paint by numbers classic Weezer, but if you make a great chicken fried steak, you should serve chicken fried steak.  In this case, I am happy to eat the same thing all the time.  "Put Me Back Together" may have a little Kill Hannah in it, but I like that band too.
    Verdict:  I'll give this a "blue-green" (like their album cover colors).  
    (Editor's note:  yes, we realize the "Color" rating started out based on a traffic-light type of system, then somehow became the sun, and now means basically nothing.  So Spiritualized and Weezer are Portable CD Case, Guns N' Roses is Pile of Death, and Sun Dial is Car CD Changer.  And for those who are too lazy to (i.e., can't) add, that number for Social D came out to "1," which means it is a CD Rack album.  We'll be back to our regularly scheduled program next time.)
- Snilch

Thursday, January 16, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: Lucky #13, The Big Sleep - Nature Experiments (2012)

Following the excellent 2008 release Sleep Forever, The Big Sleep return with raucous force, surprisingly blasting right out of the gate.  By the second song, it was already my favorite album of the year; after listening to the whole album, I think the back half of the album might actually be better than the first half.  Yes, it's THAT good.

The Big Sleep varies between lead singers, resulting in alternating male and female call-and-response vocals from song to song.  Except that they don't alternate, and it varies from album to album whether one leads, the other does, or neither (complete instrumental).  They serve the songs first, and it shows.  While Sleep Forever was very good, Nature Experiments almost sounds like a different band with the echo-ey vocals and guitars (or synth/organ), and no instrumentals at all.

The Big Sleep - "Valentine."  Decent song, gross video.

Throughout, epic guitar tones are just wonderfully set up with synths, vocals, or whatever.  When I first heard this, I wrote, "Please let me stop reviewing this so I can keep reviewing it again and again."  (I'm not sure who I was asking permission from.)  After hundreds of more listens, I can assure you that this is an album I will be listening to again for years.  It's an ALBUM, and there is not a dud here.

iTunes:  "Ace," "Red Carpet," "Ladders," "Four Wishes," "Popcorn Soda Candy."  Yes, that's five of the twelve songs on the album, and that makes the video I posted at best the sixth best song on the album.

CD Placement rating:  Car CD Changer.  If I had a higher rating, I'd give it.

- Snilch

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #12, My Bloody Valentine - M B V (2013)

Finally!  The Chinese Democracy album odyssey of the indie rock world ultimately comes to fruition.

A brief background:  in 1991, My Bloody Valentine released Loveless.  It is considered by many (including me) to be the best "shoegazer" album ever.  It is also considered by many (including me) to be one of the best rock albums ever.

Island Records signed them to a huge contract (reportedly $500K), which they sunk into the production of a studio.  Over the next seven years, depending on who you believe, they recorded somewhere between two albums and 60 hours worth of music.  The net result?  Zero releases.

Next were rumors in 2003 that they were recording material for a box set.  Still... nothing.

In 2008, they reunited and performed live for the first time in 16 years.  And they went on an extensive tour that lasted into 2009.  Then they stopped... to record their next album.  (To be clear, no one believed this was actually happening.)

Yet, just four short, agonizing years later, they finally released it.  22 years after Loveless, finally came M B V.  (Hey, Chinese Democracy took only 17 years.  Seeing as they both released their previous albums in 1991, Axl was five years faster in real time than MBV.)

With all that buildup, and following one of the greatest albums ever, there was basically no way Kevin Shields and Company could match expectations and anticipation here.


Well, there is no "but" in this case.  It just doesn't meet those expectations.  It's good, very good, just not as great as Loveless.  "New You" is a gem, but otherwise, this fells like Loveless 1.5.  A little tired, a little dated, a little small.

My Bloody Valentine - "New You"

It's something I never thought would actually happen... ultimately, I'm glad they finally put another album out.  I just wish it were a little better.  I'm sure the next one in 2035 will do the trick.

CD Placement rating:  Where it belongs:  CD Rack (maybe even Sell-back 1).  Where I will keep it in hopes it grows on me:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #11, The Corin Tucker Band - Kill My Blues (2012)

We're picking back up today after a couple of days down due to a stomach bug.  Good times!

This is the second offering from Corin Tucker post-Sleater-Kinney.  Unlike Carrie Brownstein's high profile acting career (as co-star of "Portlaandia"), NPR blog, or supergroup affiliation with Wild Flag, Tucker has been more under the radar with her project, playfully named ala The Marshall Tucker Band.  (And she is all in on this -- she named her oldest child Marshall.  True story.)

Her first album, 1,000 Years, was one I reviewed for The Whiskey Dregs, and was a Sell-back 1.  I was not expecting much more from offering #2.

Fortunately, I was wrong.  This is a solid, solid rock album, and feels a lot more comfortable in its own skin than 1,000 Years ever did.

The Corin Tucker Band - "Neskowin"

On Kill My Blues, Tucker showcases her other-worldly voice and gets strong musical support from her bandmates.  Is it a little too consistent (i.e., "same-y")?  Maybe.  But I'll take the consistency over the hit or miss, the more mature approach that is never forced and still interesting musically.  In the Brownstein/Tucker split, I figured to be fully in the Brownstein camp, but it's surprisingly Tucker who has created the best post-S-K album yet.  Give credit where credit is due.

CD Placement rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Saturday, January 11, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #10, Jesu - Heart Ache/Dethroned (2004 - 2010)

Jesu:  the best, cheeriest kind of slow gloom rock you will find.

Somehow they make the whole experience inviting and comforting.  I'm really not sure how.  It's droning, reverberating, insisting progressive rock at its most natural grimy extension.  I always imagine Jesu as those fat twins on motorcycles that were in the Guiness Book of World Records in the 70's.  (In other words, a reincarnation of Screaming Trees, whose rhythm section was basically the same thing.)

This project (as opposed to 2007's Conqueror or 2009's Opiate Sun) is not a standard "next release":  disc 1 (Heart Ache) represents a long out of print 2004 EP, while disc 2 (Dethroned) was started at the same time but completed in 2010.  Keep in mind:  during that time period, Jesu released 4 full albums and 4 EPs.  That's a considerable amount of music in between the start and the completion of Dethroned, and thus a lot of room for their music to evolve.

Jesu - "Dethroned"

Besides all of that, it's just great music.  It's the musical equivalent of the most romantic pieces of a rainy day:  it's dark, it's threatening, yet it's inexplicably refreshing and uplifting.  

It's a fine place to start listening to Jesu, or the next album of theirs that you should pursue.

CD Placement rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Friday, January 10, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #9, Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You (2011)

My problems with this album began even before they had finished recording it.  IMHO, there are two types of Red Hot Chili Peppers albums:  the ones with guitarist John Frusciante and the ones without John Frusciante.  I felt he took the band to the next level -- both after replacing the late, great Hillel Slovak and after replacing the not so late, not so great Dave Navarro.  Mother's Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Californication, and Stadium Arcadium are their best albums, in whatever order you want to put them in, and all feature Frusciante.  

Seeing as Frusciante left the band in 2009, I was not inclined to pick up the album.

However, after seeing two excellent songs from this album as videos on 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield (which has since gone off the air -- thank you MTV, for eliminating the one music video show worth watching of the 3 hours of music you actually play each week), my fate was sealed.  Against my better judgement, I picked up the album.

The first listen brought up my second problem with the album:  I did not like it one bit.  (In the music listening business, this is a pretty serious problem.)

As I continued to listen, it started to grow on me... this is what I wrote at the time:
First thought:  Hate it.
Second thought:  This will remain in my music collection.  This album definitely focuses on the funk/pop side more -- there are electronica elements present here that you will not find anywhere else in their catalog.
Third thought:  The album is annoying.  It sounds tired.  Or all over the place.  Some good songs, but not a cohesive sound or album.
Sell-back 1
Sometimes that's the way it goes.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Look Around"

I did have one other note:  "NEED TO LISTEN AGAIN -- ALL SINGLES."  That was actually the only thing worth keeping from those first ramblings.  Once I thought of the album as a collection of one-off songs as opposed to a one unified, cohesive thought, I did really enjoy it.  It's not their best album, but definitely an enjoyable listen and their best non-Frusciante album.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #8, The National - Boxer (2007)

This was an Eric Lax suggestion.  (Aside:  there appears to be a "deep voiced lead singer" pattern in his suggestions [except for Alt J, which I promise I will get to], which leads me to believe that Eric was strongly influenced by Joy Division.)

But I digress.  I was really concerned about this on the first listen -- the first track is unremarkable.  But then "Mistaken for Strangers" takes over, and I am there.  It is compelling; the best way to describe it would be to say "it insists without being insistent."  There is tension and beauty wrapped into low to mid tempo rock.  It's the highlight song of an very decent album -- the best analogy I could be to make would be to describe it as the "Rise" to American Music Club's album Everclear.  

The National - "Mistaken for Strangers"

A precisely considered, meandering rock/pop travelogue, this is definitely worth checking out.

CD Placement Rating:  A CD Rack album that "Mistaken for Strangers" puts on its shoulders and carries to Portable CD Case land.

- Snilch

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #7, Wild Flag - Wild Flag (2011)

This "indie supergroup" combines Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss, (two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney)Mary Timony (Helium, solo), and Rebecca Cole (The Minders) and was a promising collaboration on paper.

The headline is:  the album is very listenable and a very nice debut.  The subheadline is:  too bad it's schizophrenic.

There are great harmonies and hooks here.  It's a bit more produced, polished, and proper than Sleater-Kinney, but it still rocks.  And Janet Weiss is SO underrated as a drummer, it's criminal.

Wild Flag - "Romance"

The issue here is that it's almost like listening to two separate albums:  the Brownstein songs have a slightly different timbre, tone, and tension than the Timony ones.  (We're working on perfecting alliteration today.)  Now it's not as bad as Bad Lieutenant, but it still sounds like sibling bands rather than one unified presence.  

Brownstein's songs are ultimately the more aggressively hooky ones, and thus IMHO more musically interesting (except for Timony's standout "Black Tiles").  Timony, on the other hand, has the superior voice, so ultimately there is a tradeoff.  

Still -- I like it.  It's ultimately vociferous, splendiferous, and mellifluous.  (We're also working on perfecting our "Don King" today.)

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Player.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #6, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army - Tubeway Army (1978)

Long before "Cars" ever came out, this is about what you'd expect:  quirky, innovative, and musically featuring sonic buzzsaw guitars and synths.  It was before its time and objectively very good; I just may not listen to it that often.

The live album included in the re-issue is for completists only.

CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack

- Snilch

Monday, January 06, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #5, Beulah - When Your Heartstrings Break (1999)

Much like Autolux, Beulah enjoys pristine production.  Unlike Autolux, the substance quotient underneath is also there.  

When Your Heartstrings Break has a lot more grit than their 2001 follow-up The Coast Is Never Clear, which the Bishop of Jamaica Plain will like:  there is less saccharine and more oatmeal here.  

The first two songs ("Score from Augusta" and "Sunday Under Glass") are just impossibly good and reflect that edge that The Coast Is Never Clear lacks.  

Beulah - "Score from Augusta"

On an 11-hour plane ride where I listened to music the whole time, the only song I felt compelled to re-play was "Sunday Under Glass."  (I played it four times in a row.)  Sure, the album flags a little towards the end, but who cares?  Enjoy it, you snob!

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Sunday, January 05, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #4, The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts (2011)

The world's best high school band EVAH rolls on with their third album.  The first track ("T.O.R.N.A.D.O.") is an immediate step forward for their sound:  a funky realized follow-up to their stunning 2004 debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike.  It's an anthem-like song, and one of the best that they've ever (er, EVAH) put out.

And it addresses their core issue:  since that first album, they have not expanded their sound.  Unfortunately, that solution is only momentary:  besides that standout first track, the rest of the first half of the album is Interpol-like in re-covering familiar ground (much like The Go! Team's own 2007 sophomore effort, Proof of Youth).  By the third and fourth songs ("Apollo Throwdown" and "Ready to Go Steady"), they are essentially covering themselves -- reworking old songs ever so slightly, but it's all been done before.  And seven songs in, and they are officially on the Interpol/Bloc Party/Franz Ferdinand "Prove Me Wrong List Before I Buy Again" list.  

Now if this was the first time you'd heard The Go! Team, you'd love the album; but if you were a fan of the band from the start, you'd understand that this is re-tread brilliance.  For the latter group of fans, the high of "T.O.R.N.A.D.O." will be long forgotten by this point -- it's a very languid listen.

The Go! Team - "T.O.R.N.A.D.O."

But then... it's as if on the second half of the album, the light has come on.  Finally!  It's a slightly different approach, and that step forward I've been looking for, starting with "Voice Yr Choice."  It still has that same basic sound, but plays within a much larger palette -- the highlights are the last two songs, "Rolling Blackouts" and "Back Like 8 Track."  

Is there a song on the second half on the album as good as "T.O.R.N.A.D.O."?  No.  Is the second half of the album as good as Thunder, Lightning, Strike?  No.  But it IS different, and very good in its own way, which makes the band's outlook much more interesting looking forward.  

Thus the second half of the album is an encouraging step from a great group; hopefully this signals a new direction.  I am struck by the thought that if the album was structured in reverse, I'd be less optimistic, and this review would instead be all about how they had instead made an EP.  But that is the power of an album:  order does still have meaning.

CD Placement Rating:  1st half - Sellback Pile 1.  2nd half - Car CD Changer.  Overall -  we'll split the difference and call it Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Saturday, January 04, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #3, Rockets Over Sweden - Penny Coliseum (2004)

How it took me nine years to listen to this is beyond me.  Former Verbow frontman Jason Narducy's return from being Robert Pollard and Bob Mould's sidekicks turns out to be a bit more White Out and a little less Chronicles.  It's a rocker (not surprising, given the company he was keeping) that is a bit heavy on the effects, which it really doesn't need as the songs are strong to begin with.  

Overall, this EP is very infectious right from the start -- it immediately gets under your skin.  A heavier John Faye Power Trip (somewhere, Denis just shuddered) comes to mind.  

Rockets Over Sweden - "So in Love With You and Me."  No, this is not how they normally look, dress, or perform.

Good to very good throughout, this is very solid pop-rock with some twists.  Quite good, albeit occasionally a little too forced.  But it cannot be denied.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Friday, January 03, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #2, Vintage Trouble - The Bomb Sessions (2011)

Thanks again to Alan for turning me on to these guys.

As faithful readers will recall, their show in March 2013 was terrific (and the post includes a video of their ridiculously fabulous appearance on David Letterman, which you should check out if nothing else), and thus I needed to check the studio release out.

This album starts out like a preacher revival house of fire with "Hand Me Down Blues":  I'd call it a "live recording that happened to take place in a studio."  It's the closest to rock that they get into on the album (and I do prefer their more up tempo offerings), but they really are great at any speed.  It's really good stuff and worth a listen for blues and rock fans; they wear it all on their sleeve, and wear it well.

The lead singer is a classic crooner, the lead guitarist a virtuoso, and the rhythm section is tight and talented.  Their finesse and deft touch is what's most impressive here -- they make spaces in the music work for them.  Chapeau.  

Vintage Trouble - "Hand Me Down Blues"  

My only slight criticism:  while enjoyable, there are way too "same-y" songs at the same tempo which blur together musically.   They could have chopped three songs off the album and been more impactful, rather than Rainer Maria-rehash their way through parts of the album.

But.  But.  BUT.

I still enjoy listening to the album, despite that.  Go see them -- they have an outstanding live presence and precision, and the sheer tornado force of their lead singer is worth the price of admission alone.  

CD Placement Rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

Thursday, January 02, 2014

14 Reviews for 2014: #1, Autolux - Transit Transit (2010)

After last year's "Twelve Blogs of Christmas," it's pretty clear that my only self-motivation to write prolifically is gimmicks.  So here we go:  14 Reviews to start 2014.  (I picked "14," obviously, because it's the uniform number of both Otto Graham and Larry Doby.  Or because I am cheap, easy, and lazy.  No one knows.)

First victim:  Autolux.  After Failure's breakup, the two main creative forces in the band took productivity paths parallel to Hüsker Dü after their split.  Ken Andrews became Bob Mould, putting out a steady stream of excellent music (at least until 2007), which included stints with his bands On and Year of the Rabbit, as well as solo work and tons of producing.  

Autolux's Greg Edwards, on the other hand, followed the Grant Hart model:  a glacially slow musical output (three albums in two bands over 15+ years), all the while dealing with the perception that his drug addiction broke up his previous band.  And he's not the main creative force here, either; all songs are collectively written by the three-piece group.

Now onto the task at hand:  six years after Autolux's impressive 2004 debut (Future Perfect), 2010's Transit Transit isn't bad; it just isn't good.  

Autolux - "Supertoys."  Probably the only song you need to listen to on this album.

Except for "Supertoys," (and MAYBE "Census," but the jury is still out) there is absolutely no emotional resonance or connection here.  At all.  The production is pristine, but it ultimately turns the album into a super-smooth, polished turd (with glass-like consistency, no less).  Every ounce of life has been drained from this technically proficient, emotion-free disappointment.

This is like a corpse someone microwaved.  Sure it's warm, but it's not going anywhere.

CD Placement Rating:  Sell-back 1.  Avoids the Pile of Death by the slimmest of margins.

- Snilch