Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Drinking Whiskey In Las Vegas: A Non-Definitive Guide

I recently spent over a week in Las Vegas, checking out some prime spots at one of the best places in the world for great whiskey -- Las Vegas.

I had a list of places I wanted to visit, and as a bonus I tried to hit all of the places where I was staying at (The Mirage).  These fit into a number of categories:  The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Confusing.  I'll go from one end of the Strip to the other; there are undoubtedly other places to check out, but my liver can only take so much in one trip.

What I was looking for in these venues was good variety and hard to find offerings, and secondarily well-priced selections.  A well-rounded "bottom shelf" list with only a courtesy "top shelf" item or two would definitely not rate well for me.

It's a long post, but at the end I promise to give some "only in Vegas" stories, followed with my bonus reviews of all the Mirage stops.

Without further ado... let's get started:

Delano Las Vegas (formerly THE Hotel)

Franklin:  The Bad
Now, let me start by saying that they do have some rare and odd things here.  The major issue is that you can find most everything on their list somewhere else on the Strip, and at a much cheaper price.  It's simply too expensive for the lack of unique offerings.  Avoid.

Mandalay Bay

The Boiler Room (above RM Seafood):  The Good
They know how to make a drink, have an eclectic mix of whiskeys and scotches, and the prices were amazing compared to the Franklin.  And if you like cocktails, you'll love this place.  I was able to try a bucket list whiskey (Jameson's Rarest Vintage) and could not have been happier.  Great experience you should check out.

Ri RaThe Bad/The Confusing
I've been to Ri Ra in the past, and their whiskey book when I visited 12 months ago was extraordinarily impressive.  Plus it's great for sports and not too expensive.  Classic Irish bar. 

I was psyched to hear that they had updated their physical book to a digital version, and completely updated their list in the process.  Perfect -- making it even easier to find all of those obscure whiskeys they keep locked away there!

Problem #1:  the list is now tiny.  I remember Jefferson's in particular having almost every variety the line carried -- now there are two or three.  Same across the board -- a real disappointment.

Problem #2:  I asked for an older Jefferson's.... they didn't have it.  I asked for a replacement (which I honestly can't remember)... and they didn't have that either.  And they took their time telling me as well.  The bartender didn't bother coming back after failed attempt #2, which was pathetic.  My wife finished her drink and we left.

Conclusion:  I will check it out when I go back and hope I just experienced a rough transition.  And if the bartender isn't Irish, I'm walking out immediately, as the service is otherwise awful.

MGM Grand

Craftsteak:  Not just The Good, but The Great
If I had to do it all over again, this would be the first place I stopped.  It's got the best combination of well-priced with a deep selection of the obscure and rare to boot.  If you just want bottom shelf items, you won't be disappointed.  If you just want top shelf items, you won't be disappointed.  Basically, you won't be disappointed.  Definitely go here.

Emeril's New Orleans:  The Bad
Emeril Lagasse has a couple of amazing places for whiskeys (see below).  This is not one of them.  If you want just some bottom shelf stuff, this would be fine.  If you get stuck here, try Emeril's select Eagle Rare 10 year.  It's Eagle Rare on steroids.  (I think they have this at all his properties, so just find the one closest to you and you should be good.)  But otherwise, avoid.

Whiskey DownThe Good
This was not on my list but we couldn't resist a bar with "Whiskey" in the name, right?  And I am certainly glad we checked it out.  They don't have the hugest selection on the Strip, but someone carefully curated items on their list.  The Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey was spectacular, and I didn't see it anywhere else.  Definitely hit this place.

Smith and Wollensky (near MGM but not in the hotel):  The Bad/The Okay
"Bad" is a touch harsh for this.  It's got a good selection for a chain, but it just doesn't hold up against the heavy hitters on the Strip.  Stop in for a steak if you feel so inclined, but no need to make a trip just for the whiskey.

New York, New York

Nine Fine Irishmen:  The Ugly
We had a deal here, which was good because the whiskey list was awful.  Even the Irish whiskey selection was ploddingly generic.  Avoid.

Monte Carlo

Andre's Cigar Bar:  The Ugly
For a bar that does "Whiskey Wednesdays" every other month, this whiskey list was shockingly sparse.  Go here for cognac, avoid for whiskey.

The PubThe Bad
Great bartenders, great place to watch a game.  Great beers on tap.  Just light on the whiskey selection.  Their "Monte Carlo exclusive" whiskeys are the ones to pursue if you are here.  Go for the fun and the atmosphere, just expect to not be blown away by the selection.

Mandarin Oriental

Lobby Bar:  The Good
It's what you expect from a high end bar:  a very solid list, but it's the lower end of the "good" list, to be honest.  Spectacular views as well.  Thanks to TC for insisting we check this out.  We will definitely be back.


Lobby Bar:  The Okay
Only "okay" because the whiskey list is small, but they did have a couple of gems here.  Worth keeping an eye on to see how they progress in the future.  Bartender was a super nice woman.  Despite the list, we will definitely be back.

AriaThe Good

Just in general, Aria has a fantastic selection throughout the property.  And they vary what is at each bar.  I highly recommend exploring even the more typically "generic" bars as you might find a hidden gem anywhere on property.  I heard that the Cosmopolitan has similarly upped their whiskey game across the board, but not until the last night of the trip.  So Cosmo reviews will have to wait until next trip.

Baccarat Lobby Bar:  The Good
Tucked away in a corner, this had a decent list but an annoying bartender.  The weakest of the "top shelf" lounges at Aria, this is still worth checking out as they have whiskeys the other bars don't.

High Limit LoungeThe Good
High roller places are always going to have great selection, and this bar is no exception.  Phenomenal selection of rare and obscure stuff, although pricey.  A must stop for the whiskey afficiando.

Julian Serrano:  The Bad
The food is excellent.  The whiskey list is average.

Lift Bar:  The Good
Now, your experience will vary here based on the bartender.  The knowledgeable ones will show you some amazing stuff.  The less knowledgeable/interested ones will not lift (see what I did there?) a finger unless you prod them.  But it's an exceptional selection of whiskeys, particularly for a lobby bar.  A must stop.

Sage:  Not just The Good, but The Great
When the menu contains a "Gordon and MacPhails" entire page, you know these guys know their stuff.  A tremendous list, including hard or impossible to find items.  And the meal was excellent.  Yes, it's pricey, but the selection is killer.  They even have Pappy van Winkle flights if you are so inclined.  We will stop there every time we go to LV.

Todd English Pub:  The Ugly
Their list is decent... they just have nothing on that list.  They are supposedly in transition to a newer list, but avoid until they do.


Gordon Ramsey's Steak:  The Okay
There were some things here that I've never seen before, but generally this was a generic list, which is slightly surprising.  Go for the steak and the stickey toffee pudding, not just for the whiskey.

Gordon Ramsey's Pub and Grill:  The Bad
I remember this list as being better.  The waitstaff and bartenders were great and knowledgeable, they just didn't have much to work with here. 

Caesar's Palace

Lobby BarThe Bad
Their list on the website is outdated, and they don't have a list in the bar itself.  It's a pretty small selection with a couple of eyebrow-raising gems.

The Mirage

Tom Colicchio's Heritage Steakhouse:  The Ugly
The rest of The Mirage reviews are at the end of this post, but this one was a recommended stop on my list.  For a guy who owns Craftsteak (see above), it's shocking how weak this list is.  We'll go back for the steak (which was phenomenal), but not the whiskey.  I hope this venue steps up in the future.

The Venetian

The Bourbon RoomThe Confusing
So how do you have a "Bourbon Bar" and then put together a list of just bottom shelf offerings?  It's very odd.  My wife enjoyed the Bartles and James winecoolers, and we enjoyed the 80s videos, but the list was surprisingly generic and lame.  I'll come back for the goof, but if you're looking for a bourbon experience beyond the generic, look elsewhere.

db Brasserie:  The Bad
We come in once, ask for a whiskey list -- and we get one, but it's small.  My wife gets a DB Sidecar, which is the best cocktail she's ever had.  We come in two days later, ask for a whiskey list -- and are told they don't have one.  The bartender has to get his manager, who looks at me like I have three heads for even suggesting they have a list.  My wife gets a DB Sidecar, which is mediocre.  Bottom line:  inconsistent, confused, and not a very deep list.  Avoid. 

Emeril's Delmonico Steakhouse:  Not just The Good, but The Great
I got a flight of Pappy Van Winkle 15, 20, and 23 year old whiskeys.  They had to actually open a new 23 year old bottle, and it's August.  They have 28 whiskey flights and a book that is beyond ridiculous.  Regular, rare, obscure, and out of production -- they have it all here.  It's heaven for the whiskey snob if you have the cash.  A must.  We went there at least four times.

Vom FassThe Good
Now this is not a bar, but a store in the Venetian Shops area.  Vom Fass is a German company that was founded in the 90s, and recently has come to Las Vegas.  Their niche is that they have whiskey that is "exclusive" to them.  In some cases, like a couple of American distillers and their three Teeling offerings, it appears they are actually sold only through Vom Fass.  In other cases, like Auchentoshan and Breval, what is exclusive is the age of the Scotch/whiskey -- so you may find the Breval as a 12 year elsewhere, but they sell the 13 year here.  They hold free tastings at 7PM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and (of course) offer 10% off if you buy stuff that night.  They will also ship it to you where legally allowed.  The juice is great and definitely worth checking out, but keep in mind that a full bottle of anything will run $150-250 (before the 10% off).  But a must for the whiskey snob looking for a unique experience.


CUT:  The Good
A tremendous list, just too frenetic an atmosphere to call this "great."  A definite stop for the serious whiskey drinker as they have a deep list.  I just wish it were a little less chaotic there.  I will have to stop there on a Tuesday or Wednesday next time.

Double Helix Wine and Whiskey Bar:  The Bad
Locals talked this place up, but my guess is they are referring to the second, off-strip location.  This list was rated G for "Generic."  (Let me pause as I pat myself on the back for that one.  In the distance I can hear a single hand clap.)  Avoid.

Legasse's Stadium:  The Bad
Emeril is 2 for 4 on The Strip:  two great lists (one above and one right below), and two paltry ones.  This falls into the latter.  Go for the sports, avoid if looking for whiskey.

Table 10:  The Good
Another Emeril location with a great list.  And while it's not as expansive as Delmonico's, they do have whiskeys here that are excliusive to the restaurant.  And it's a nice meal too.  A must-stop.

In a strip mall, two blocks off The Strip, in the direction of UNLV

The Whiskey Attic:  The Bad and The Confusing
So The Whiskey Attic is, in many ways, summed up in one phrase:  it's a contradiction.

On the one hand, they've got over 18,000 different whiskeys.  On the other, it's not a bar, so you can't "order" anything.  What they sold was a "tasting" -- either 5 or 10 whiskey samplers to try in a 1.5-2 hour period.  I figured there would be a mix of the bottom, the middle, and probably one or two hard to find and/or top shelf offerings.

Instead, I got 10 bottom shelf whiskeys, two of which I'd say really hit the mark.  The rest were decent, except for two that were awful.

So they have all of these beautiful whiskeys there... you just can't try them.  Or maybe our group was too small to be bothered with, because the guy running the thing suggested that they do sell stuff.  But never offered us to try anything other than what he selected for us.

Here's what to expect:  a long, canned speech about whiskey tasting which goes on forever, and a "new" way to drink whiskey which includes odd references to a caveman named "Oog," and jokes about marriage (my wife and I were there together, so that seemed odd) and lawyers (my wife had already told him she was a lawyer, but I guess he forgot).  He then asks three questions and does a blind taste test.

Now the instructor... well, he's an interesting guy (named "J.D.") who is a walking contradiction himself.  Normally I wouldn't be so blunt, but he actually prides himself on being blunt, so I think I'm okay here.

He is a "whiskey expert," but is not a drinker himself.  He later goes on to tell us that when he does drink whiskey at home, he drinks Jack Daniels.  Or Miller High Life (which is what he was going to be having after work that day).  And that he goes to The Boiler Room 5 to 8 times a month.  But he doesn't drink.

He went on to tell us that you should "never pay more than $100 a bottle.  Nothing is worth that."  About a minute later he's telling us about a bourbon he sells for $300 a pour.

J.D. also likes to talk about Scotch drinkers who are set in their ways and don't keep an open mind or "respect his opinion because he's so young."  He then proceeds to dismiss distilleries and brands out of hand... like he's set in his ways....

He's basically an opinionated guy who acts like he gets into whiskey arguments every day.  He's very abrupt (he called a cab for us while we were in the middle of a conversation with him; guess it was time to go!) and does not bother to wonder whether the tasting he created for you worked or not.  I wouldn't go back unless it were more interactive and the process were less rigid and canned.  It's just confusing to me why they have so much whiskey if they're doing bottom of the shelf whiskey tastings.

Conclusion:  I would avoid.  It's not worth the expense.

Only in Vegas

It's shocking how wide and varied the whiskey selection is in Las Vegas.  And how rare and expensive whiskeys, when being served by employees who could care less, can fall into your lap for a song.

Names have been removed to protect the innocent.

- I sit down at a bar with a limited number of whiskeys.  One I see, however, is a "purple unicorn" (i.e., extremely rare) -- a limited production, 20+ year whiskey that I have never actually laid eyes on before.  I was told at another place that a 2 oz. pour of this runs $300. To its left is a non-age statement, younger cousin of the same brand that I can buy an entire bottle of for somewhere between $30-40.  I say to the bartender, "How much for each of the [brand name]?"

Reply:  "They are $16 each."

I say, "I'll take the one on the right." 

- Bartender has a 20 year+ bourbon.  "How much for that?" I ask.  "It's not in my computer," is the reply.  "Well, that (same age whiskey) is $50, so let's call it $50."  

I see the same thing at the next bar for $150.

- Prices wildly fluctuate.  I saw a 10+ year rye on one menu for $87, the next at $45, and the following day saw it for $13.

- This story I will tell as I told it to a bartender.  This is a different story than either of the ones above as well.

Me:  "So the last place I was, at I ask the bartender how much [brand name 20+ year] costs."

Bartender:  "If you got that for less than $100, you got a steal."

Me:  "He told me $50... and I hesitated.  So he told me he would give me a generous pour."

Bartender looks pained and actually begins holding his head in his hands.  Then I tell him about how the guy's "generous pour" was actually a legit double -- I saw him pour 4 oz.

- I also got poured a double of the 15 year, 20 year, and 23 year Pappy Van Winkle at various spots.  Which is insane that not only did I get doubles, but that multiple spots have Pappy in August.

The bottom line:  you can get wacky deals from bar to bar and from server to server in Vegas.  It's a fun place to check out.

And finally.... the bars of The Mirage.  Most were Bad or Confusing:

- Beatles Lounge:  Bad.  Not a great selection.  Avoid, avoid, avoid.
- BLT:  Bad.  In fact, awful.  Avoid at all cost.
- Fin:  Incomplete.  Was closed during our visit.
- High Limit Lounge:  Confusing but potentially Good.  Great list, and some surprisingly well priced items.  Of course, they didn't actually HAVE my first two choices, so it's not as great as it could be.
- Japonais:  Bad.  With the amount of Japanese whiskey out there, how can you not stock more than the very basic?  Complete fail.  Avoid.
- Portofino:  Bad.  A surprisingly generic list for a place that is aspiring to be high end.  Feel free to avoid and spend your time elsewhere.
- Rhumbar:  Good.  A good, not great, list.
- Samba:  Bad.  Great atmosphere and staff.  Woodford Reserve Distiller's is great but literally the only thing I would get on the menu.
- Sports Bar:  Bad.  A step up from BLT (which is sad), but not worth visiting.
- Stack:  Bad.  A couple of good things but only a couple of new things.

Till next time...

- Snilch

Friday, July 24, 2015

Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014)

I've always found Weezer albums to fall into one of three categories: brilliant (see Pinkerton), fun (see The Red Album), or dumb/redundant (see The Green Album).

I'd say Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer's ninth studio album, falls into the "fun" category. There isn't necessarily a single on this album that would crack Weezer's top 10, and there's even more navel-gazing than usual (which is saying something), but if you were driving for an hour and wanted something up-tempo to pass the time, this would more than fit the bill.

My personal favorite from the song would be "Eulogy for a Rock Band."

Weezer - "Eulogy for a Rock Band"

If there's not a tune that ends up in a "Ten Songs I'm Constantly Listening to" list from a Weezer album, I consider that disappointing. But I'll keep it regardless. It's harmless fun.

CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.

- Snilch

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2014 Reissues

I didn't pick up a ton of re-issues in 2014, but the three I did pick were of some all-time classics. We'll be using the "The Compilation Ripoff Index," which is described in further detail here. As an aside, these three albums are among my all-time favorites ever.

* Aztec Camera - High Land Hard Rain  (original album released in 1983 - 2 CDs). As indicated here, Roddy Frame's story is a cautionary tale: a brilliant debut can be a precursor of things to come, or the yoke around one's neck. I mean, the first song on his first album is "Oblivious." How can you ever top that?

Aztec Camera - "Oblivious"

If you don't know this album, don't take this the wrong way, but you are an idiot. 

The remastering on the original album is clean and unobtrusive, and worth it for any fans. I heard things I never noticed before, and it was great to listen to the album again with the higher values in production. So many standouts - "Pillar to Post," "Release," "Lost Outside the Tunnel".... The bonus disc contains 16 tracks, five of which are previously unreleased and two of which were fanclub-only tracks. It's nice to have all of these b-sides and extras in one place, and once again is totally worth getting. The 7" and 12" versions of "Walk Out to Winter" and the BBC Kid Jensen version of "Release" are worth the price of admission by themselves.
Compilation rating: Very high. High marks for the casual fan, low marks as a ripoff since it's a great album on its own. Everyone wins.

* Bob Mould - Workbook (original album released in 1989 - 2 CDs). Let's step back in time to 1989. Punk/rock underground legends Hϋsker Dϋ had broken up two years prior, and ex-bandmate Grant Hart had already released an EP. So when Mould released an album that
was primarily acoustic and had cello on it... well, let's just say the old guard was not impressed.  After 25 years, however, it's pretty clear in retrospect that the whole venture was brilliant. (It was pretty clear in the first couple of years as well, but some fans never forgave him for this album.) 

Bob Mould - "See a Little Light"

If you don't know this album, don't take this the wrong way, but you are an idiot.

In the good headphones, I'm hearing the same album I've always heard. Very solid on CD, but nothing earth-shattering moving this up a level or anything. The liner notes (which include a synopsis by Michael Azerrad, the original Rolling Stone review, and a piece by Ryan Adams) are great, and really add to the experience of revisiting the album. And it is truly a brilliant album: "See a Little Light," "Wishing Well," and "Poison Years" are worth the price of admission alone. But the album lacks a single subpar song. The worst song on the album is great.

The bonus disc, a 1989 live show from the Cabaret Metro in Chicago which has been released in dribs and drabs, sounds stunning and is worth it for long-time fans. While fans hoped for original demos, this is a surprisingly clean and ageless recording. A great add-on for anyone.

Compilation rating: High. High marks for the casual fan, low to medium marks as a ripoff since the remastering does not make the album more listenable. In any case, if you don't own it, go get it. Idiot.

* Slint - Spiderland (original album released in 1991 - 2 CDs). Originally released in 1991 and largely ignored, this is just an unbelievable exercise in tempo and volume. I don't know what it's classified as and I frankly couldn't care less. It's a mix that shouldn't work -- it's like finding out your desert property has somehow sprouted prize-winning orchids, which are sprouting on top of an unknown gold mine. It's quiet, it's loud, it's plaintive, it's fierce, it's slow, it's fast, it's spoken, it's sung -- I'm not sure where this purple unicorn sprouted from, and I'm guessing they didn't either.

Slint - "Breadcrumb Trail"

If you don't know this album, don't take this the wrong way, but you are an idiot.

The remastering is great, making the nuances of the album crystal clear.

The extra DVD is a 93 minute Lance Briggs directed documentary on the band and on the making of Spiderland. My favorite moment had to be when Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi) indignantly relates a story about the band playing "Safety - Doorknob." (Anyone who spent any time around me or my friends at college know exactly how funny this is.) It's a great documentary and definitely worth a watch by fans.

Compilation rating: High. High marks for the casual fan, low marks as a ripoff as the remastering really helps this. So go get it, idiot.

- Snilch

Monday, July 20, 2015

Typical System - Total Control (2014)

I keep listening to Total Control, hoping it will open up to me. It just doesn't seem to want to.

Now is this my fault, or the music's? That's unclear. To be fair, retro-80s is a very narrow window for me to enjoy.  In this case, they do a nice job of mixing things up between electronica and guitar-based versions.

If forced to make a decision on this, I'd say this is too good to be called bad, but not good enough to be called really good. But then I listen to something like "Expensive Dog," "Flesh War," or "Black Spring" and I feel like it is not only really good, but possibly great.

It's quite the quandary.

As a varied soundscape album, it's great. As music I'd listen to again... I'm not sure. Or maybe I'll listen to it every day.

Total Control - "Flesh War" (first :40 are silent)

I think that ultimately I really like this album. Although I'm quite sure why. Or if that is actually true.

CD Placement Rating: Based on my last listen, I'm going to say this is too intriguing to not call this Car iPod. I really like this! Well, maybe. Portable CD Case? Sell-back 1? No, Car iPod. I think.

- Snilch

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else (2014)

This Cleveland-based band is back, after their wonderful 2012 release, Attack on Memory. Compared to that album, they've made a couple of steps forwards and a couple of steps backwards. For example, on the positive side, they've tailored the music more towards singer-songwriter-guitarist Dylan Baldi's vocal range, losing some of the raw nature of his vocals (and their sound). However, on the negative side, they've tailored the music more towards singer-songwriter-guitarist Dylan Baldi's vocal range, losing some of the raw nature of his vocals (and their sound). It's a yin and a yang here.

But ultimately what's missing here is depth -- depth of great songs, depth of musical arrangements, and depth in terms of sonic variety. While Attack on Memory had great moments and a solid group of surrounding songs, Here and Nowhere Else doesn't really have a single song that matches with the top four songs on Attack. I think they really miss second guitarist Joe Boyer, who is can't leave the state of Ohio for "undisclosed legal reasons." From a practical perspective, this means a lack of two guitar and/or keyboard interplay, leaving most of the sound bunching up right in the middle. It's a little too muddy, without enough separation.

Cloud Nothings - "Now Hear In"

It's still a very good, very solid album. It just needs more tonal separation across the board.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Player.

- Snilch

Monday, July 06, 2015

King Tuff - Black Moon Spell (2014)

From the opening strains of this album, King Tuff quickly establishes a psychedelic classic rock atmosphere. It promises a pleasant, fun experience: pretty light and not too serious.

As you move along through the first few songs, it's not too high, not too low, just continues to deliver a great poppy ride down pharmaceutical lane. So just sit back and relax. Vermont's favorite sons are driving the bus, and hopefully are not too intoxicated.

King Tuff - "Black Moon Spell"

It's established immediately that the rhythm section is solid and that King Tuff himself knows what he's doing with the guitar. And the music goes very well with his vocals. "Sick Mind" makes you think this may veer into an Andrew W.K. "party album" vein, while showcasing some classic guitar solo licks. "Rainbow's Run" follows through on this promise -- albeit more spacey in a Sun Dial vein.

Then this happens:
King Tuff - "Headbanger"

Where did that come from?

It may be my favorite song from 2014. Great guitar tones and a tremendous riff, combined with a killer rhythm section performance. And a fun story to boot. My love for this album just went to 11. It's just a phenomenal rock song that by itself makes the album great.

And from there, the rest of the album calms back down, but the whole thing is excellent. Even potential silly songs like "I Love You Ugly" are just funny and enjoyable, and NOT stupid (like they easily could be). "Demon from Hell" and "Eddie's Song" are no slouches either.

There isn't a misstep here. It's heavy, smart, well produced and engineered, and fun. And it's pretty clear that this easy-going, tuneful, hooky ride is exactly where King Tuff wanted to take us on this journey. What more could you ask for?

CD Placement: This is the real deal, yo. Car iPod. I picked up the vinyl for this one as well.

- Snilch

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Afghan Whigs - Do the Beast (2014)

After seeing their performance on Later... With Jules Holland, I was totally stoked to hear this album. I've always liked some of their stuff, but never enough to keep a whole album.

It turns out the studio versions just don't do justice to that live performance. The slowed-down, sandpaper-clean production smooths out all of the interesting rough edges, leaving me wanting to go back to that live performance and junk the CD.

The Afghan Whigs - "Matamoros" (Live - Later... With Jules Holland)

I'll keep "Matamoros," "Royal Cream," "These Sticks," and "The Lottery," at least initially. So there's that.

CD Placement Rating: Sell-back Pile 1.

- Snilch

Monday, June 29, 2015

10 Songs I'm Constantly Listening to These Days

In alphabetical order:

1. Able Baker Fox - "Stuttering" (2008)

2. Alvvays - "Adult Diversion" (2014)

3. bis - "Cubis (I Love You)" (2014)

4. Cloud Nothings - "Cut You" (2012)

5. Dum Dum Girls - "Cult of Love" (2014)

6. Future Islands - "Seasons (Waiting on You)" (2014)

7. King Tuff - "Headbanger" (2014) (there's a cameo from Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols)

8. Tralala - "No Pain No Pain" (2005 - great for the harmonies alone)

9. TV on the Radio - "Happy Idiot" (2014)

10. The War on Drugs - "Under the Pressure"

- Snilch

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (2014)

There's no doubt Sharon Van Etten has a great voice, and this comes through in songs like "Your Love Is Killing Me."

But ultimately... that's it. I don't find the music that interesting. If I were to use a word to describe this album, it would be "boring." As I listened to it, I really was just waiting for it to end. Waiting, hoping, and praying. I did listen to the whole thing, but it took me two days. (Although I have to admit, the last song ("Every Time the Sun Comes Up," is very good. And saves this album from a worse fate.)

In conclusion: this may be your cup of tea, but it ain't mine. I'd prefer Cat Power, Shelby Lynne, or even Teddy Thompson to this.

CD Placement Rating: Sell-back Pile 1.

- Snilch

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Black Watch - Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy (2014)

If you don't know The Black Watch by now, I'm either not doing my job or you're not paying attention. Therefore, I'm blaming you.

I've approached this review with some trepidation because, as I told John Andrew Frederick himself, I found it confusing. My first impression: it's an album that was half finished. The back half of the album seemed more and more like demos as it progressed, as opposed to the lush and layered production I'm used to from The Black Watch.

On second, third, and fourth glance, this album is still a bit confusing and complicated, but gradually begins to open up. It may have been my huge expectations or experience with the band, but finally songs like "There You Were" or "Scream" (which did not sparkle on first impression) began to come in better focus as standouts with more listens. And the solid nature of the album began to come through.

The Black Watch - "There You Were." You might as well listen, there's a lot more to read.

Compared to my 2013 album of the year (The Black Watch's previous album, The End of When -- album review here, 2013 Best of list here), the album still feels a little more stripped down and low-key, in terms of both intensity and mood, although you wouldn't know that if you had never heard the band before. It's unfair, objectively -- I am comparing this release directly with last year's best album, which I'm not doing with any other albums. So the issues I have with this album are probably more directly related to the artist's 25+ years of standout music, rather than to the album itself. It took me a while to realize I was not separating the two.

The other issue (and yes, this review is much more "stream of consciousness" than I typically write) is the grouping of four acoustic/non-drum songs to finish the album. After a number of listens, I realize THIS is where I am getting the demo idea from; they feel a bit same-y and incomplete as they are so stripped down and back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Once again, to my ears; for unknown reasons I'm having an oddly strong reaction. Would it be different if the song order were mixed up? Possibly. Or maybe the album is as stream of consciousness as this review is. Who the hell knows?

So: let's take those songs out. Let's pretend for the moment that this is a seven song album (or eight with just one of those acoustic songs). In that context, this is an excellent album, and one that I'm much more accepting of. Thus, I'm going to pretend this is an eight song album with three "bonus tracks." Now we're getting somewhere.

Which brings me to how to rate the album, which for me personally turns out to be a matter of curved grading. This is an excellent album when compared with all of the 2014 albums; but what I keep doing is comparing TBW to their extraordinary catalog. So while The End of When is overall better than this one, it's not fair to knock Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy down completely, as it's still better than 95-99% of what I'll hear this year. Thus it gets two ratings: an objective listener rating, and a rating as compared to the rest of the catalog.

CD Placement Rating:  Objectively, this is another great Black Watch album, so it gets a Car iPod Rating. On The Black Watch scale, it's more a CD Rack/Portable CD Case rating, which speaks to the outstanding output of this band.


- Snilch

Monday, June 22, 2015

Doug Gillard - Parade On (2014)

The first shock when listening to this album is how laid back the musical approach is by the former Guided By Voice's lead guitarist. Starting with a primarily acoustic opening track, "Ready for Death," Doug Gillard proves more than capable with pop melody and composition in a non-electric setting. 

And to me what holds it all together is the magnificent "Your Eyes," which strikes the delicate balance between sweet serene and sickly sweet. It's a song that needs to be handled deftly, and it is. I love it, and am not even embarrassed to admit it.

Doug Gillard - "Ready for Death"

He does go to some more standard rock fare as the album reaches its end, but it's still a bit more laid back than you'd anticipate. In a good way, though.

It's definitely not what I expected. But that's definitely not a bad thing.

CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Friday, June 19, 2015

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream (2014)

Think Paul Simon went alt rock. (Maybe a little Drivin' 'N Cryin' as well.)

It's simply a great album, right from the get go. Relaxed yet insistent, it's seriously casual and meticulously free-form. A classic summer or winter album, actually, capable of sparking unexpected reactions and emotions, and multiple feelings depending on your mood.

"Under the Pressure" is such a tremendous opener, it's tough to imagine they can reach such heights on the rest of the album. But "Red Eyes" is a strong offering, as is "An Ocean in Between the Waves."

The War on Drugs - "Red Eyes"

It's simply an outstanding album and a great listen. Highly recommended.

CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.  And I'm definitely buying it on vinyl.

- Snilch

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Real Estate - Atlas (2014)

Real Estate is reminiscent of a million different bands and a million different nostalgic places in time.

It's chill, guitar driven, 80s alternative inspired, "farmhouse" rock. (That's in quotes because I'm making up this genre. It's a wonder that my egomaniacally-enlarged head can make it through the doorframe to allow me to leave the house every day.)

The album is very well and precisely finished. It lacks a little oomph that makes it more than just pleasant, in my book. When I started looking at how much time was left to listen to the album, I knew there was trouble.

Real Estate - "Had to Hear"

If this hits your emotional register or is a bulls-eye for your musical sensibilities, you're going to love this. For me, it just doesn't.

CD Placement Rating: CD Rack.

- Snilch

Monday, June 15, 2015

Future Islands - Singles (2014)

Oddly enough, the first track ("Seasons (Waiting on You)") is oddly reminiscent of... TV on the Radio. This happened randomly, so it's a bit odd.

So for better or worse, this is a rare stylistic compare or contrast scenario between two albums. And Future Islands is in the ring with an album I really like.

Singles goes more hooky synth than Seeds more lush and layered expressions, but this does not really provide separation: each actually has their own merits. Future Islands does sound more '80s-ish thanks to this, which is a good and/or a bad thing (depending on your point of view).

Future Islands - "Seasons (Waiting on You)"

It's a different take and approach that TVOTR, but just as good in a different way. Ultimately their vocals win me over. It's really a nice listen.

CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch 

Friday, June 12, 2015

TV on the Radio - Seeds (2014)

There's never been any doubt about TV on the Radio's brilliance, in my book. The issue has been consistency and repeated listenability.

This is, finally, the great TVOTR album I have been waiting for.

The leadoff, "Quartz," sets the tone. It's more ethereal than I'd expect, almost whimsical musically. Expertly produced and written.

It's both less heavy and more dense as an album than previous offerings. The guitar sludge has been replaced by a backbone of keyboard sludge, which really works for their style. The first four tracks ("Quartz," "Careful You," "Could You," and the star of the album, "Happy Idiot") are as strong a quartet as you'd ever hope for. Sure, the rest of the album is not quite that strong, but even the slightest of those songs are still good.

TV on the Radio - "Could You"

I am unbelievably pleased I somehow stumbled on to this. Hopefully you will follow my advice and do the same.

CD Placement Rating: Car iPod.

- Snilch

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nothing - Guilty of Everything (2014)

With the opening notes of this album ("Hymn to the Pillory"), I thought I had picked up the wrong album. About 90 seconds later... the pounding begins. Order has been restored.

"Hymn" is an interesting cross of ethereal dream pop one moment, thundering guitar rawk the next. It's a delicate balance, which they pull off deftly.

And the rest of the album has that My Bloody Valentine feel, although this is not shoegaze (in my book at least). It's more like really heavy emo, or really atmospheric metal. But however my limited vocabulary fails in describing this, the fact remains that this is just a great, plugging along album. It is not dissimilar from Bob Mould's Black Sheets of Rain -- an album-long dirge with moments of pop sunshine. (Anyone who know me knows this comparison alone is high praise.)

Nothing - "Bent Nail"

I actually think this is going to have a strong cross-sectional appeal -- I think Jesu fans like Martin, MBV fans like Scott B., Mould BSOR fans like Denis, Goes Cube fans like Matz, and general metal fans like Bubba will get into this one. It's got a lot of things going right for it.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch