Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Black Watch - The End of When (2013)

We've finally reached the end of the 2013 reviews, and we've saved one of the best for last.

I'm not sure how this happened, but this release was not on my radar in 2013 at all.  My everlasting love of The Black Watch is best articulated here, here, or, most descriptively, here.  (The latter post can give you the band's entire sordid history.)

Before we get started, there are two things you need to do when you listen to this album:  1) listen to it with good headphones, and 2) (since you're likely a bit dim like myself) LISTEN TO IT WITH GOOD HEADPHONES.  Case in point:  I initially tried this album in the car and it didn't work.  (Please note:  when you convert this album to crappy, lowest common denominator mp3s, then listen to it with your iPod earbuds and complain "it doesn't sound great," I'm going to hit you over the head with a tire iron, as that is not even close to following instructions.  You've been warned.)

The album opens with "I Don't Feel the Same," a fuzz rock anthem that's worth the price of admission alone.  The guitar tone alone makes me feel happy to be alive to appreciate it.  From the get-go, the band sounds super tight -- it's a lush, rich, fully cohesive sound.

Then they go straight into "Meg" -- a dreampop contrast, a classic Black Watch offering with a freshness I can't quite define but definitely appreciate.  It's relaxed, confident, and unhurried; a conspicuously languid counterbalance undercuts the song's unrest, and the "Hey!" background vocal punctuation somehow propels the song to the next level.  By "Hardly Nothing Never Ending," it's clear that this album is a precisely produced, expertly arranged masterpiece.  And by "Oh Oh" I was texting and emailing music pals to pick up this album.  So damn good.

The Black Watch - "Meg"

It's dreamy rock that's smooth and smart, emotional and poppy.  It's a rare "album," complete from front to back.  It's a must pickup:  my immediate thought (based on pure speculation, not on any sort of a factual basis) is that this is the culmination of the long road back from the sudden departure of J'Anna Jacoby a decade ago.  It's not as if John Andrew Fredrick has failed to produce great albums in the intervening years; this is just the best, most fully realized expression of the group since that time.  Simply great.

As a bonus for fans who don't know the band, there's a bonus disc that gives some highlights from their previous albums (although I do have an issue with some of the songs that were left off).  So quit procrastinating and go get the CD.

CD Placement rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Curt Smith - Deceptively Heavy (2013)

Following Curt Smith's excellent 2008 album Halfway Pleased, I anxiously awaited a next album... but given Tears for Fears recent uptick in activity, it looked like the band would release something first.

To my surprise, I discovered last week that Curt had actually released an album... in 2013.  Always on top of it, clearly.

In any case, it's new to me and likely to you.

From the opening notes of "Beautiful Failure," this sounds like Halfway Pleased 2.0 -- the same beautiful and dreamy music, shimmering vocals, and twisted dark lyrics.  I settled in for more of the same of what the first album gave us.

Then "Suffer the Silence" happens.  Then "Hold It Together" happens.  It's enough of a change in terms of musical texture that the charge here is clear:  capture the brilliance of the last album, but expand on it without losing the plot.

The result?  I love it.  I love it, I love it, I love it.  Smith plays to his strengths without being held captive by them.  There still is plenty of mellow here, but there's also experimentation.  

In the end what comes through is the combination of confident experience with the restless energy of an artist.  It's just another amazing offering from a great musician.

CD Placement Rating: You want to guess? Car iPod.

- Snilch