So, while listening to 2013, 2014, and 2015 music (for these end of year reviews), I still managed to find time to sneak in these albums (as well as the reviews that will be appearing in the coming days).
In alphabetical order:
- Abraham, Inc. - Tweet Tweet (2009). As mentioned here, I had a bunch of reviews lost in one terrible blogging accident. This was one of the casualties -- I think this is the third time I've tried to review the album (sorry for the wait, Ryan). Despite the blog PTSD, I will bravely forge ahead. A "collective" album with eclectic mix of lead vocalists, this jazz-rock-electronic-hiphop amalgamation is (on paper) something that is destined for either absolute greatness or total failure. In this case, it's brilliant. They even throw in a little organ fill ala The Roots on "Trombonik." (As an aside, fans of The Roots will LOVE this.) As such a fusion would suggest, it's not just a single note: it's challenging yet still accessible, edgy while remaining poppy. They do not spare their uncompromising lyrical attitude, and yet they still seem mostly based in pop. CD Placement Rating: Car iPod.
- Aldo Nova - A Portrait of Aldo Nova (1991). It was so cheap, I had to give this a shot, even though my snarky first thought on seeing this greatest hits compilation was that it should be a one-song single. Sometimes I hate being right. CD Placement Rating: I already owned "Fantasy," so Pile of Death.
- Arcwelder - Entropy (1996). This Minneapolis grunge or post-grunge band is very decent but not spectacular. It may be more your cup of tea as opposed to mine. But the highlights ("Snake Oil," "I Promise Not to be an Asshole") are great, groove-filled jams. CD Placement Rating: CD Rack.
- The Automatic - This is a Fix (2008). This took me years to track down as an import. It's more solid overall that their debut, but lacks the top-end punch (and the over-the top voice of Alex Pennie) from that album. Nice across the board without any real standout songs. CD Placement Rating: CD Rack.
- Bad Religion - Stranger than Fiction (1994). Bubba convinced me to give this album a shot after previous failed attempts to get into this band. Initially, I thought this album fell into the usual complaint I have with Bad Religion albums: a few great song, but an uneven album. A listen in the headphones revealed something different; this is finally a BR album I can get behind. Very solid from front to back, with many individual song highlights to boot. CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.
- Golden Earring - Bloody Buccaneers (1994). Long-time readers will recall my fondness for this band, and for some odd reason I decided to take one more bite of the apple. Bottom line, like all the other Golden Earring offerings, it's just not as good as The Hole. I'm beginning to think that The Hole was a brilliant one-off, and while the other albums have bits and pieces of greatness, none are whole-cloth strong offerings. This one is okay. It's my last foray into this band, unless I find Cut (the one with "Twilight Zone"), which has remained surprisingly elusive. CD Placement Rating: I'll keep "Temporary Madness," "Planet Blue," "Pourin' My Heart Out Again," and "In a Bad Mood." Sell-back Pile 1.
- The Delusions - I Hope It Dies on a Sunny Day (1998). My obsessive interest in this band remains a mystery even to me. They were a solid opener for Built to Spill over a few years of live shows, with occasional moments of perfection; they were always on the verge of something sublime, but eventually fell just slightly short. This is very decent, but has a low ceiling, which probably is "Disabled at the Beach." Like, not love. I think we can only be friends, but I think you'll make someone very happy. Someone else, that is. CD Placement Rating: CD Rack.
- Failure - Tree of Stars EP (2014). While not the biggest or the most influential release of the year, this was (for me at least) the most important release of 2014. Why? Because after the four live tracks, one of my all-time favorite bands created its first new song together in 15+ years... which also means they will be recording a new album! The live tracks are decent, the new song is okay, but that doesn't matter: I'll always associate this EP with that joy of Failure's return, so it will always put me back to that moment of happiness. I'll keep it forever. CD Placement Rating: CD Rack.
- Ladyfinger (ne) - Dusk (2009). This is actually one of the toughest albums I've ever had to review. I've picked it up and put it down a number of times over the last six years. I've found that when I listen to this album for the first time in a while, I really like it. But after a second or third listen I get "listening fatigue" -- it's like the music wears off. Very odd. The elements were all there, but something was killing long-term enjoyment here for me. A final review (loud, with some really good headphones) revealed the very good, possibly great album I'd heard hints of before. No fatigue this time; they even remind me of a heavier Les Savy Fav (particularly vocally and lyrically) at points. So I'll move it back up from Sell-back 1. CD Placement Rating: I guess it has to be Portable CD Case. No matter what, "A.D.D." and "Little Things" hold up over time.
- Social Distortion - Live at the Roxy (1998). Captured in 1996 from the White Light, White Heat, White Trash tour, this is a great snapshot of a live band on top of their game. Oddly, it holds together better as an album: it's a total blur in its entirety, but the individual tracks don't really stand out on their own. It's punk rockabilly at its best, an onslaught that just keeps coming. Best listened to prior to fighting local toughs, or when caffeine is needed but not readily available. The only downsides are the odd beginning and end, and the occasional misogynistic comments from frontman Mike Ness. The liner notes are fantastic. CD Placement Rating: Car iPod.
- Tears for Fears - Shout: The Very Best of Tears for Fears (2001). Reputed to be the "best" of the TFF compilations, Moira got this one for me and it has not let me down. Even better in the headphones; all the hits are here. Getting the US Remix of "Mother's Talk" is the key, although any excuse I have to listen to "Shout" is worth the time. They were/are soooo good! Only complaint with this is there is too much non-Curt Smith TFF, but even those songs are decent at worst. CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.
- Tesla - Into the Now (2003). That Metal Show strikes again. TC got me into these guys back in the day (I still can't listen to Mechanical Resonance and not think of Die Hard, the No-girlfriendo, and Walpole, MA) and I've always found them to be a cut above most of the hair bands of the era. I saw Frank Hannon on TMS -- and he gave an amazing performance. They mentioned a comeback album, and I was suckered in. From the first track ("Into the Now"), it's classic Tesla; if you told me "What a Shame" or "Recognize" was a b-side from 1988, I'd buy it. It's bluesy classic rock meets indie garage rock. (With some record scratching thrown in, which is odd but somehow not out of place.) Sure, it tails off a bit after the first four songs, but, In general, this album is simply ridiculously infectious. CD Placement Rating: Car iPod.
- Van Halen - The Best of Both Worlds (2004). If you're going to own a Best of Van Halen album, I'd recommend this with one caveat to the producers of this album: you cannot include "(Oh) Pretty Woman" without "Intruder." No exceptions. (Having a Sammy Hagar-fronted live versions of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Panama," and "Jump" are lesser offenses, but mistakes nonetheless.) Otherwise, this is a fun 2-CD set, only needed for those who own Van Halen I and nothing else. (Like yours truly. Okay, maybe I own Diver Down as well.) CD Placement Rating: CD Rack. But a great, entertaining couple of discs for a drive.