Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2014 Notable Downloads

Just like I did for 2013, I'll be reviewing albums that were sent to me by various music folks (primarily Terrorbird, to be fair).  

My process:  at some point, I listen to all of it.  There is a first cut and a second cut; the Pile of Death ratio here is rather large, but I have no need to slam small, struggling bands if they are not my cup of tea.

So... from decent to great:

CD Rack
  • Future Punx - I'm So Inspired EP.  To miss the obvious Devo comparison with these guys would be nuts.  But songs like "Forgive the Doubt" prove they can paint outside those numbers into a tribute to VHS or Beta as well.  If you have Devo withdrawals, or just like that style crossed with The Futureheads, check this out.
  • Mr. Gnome - Heart of a Dark Star. Their last release had more highs and lows -- this is more consistent but lacks that really high-end epic song(s).  They are on the cusp once again; this band has supernova potential and hints at absolute greatness.  This album shows a Cage the Elephant-like sophistication.  Once they cross this album's consistency with their crazy imaginations, you'll see what this band really can do.
Portable CD Case
  • Dinowalrus - Complexion.  This is a mixed bag, but only in that it varies between the sublime and the very good/decent.  On songs like "Tropical Depression," "The Ancient Stereo," or "Mispronounce," they are simply fantastic -- some kind of shoegaze meets shimmery guitars meets electronica meets Drivin' 'N Cryin.  This is definitely an album worth checking out.
Dinowalrus - "Wake Up in the Void"

  • Katie Kate - Nations.  Finally, some damn hip hop I can get behind:  strong confident rhymes with great atmosphere oozing underneath.  It's not classic hip hop, but a fuse with pop that's pleasing, smart, and aggressive.  It's an extremely impressive performance that hits is at once both delicate and harsh.  In the end, this is a very strong combination.  

Katie Kate - "Canyon"

  • Michna - Thousand Thursday.  It's electronica with a strong melody and continued variance throughout.  (That seems to be formula for my appreciation of music in this genre.)  It's very pleasing but fairly straightforward.  Sure, it lags in spots, but it's a fine listen, and nice background music for your somewhat-happening party.
Michna - "Solid Gold"

  • New Myths - Give Me Noise.  The first impression I get vocally is Paula Cole. (Somewhere, Scott B. just shuddered.)  But imagine she had some type of hybrid rock/electronica band that occasionally throws in a saxophone.  Sound interesting?  It is.  It needs a slightly more live feel -- my only knock on this is that it's a little too polished -- but in general this is a very interesting listen.  A little less slick = Car CD Changer.  "Howl," "Out of Control," "Playing with Fire," and "False Gold" are highlights.
New Myths - "False Gold"

  • Pompeii - Loom.  This is very "wave"-y -- it sounds like 2/3 Rogue Wave and 1/3 Longwave.  (See what I did there?)  Unlike Rogue Wave, which has moments of sublime brilliance but long stretches of tepid warmth, Pompeii is consistently good to very good but never great. My favorite is probably "Blueprint."  This band has the makings of something special -- and this is a solid, workmanlike start.
Pompeii - "Blueprint"

Car iPod

It's a short list.
  • Kestrels - The Moon is Shining Our Way.  Sure, the opening riff sounds very, very reminiscent of Swervedriver, but... well, actually, that's a pretty good thing.  What hooked me, though, was the great juxtaposition of vocal tonality with the soaring sound of the guitars.  Sure, they sound very, very reminiscent of 90s grunge, but... well, actually, that's a pretty good thing too.  The title track is powerhouse guitar.  I'm not sure exactly what "powerhouse guitar" IS exactly, but when I listen to this track, that is the term that pops into my head:  it's heavy and yet accessible, full of fury and fuzz.  (Or fury and furry, if you will.)  Sonically, it's just awesome rock 'n roll.

  • Kestrels - "The Moon is Shining Our Way"

- Snilch

Monday, April 27, 2015

The 1980s... take 2. Or 3.

For some reason, 2014 was a year that a number of my old favorites (or at least names I was interested in) came back to the fore with albums.  This is their third, fourth, fifth comeback... you lose track when you realize you thought some these groups were old in 1993.  As you'd imagine, several of these groups have aged better than others.
  • Billy Idol - Kings and Queens of the Underground.  I saw a Guitar Centers Session with Billy, who is still going strong after reuniting with guitarist Steve Stevens in 2005 (after essentially a 20 year split). Perhaps being in a audience-less studio threw him for a loop, as aside from "Rebel Yell," the performance for the first 45 minutes felt a bit old and tired (even on "Dancing with Myself").  Then came one of his new songs, "Postcards from the Past" -- he attacked it.  I got chills.  He was back in the moment:  you saw that glimpse of Billy Idol from 1983.  Based on that alone, I had to get the album.  Trevor Horn's production is great, and the album plays like a confessional.  Yes, his higher vocal range is pretty much shot, but it's fun listen.  I'll take off my snob blinders, sit back and enjoy.  Stevens is still a great player.  Verdict:  he's not reinventing the genre, but it's fun.  "Postcards" is clearly the highlight here.  Portable CD Case.
Billy Idol - "Postcards from the Past"
  • Enuff Z'Nuff - Covered in Gold.  TC once called these guys the "Bon Jovi of the 90s"... which obviously did not come to pass.  But they should not be discounted:  they have created some great albums over the years and recorded some phenomenal music in relative obscurity.  This is a covers album, and some are quite good.  Covering a combination of "She Sells Sanctuary," "When Doves Cry," and "Tears of a Clown" is just the level of insanity that (based on principle alone) I must endorse.  Oh and did I mention the cover of "Believe It or Not" (the theme from The Greatest American Hero)?  Unreal.  Verdict:  Portable CD Case.
Enuff Z'Nuff - "When Doves Cry"

  • Roddy Frame - Seven Dials.  Imagine you are Roddy Frame:  at 18, you write High Land, Hard Rain (under the band name Aztec Camera), only to spend the next 12 years failing to live up to that debut, then dropping that band name to do albums under your own name, then spending another 20 years still chasing that original brilliance as a solo artist.  And, unfortunately, failing.  I really feel bad for the guy, but Roddy's fourth solo album, while sunny in disposition, just makes me want to pick up and listen to the remastered, 30th anniversary version of High Land, Hard Rain.  Verdict:  "Postcard," "Into the Sun," and "On the Waves" save this from the Pile of Death.  Sorry, Roddy.
Roddy Frame - "Postcard"

  • Night Ranger - High Road.  When I start a review with a comparison to "Winger" or "Great White," that's not a good sign.  They sound a little raw vocally.  "High Road" and particularly "Don't Live Here Anymore" (except for the drawn out finish) are great, and "I'm Coming Home" is good; but other than that, my guess is I will have to go back to the second of their three comeback albums (2011's Somewhere in California) to really get the true 80s throwback experience from this band.  One positive:  lyrically, they do seem stuck in adolescence. So there's that.  Verdict:  Sell-back 1.
Night Ranger - "Don't Live Here Anymore"

  • Tesla - Simplicity.  Since their 2004 return, Tesla has released two albums of covers, and now two additional albums of original music.  To be blunt, they sound great.  It's pretty amazing that they have retained their blues/rock edge, but it's still there.  This one is a great driving album, which starts introverted, but picks up objectivity and steam with "Rise and Fall" and "So Divine."  Sure, there are some lulls, but overall this is a fun throwback listen.  Verdict:  Portable CD Case.
Tesla - "So Divine..."

- Snilch

Friday, April 24, 2015

Rise Against - The Black Market (2014)

The latest offering from the most intelligent thrash-like music you'll ever hear is very similar to their previous albums - uptempo, high energy, full of sound and fury, signifying something.  I don't know whether this is classified as "post-hardcore" or not; on the other hand, I don't really particularly care.  What separates Rise Against from their contemporaries is 1) the expert use of melody against sheer walls of sound and screams, and 2) the lyrics, which are those of a poet.  It's a pretty intoxicating combination.

Highlights include "I Don't Want to Be Here Anymore," and "Tragedy + Time." 

Rise Against - "I Don't Want to Be Here Anymore"

This is tremendous to listen to while driving.  If I'm going to nitpick, this album runs a bit long and gets same-y after a while -- some listening fatigue does set in.

Verdict:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Black Keys - Turn Blue (2014)

Akron natives The Black Keys broke through in a big way with 2011's El Camino, featuring the huge hit "Lonely Boy."  Turn Blue, their follow-up, is a crucial moment for the band:  should they try and move their sound forward in a new direction, or go to a formula approach and try and re-create their biggest success?

On the one hand, I commend them for not creating El Camino 2.0.  On the other hand, it's just not as inspired as El Camino was.

I really don't have much else to say.  Quite simply, I did not enjoy this album.

The Black Keys - Fever

Verdict:  I'll keep "Fever," at least provisionally.  Sell-back 1.

- Snilch

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Antlers - Familiars (2014)

I couldn't tell you a thing about this band, other than that this album was recommended by unknown people (i.e., I can't remember who).

The first sounds are sorrowful, almost mournful, with a plaintive horn accentuating the mood.  They build up, while still holding that same ambiance and tone -- emotionally, it feels like a yearning, a wistfulness, a melancholy.

As for the album as a whole, it's strongly measured, thoughtful, provocative, and purposeful.  While being low-tempo, the album is nonetheless a force that creates an emotional resonance.

The Antlers - "Palace"

Familiars sounds meandering; it's not.  It is meticulously spaced and the sounds are all well-placed throughout.  This is not the album that's going to keep you awake on a cross-country drive, but it IS the album that you'll play when you want to space out, chill out, or pass out, all while listening to something beautiful.

CD Placement Rating:  Car CD Changer.

Merch Rating (yes, I still do this occasionally):  borderline check out the back catalog.  I'll see what recommends and take a flier on at least one more album.  Money talks, people.

- Snilch

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Haden Triplets - The Haden Triplets (2014)

The Haden Triplets are the very talented daughters of jazz bassist Charlie Haden.  I first heard Petra and Rachel with that dog.; Petra later played with The Rentals and Rachel with The Decemberists.  I was least familiar with the third triplet Tanya; she was part of early Silversun Pickups, but is probably best known for being married to Jack Black. 

This album is a throwback to old-time radio gospel hour, basically; these are old school standards sung with great harmonies.  It's a quiet, nuanced reflection of a different time.

The Haden Triplets - "Voice from on High"

If you yearn for bluegrass, or laid back folk music that focuses on great harmonizing, this is your cup of tea.  I like it, but just wonder how often I'll personally go back to it.

CD Placement Rating:  CD Rack.

- Snilch

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Vaselines - V for Vaselines (2014)

I first got into The Vaselines (thanks to Carlos at The Whiskey Dregs) with their 2010 charge back onto the music scene, Sex With an Ex.  That was an excellent album (Portable CD Case), but it opened the door for me to their back catalog, which was revered by none other than Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Their old material has proved awesome, as Mrs. Snilch Report will attest to.  Really worth exploring.  And Sex with an X was an excellent comeback.

This album, though... it sounds tired.  It's not terrible, except in context.  It's the curse of being so inventive and wildly all over the place as a youngster:  your later output needs to be on that same level.  And this just isn't.

There are great moments:  "The Lonely LP" and "One Lost Year."  But these are just moments, unfortunately.

The Vaselines - "The Lonely LP"

You certainly could do worse than listening to this album.  But you could also do better, in listening to their back catalog.  

CD Placement Rating:  in terms of objective quality, I'd call this a CD Rack worthy album.  In reality, I won't listen to it again, so for me personally it becomes Sell-back Pile 1.

- Snilch

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams (2014)

We start our review of 2014 with one of the 12 albums Ryan Adams releases every year.

Clearly that's an exaggeration, but not really by much; he's steadily released 2-4 albums a year this century... and even going back into last.  I do like his stuff, but really tend to pay more attention to his larger commercial releases in general.  He's known as alt-country; my favorite album of his remains 2003's Rock N Roll, which is less country and more, well, rock n roll.  (As you might have surmised from the title).

His self-titled release has got elements of both country and rock, including an old-school keyboard organ that serves "Gimme Something Good" well indeed.

Ryan Adams - "Gimme Something Good" (borderline NSFW)

The album is very competent musically, but lacks a little energy; there's more pulse in these songs in live sessions -- "Am I Safe" comes to mind in particular.  It's still a very (very) good album, but there's a slight emotional disconnect that I can't quite get around on this one.

CD Placement Rating:  Portable CD Case.

- Snilch