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

Monday, June 08, 2015

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 (2014)

Thanks to Gavin for this one. Let's start here: even by hip-hop standards, this is not for the feint of heart. There are some five second intervals where they don't swear vociferously, but they are tough to find. They also don't use the word "ladies" much either, if you catch my drift.

Musically, it's pretty insanely good. Smart and fully formed, the music flows seamlessly with the vocals sonically. It's totally catchy and musically sound.  The samples are inserted expertly.  It's a whole cloth experience for sure.

Run the Jewels - "Lie, Cheat, Steal" (NSFW, but more safe than other songs)

So as long as you don't get offended easily by just about anything you can think of (and that is not totally an exaggeration), you're really going to enjoy this. If you draw a line at how you'll go with lyrics from your musicians, you're likely to be tested on this one.

CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch

Friday, June 05, 2015

Alvvays - Alvvays (2014)

Alvvays may look like "Always," but it's a visual pun -- two v's (not a "w") in the band name.

Immediately, vocally this sounds like a dead ringer for the singer from Best Coast. But the lyrics are much more intricate, and lead singer Molly Rankin is an extremely clever and inventive vocalist. The first track, "Adult Diversion," is blisteringly infectious. And that sets the stage for the rest of the album: it's indie rock pop, and it's great.

Then there's "Archie, Marry Me," which has a timeless pop quality about it in a different, subtler, but just as memorable way. 

Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me"

The rest of the album may not reach the heights of those two songs (although "Party Police" comes close), but it's still very very good overall. Very highly recommended for pop music fans.

CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod.

- Snilch

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Reigning Sound - Shattered (2014)

Not sure how I stumbled on to this one, but it's pretty damn sweet. Definite cool '60s rock vibe from the start with a country twang. I've seen this described as "garage punk," which to me means that I guess I don't know what the hell garage punk is. (Or it's a stupid label.)

I may lack the musical vocabulary to fully articulate what makes this album good, other than I like listening to it. That's pretty much where it begins and ends with me on this one... but the fact that I continue to listen to it should be endorsement enough, right? (Editor's response: probably not. Quit being lazy and figure it out.)

Reigning Sound - "Never Coming Home"

I can already see Andrew bee-bopping away to this album while blasting it on his stereo -- it's definitely his kind of jam. 

Final conclusion is that I like it! (Editor's response: final conclusion is that you're really, really lazy.)

CD Placement Rating: Portable CD Case.

- Snilch

Monday, June 01, 2015

Wild Moccasins - Eighty-Eight Ninety-Two (2014)

While the title of this album suggests a four year timeframe (which I'd normally associate with a set of high school or college years), it's not. It's now a very unsecure password (real or fictional) for a floor at some unnamed psychiatric institution. At least that's what the lyric sheet indicates.

This was awful in the car, but in the headphones made much more sense. By the time you hit "Emergency Broadcast," it's pretty clear that the band is after a lush, harmonized pop sound that is tightly produced with plenty of improvisational elements to keep things interesting. Ultimately I'd call it "smart pop rock," which is fine by me. (And if any of those three words scare you, you're reading the wrong blog.)

Wild Moccasins - "Gag Reflections"

This is a perfect example of an excellent album that doesn't work in all listening settings. So listen to it and, if first it doesn't make sense, try it somewhere else.

CD Placement Rating:  Car iPod. (Although clearly I won't play it in the car.)

- Snilch