Archive for August, 2006

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Stanley Clarke – School Days

August 31, 2006


I have decided that I will no longer rate albums. I find the process disrespectful and overly difficult for how little a number really means. I’m thinking I will probably just take down the ratings for all the other albums too. I could tell you that I want to give Joe Schmoe a 7.6/10 and that would be it. You’d skip the rest. If you really want to know what I think of an album, just read the damn review and be on with it. Besides, how respectful is it to give an artist a rating for something anyway? Yeah, you got a 7.6/10. Coulda done better. If I was Joe Schmo, I would give me a big beautiful FUCK YOU to keep in my pocket for a few days.

Anyway, Stanley Clarke is a very skilled jazz bassist from the ’70s who has apparently made a shitload of albums. The way I see it, the skill of a bassist is a little more apparent than that of a guitar player. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a ton more talent to play the guitar well than to play the bass well. But guitar players are out in front. Their job is to do wheelies and elaborate solos and other cool stuff. But then again, there are a lot of guitar riffs and licks that sound harder to do than they really are. With a bass player, when you hear something cool, that’s it. It IS cool. You can differentiate much better with bass players. So when I was listening to this thinking, “hmm, I wonder if this guy is actually very technically skilled with a bass…”, my question was answered pretty quickly.

Stanley Clarke achieves the goals that all bass players pursue. Technical skill and soloing ability are two of these such goals, and Mr. Clarke nails them very well. It should be noted that the man plays some mean slap all over the place. And he is very technically skilled in general, but really, what is amazing about this album is the mans all around proficiency in music theory and soloing. He mostly plays different kinds of bass guitars drifting into the piano and rhythm categories every once and a while, but his band is clearly also awesome. The Dancer is the track that really sticks out. The bass riff is constant and almost never changing. And yet a beautiful swirl of solos and rhythm is built flawlessly around it. To be honest, it reminds me of Santana in some ways, especially the solo bits that are on the very high octaves. But the wealth here is clearly spread out more. You will have solos on piccolo basses, guitars, synthesizers, and more.

What struck me first though, is Stanley Clarkes knack for expanding on simple tunes. The song School Days is a pretty specific riff that almost doesn’t seem to leave much room for expansion, but although it lasts through the entire song, it develops so much that you forget how simply the song started out. And it develops too, into a much more funky slap line with some crazy keyboards. And then he goes on with some pretty cool but admirably controlled soloing. The mood of all this music, by the way, is very laid back. You can tell it was written in the seventies. It has an immediate seventies groove to it, but a lot of that is actually due to the bass itself, which is very inately slappy and funky.
The album, even though it really only has six songs, still has some more moody pieces. Quiet Afternoon is exactly what the name implies, a mellow tune with a great hook that fits the environment for a lazy Saturday morning (which for many people probably is in the afternoon), and the tempo is pretty reserved too. It’s just right for this type of song, which heavily relies on lots of soloing, once again. And I know I said it before, but I really think I have to emphasize this. Soloing isn’t all about doing crazy wheelies and shit. This is flat out amazing soloing, and while the sound is really great, it doesn’t have to be fast. The synthesizer and bass solos here work out great while keeping slower and lazier. Desert Song is also not to be forgotten either. It is a completely accoustic and relatively eastern sounding ballad. Here he uses an accoustic bass, which works much better with the eastern style. It’s the most relaxing song on the album, and an admirable soloing venture on it’s own. The mood is not only relaxed, but contemplative and satisfied.

The album ends with a few party tunes, the first of which is a three minute quick funky tune. But the albums nearly ten minute adventure is truly the highlight of the album. Truly pulling in some orchestral sounding keyboards and some other horns maybe, this song is really the most interesting, and the perfect conclusion to the typical day in the life of a youth who just wants to have fun. And the soloing, oh holy shit the soloing… If the other songs made a point to make a little go a long way, this makes a lot go ten times farther. The man really shows his skill here, and not just in making a great progressive jazz masterwork, but also in sheer bass playing ability.

If you ever wanted cool “groovy” music from the seventies, please to god go with this. And if you want to hear some truly impressive bass playing too, or just like jazz in general, you will really want to pick this up.

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Shuffle Time

August 28, 2006

I saw a guys site (that is now linked from here) where he shuffled his mp3 player and talked about each song. I guess I’ll do that every once and a while. If I’ve already covered the album that the song is on, I will most likely skip it. But I don’t like making rules, because I break them all the fricking time. Anyway, I almost never seem to keep on topic for too long on this thing anyway, so I guess when I’ll talk about a song, what I know behind it, if it’s good or not, whatever else is on my mind.

Pixies – Gouge Away

I’ve really started to like Pixies lately. It seems like I have the fortune of getting interested in bands right after I could have seen them live. Yes, Pixies reunited last year for a tour and it was supposed to be awesome. I feel bad that I couldn’t go. This one is off of Doolittle, a great album, and it is one of the stand out tracks. The band has an uncanny knack for writing great, catchy songs, this being one of their better works.

The debate always rages on; which is better, Doolittle or Surfer Rosa? If you want my say in it I’m going to have to go with Surfer Rosa. But Doolittle is a great album too. It just has a lot of clunkers, some stuff that just doesn’t fit in that well. I’d say Surfer Rosa stays consistant all the way through, but if they could have delivered with stuff like Gouge Away, Here Comes Your Man, and Monkey Gone To Heaven all the way through, it would easily be better.


The Beatles – Blackbird

By the time the white album came out, The Beatles were already one of the most influential bands ever. They could write whatever they wanted and it still would have been well recieved, and they still had money coming out of their noses, so they could do anything. For that reason, much of the white album was spent in a drunken stupor. An interesting drunken stupor yes, but be it through great singalong pop like Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and weird stuff like Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, the album is just really solid. This song is a break from all the weirdness and such for a few minutes of a tender melody. And that actually happens a lot in this album. The best songs are the ones that stray away from the strangeness and pop to say something straightforward and cool. It’s just a really good song with great words.

The Clash – The Guns of Brixton

When people think punk in the seventies, they almost always think of three bands. The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. The Ramones invented punk. The Sex Pistols refined it. And most people will tell you that The Clash perfected it. Whatever you say about that statement, The Clash were a great band with a lot of great songs, and they combined straight up angry punk with good hooks. The Guns of Brixton is one that leans a little more towards the anger and the thrashing, but it still has a bouncy thing going on. It’s like you are being told a story by an old crusty rock veteran sailor dude or something. I guess I’m more partial to The Sex Pistols as far as classic punk goes, but this is a great song.

Robert Plant & The Strange Sensation – Tin Pan Valley

Led Zeppelins main man had a solo career with it’s ups and downs, and say what you will about the quality of his music compared to Led Zeppelin stuff, he still sold a lot of records. He came out with Mighty Rearranger, what, was it last year or the year before? Whatever, I saw him and his band in the Auditorium Theater downtown last summer and it was a great show. Granted, he’s old and fat and he can’t hit the high notes very well, but his backup band kicks ass and he can still move around on stage. And he actually played a lot of Led Zeppelin. It’s weird because a lot of times artists that go solo after their initial fame refuse to play their older material from their last band, but I guess Robert Plant just isn’t going to pretend or anything. They played a really funky version of Whole Lotta Love that was very cool, during which he hit an extremely high note. There was some echo on it yes, but it was still an impressive feat for what condition his voice was in. The crowd was actually very cool for what kind of area we were in. It was mostly just cool older dudes, not too many rowdy people. This is the one that got the most radio play I think. It’s okay, it sort of has this mysterious creepy thing going on at first and then it sort of crescendos into this big burly tough rock thing. And he’s screaming his lungs out and his voice sounds shitty. Yeah, his voice is bad but what are you going to do. Cool song.


Santana – Samba Pa’ Ti

I’m a big Santana fan and this is one of my favorites. I actually saw him in concert too, but I was really little. You know, before he sucked. It was on the Supernatural tour, we were out in the grass where all these hippies were smoking weed and stuff, probably not a good show to bring your kid to but whatever, I thought it was great. I doubt he played this. Pretty much the entire song is him doing some great beautiful soloing on a cool relaxing backdrop of beat. That guy can really play guitar, this is one of the best and longest solos I’ve ever heard if I would in fact call it a solo, it’s more just him singing with his guitar.
Nirvana – Ain’t It A Shame

Get ready, because you are about to hear a Nirvana fan go on with a lengthy discussion.

I got the box set, what now… Over a year and a half ago? And out of the four disks that With The Lights Out contains (one of which is a DVD), the first is easily the most strong. What most casual fans or listeners have never heard is Nirvana in it’s earlier developmental stages, which is unfortunate, because I really believe that if you have never heard Bleach or maybe the material from this first disk, you really don’t quite understand Nirvana completely. Yes, Nirvanamania came around just when Nevermind was released and the band did the interview blitzes all over hell and gone and it left Bleach and a lot of the earlier demos and EPs in the dust. Yeah, it was with good reason because Nevermind was just flat out one hundred times better than Bleach, but it wasn’t really all that… Grungy, so much as great run of the mill alternative hard rock. Don’t quote me on that, because yes it was grungy, but theres two kinds of grunge. Earlier grunge and later grunge. Bleach is a classic album of early grunge. Nevermind is a classic of the latter period.

Whatever, anyway, try to acquire this first disk if you can. If you thought Ultramega OK or Facelift were heavy, well shit, this trumps those in the respects of heaviness that they attempt to achieve. Kurt had a thing for Leadbelly, and he did, I think a total of four Leadbelly covers that were recorded, unless I’m mistaken. There seems to be confusion as to whether one of them was actually Leadbelly… But as far as my knowledge takes me, the covers were Grey Goose, Where Did You Sleep Last Night (of course), They Hung Him On A Cross, and Ain’t It A Shame. Ain’t It A Shame was easily the best, it’s just flat out fast hard rock blues, and Kurts little sense of humor was probably satisfied when he got to sing “ain’t it a shame to beat your wife on a sunday/aint it a shame.” One of my favorite unreleased recordings from Nirvana, even if it was a cover.

Rage Against The Machine – Bullet In The Head

Good song with a kicking bassline. I take Orchestra during the school year and I remember my orchestra teacher talking about how people used to think that the fiddle was the devils instrument hundreds of years ago. And there was also some superstition about the devils increment or something, I don’t know, Christian people were weird back then. It’s two notes that have five half steps between them. In this song it just happens to be used. In the conext of the song it’s a straight groove, but play the two notes next to each other and it does sound kind of creepy, like something you would hear in a horror movie. G sharp D. That’s the pattern in this movie, but both notes are played at the same time and in conjunction with the two Es on different octaves it sounds cool for the main bass riff. Not very evil.

This song is just vintage Rage. It’s just good stuff. A lot of what was on s/t was more long and progressive type stuff, and then as their career went on the band started to drift more towards shorter more energetic music with The Battle of Los Angeles. Evil Empire was sort of the in between, it had some really short rockers and a few longer ones. The stuff on s/t just seemed like it meant more for some reason though, even if I like The Battle of LA a lot more. It seemed like each song was more of a thrash symphony for some reason.


Rammstein – Los

For an almost gothic heavy metal band, Rammstein is actually pretty consistant. Usually that genre is just crap, but it’s hard to get better than Rammstein in not just industrial rock but flat out raging metal too. But this one isn’t so angry. It’s off of Reise, Reise which I believe came out in 2004. It’s about the most nonthreatening thing the band has ever written. It’s just a nice little groove really. I mean, I’m sure even they grinned later on when the cool funky little guitar solo comes on. It wasn’t until one of my friends started getting into Rammstein that I actually started listening. Most Rammstein is good stuff to listen to when you are pissed off, but this is just a good tune to flip on when you want to chill, maybe it’s late at night or something. Really, it keeps the Rammstein vibe without really getting angry. Very few other Rammstein songs, if any, can do that.


Dada – Mary Sunshine Rain

It’s kind of hard to explain what kind of band Dada was. They weren’t quite a one hit wonder I don’t think, because they had maybe two or three. And they generally made really good music, if only for three albums. Everyone has heard their biggest hit. It’s the one where the guy goes “I’m going to Disneylaaaand.” It’s good pop, and this is one of the lesser known tracks off of that same album, but at the same time one of the better. I really like what they have going with the guitar here, it’s sort of a twangy subdivided thing. Very overlooked pop, but they weren’t a band that would have had a vastly successful career or anything. But it’s a good song.


Little Hat Jones/J. T. Smith – Bye Bye Baby Blues

There was a movie released in 2001 that was pretty low key. It featured Steve Buscemi among other people and was based on an obscure comic book about two girls who lived in a town full of really droll people living really droll lives and how they dealt with it. Well, this movie was based on that comic book, and while it was a great movie, it was a tad depressing. The soundtrack really struck me. While it also included the movies more comedic tracks too, nine tenths of it was really old blues and swing from the twenties. Steve Buscemi’s character collected old vinyl, so you heard a lot of really great old blues. Bye Bye Baby Blues is one of the more standout tracks, a mellow guitar blues number featuring only the guitar and the voice.

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Nirvana – Roma (2/27/94)

August 24, 2006

I just felt like I needed to do some Nirvana rambling and because my friends are probably sick of that by now, I guess I might as well do it here.

How much Nirvana was officially released? Well, not that much. Most of what material hardcore Nirvana fans will have is B-sides and live stuff. Of course the vital stuff is the official recordings, but it’s hard to be a fan of a band that had three studio albums, one b-sides album, and two live albums. You kind of have to branch a little, and box sets and bootlegs are probably the best way to do this. I have no doubt that more official recordings of Nirvana shows will be released in the future, but hardcore Nirvana fans make a point to look for live Nirvana, sometimes live Nirvana that is not easy to get. There is something to be said about the live albums that were released. From The Muddy Banks of The Wishkah is a pretty good collection of some of the bands better live stuff. But theres a few clunkers I suppose. The live Spank Thru makes it well worth it and theres some other fantastic performances on there too. Unplugged is easily my favorite album ever. It’s pretty much flawless, and every song is utterly fantastic. But beyond that, you have to start roaming in bootleg country for any live material, and it’s hard to know where to start when there are so many different choices to make.

All things considered, Roma is probably the best place to start just because it’s so popular. While Unplugged is the best Nirvana you can get, it’s not like what Nirvana normally did. What is really important to have is some hard hitting live stuff, and this is a winner in that respect. And about 75% of fans will tell you that this is the best bootleg there is anyway. The reason being it’s utterly fantastic sound quality. It really sounds like it was professionally recorded. It wouldn’t surprise me if this concert was ever officially released, because it’s just that good.

The only bootleg that you can find that will match this in quality is Out of the Blue, and that’s a piece that only really big fans will enjoy because it mostly only contains the older material that the band did. With that said, Roma is filled with a huge set containing all of Nirvana’s hits and more popular songs. The most treatment is obviously given to the In Utero material, because the album came out not too many months before this. So you get some beautiful renditions of Heart Shaped Box, Scentless Apprentice (possibly my favorite Nirvana song), Dumb, and Rape Me. And of course theres some of the Nevermind era material like Come As You Are, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Lithium, which while is not anything extremely exciting to hear live, is essential for the perfect Nirvana setlist. And of course there are a ton of great songs played here that weren’t singles and such, the rendition of Very Ape is admirable and a good job was done on Sliver.

I guess one of my few complaints about this disk is that not enough rarities were played. But then again, what is a rarity in the Nirvana respect? The only songs played here that I would really consider a rarity (and then again that’s still a stretch) are the fantastic opening Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, the monster of a live song School, and maybe Serve The Servants. Oh, and Lounge Act. But once again, I wouldn’t even really consider these songs rare for concerts but more uncommon than the others. All I’m saying is I would easily trade Drain You or Breed or Pennyroyal Tea for Paper Cuts, Aneurysm, or Aero Zeppelin. But beyond my nitpicking this is pretty much the quintissential Nirvana set list because it’s just so goddam huge, spanning twenty two songs.

Some tidbits include Krists various funny comments between songs. This is one of Nirvana’s last shows, and god knows Kurt was not in very good condition at this time. So he doesn’t do a lot of the talking. Krist enlightens the audience with words of wisdom. But with all this said, the band is in perfect condition. Very few, if any, mistakes are made at all. Dave is hitting away as hard as ever, and Kurt and Krist are in good playing condition too. Kurts voice is still great and he never misses a note. The only mildly complaint worth thing I could say is that Kurt didn’t talk to the audience enough, but he almost never did during shows. So who am I to complain? Pat Smear produces some good meat for the bands sound with his backup guitar. You can even see him on the cover between Krist and Dave. As far as previous members of Nirvana go, you will probably hear me give about as much respect to Pat Smear as Chad Channing. While Pat was a backup guitarist and we wasn’t as talented or vital as Kurt, Krist, or Dave, he was still a cool and reportedly very nice person who played some great guitar. As far as I’m concerned, they should have just included him as a full time member of the band. Now I know I’m getting extremely involved when I say this, but of all of the pictures I have seen of the band, the cover of Roma is one of my favorites. Not just because of how awesome the rest of the band looks, but because they actually look like a full fledged band with the four of them, a group of warriors now helped by numbers. Another little prize is the ending track, Demolition, which is essentially the band destroying their gear after the show. While it’s not that involving of a listen, really hardcore Nirvana fans will enjoy this track simply because of it’s capturing the moment.

So despite the fact that any fan could argue against the setlist as much as any other bootleg, this is the best you can get. It’s not quite as good as Unplugged or any other official albums, but it’s the essential piece on the opposite side of the spectrum of Unplugged. Considering Kurt Cobain would commit suicide around two months later, the enthusiasm in the playing and singing doesn’t let that uneasiness show. It’s an utterly fantastic live album and even casual Nirvana fans should pick it up somehow.

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Luna – Best Of

August 21, 2006


I originally heard of Luna from a message board user. Mostly because I am a tool. A few months ago I heard some shoegaze for the first time, so I asked for some reccomendations on what other shoegaze is good. Someone vaguely suggested Luna, and the name caught my eye. It’s a nice little word, and it represents what I would soon learn is a nice little band. It’s not shoegaze really, at least I’m pretty sure it’s not. It’s more dreampop, in the fairest deffinition of the word. I checked out Lunapark and Bewitched from the library and I was pleased by the cheery yet relaxing disposition of the songs. So I didn’t hesitate to buy this collection when given a chance, because I’ve been told it is a pretty good summation of the bands career. So I’m no huge fan of the band and whether or not this is the best collection the band could possibly make, I am very pleased with it, mostly because I wanted to own some of the bands work, and a Best Of type thing would be best. So if it truly succeeds in it’s goal of doing the band justice is really irrelevant, because every song is great anyway.

I truly believe that our moon is underrated. I know that sounds strange, but think about it for a minute. We take it for granted. Thinking of how rare it is to even have a solar system in this universe at all with more than one planet is mindboggling. We have nine, and with tons of moons. And the only green planet there is, as far as we know, has a moon, and we tend to forget it. It’s name is Luna too, and it is beautiful. It’s grey/blue hue lights up the night in such a beautiful way that we tend to not even think about it. It’s just so natural. I don’t mean to sound like some super environmentalist or something, or that I’m ever out on my front steps hitting a bong and staring at the moon. I mean, really think about it. How often do you think about the moon? Or even the sun for that matter? They are both brilliant and gorgeous, yet so natural that they blend into our minds. Our suns name is Sol. Our moons name is Luna.

Ever since ancient times, the moon has been associated with feminine aspects of life. Goddesses always seem to represent the moon, and gods seem to always represent the sun. What the moon is to many of us is a pleasent backdrop. If you asked anyone what they thought of the moon, the typical response might be, “yeah it’s cool.” Like, seriously, they do think it’s cool, but they aren’t so enthused just at it’s mention. I guess Luna as a band wasn’t anything horribly revolutionary, because that kind of music had been done before, but gosh darn it, it’s really good music that really achieves what it sets out to do. Much like how our moon is an underappreciated yet lovely backdrop, the same goes for the band Luna. Mostly what their music is is easygoing pop. In some ways it is very happy skillfully created, as the guitarist really seems to have a knack for soloing and the band has a good ear for hooks. But the music can also be very melancholy and a tad depressing. I think it all depends on how you look at it. Whatever the cover of this collection doesn’t say (it says a lot, arguably), the cover of their most popular album, Penthouse, certainly does.

This probably isn’t music you can listen to for the span of an album so much as hear three or four songs every once and a while at your liesure. The best thing you can do for yourself when faced with Luna’s music is try to pick out your favorites by getting to know the individual songs more and more. A personal favorite of mine is Tiger Lily, one of the most innocent and pretty songs I have heard in a long time. It’s not hard to plug into your own life somehow. I mean, all you guys out there, think of any girl who you have ever thought about in a loving way beyond sexually. Picture that pretty girl, standing in the party on the front of this collection. In a corner, awkwardly, your eyes meet. BAM! This song is the perfect way to convey that image.

Like I said before, this is relaxing music, so it needs to be listened to in a relaxing environment. Daytime or nightime, it’s solid mood tunage. But really it’s the same type of moody throughout the entire album. It’s really the hooks and chords that change, which is fine. And once again, every song on this collection is good, simply because of it’s nature. So if you felt apprehensive about picking up Penthouse or Lunapark either because you weren’t sure of the quality of it’s individual songs or if you didn’t want to get yourself drawn into a spending spree of curiousity, this is of course perfect. It’s one thing to sit down and listen to the entire thing through… If you did that you would be utterly bored by the end, and that wouldn’t be good. It’s music to listen to in different situations, not so much as a track by track thing.

Everything is a treat, and while the collection may be a little uneven, from what I have gathered, it covers the bands career in the best way possible. The most treatment is given to Lunapark, Bewitched, and Penthouse which is okay because they were the bands most popular and consistant albums, but from what I have heard, and this is completely not my place to be saying because I’m not a rabid fan of the band, Romantica probably deserved a little more attention than it got. Friendly Advice was probably a little uncalled for. It really progresses but it has no solid construction. I’m thinking that could have been sacrificed for some of the bands later material that I am not as familliar with.

So I guess there isn’t too much I can really say because I don’t know the band well enough. I enjoy the disk a ton. Theres nothing better than being able to flip on Superfreaky Memories whenever I want, but I’ll admit it, as much as I would like to avoid AMG, I got curious about what they said of the bands later stuff. In the respect that they give that stuff, the compilation is shakey. But every song is good once again, and this works as more of an introduction to the bands work than anything and an effective means of creating a Best Of collection so that every album need not be bought. And it comes straight from Dean Wareham anyway, so I really have absolutely no right to complain about the consistancy of such a compilation when the bands main man himself compiled it. Why would I not trust his word? The band has a huge collection of songs, and no doubt almost all of them are good. But I don’t have the time to sift through every release for my own favorites. If you like this kind of music, Luna is at the absolute top of it’s somewhat specific genre, so there is no better way to go than this disk simply because Wareham says so. And now I’m set for when I find myself on a dark hotel roof staring at the moon. A great compilation for a grossly underrated band.

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My Bloody Valentine – Glider[EP]/Tremolo[EP]

August 19, 2006

As far as influence goes in popular music, people usually think of The Beatles, The Who, and Led Zeppelin above all else. But when it comes to modern music, people usually think Sonic Youth, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Smiths, and maybe even Nirvana. But My Bloody Valentine isn’t always credited with the praise it deserves. In the same way that Daydream Nation and Psychocandy changed the prospects of recording, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine did too, and it spawned a new era of beauty and noise. The problem with Loveless is obvious; the album ended the bands career because of how simply good it was, and the perfectionism of Kevin Shields refused to release an album that didn’t trump it. Naturally, this would be a tough feat. So when people pick up Isn’t Anything and Loveless and end up loving them, well, where would they go next anyway? It’s not easy to be fan of a band that had only two full albums. If I had to direct these confused people in one direction I guess it would be in the direction of Ecstacy and Wine, the lovely Psychocandy inspired compilation of two EPs that arguably has no bad songs at all. But most of where fans would want to be directed are the two EPs from the Loveless era. Because it’s disappointing to know that Loveless was never followed up, and if you want a taste of something simmilar to Loveless, getting these two EPs is about as good as getting half of a completely different CD, and while that CD would not be quite as good as Loveless, it would still be fantastic.

Much like Isn’t Anything, Loveless had two EPs that accompanied it. Glider came before Loveless, and Tremolo after. Both have things in common and things different with eachother and Loveless, but it is pretty obvious that both are essential for My Bloody Valentine fans. First off, both albums have a track from Loveless. I guess the only difference in that respect is that the track featured on Tremolo has a different ending, but that’s about it. Both EPs have three b-sides as well, and all of the songs are reminiscent of Loveless in some way. I guess the difference is, and respectfully so considering the sequence in which they were released, Glider sounds like it leans more towards Isn’t Anything with the production of Loveless, and Tremolo sounds more like Loveless with a little bit of a new direction.

Glider

I’m not sure how the band got the inspiration that led them towards the sound that Loveless has, but this sort of shows the transition. I’m not big on Isn’t Anything even though I understand it was very important, but regardless of the renegade misorganization of the album, it is a tad too muddy and unorganized for me. But what this EP has is the Loveless production and instrumentation with songs that are more reminiscent of the Isn’t Anything era. It’s good simply because it is what fans would want from a release preceeding Loveless by only a few months, and they wouldn’t have known quite what the new record would do.

The track taken from the album is Soon, which is arguably it’s best, a poppy little dance beats with bells and soaring guitars. But the rest of the songs on the album, the b-sides, are not close to as good. They are rather delicious if you are open minded and understand that My Bloody Valentine is not very conventional at all, but they are weird, no one is going to pretend otherwise. The title track is hardly even a song so much as a switch between two chords with interesting sound effects for a few minutes. It’s not very accessible, but it is pretty nonetheless if you understand MBV and already enjoyed Loveless. The next song, Don’t Ask Why, isn’t very layered, but it has a floating mass of sound effects that carry over a hushed tambourine and complement some nice poetry from Kevin Shields. And finally there is Off Your Face, which is probably the most accessible b-side here. It is a lovely little love tune that not only explores lust like many MBV songs do, but also flat out love. It’s a perfect example of the band finally learning what those quick drumrolls that they did years ago song after song really mean.

It’s a fun little EP, and it’s essential next to Tremolo if you are a big My Bloody Valentine fan. I’m not quite sure I’ve heard the whole story, but I think more tracks were actually recorded for Glider for it to be a full album but were later scrapped. An interview with Kevin Shields in 2003 stated that the members were thinking about entering the studio again to redo those tracks. But don’t quote me on it. But the truth hurts… It gets the crap kicked out of it by Tremolo.

Tremolo

If you are looking for some kind of direction to which the band would have gone after Loveless considering that the band hasn’t made another album yet since the 1991 epic. It is far more consistant than Glider and much much better, and it arguably features songs that are good enough to be on Loveless.

The song taken from Loveless is the atmospheric little love musing To Here Knows When. There is a slight difference between this and the album version, and that is that the ending is a tad different, but it’s not anything worth sweating. The core of the song is exactly the same until the last thirty seconds. It’s a great song. Next comes Swallow, which is easily the caliber of any of the songs on Loveless. It almost sounds a little eastern with it’s upbeat pace, bells, and vibrant flute-like instrument that takes the wheel. Of course the layered guitars are here that make the signature sound that the band revolutionized. Belinda Butcher is a fantastic vocalist and her talent really works here. Her words are always relaxing and reassuring, unlike Kevin Shield’s, although he isn’t a bad singer either. If I had to make a guess as to where the band would go after Loveless, Swallow is either as close to that sound as we will hear for a long time or just completely reminiscent of Loveless on it’s own. Honey Power is perhaps a little more layered and loud, but still sweet as candy. Belinda once again proves herself to be a really talented vocalist. And then there is Moon Song which MBV fans hail as both good and very strange. It is a hypnotic wall of sound if I have ever heard one. It has some bongos that complement the twinkling sound well. Think a night in a tropical ring of islands looking at the moon. That’s about what this captures.

So it’s way better than Glider in it’s own way, but I wouldn’t put down Glider either. It just stays more consistant.

In the end, if you liked Loveless, you would like these EPs. They are pretty much the only way that ones thirst can be quenched for more Loveless. Neither of them are extremely rare like the bands earlier EPs, so… If you are going to get brand new copies of each, I’d go to amazon.com and check out some of the suppliers there and you could get new copies of both for ten a shot and used maybe around five. It’s well worth it and they aren’t that rare. Good purchases and great music from a great and tragically underrated band. And if you have never heard Loveless, check out the review that I wrote for it a month or two ago. Just dig around in the archives a little and you will find it.

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Youtube Corner Pt. 2: Why I appreciate artists with a sense of humor.

August 18, 2006

I guess lately the Radiohead buzz has still been on. Fans like me have sort of been torn between waiting patiently for an album that might not even get to them for a year and complaining a little, but whatever. As long as they get it out eventually. Hearing stuff like the full band version of Arpeggi, 15 Step, Videotape, House of Cards, and Down Is The New Up really makes me feel better. They have something down, and I like that.

Anyway, thought this was funny, even though it is very old.

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Slowdive – Pygmalion

August 14, 2006


All things considered, the way that Slowdive ended their career was fairly unusual and unique. Whether or not it was a good move is a completely different story, but I would like to think that there is something respectable about doing something really different for a final album. A lot of what bands try to do on albums that they know might be their last is try to summarize what they have already done, or cover the styles of their entire career. Or at least follow on in the same genre without switching up the style way too much. But Slowdive played their cards a little differently. I’m pretty sure that their attitudes changed when they knew the band was coming to an end, and yet they still produced a record that was far more individual than it’s predecessors Just For A Day and Souvlaki. It is an enjoyable but slightly inconsistant ambient work that while is not ingenious or groundbreaking like those predecessors, switches it up a little. As a present for the fans, if nothing else. I want to call it a treat, but a treat is what you get when you obey. Pygmalion is a present, that I’m sure of. It’s not that great of a present unless you were expecting it, but a present nonetheless, coming straight from the giver with love.

The mood of the music has changed drastically since Souvlaki, the bands second and most popular studio LP. Souvlaki is basically a Greek shishkabob of meat and vegetables and stuff. I guess I can see where that comes into the music on the album. I want to say that Slowdives music is varied but it really isn’t. It’s all very individual, but it all covers the same amazing flowing tremendous ground. So every song on Souvlaki was delicious, but it was all different. Just covered in the same sauce and on the same stick. Souvlaki is probably one of my favorite albums ever, and it is the perfect album for a rainy Saturday evening. In fact, I make a point to listen to Slowdive whenever it is rainy out at night, and play Mischief Makers for N64 if at all possible. Pygmalion, in case you didn’t know, is a character in Greek mythology who follows an interesting story. Pygmalion was a world famous sculptor, one of the best ever, and he might be a little gay but that is debatable. He creates a statue in the form of a naked woman (what is there to say, the Greeks and Latins were just horny.) and it is so beautiful, so proportionally realistic and gorgeous that he falls in love with it. And where would you expect this story to end? With Pygmalion turning into some kind of flower or bird or something, out of grief for the fact that he can not love his creation.

HOWEVER. The story of Pygmalion as told in Ovid does not end in tragedy like 95% of his stories do. Instead, Aphrodite feels sorry for Pygmalion and his sorrows for not being able to communicate with his beautiful creation. So she turns the statue to life, and the statue is henseforth known as Galatea. They marry happily and the two have a son, named Paphos.

And then what happens? I have no idea. It even sounds a little strange to me that no one dies or is turned into something or is chased off into the woods and violated. The story really has no lesson, and it ends with a somewhat happy conclusion. With all that said, I’m not really sure how the story of Pygmalion has anything to do with the album by Slowdive. Anyway, this album is very ambient, and it sort of does follow in the footsteps of the other albums while really doing something completely different. What is still here is vaguely the same type of songwriting, but what is different is the fact that it is produced and put out in a completely different way. When I first listened to it, I thought to myself, yeah, this is Slowdive. I can hear it. But missing are the soaring and almost tragically beautiful guitars and muscular beat. A lot of what distinguished Slowdives previous work was the fact that it felt very important. Like what was going on was breathtaking, the images were immensely important feeling. But Pygmalion sort of strips that all down. While Slowdive is beautiful in it’s earlier forms, the reason this is interesting is because it doesn’t feel so important. I can’t relax to Souvlaki, unless maybe it’s Machine Gun or Good Day Sunshine, simply because the music is purposefully tense.

A lot of what is on Pygmalion is far more electronic and relaxing. There are no longer layers of guitars and feedback like before, and instead of that soaring stuff, we now have a homier piece. It sounds like Slowdive without all the intensity, and the electronic touch really brings out the songwriters intentions well. What they are able to do with synthesizers is interesting to say the least. But what the album doesn’t do very good is keep structure. The entire thing is a little flimsy as far as the flow of the album goes as things sort of switch up a lot, but it generally keeps the more quiet and relaxing feel. I guess what I’m trying to say is, one of my few complaints is the fact that the tracks weren’t sequenced well enough.

But there are a lot of treats to be found here. Rutti is one of the best songs the band ever wrote, and while it is a little different, it stays very ambient and relaxing and floaty. It’s a long and extremely satisfying venture that changes as it goes along and it does pretty well in it’s sequence in comparrison to the rest of the album. It’s a great track to open the entire thing. And it is very long, ten minutes actually, so fans should be very happy with the delivery. The next song, Crazy For You, is pretty good as well and is known by Slowdive fans to be one of the better songs on this album. The instrumentation is fantastic, and it would probably be the best song on the album if not for the aggrivating layered vocals that kind of ruin the experience a tad. But once again, the instrumentation is cool enough to make it a good song.

And then there is a contrast. The next song is called Miranda and from a standpoint that the previous song forcasts, it is very different and disturbing. I rented the movie Identity before I listend to this song for the first time. It hit me, this song should have been in that movie. The psychological creep is exactly fitting. Miranda is rather beautiful, but only so much. It’s very creepy, and is what you would expect to hear in any thriller in the downtime between when people are getting picked off by a killer. Trellisaze is pretty bad, it has a great synth line that is ruined by completely out of place beats and sound effects. Then there is Cello which is pretty interesting. It almost calls out to the listener in a somber way. This track is truly Slowdive in it’s most stripped down form, only really featuring synthesizers. You can easily immagine guitars piled on top of the notes with a strong beat like many other Slowdive songs, and however they are not. It is lonely, yet beautiful, and it really makes you wonder, even if it is only a short blurb.

J’s Heaven is another track that is pretty good, and if it isn’t it breaks even. It creates an atmosphere pretty well, and also features a psychological creep that this time isn’t quite as encroaching as Miranda. And then comes Visions of La, another little blurb much like Cello, but this time it is a lovely little melancholy spanish guitar piece. Blue Skied ‘An Clear probably catches the mood of the album best, in it’s ambient synthesizers and relaxing vocals and sound effects, with a soft beat to carry it all home. It is very relaxing and dreamy and is easily the best track on the album. And then the album ends with All Of Us, a serene yet sad song that while is not overly ingenious, is very good and does the band justice considering it is the last song released on the bands last album.

So how good is Pygmalion? …In retrospect, it isn’t really THAT great, but it is good. When I think about it, the casual listener probably won’t like this at all, but that doesn’t stop this disk from being flat out good. So if you weren’t a rabid fan of this kind of music, like of Slowdive or ambient stuff, you would probably give this a rating somewhere in the fives. If you are a fan of ambient music or Slowdive like me, you would probably put this somewhere in the eights. So it’s a compromise. I really wanted to rate this somewhere in the eights too, but I realize I sort of can’t if I want to be fair.

But you also need to keep in mind that this is a very rare album. Not that many copies were made. I won’t say how, but one of the reasons I listen to so much music is because I have connections to every single library in the country and all of their CDs. Guess what? Not one library in the entire country had this album. So that is just something you need to think of. But if you really consider yourself a fan of Slowdive, and I myself do, then this is extremely worth it. It’s a collectors item, so the ultimate price that any real fan of the music would have to pay is twenty five to thirty dollars on ebay or amazon for this rare LP. Or the effort it takes to borrow this from someone. To be quite honest, fans of Slowdive really NEED to track this down by whatever means they can.

All in all, it is probably the least well structured and well written of all of Slowdives albums, and it is a difficult listen at first, but considering the flack it got when it came out ten years ago, this really isn’t a bad album. But you should really only listen let alone buy this if you love Slowdive or if you are a really hardcore ambient fan. The smooth electronic themes and great production on this album really speak to the right listener, and while it does not have the same heartfelt and beautiful mood of previous Slowdive albums, it may actually be an even more suitable album for the night. As long as there is some rain anyway.

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Lost In Translation

August 10, 2006

The reason why Lost In Translation is such a brilliant film is because it is clearly about people who don’t say anything. And the reason why it is ingenious is because these characters say exactly what they want to say without opening their mouths and actually saying it. This might be due to the fantastic people behind the movie; Sofia Coppola has some real talent, and you almost wouldn’t have believed she was the little girl from the Godfather. And while Bill Murray is no spring chicken, he surely knows how to act any role and still has the talent left in him to star in whatever kind of movie he wants. He might just be my favorite actor. Scarlette Johansson is quite the up and coming star, and considering she was only seventeen when she was in this movie, she did an absolutely spectacular job. To be honest, it’s not that often that a movie with such big stars does such a good job. And in such an independent film type of environment too. This isn’t a big name drama, it’s not a love story or a chick flick, it’s a movie that really tries to say something. And it plays off of the viewers outlook as well and really gets them involved. And for a movie that features people who don’t talk, the viewer ends up knowing about the characters and loving them enough to truly get what they were supposed to out of the movie. The imagery, great dialogue, and realistic characters are enough to make this one of my favorite movies ever.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

These are the words that Bob Harris is told to say “with intensity” on the set of a commercial for whisky. Bob used to be a huge movie star in the seventies, actually much like Bill Murray, and he has traveled to Tokyo Japan to endorse a whisky that he ends up drinking every night in the bar of his expensive hotel. He has a family, as evidenced at first by the fax he gets at four in the morning from his wife asking for his advice on what shelves to buy for his study. Bob is not only charismatic, but also witty, and he can hold up a conversation with someone very well, even someone who does not speak the same language as he does. Although he seems to have trouble communicating with his wife back home. It is pretty obvious that he loves his wife, and his kids too, but his wife does not quite seem to love him back and their relationship is slowly drifting away. While Bob is a middle aged guy who is probably going through a midlife crisis, he seems practical to the point where he probably never really grew up in a certain part of his mind enough to really merit being described as “middle aged.” The phrase is a tad misleading anyway, because it is connected with a lot of stereotypes. Like Porsches.

I’m in pain, I got my foot banged up. Wanna see it?

Charlotte is a young newlywed fresh out of college, visting Tokyo with her husband John. John is a photographer and ends up being pretty busy on the trip, so Charlotte is sort of on her own most of the time. She is a very short spoken person, who enjoys making conversation but doesn’t seem to be too much good at it. But beyond that, she is a kind caring person who seems to lean towards an idealistic personality more than practicality. She seems to enjoy wandering, as the country is a new place, and hanging around the hotel is a little boring. But she does that too, and only then does she realize that her life may not be going in the ideal direction. Her husband is really a twit who does not care to know her, while she is struggling to know him. Even a phone call to a personal friend lets her know that maybe no one really knows her.

When you think about it, the two are very different. Bob is old enough to Charlottes father, maybe older. And while Bob clearly loves everyday conversation, Charlotte is a little more shy and isn’t quite used to talking to strangers who are thirty years older than she is. But really, they are more simmilar than different, and at that, more simmilar to one another than they are to their own spouses, at least as far as the viewer sees. They are both very kind and easygoing and a little confused with which way their lives should be going. While Bob is a middle aged former star actor who doesn’t really know where he’s going, Charlotte is a very young but very lost person who doesn’t know where she is going. And beyond that, both of them are confused because they are in a place that really doesn’t make sense, and both of them are horribly jet lagged and can’t get any sleep at all. And that leaves Bob in the bar drinking the whisky that he is endorsing and Charlotte sitting next to him smoking cigarettes. Two Americans in Japan.

A lot of the fun in this movie comes from the humor. Bob Harris is a hilarious character who is constantly wisecracking or making witty comments. And when he is not, he is melancholy and trying to figure out aspects of the culture that are giving him troubles. The funny thing is, I’m almost certain that Bill Murray is like Bob Harris in real life. I have seen him in many interviews and he acts very simmilar, and some of the lines in the movie from him were even improvised.. In fact, Sofia Coppola wrote the part specifically for Bill Murray. Charlotte does the same kind of exploring, though through curious observation. And while he is a pill, Charlottes husband John is really an ingenious character. The actor, Giovanni Ribisi, did a great job on him. Really, he is a character that many people will not understand, and those people will be the kinds of people that are simmilar to him. He is rather clueless and even a little heartless, and he simply doesn’t care about Charlotte enough to stay with her and keep her company. The relationship is clearly shakey, but really only due to him and his lack of understanding and interest in his own wife. The way he talks, moves, and communicates is enough to make any viewer cringe and scoff. He’s a twit, that’s all there is to it. But sadly, there are people like him in this world, and that’s what makes his character so great and funny.

I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase.

And a lot of what makes this movie truly great is the imagery. Anyone who watches this movie will want to go to Japan, I’m sure of it. The camera work and the amazing shots of urban Tokyo and even some more natural areas later are impeccable. What Sofia Coppola has essentially done is immersed her actors in an ocean of neon. Yes, how the characters react is really the heart of this movie, but the soul is quite simply the imagery. I was blown away the second and third times just as much as the first by the absolutely beautiful visions of the city and it’s bright lights, bustling people, etc. It got the Oscar for best screenplay written directly for a movie, actually. I can’t think of a film more deserving.

What Bob and Charlotte end up doing to remedy their sleeplessness and boredom is venture out and experience authentic Tokyo nightlife. They spend some time at clubs, in arcades, and in other exotic and beautiful locales out in the city. One of the better scenes in the movie is when the two are running out into a busy intersection wondering where they should go next. But the entire nightime sequence is great, and it really makes you feel like Charlottes random invitation for Bob meant something.

I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.

You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.

You could make hundreds of arguements on what this movie is really about. In reality, it is about a myriad of things. It is about direction in life, and it is about what life really means. It is also about what really matters to people, and about not speaking your mind. The direction in life thing is very touching, as both characters aren’t really sure what they should be doing with themselves. A conversation that the two have one night really sticks. Bob talks about what his life is like now that he is older, and how beautiful his children are, and how even though you may not have the relationships with people you wish you did, things can still turn out okay. But I still stand by my statement, this movie really is about people who don’t say much. And yet they still end up getting out everything they need to. The other main thing it is about is friendship. Both Bob and Charlotte see things in one another that they don’t see in their spouses. Perhaps that is some kind of vague understanding. They both know their spouses, and they both care about them to some degree, but neither of their spouses really understand who they are as people. The relationship that Bob and Charlotte have is one of some type of outsider understanding. They are only going to be around one another for so long, and that means they can play off of one another in whatever way they want. They can say and not say what they please. And in addition to that, they can come to an understanding with one another that feels comfortable but not overdeveloped. For this reason, the friendship between these two characters is friendship in it’s most natural and primal state. Yes, a lot of what the characters feel in this movie is not said. Sometimes they just exude emotions that they don’t say, and that becomes part of the melancholy. The viewer will almost be talking to the screen, “say thank you, say you are a great friend,” and all that jazz. But the conclusion of this movie is what is most striking, where while the viewer might not necessarilly understand it, what needs to be said clearly is said and both people seem very happy and satisfied, so it doesn’t really matter what. And that is part of the beauty of this film.

The music is also worth noting. I first saw this movie over a year and a half ago, and the soundtrack is what really started to diversify my tastes. And things I have reviewed here reflect that. The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Air, all of that great music. I’d give the soundtrack a solid ten out of ten too. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine actually arranged the soundtrack and did four original pieces himself. And anyone who knows me knows I’m totally obsessed with My Bloody Valentine right now. I’m practically mentioning them every post, and I will no doubt do more reviews of their work. A lot of the soundtrack is divied up between pleasent little blurbs that create an atmosphere and very fitting full length songs. No one will ever pretend that the ending sequence when Just Like Honey is played isn’t absolutely gorgeous.

Anyway, it’s a fantastic film and it is one of my favorites ever, standing up there with One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Edward Scissorhands. However, you need to understand that this movie isn’t quite for everyone. I would like to think of myself as midway between practical and artistic and I absolutely adored this film. But I think very practical people who don’t understand fine art would probably think to themselves, “what is this? It’s a movie about nothing.” But if you just take it all in, I have a feeling every viewer gets something different out of it. For a purchase I’d give this a ten out of ten easily. I was worried at first because I got the full screen version and some people bitched to me about how I should have gotten the widescreen edition. So I did. I seriously just went out and bought the widescreen edition and gave the full screen version to my dad who gave me the minisucle amount of money it cost. He wanted a copy anyway. Now everyones happy. The special features are cool, and it includes a documentary on the filming called “Lost On Location,” and also some other goodies like deleted and extended scenes, the full version of the talk show scene, and some other stuff.

See this movie. That’s all I’m going to say. Unless maybe you are a really sharp critic, or are just flat out heartless.

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Alice in Chains – Sap [EP]

August 7, 2006


With all due respect, Alice in Chains was a grunge powerhouse. They produced hit after hit and stayed on good terms with their fans, and not many other grunge bands could do that as sucessfully as they did. Maybe Soundgarden did it a little more sucessfully, but Pearl Jam turned fans off and Nirvana had an early end. In any case, Alice in Chains also fizzled out around the time Soundgarden did when Layne Staley went into drug enduced seclusion. But even then, the remaining members of Alice in Chains still produced a solo album with Jerry Cantrell. So at least three members know when they have something good going.

Which explains why Alice in Chains is touring again now. Granted, they are missing their star singer Layne Staley, who died in 2002. But I guess they aren’t letting that dampen their spirits too much, because they hired this guy named William DuVall to sing for them on the rest of their tour. And they are still acting like they are twenty somethings, albeit with a little more sophistication and expertise, but they are still getting all sweaty and riled up on stage, which is something that you would have expected them to do twenty years ago. Hell, they even called out Billy Corgan to sing Down in a Hole in Seattle, where they did a free show too. A free show? For Alice in Chains? Now that’s REALLY something they would have done twenty years ago. It’s interesting to hear the news, really. I haven’t and probably won’t be able to get to any of the shows myself, but I hear they are really cool arena rock gigs that are doing Layne justice instead of disrespecting him. That’s good.

But that really causes me to ask the question, will there be another Alice in Chains album? Yeah, solo albums are great and I’m still getting over Degredation Trip, but for as capable of a song writer as Jerry Cantrell is, I think the other band members bring out the best in him. Laynes gone, and I’m going to stop complaining about that. It’s too late to do anything, so bitching about how it’s really not Alice in Chains is stupid. OK, fine, then how about we have these four guys get together and call themselves Alice, or The Chains? That doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. Hell, it just gives them something to do. And considering they are already screwing around on tour, why not just get them together and make them feel like they are twenty years younger even more? These guys were boozing and picking up chicks twenty years ago, and playing small clubs for chump change. I say make them do that for a few months and see what demos surface.

I was at Barnes and Noble again browsing the CD section (I don’t even know why I buy CDs at Barnes and Noble. It’s just stupid.) when I found this EP. I had been looking for it for some time. No libraries seem to have it at all unfortunately, which is understandable because it is an EP that was made fifteen years ago. Even at the steep price of ten dollars, I had to have this even if it only contains five songs. I think it was worth it.

Alice in Chains actually released two EPs in their career, and both of them are largely accoustic and relatively short. This is the first of the two EPs, and while it may not be quite as good as their second EP, Jar of Flies, it’s still a solid little collection of songs. It came out maybe a year or so after Facelift, which was quite the hit in the Seattle underground, and this is a pretty big contrast from the mixture of 80s sounding rock and alternative. The mood is melancholy, and it sort of points towards the rest of the bands career, almost signposting what is to come later on the Jar of Flies EP. There are actually five songs on the album, but only four can be taken seriously enough to be considered even on the EP. The fifth song is filler, an obnoxious little track known by some as “Love Song” that is actually not even refferenced on the back of the album or even named. It’s a bit of stupid Halloween goo, so it’s not really worth noting.

But the other four songs are very interesting. Brother is a sad tune that Nutshell would later be reminiscent of. The lyrics are beautiful and mysterious, and for the first time (I think, unless there is some backup vocal work on Facelift I’m forgetting), Jerry Cantrells voice is in the forefront while Layne Staley harmonizes an octave up. The two make a really good vocal team, and it’s a good thing that Layne was polite enough to move over when need be on AiCs more quiet tracks. This song along with the next one would appear later on with the bands accoustic Unplugged concert in 1996, which is where I first heard this song. It’s a pretty good live album, I would reccomend giving it a spin if you are an Alice in Chains fan.

Got Me Wrong is probably the most popular tune from the EP, and it has a shocking contrast from Brother. When I think about it, it might be the most positive song the band has ever made, and it almost makes a little sense considering it was made before the bands negative minor tonalities got set in stone with Dirt and s/t. It was actually featured in the movie Clerks which came out around this time. The song is classic positive grunge really, and it reflects the easygoing nature of the movies twenty somethings. Sometimes you just gotta be yourself and have a little fun, maybe play a little hocky on the roof. It’s a great song, and the accoustic version on Unplugged is equally as enjoyable and fun.

The next song, Right Turn, is another more melancholy tune, but it plays with a little more groove. This song actually features a myriad of vocalists, a few of which are special guests. First off Jerry Cantrell takes the wheel with some gentle words, then Chris Cornell of Soundgarden takes the reigns, then Layne Staley, then grunge hero Mark Arm of Mudhoney, followed by a grand combination of all four. I often wonder how each of the grunge bands in Seattle thought of one another, and when it all comes down to it, I think they all got along fairly well, in some kind of strange way. Yes, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were rivals, but Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder slowdanced, and you will often hear kind words come out of Eddies voice about Nirvana. Same with Soundgarden. While Kurt Cobain may have sworn not to like the band, he had a minor obcession with them in his earlier days, and Chris Cornells favorite album on Sub Pop was Bleach. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder were both involved in Temple of the Dog, and Matt Cameron, a member of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Temple of the Dog was a Nirvana roadie for a little while. Mudhoney and Nirvana were tight, and then we hear both Mark Arm and Chris Cornell featured with Alice in Chains. In retrospect, for how much competition there was between the bands, there seems to be some kind of harmony.

The main body of the EP closes with Am I Inside, which exudes large amounts of paranoia and fear, and then some brief lazy happiness, and the cycle repeats itself. While this EP really only points towards Jar of Flies, it’s a good little collection of songs that the band got out, and it shows how diverse the bands tastes and songwriting ability is, even early on. 1992 was a big year for Alice in Chains, and while this is a good EP, it was far blown out of the water with the grand haunting symphony that was Dirt which had an October release, just in time for Halloween. It’s a good EP, and if you can pick it up, it’s well worth it. But make sure you eventually get the stronger EP, Jar of Flies. Both are good, and if you can get them packaged together, even better. Honestly, they could have been compiled onto one disk and it would be a near perfect but slightly rough flowing disk.

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James Iha – Let It Come Down

August 3, 2006

I said I’d do it, right?

I typically hate anything even vaguely reminiscent of country music. Nothing annoys me more than sitting down in a movie theater all comfortable with my nachos and hearing Toby Keithe or some stupid hillbilly fuck talking about what he would do if he only had three days to live. Because I can tell just from hearing that music that the artist doesn’t care enough about me as a listener to actually produce quality music. But then again, these people lurk in all genres. Which explains why James Blunt is the biggest <female genitalia> on the planet. See? I’m getting angry just thinking about these people. I shouldn’t be angry in a movie theater, unless the movie itself dictates so. I just wanna eat my nachos and enjoy myself.

So why is it that James Iha’s solo album doesn’t annoy me at all when it could easily be considered some kind of country? Well, it’s not contemporary country like what I hear a lot in the theater. And it’s not flat out hick country either, the kind of stuff you hear on Prairie Home Companion (god, please supress these people somehow). So I fail to see how it is really country. Perhaps it is folk of some kind, because folk also bears some resembelance to country, but without the binds that attatch music to the sleazy open plain kind of music. Bob Dylan is folk, and Bob Dylan is not sleazy, mostly because he is a poet and he knows how to write hooks. Let It Come Down has hooks too, and it’s not sleazy, and it’s soft california pop/rock. So I’ll just give in and call this pop/folk.

For the record, James Iha was the guitarist of alternative kings (and queens) the Smashing Pumpkins. He wasn’t that big in the band, mostly because no one except Billy Corgan was. Which is probably why he ended up being a George Harrison type figure, only having contributed a few fantastic songs the the bands work (most of which were b-sides), and co-writing a lot of stuff too. So it’s obvious why the man would want to be able to make a solo album. His songwriting was being pushed back, and there was a lot of stuff he had to say in 1997, when this album was made. And this album has a lot of ideas that could not be covered through scattered Pumpkins appearances.

The main theme of the album is love, but it is clearly discussed and presented in different ways than other people do so throughout the record. Almost like a Beatles album. It’s not sappy, because this guy knows how to write music that he can fit lyrics around, which is a feat that I really respect. And a lot of the songs are very simple in melody as well as lyrics. See The Sun is one such tune with a very simple chord progression and a theme of love that I guarentee the listener has heard before. And yet, it’s… Adorable. And that word is coming from a straight male. I’m not going to pretend, because that’s what it is.

The question is, do I really want adorable when it comes to music? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Here, it’s pretty good, and I honestly have no idea why. Yeah, not all of the album is like this, but this is country. It’s ****ing country, and I like it. The first time I heard this, I literally felt like hitting my head over something. That line, “you know theres no denying” is almost tantalizing, but then the awesome heart warming chorus “see the sun, and what you’re given” is just irresistable. People, bear with me here, because this is about as vulnerable as you will ever see me. It’s desperation. I SHOULD NOT LIKE THIS SONG.

But I do.

But not everything on the album could be considered some form of country. There was only one single off of the album, and it was the first track, Be Strong Now. It’s a very good tune, and it has a toe tapping drive to it, and it almost seems like this shouldn’t be the first song so much as the last because the harmonization is done well enough to make it seem conclusive. Theres a cello in the background too if I’m not mistaken, and it’s very subtle, but it adds to the whole experience. And the lyrics and shy disposition of the vocalist really make it seem like the words are important. I’m not sure that this got much radio play, but it’s totally top 40 material. As are two other equally strong songs, Jealousy and Beauty. Jealousy is just flat out infectious pop, and Mr. Iha even tries to promote the virus with his “doo-doo-doo”s later on. Beauty is also very good, and I’m pretty sure the cello is utilized again.

The album has some quieter numbers too. A personal favorite of mine is Winter, which should probably be played at the said time. It’s a relaxing little musing of a song, and it is more atmosphere music than anything, because the hook isn’t so apparent even though the chords are delightful. Country Girl is another song I feel bad about loving, because it’s just so… Goddam catchy and innocent. It even has “country” in the title. It’s hard to work that into a title and still make the song good in my eyes. It’s more country once again. I’m starting to feel the pain by that part of the album, because it’s right after See The Sun.

The entire mood of the album probably should remind the listener of some open pasture or something in frickin Kentucky, but fortunately it does not. Because Iha does not dwell on trivial matters like other country artists do, and theres a way of reason and poetry to his lyrics. The ****ing Dixie Chicks are going to tell you exactly what they want to say, and that’s annoying to me. If given the chance, they will talk about what they ate for breakfast, or how to milk a cow or something, and if you want them to get deeper, they will tell you exactly how they love taking roads less travelled by and how men constantly break their hearts and eat all the food in their refridgerator. Thankfully enough, the theme of love is upheld throughout this entire album, and it is presented in different enough ways to keep interesting. And this doesn’t really scream hillbilly-nation either. It’s more of an album for suburbia, evidence for which can be found in the Be Strong Now Music video. If this was an album exclusively for people with cowboy hats, a little less (or more, depending on how you look at it) would have been said during this music.

The album isn’t even close to perfect. Three songs are utterly bad. Sound of Love is too sappy even for the most vulnerable part of my mind, Silver String has almost no direction at all (and almost wanders into the contemporary country boundaries a little), and No Ones Gonna Hurt You is way too blunt. But the better parts of this album are enough to make it one of my personal favorites, even if it isn’t really that standout brilliant or revolutionary or anything. A few weeks ago I picked up Billy Corgans solo album. Yes, it’s okay, but it doesn’t have sticking power like this does, and this isn’t even in a genre I like all the time. That shows really good persuasive songwriting power. My question is, why hasn’t this been followed up yet? If it turns out that James Iha is not in the reformed Pumpkins that I have been hearing about so much, I can only hope that another solo album is possible.

Oh yeah, and on a completely different note, I acquired the last three EPs of The Aeroplane flies high. My favorite EP is the 1979 EP, which actually features two James Iha numbers. The better one is The Boy, which is just great pop and might be the best song on the entire box set, probably one of the best songs the Pumpkins have ever done. Try to get that track if you can.