Archive for September, 2006

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Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

September 25, 2006

Well, it’s autumn again. For some reason, I feel like the seasons get much better as they go along. Spring is just stupid to me. People try to pass it off as the rebirth of everything, and the fresh start of the new year. I kind of think that’s bullshit. Maybe the latter parts of spring are cool, but for most of it, it involves a lot of standing around thinking to yourself, wow, it’s still really cold. It’s sort of like Friday. Yeah, you like it because it is the last day of the week, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually the weekend until you drive home from work. Summer rocks, I don’t think I need to say much more about that. Of course for a student, there is a little monotiny of just sitting around and not doing too much useful with yourself, but I think everyone needs a time like that. Of course, adults still have to work, but summer can be fun for everyone. Then comes Autumn, which is really the true time of rebirth in my opinion. I don’t know why. When stuff starts turning red and yellow and falling off of trees, well, that’s just pretty. For whatever reason, I absolutely love Autumn. I guess not as much as Winter though. Well, the first few weeks of it. At least until after Christmas when people start getting less festive and celebratory. So I guess the seasons don’t really get better as they go along so much as the year gets better as it goes along until it hits the climax in all the religious holidays, and then sucks balls for the rest of winter, and consequently until Summer really.

I’d call this an album for any time of the year. It’s open-ended and immaginative enough to be thought of as taking place at any time. You can imagine in the above scene in a city that seasons only really effect “if it’s really fucking hot or really fucking cold.” In the suburbs and rural areas it means more, but it isn’t as complicated in Chicago or L.A. Anyway, if I had to place it anywhere, it would be suburbia or in the city, either Summer or Autumn. But that’s really irrelevant. That’s all the useless rambling I’ll do for now.

This is an album written by a band who already knows their stuff and pretty much as nothing to proove. By the time this was written, Yo La Tengo had already recieved a sizeable amount of critical praise for their varied and skillfully made work. At that point in a band or artists career, anything can really be done because there isn’t much more to prove. And yet they did it again. You can really feel the mood of this album, but it covers a lot of ground. You’ll notice that I review a lot of music that is varied. And me saying that won’t ease the repetition. It’s just a fact, things that are more varied and cover more ground are more interesting and therefore more compelling. This album is no exception, and the amount of contemplative energy and emotion that is covered gives the listener not only a much better idea of the band, but a further understanding of this kind of beautiful music.

I’d say a good half the songs are quieter gems and the other half are sprawling adventures that develop and pile on the sound as it goes on. There middle ground, probably more than the two extremes. If you enjoy a sophisticated listen as well as a playful endeavor, you have come to the right place.

The more long winded pieces are the ones that have the most personality. An earlier track named Deeper Into Movies comes to mind first, and is the perfect backdrop to any groundbreaking moment to your life. Autumn Sweater does the same thing, but in a warmer more beat-oriented way. We’re An American Band also has the same effect. Yes, these songs are beautiful, but also very long-winded. All three of these songs sound like they should end maybe a minute or two before they actually do, in which time some more guitars are piled on top to make a more layered sound when they really didn’t need to be. That is actually very much the nature of the entire album; the album almost fills the limits of your standard CD, so you get a lot for your money and that gives the album more shape, but not necessarily more laconic or consistant.

That’s where the shorter pieces come in. For every one of these long winded pieces, there seems to be two short but infinitely sweet ones. Damage is a standout, and while it is not very short at all, it thrives on simplicity and atmosphere. Shadows is a pretty lullaby of sorts that takes advantage of the sweetness of the female voice, and Center of Gravity is a tropical bossa nova song that brings you to sunny Jamaica if you close your eyes and let it do so. It even takes advantage of the wonders that can be achieved if male and female voices work together in harmony.

The songs sandwitched in between are probably the most interesting. Little Honda is, even for a lower profile song, a bitchin cover of a great old tune, Moby Octopad is just great pop, and Green Arrow survives on the simplicity thing for a longer time than expected, be that good or bad (it’s probably bad, but it’s cool anyway). And Sugarcube is the standout song in the middle ground, and while sort of seems to have shallow lyrics at first, grows in sophistication the more you hear it.

There are some problems with the disk, as there are with any disk really. The guys voice is a little annoying and shaky sometimes, and Spec Bebop is just a bad song. It doesn’t really go anywhere. I don’t really like a few other songs too, but really the good outweighs the bad. The longer ones are sophisticated, the shorter ones have more clarity and are consequently more gem-like, and everything in the middle presents it’s diversity very openly and proudly. This is a very fun album that does a lot in the time that it has, and leaves you very satisfied.

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Youtube Corner Pt. 3: AW SHIT! It's spontaneous music video time!

September 21, 2006

OK, I figure since it takes me so little time to make a youtube post and a fricking long time to make a standard review, I might as well just do more youtube posts. I’m online almost every day anyway, so I figure if I’m going to be here anyway I might as well just take a minute to post something interesting every so often at another random day during the week. I’m pretty proud that I have adhered to this schedule as well as I have… I usually can’t follow schedules at all. But I’ll let this be sort of my reason to run wild.

But I’ll post this one on schedule simply because I will include more than one video in it. But from now on, don’t be too surprised if I just jump in with a post on a day that’s not Monday or Thursday. I mean, youtube is a big site. Theres a lot to see and hear, and I think that I might as well take advantage of that vastness and ability to post a video easily here.

This is a lovely little music video from a band called Lush. They were around in the early nineties and made a lot of sweet, kindhearted, and, well, Lush music about love. They were part of the shoegaze era and consequently had a lot of layered guitars and sound effects and such. Almost every song by Lush is great and extremely interesting. This song is called Sweetness and Light. I like the band a lot. I might do a review of one of their releases later. Sorry about the poor quality, but the video is already so spontaneous that it hardly matters.

This is Nirvana playing Radio Friendly Unit Shifter live at MTV Live And Loud. I recently bought a poster that has Kurt on it with one of the statues in the background behind him, and it looks like he has angel wings (for $6.99 too!). I don’t know if it was taken from this concert, but I’m thinking it wasn’t. The statues were a rarity, but I think they were there more than once, maybe just twice. Really, this is one of the best Nirvana performances I have seen, at least as far as individual songs go. The song is the perfect mix between melodicism, angry punk, and sheer noise. Notice how every band member seems to be in a great mood, including the awesomeness of Pat Smear on the right. The energy here is just crazy, especially near the end when Kurt and Pat go on a fantastic little hypnotic guitar feedback trip thing. It’s about everything you could ask for in a great Nirvana performance, considering it’s not so common a song that the members are totally sick of it and that everyone on stage is having great fun. Great, great performance.

This is a classic Led Zeppelin Promo for Traveling Riverside Blues. I don’t have a completely extensive knowledge of the music industry, but if you were to ask me what the earliest music videos were, I might tell you some stuff from The Beatles’ Hard Days Night or that one Bob Dylan video of the cue cards. It’s hard to say. But music videos only became widespread in the 80s. Led Zeppelin had a few things which they didn’t exactly call videos but more promos. This is one such promo for arguably my favorite Led Zep song. It’s classic blues sort of adopted from an earlier blues artist who I can’t recall the name of at the moment. I am also in the process of reading a Led Zeppelin biography for school. It is very interesting. Apparently, Jimmy Paige knew damn well and admitted at the critics first notice that a lot of the songs were borrowed from earlier artists. I would hardly say they “ripped off” anyone so much as didn’t bother to credit them because they thought that anyone who would make the connection wouldn’t really mind too much. It’s probably one of my favorite music videos ever.

And I leave you with a moment of clarity from our good friends of My Bloody Valentine doing a trippy video for Soon. Surprisingly enough, the band actually made a few music videos. They were very surreal and cool, and although the ones for To Here Knows When, You Made Me Realize, Swallow, and Feed Me With Your Kiss were pretty cool, I’d say this one fits the music best. It’s very calming and soothing, and the video is too. By the end of their career as a band, MBV decidedly made Bilinda Butcher the centerfold of the music with her touching and extremely effective lyrics. She was also the focus of the latter music videos too, and considering the focus of the band was sensuality and sex in the latter days, it would make sense to put the fairer gender in the spotlight. You get some really good images of Bilinda in this video, as her body glistening with distortion dances on through the music. The videos for Soon, To Here Knows When, and Swallow are close to identical really, but if I had to choose the best one it would be this. Really, anyone who likes the band should just do a quick youtube search of any of the MBV songs I listed along with the band name. But don’t just search the band name, or you will get five pages of shitty anime tributes featuring a godawful Good Charlotte song.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you guys enjoy this batch of videos. They’re good’uns.

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Melvins – The Bootlicker

September 18, 2006

Sorry for the lack of updates on Thursday. I was pretty busy.

All things considered, the Melvins were responsible for a great deal of the grunge scene and are, although not known as so, one of the most influential acts of their age. And yet they sit in obscurity, just how they like it. I wholeheartedly enjoy Houdini for the heaviness if nothing else. To blare Hooch from my stereo is very enjoyable and satisfying. But there is always some kind of nagging feeling that if the band wanted to, they could probably produce something more poppy and outward. Of course, not anything close to pop really, but with a little more melodicism. I was expecting that with The Bootlicker, the second in a series of three albums on Ipecac around the turn of the century, the first being The Maggot and the third being The Crybaby. I was told that this album is where the Melvins strangeness and heaviness was manifested in a more open way. I guess that’s sort of true.

I am a tad disappointed by this purchase, I have to say. Granted, I haven’t heard either The Maggot or The Crybaby so I really only have one third of the intended picture. But I do think I have some kind of understanding of the album. It doesn’t present the Melvins in a more poppy way that the flower on the cover might suggest (the grunge scene really did have a thing with flowers, didn’t they?), but more a stripped down portrayal of an extremely heavy band with perhaps some accoustic guitars. The album in it’s entirety is very creepy and totally not what I was expecting from the band who made songs crafted more from anger and sludge than anything. Taking down the electronic walls does not reveal a more sensitive, enjoyable, and understanding band so much as a deeply disturbed, creepy, and paranoid band. You could easily pile on the guitars at this point and make all of the songs vintage Melvins, but instead they are all very different.

There are a few exceptions though. The only truly non-threatening part of the album is a later segment of Prig, which is a positively beautiful and almost, uh, cute (GASP!) little tune. At a few points, the band does sort of break out of their shell and bring forth a cool hook or something, but for the most part the album is covered in fog, what used to be sludge, slime, and grime. Part of Mary Lady Bobby Kins and Up The Dumper reveal some creepy realities, that while melodicism might be in the bands vocabulary, they have no interest in pursuing the concept without a little of their signature creep in the mix. And as soon as you think the positive attitude could go somewhere, it’s gone. For the most part, the rest of the album is creepy stuff. The song at the front of the pack, Toy, is utterly creepy and atmospheric, and sort of sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is essentailly a disk full of disturbing slow bass and high-hat oriented grooves.

I guess…stand out tracks might include Let It All Be, but it’s nothing you would want on a playlist. Although the track does explore the elusive groove that The Melvins aren’t too bad at delivering and is good background tunage for an urban nightime setting, the song is segmented into another macabre blurb. One thing that this album REALLY has to be desired is organization. Many times, more than one big idea is crammed into a song, and I think that they could have just as easily segmented everything and the album would be a lot less annoying. Out of all the grime, I’d say Black Santa, is one of the more accomplished pieces. It is rather reminiscent of a spaghetti western in some way, maybe if there were more zombies than Native Americans. Fans will find Up The Dumper hilarious. And if prig was decorated with more towering heavy guitars it would be a Melvins classic, at least if the first part. But instead it’s another segmented piece ruined a little by the variation. It is silly and fun in some perverse way nonetheless. And the accoustic guitar part is enough to baffle and bring a twinkle to even the most hardcore fans eyes.

I probably regret buying this album. And yet I can’t help but smile when I see it on my CD rack. There is something proud about it that I can’t explain. I think it probably did what it set out to do and I think it would please the fans pretty well. However, I’m not really a full-fledged fan, so I can’t really say that this was worth the price I paid for it. You can flip on some of the songs for good background music, and there are some more essential tracks on here, but the bottom line is, this is The Melvins in a completely different yet surprisingly confident setting.

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Slowdive – Blue Day

September 11, 2006

Man, being a fan of bands that have so little material is hard. It really is. You have to cling onto every little bit you can get. Some bands are great and yet still have a ton of material. That really feels great. To love a band that has a lot of material, even if a lot of it is mediocre, is a great feeling because there is always something to fall back on. When the hits get old and the bad songs get you down, theres the middle ground to fall back on, and it’s one of the most relieving things a fan can have. What means more, a band that consistantly pulled off fantastic material for the span of only a few albums, or a band that pulled off fantastic material in greater numbers but less consistantly? It’s hard to say. But I really can’t stress it enough… When one of your favorite bands only has so much material, even if all of it is great, it feels lonely sometimes, even lonelier if the band isn’t well known.

When it comes to Slowdive, an admittedly low key and somewhat short-lived band, there just isn’t too much material. But you have to remember that the band never really broke up so much as took a completely different turn and made a transformation from the dark, ethereal, and stormy approach to a more country and pop related field. So yeah, you can go off and listen to Mojave 3 and call it a day, but it’s not going to feel the same. Slowdive is a band that still strongly hovers in great strength, and a point of view shift isn’t going to change that. But no matter what Mojave 3 does, there will always be some type of relief in the releases of Slowdive. If you really look hard enough, there can be some very interesting live stuff and other stuff in low quality, but the bulk of the bands material can be divided up into four groups. The first three groups would be of the bands three albums, Just For A Day, Souvlaki (including the 5 EP, three tracks of which were included on the extended cut of Souvlaki anyway), and Pygmalion, the latter of which I reviewed not too long ago. The last group would be everything in between, all of the b-sides and material from the EPs the band made that kind of jump all over the place. The band actually had a considerable amount of EPs, and when you think of how well planned out and themed each album was, everything else the band made was really of it’s own world. Of course it’s Slowdive, but when you aren’t on a schedule and you don’t have to mix that goddam album, you can kind of get out whatever feelings you want and write whatever you want without having to fit a theme around it.

Before Slowdive decided to get serious with their music and start recording albums, they were a band that played for fun. They took a lot of influence from some earlier ambient bands and a lot from My Bloody Valentine too. You can really hear the Brian Eno and the MBV when you listen to some of the earlier tracks. What Blue Day is is essentially a collection of all the best material that was released on EPs before Just For A Day. So decidedly the tracks are all from their own little worlds because they were never tried to fit together coherently or anything. But that is good, because it makes each song even more of a treat. Keep in mind though, that the problem with this compilation is that it stands in obscurity. There was only so much Slowdive material that was even released before Just For A Day.

In fact, there were only three releases; the Slowdive, Morningrise, and Holding Our Breath EPs collectively contain a grand total of ten tracks. Blue Day has seven. Really, the importance of the three that are missing aren’t that vital. Avalyn II is an extended version of the already included Avalyn I. Catch The Breeze is already included on Just For A Day anyway, and there is no reason to include an A-side in such a collection. And Golden Hair is a Syd Barret cover that is pretty good but not as essential as the rest of the material, as it’s construction is a tad shakey. But fans who would go far enough to get Blue Day would probably be worried about the sake of completion anyway, so it would be annoying not to have those two songs. Granted, Golden Hair can also be found on the 2004 Best Of compilation Catch The Breeze, but while the double disk release isn’t exactly hard to find, it is still grossly expensive, catching a price of over twenty dollars where ever you could find it. It is a bloated release considering that the three albums might as well be bought anyway. So while the lack of Avalyn II and Golden Hair is really not that troublesome, it is still annoying. Beyond that, only so many copies of Blue Day were made. There were several packaged with Souvlaki on it’s first release for whatever reason, and then it was commercially released in Japan and several European countries. So the only way you can really get it is as an import. So what is more worth it? Tracking down the three EPs in their entirety and getting all of the tracks, or finding this rarity and having almost all the tracks that are worth having? That is really a decision you would have to make on your own. And you could also further make the arguement that the 2006 re-release of Just For A Day contains everything on this disk plus all three missing tracks and even more. But I would say this collection is worth the effort it takes to find it, just because it is an antique of sorts and has seven completely ingenious songs.

As far as the music itself goes, every song is brilliant. And not just great, I mean brilliant. You can make some arguements for songs on Just For A Day being shakey and not so good, but all of the bands music from before Just For A Day is grand. The song Slowdive is one of the bands indesputed best, a happy and optimistic take on a dream. Avalyn I is a gorgeous melancholy instrumental. Morningrise is a soaring piece where the MBV influence really shows. She Calls is very much in the vein of Slowdive, a more down to earth sexual glossy song. Losing Today is a dark and beautiful elegy. Shine is almost a lullaby, and is very simmilar to one of the bands later hits “Machine Gun.” And finally, Albatross might be the disks weakest tune, and even then it is an interesting venture, experimenting with different beats and approaches.

So… Really if you like Slowdive you will need these songs somehow. I guess I really wrote all this in response to the songs, not any particular release. But Blue Day is well worth it if you can manage to get your hands on it. It is rare and therefore worth the money, and any really hardcore Slowdive fans wouldn’t be beyond trying to track it down. But really, it’s easier to just get the Just For A Day re-release, which has not only a better sounding Just For A Day but a bonus disk filled with almost all really early Slowdive recordings. The only things missing are the Beach Song and Take Me Down recordings, which are very MBV inspired and poorly recorded vintage Slowdive that was scrapped for the Slowdive EP, and then maybe a few other really low key recordings. So if you are planning on getting Just For A Day or Souvlaki, GET THE RE-RELEASES. GET THE RE-RELEASES. GET THE RE-RELEASES. Even if they are more expensive, you won’t get bitten in the ass later. Slowdive was a band that was still inspired even in their earliest days, and while you really can’t get much better than the actual albums, the odds n ends are essential too, and if you like any of the albums, it’s worth getting them in some way.

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The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

September 7, 2006

First off guys, leave some friggin comments for christs sake. I love hearing what people think of my reviews. Even if you were to just say “they are too long” or “you ramble a lot” or something, that would really mean a lot. I know people visit here. They have to. I know how many views I get and where they are referred from. Just leave a comment and let me know how you feel about something. This is a laid back environment, and I gotta know if you guys are really alive. I get a lot of referrals from email boxes. It baffles me that anyone would ever personally refer this publication to anyone else. Let me know what’s up and what you think. Please?

There are few artists I find I can equate with Bob Dylan, not so much because Bob Dylan is the centerpost of all pop music or something like that, but because in the way that he writes music, every song is some kind of pretty gem. Not a flawless one mind you, but a pretty one anyway. I know I have explained this type of thing at some point before. Every artist has what I like to call “vintage” songs. Songs that weren’t staples of radio or anything but do the artist so much justice in exemplifying their talents and songcraft. Well, with Bob Dylan, it seems like every song he ever made was popular, and yet it is all still vintage Bob Dylan. But Bob Dylan annoys me, as much as I love him. He is a superb and almost unmatched songwriter, and yet he seems to be very close-minded nowadays when it comes to modern music. See, I respect this man a lot, but he used to be an openminded youth. While he still writes songs like an inspired pro, he has unfortunately turned into the close-minded old coot that he once fought against.

Anyway, there are very few musical artists that get close to Bob Dylan on the level of all of their songs being “vintage.” Beck probably comes the closest, which is almost a given considering he is an eclectic artist that has not only broken significant ground, but also works solo. If I flip on the radio and hear a Beck song, be it Loser, Devil’s Haircut, or Missing, I’ll think to myself, “Hell yeah! This is classic Beck.” Look through a catalog of Bob Dylans songs. You will see a pattern in the titles. Now do it with Beck and you will see some kind of odd pattern as well. The Flaming Lips get pretty close to Bob Dylan as far as these patterns go, at least I think. I haven’t heard all of The Flaming Lips’ work, but enough to know that they are a smart band who, while trying to be a little weird, concentrates on songcraft enough that almost every song is memorable. Any artist who names an album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots has to have at least a little bit of confidence. What is interesting is that almost every song on this album is vintage Flaming Lips. And I love hearing a “vintage” song from an artist. It’s refreshing.

Most of what is on Yoshimi is the sound that The Soft Bulletin tried to achieve, but with a quirkier atmosphere around it. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robot’s Pt. 1 most certainly could have been released at the time of Bulletin, but it wouldn’t be quite as fun. Here the lyrics are more straighforward and less vague, and decorated with silly and fun sound effects. Of course, all of these songs are still straightforward pop with the same accessible chords and progressions, but what differentiates this from the Lips past work is the attitude.

Each song is constructed with the utmost care and delicacy, and the result is a fun, passive but utterly confident record with catchy tunes all throughout. Lyrically, Wayne Coyne revisits the days of old and discusses topics ranging from strange ballads about a small asian girl with superior martial arts skills to life lessons like how fighting sometimes can help solve problems. And a recurring message seems to be the topic of whether or not robots could possibly have feelings, which of course has been covered before, but not quite with this much warm enthusiasm.

The best songs are the infectiously ingenious pop tunes, the most notable of which is Fight Test, combining top fourty pop rock with fun augmentations like wacky synthesizers and touches of echo. But there is also a certain amount of range here, and One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 is a melancholy tune about the repetetive and meaningless lives of machines, while Approaching Pavonis Mons by Baloon is a mellow atmospheric instrumental to end the album. What really needs to be noted about Yoshimi is the happy almost magical approach that can be seen in every song. The aim is to obviously be moving and beautiful while covering different ground, and the outcome is a complete success. What you hear in Fight Test can also be heard in It’s Summertime and Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell, but the songs are so different that they have their own life and personal beauty. There is really no way I can describe it without being repetitive, but trust me, the flow of the album is cool and very approachable.

The standout track here is Do You Realize??, possibly the most beautiful Lips song I have heard yet. And it is one of the best pop tunes released in years as well. Not only does it confer sage advice on how to deal with life and what the best attitude to have is, but it does so in a glowing, soaring, and gloriously important way with what sounds to me like an orchestra and shimmering guitars to boot. If there is a song to exemplify the entire album, this is it. And what the album is is vintage, that much is true, but it is all so special and touching that one can’t help but get to know this album better. It is an album that tries very hard to get close to the listener, and the attempt is not without some kind of awkward success.