Archive for March, 2007

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Air – Pocket Symphony

March 5, 2007

French duo Air have always been a hit or miss band. Don’t mistake that for a love or hate band though. By hit or miss I mean that half the stuff they make is sheer genius and the rest is startlingly mediocre. That’s the way it has been since Moon Safari as far as I’m concerned, and following records The Virgin Suicides Soundtrack and 10000 HZ Legend. All those records are pretty much split down the middle. The record Air released in 2005, Talkie Walkie, broke the chain and ended up being extremely special and only having one or MAYBE two clunkers. I’ve already spoken my mind on that record though. Bottom line, Talkie Walkie was extremely consistent. Air’s new record, Pocket Symphony, does about the same thing that everything before Talkie Walkie did, that is, introduce some great new material to the bands body of work while still producing some crap. It doesn’t really do anything to reinvent the sound, but instead recaps on a lot of the bands previous work. You can hear some Moon Safari, Virgin Suicides, HZ Legend, and even Talkie Walkie in here, for better or worse. That’s good because you get all the great points of those records, but it still has problems. While the strengths are also well absorbed from those records, so are the weaknesses. If you can appreciate Air’s great strengths as well as accept their flaws, this will be a very good record, but still not the bands best or anything that would ever draw new fans in.

The band does try to say something different with Pocket Symphony. And they even do say new things pretty well. They just say them in the same way they have presented their other ideas, so this is more of a record for the fans than the critics. But even the fans will have to recognize that there isn’t necessarily oodles of new fantastic things going on here. As usual, a mood is developed throughout the entire album that carries through. The idea to use airy melodies that was pioneered in Moon Safari is utilized, combined with night time aesthetics of The Virgin Suicides, experimental twists from Legend, and eastern instruments from Talkie Walkie. The result is interesting, and surprisingly enough the flaws aren’t really that effecting, especially if you know Air already.

These mistakes aren’t always major, but they are enough to make an otherwise great song just a little less special. Vocals, for one thing. Vocals have always plagued Air for many reasons, considering that the band has never had a set singer. For whatever reason, these guys are completely oblivious to the fact that they hire people who just can’t sing very well. As a result, two specific songs, One Hell of a Party as well as Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping, are botched pretty badly. It’s possible that One Hell of a Party was just too boring to begin with and was beyond saving before it got killed by this dull vocalist, but it probably could have been saved by a good female singer. Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping could easily have been salvaged if the vocals were just taken out completely and the song was left as a floaty instrumental. That is actually what a lot of the songs on the album are; low key nighttime instrumentals. What is good about this is that Air has always been great with chill out songs. What’s bad is that that’s what they have been doing for a long, long time. They progressed well with Talkie Walkie, but now they’re back to the same stuff they did before. Once again, that’s good because they are great at that stuff, but the critics will be pissed and this won’t draw new fans because it is very toned down.

As a result of this, about half the songs on the album are good but not really memorable. Mayfair Song comes to mind, with it’s cool whimsical sounds, but it moves very slowly and doesn’t really progress to anywhere except when some interesting drones and pianos come in later. This is the perfect example of what this album has to offer, that is, beauty for those who were expecting it. Lost Message and Night Sight do the same things. Pretty much, if you were anticipating this album then you will like almost everything on the CD save the few really bad ones that I mentioned before, but anyone else will find this music dull and pointless.

But the asian instruments are used very well and make this album more interesting. To put it plainly, these guys just like asian shit, and considering Tokyo and Osaka are key cities in the worldwide nightlife scene, it’s not so surprising that the distinctive Japanese night atmosphere is the subject of Air’s desires on this album. Sometimes they end up catching them pretty well, but this is all chill music. There isn’t that much exciting here, and anyone who wants a fun or poppy record should consider going back in the bands discography a few years. The closest Air gets to that kind of music is Mer Du Japon, which literally means Sea of Japan in French, reiterating the whole Japan thing going on here. It is a rather upbeat glowing song that represents the nighttime streets at their most unrealistically tame. Two other solid winners are the opening tracks. Space Maker uses developing soft beats, acoustic guitars, and pianos to build to something special. Once Upon A Time is the first single, and uses some subtle asian instruments and a looped piano melody to do the same type of thing. It works out pretty nicely. Another stick out is Napalm Love, which especially reminds me of 10000 HZ Legend in that it is almost a bit silly in it’s instrumentation.

For Air, this is a good album. It’s not THAT good, but most of it’s problems were kind of inescapable. For it to up the ante on Talkie Walkie would have been near impossible, and not everyone is so keen on everything Air does in the first place so they were probably a bit screwed in that department from the beginning. But they do a good job of making some moody eastern chill out midnight music. The problem with that is that it didn’t all have to be chill out music. Real night life isn’t this toned down or even at all boring, and this album does get kind of boring after a while. The stronger tracks are very strong and the weaker ones completely disposable. Even fans will find listening to this album for the extent of all it’s entirety very testing, and it’s great in small doses. Pocket Symphony is truly a record for the fans, and a respectable addition to the bands catalog for those who know them well enough to understand their limits, and the fact that all of their records complement one another. A keeper, but only just.

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Ten Reviews

March 1, 2007

So I found this thing called rateyourmusic.com.

Anyone who knows me knows I have issues even keeping my own tastes and opinions straight, and I feel like having a profile like this helps put everything into perspective for me and keep my thoughts organized. It’s a good system for showing what I have, what I want, and what I really like as well. I have copy/pasted all the reviews from here over to there by now. But I have done a few quickie reviews on RYM as well. Not big, full album reviews, but smaller, quick, concise ones. And I feel like that’s working a bit better for me. Whenever I ask for criticism on my reviews, they are almost always that they are too long and not concise enough. So I think for a time I might see if I can write a lot shorter reviews and see how it works out. It’s not like full album reviews will just be out of the question though, I already have some more of those on the way. But I want to post some of the quickie ones I’ve got done on RYM. Enjoy.

Beck – One Foot In The Grave

Beck’s One Foot In The Grave is a quaint release in every way; it wasn’t a major album release, only two out of it’s sixteen songs meander into the three minute range, and most all of the tracks are acoustic folk recordings. Beck’s odd personality still gets into the mix with songs like Forcefield and Cyanide Breath Mint, but this is probably his most subdued album next to Sea Change. Quantity is clearly valued over quality here, but in any case almost all of the songs are real treats. The first five tracks are among Beck’s absolute best and He’s a Mighty Good Leader makes for a great opening cover, and Hollow Log is nothing if not simple and touching. A must have for Beck fans, this album is a real treat and a taste of Beck’s more stripped down early style.

Crossfade – Crossfade

I have no idea why I like this. Crossfade is a guilty pleasure record for me for sure, following in the wake of Linkin Park and other mediocre nu-metal. And let’s be honest here, it is mediocre nu-metal. Very few albums jump between good and bad as much as this. The opening Starless represents just about everything this album does wrong with a boring riff and cliched lyrics of pain and hate. Cold is interestingly enough an apology song and doesn’t wallow in it’s own problems. In any case, the lyrics almost always fail. It reaches some pretty good vibes though, which is weird, because a band of this stature really shouldn’t. It’s a contemplative listen, but the guitars don’t have enough strength. For as bad as Death Trend Setta is (if the name didn’t tip you off anyway), there are other songs that are actually good, specifically So Far Away and Disco, both of which have decent riffs and good choruses. The albums only true win though is The Unknown, the closing. It’s a simple elegant end to an otherwise overly complicated and boring album, and it emenates some great vibes and has an irresistable hook. I hate to see it, but I like this. It fails about as much as it suceeds, so I guess it’s not that accomplished, but it’s high points are actually good. For sleazy whining metal anyway.

Gorillaz – G-Sides

Gorillaz debuted with a killer album of chilled hip-hop and rock, and the album rocketed Damon Albarn to heights rivaling his fame as frontman of Blur. The album had several singles and some very good b-sides, and G-Sides is the best way to get those b-sides. But really, the disk only contains five b-sides that can’t be heard elsewhere. You might not have the Soulchild Remix of 19-2000 depending on your edition of Gorillaz, and it is far superior to the original version and well worth having, but besides the b-sides the disk only has sub-par remixes up for grabs. The version of Latin Simone found here has English vocals, and the Spanish ones were much better anyway. The rest of the remixes are really bad, nothing worth having. But the five b-sides are great gems. The true winners are Faust (chillout synths galore), Ghost Train (almost gospel hip-hop goodness) and 12D3 (a low key guitar strum with accompanying soft vocals). Probably unnecessary, but worth picking up if you liked Gorillaz.

Green Day – American Idiot

It’s unfortunate that I have gotten to the point where I cringe at the name ‘American Idiot.’ This is a very good pop album and that is just that, but it was overblown to ridiculous proportions. I’m not sure that I have heard any single album overplayed as much as this on the radiowaves, and for that reason the album is almost a task to listen to all the way through. But if it’s any condolences, this is about as good as the bands most popular effort Dookie, in it’s own way. Green Day hasn’t changed much by 2004, and they still know how to mix pop with punk pretty effortlessly. They have, however, gained a political edge. I had the pleasure of seeing the band play live on the tour, and they were very good. The crowd was annoying as all getout, but that aside the band still knows how to put on a show. And by this time they still know how to make a catchy tune. The title track and Holiday are probably the two best songs on the album, not to outrule the two great rock symphonies Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming that are just too freaking long for the radio, but they were by no means the only tunes that got radioplay. Boulevard of Broken Dreams was a radio juggernaut and Wake Me Up When September ends got a music video what felt like years after this came out. It trips in a few places, specifically Are We The Waiting and Extraordinary Girl, but it is still classic Green Day. It just annoys the shit out of me. The radio killed it. Does that matter? Eh, not really.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Cow Fingers and Mosquitoe Pie

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous blues artist you will ever have the pleasure of listening to. His popularity lives on even after his death and this disk outlines his career very well. Let’s be honest here, the man is freaking crazy. But fortunately, this craziness translates through his music perfectly. His biggest claim to fame is his, well, incessant screaming, and he does it all the time. Be it through the ridiculous blathering of Little Demon or You Made Me Love You, the mindbending irony of Darling, Please Forgive Me (the man did have well over sixty illegitimate children), or the racist bombshells I Love Paris and Hong Kong, every minute of this is pure gold. This compilation would have been worth it’s price if only just for the fantastic and influential I Put A Spell On You and the hilarious cover of Temptation, but you get your full money’s worth on this album. The only problem is the lack of Constipation Blues, a Screamin’ Jay classic that you can probably hear in your mind already. There are even some alternate takes to put the icing on the cake. Don’t hesitate; pick this up now. You need it.

Nirvana – Sliver: The Best of the Box

I can’t bear to give this a bad rating, mostly because most all of these songs are very good Nirvana rarities, but I won’t deny that the collection is kind of pointless. Anyone who would have been interested in these rarities in the first place probably wouldn’t have been adverse to just shelling out the money for the box set With The Lights Out. Even if they did put their trust in this alone, there are many selections from the box set that were left out and truly deserved a spot, such as D7, They Hung Him On A Cross, If You Must, and Verse Chorus Verse. There are three previously unreleased tracks that might make this worth it to fans like me, and they are the Spank Thru take from the Fecal Matter demo, a boombox version of Come As You Are, and another version of Sappy. I can’t complain too much because these are all great tracks, but it’s a poorly constructed and unnecessary compilation that was probably a ploy to get the casual fans money, and it most likely didn’t work very well. That’s alright though; it’s another one for the collection.

Santana – Shaman

Why I gave this the lowest rating possible is irrelevant, as everything at 2.0 and under is a blur anyway. Either it’s bad or it’s not at that point, and this is bad. REALLY BAD. Santana is one of my favorite guitarists ever, and the preceeding Supernatural was a fantastic album. I actually saw Santana on the Supernatural tour and it was my first show ever. Not too shabby. But the energy from Supernatural almost doesn’t translate to here at all. The opening Adouma is the exception. It’s a good trance-like latin solo-fest, exactly what we love from Carlos. But the rest of the album consists of horrible collaborations with people who don’t deserve to be said in the same sentence as Santana. America is an easy pick for a worst Santana song list. I suppose The Game of Love is decent if not a bit annoying, but the album is otherwise dirt. He should have stopped while he was winning with Supernatural.

Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot

A fine collection of Smashing Pumpkins b-sides, Pisces Iscariot handpicks the finest Siamese Dream era b-sides the band has to offer. One disappointing absence is that of Bullet Train To Osaka, a great James Iha original, but another one of his great songs is included, the country oriented Blew Away. Pretty much all of these songs stand alone be they muscular sunny riff-rockers like Hello Kitty Kat and Pissant or more downtempo melodies like Obscured and Soothe. There are two fabulous covers as well, a touching rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide and a catchy Girl Named Sandoz, as well as a signature SMP epic, Starla. Also included is probably the bands best b-side, Frail and Bedazzled. It almost holds the power of an individual album. You can see why these are b-sides because they really aren’t as memorable as the album songs, but they are essential nonetheless.

Tool – Lateralus

Tool’s biggest flaw is that their music goes over peoples heads before they can truly get a grip on the music and enjoy it, but the band makes up for it by being easily the most sophisticated and talented metal band active today. Lateralus just so happens to be their magnum opus, and like Tool as a band, it is an acquired taste and at first very difficult to understand. The band has progressed a great deal since ├ćnima, but every member of the band has already proved themselves to be of the absolute best at their trades, so there isn’t any real need to prove anything. The whole band lets loose with this energetic, dark, adrenaline filled masterpiece. But once again, it’s no easy listen. The genre is no longer just metal, but progressive metal, and each song is laced with complex beats and druggy dirty guitars. But for anyone who can manage to wrap their head around this album, the payback is plentiful. No time is wasted here, and only two “filler” tracks are included, both essential to the overall mood. Every track is key to the overall structure of the album, but some are a bit stronger than others. The Grudge is a colossal opener, featuring the famous Maynard twenty five second spine tingling scream and a killer Danny Carrey drum solo. Schism is the radio pick with it’s irresistible bassline akin to Fourty Six & 2. Parabol and Parabola are respectively reflective and muscular accompanying tracks, and Triad is the albums highest point, an instrumental outburst of dark energy. But once again, there is not a weak track on the album. It’s not hard to have problems with this album on the first listen; Maynard’s voice is extremely varied and may not appeal to some people and the rhythm can be downright confusing if your ear is not trained. This album may not be an easy listen or a good introduction to Tool, but it is, by a good margin, the height of their career. Tool is a very difficult, complex, and draining band, but giving them enough time to sink in yields great rewards, a fact that Lateralus demonstrates to the utmost.

Yo La Tengo – Painful

Easily Yo La Tengo’s best album, Painful is a wonderful masterpiece of dream pop and noise rock. It may not be packed to the brim with gems like I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One is, but the album does wonders in it’s own subtle ways. Each song is a meticulously planned work of art. The songs fall under two categories, quiet comforting pop and the signature Yo La Tengo guitar developing noise. This kind of combination would seem counterproductive, but in a way both fit the same mood, conveyed well even with the cover of the album. Each song has it’s own distinct night time image to go along with it, be it a badass hero trip to 7/11 or a gentle sleepy dream, this is Yo La Tengo at their absolute best. But the height of the album actually comes at the end with the monumental I Heard You Looking, one of the best dream-pop instrumentals you will ever hear and a truly moving development of sound. The problems Painful has are a matter of preference; Painful has a stronger coherency as an album than anything and has maybe less power in individual songs than I Can Hear The Heart, but it still holds a historical place with Yo La Tengo by being the first album where the band came into full circle. A tight, classic album.