Archive for May, 2007

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Three Modest Mouse Reviews

May 28, 2007

Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

Arguably their most popular album, The Lonesome Crowded West is one of Modest Mouse’s singular masterpieces and still sticks today as a memorable statement of the 90s. To say it is perfect is not accurate, as there are some songs that simply lack in comparison to the others, but the whole of what the album says more than justifies it. Beyond making an album full of memorable hooks and rocking jams, The Lonesome Crowded West speaks the voice of middle America, and all of it too. The trashy, the suburbanites, the city slickers, the smart, the dumb, the lovers and everything in between. Sometimes the album rocks out really hard, especially with Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine and Cowboy Dan, but the music serves itself best when it plays specific roles. Picture taking a wrong exit on the highway and ending up in bumblefuck Mississippi. Yeah, your mind might be reeling through Jesus Christ Was an Only Child. Then try picturing yourself in High School, chilling out on a hot evening with some friends on your back porch while the sun sets over the dirty highway and the streetlights just turn on. This is the cool urban Heart Cooks Brain. I think people could make a case for many songs like Doin’ the Cockroach and Trucker’s Atlas that I’m not so hot on, but in any case most everything here is good. The clear high point is Trailer Trash, an anthem for the ages, and the final three songs that turn everything else about the album inside out and resolve everything absolutely perfectly. A classic, and just as good as the record that would proceed it.

Modest Mouse – The Moon And Antarctica

No one will pretend that The Moon And Antarctica isn’t a dreary, exhausting listen. While The Lonesome Crowded West flowed, had some pop gold, and was an all around fun album, The Moon And Antarctica delivered more quality music at a completely different angle. This album is simultaneously introspective and existential (whatever the hell those mean), and demands close attention and an open mind. Like The Lonesome Crowded West, this album is poetic and has many underlying themes and questions asked, but instead of being deceptive about them and using irony to get them across, some of them are pushed to the front while others are mysteriously obscured. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the album is the sheer execution and the ride that it takes the listener on. The first four songs are happy, relaxing, folky rockers, the first two of which are simply perfect and some of the best the band has ever written. And then the fifth song, Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, drives the listener into unexpected curious panic, and then plunges them into four melancholy masterpieces. A personal favorite song is the next one after the long epic The Stars Are Projectors. Never has a song been as subtley destructive as Wild Packs of Family Dogs, let alone dreamed of doing it in less than two minutes. The finally, the mood bounces back and weaves back and forth for the last five songs, ending the album on a completely inspiring note. All this is done while delivering the same catchy, wonderful melodies Modest Mouse is good at, musing with great lyrics, and simultaneously introducing a new expansive sound. The biggest problem is lack of accessibility, but in that way the album ends up being more fun and inspiring upon every listen. For catchy, upbeat tunes one will want to look back an album, but this is just as essential. This remastered reissue is rounded off perfectly by four BBC session takes (Custom Concern is just as good as many songs on the album) and more fitting cover art, making the perfect asset to any casual or high profile fan’s library.

Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News

Truly an album that gets more shit than it deserves. Although Good News may not be quite as consistent as Modest Mouse’s other work, it is still a darn good album and a great addition to the bands catalogue. The indie nerds will complain that this was the sellout point of the band, and really that might be true, but the sales of the album are irrelevant in the face of the fact that this is simply quality music. So despite the fact that Float On got significant radio play, it is still one of the best tunes that the band has ever written. So my advice to listeners would be to throw everything that anyone ever told you about this album over their shoulder and listen to this album with a fresh ear, because good things will surely come of it. No one will pretend it doesn’t have less strong moments than The Lonesome Crowded West or The Moon And Antarctica, but one would be hard pressed to follow up two grand albums with something that matches them. Some of the albums better moments are the albums first four songs (excluding the two interludes, obviously) and the last three, and while everything sandwiched in between isn’t quite as good, the ends justify the means. It builds it’s personality only marginally, but Good News For People Who Love Bad News can be a very good sunny pop album that has some of the bands absolute best songs. It’s hard to say if this is a good place to start… If you are only going to get one or two Modest Mouse albums, the two that preceded Good News are far more essential, but for people who are willing to dig in for a while, this might be a good launching point. Another good album by Modest Mouse, probably the third best.

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Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol. II

May 25, 2007

Unlike Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Aphex Twin’s second LP did not blaze any trails or sell a huge amount of copies, but it did solidify a place for Richard J. James in the electronic music business and give him breathing room to expand his repertoire and explore his creative boundaries. For fans that had heard Selected Ambient Works 85-92, the transition to Vol. II is marked most accurately by the wonderful minute long simple “i”, or perhaps the nine minute long Tha. Both are of the same style as their albums successor, that is, sometimes beatless ambient chords that create an atmosphere. And yet, what these two songs do in many ways don’t quite reflect on the spirit of SAW2. On Vol. II, the focus is completely directed towards ambient atmospheres and there is no upbeat IDM or pop hooks to support the synthesizers. In plain terms, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II isn’t nearly as good as 85-92, but it was the necessary next step to truly establish James as an ambient artist. For fans of this kind of music, this is a feast of overly lengthy atmospheres, which are disturbing as often as they are comforting.

One of this albums biggest weaknesses is how much it confuses people. When people hear about a double album by a respected artist, they expect it to be engaging, and in fact SAW2 is exactly the opposite. It is a shapeless, aimless album with no real focus on song structure. Most all of the songs repeat the same synthesizer loops with little to no switchups, and half the time the loops are annoying or disturbing. The perfect example of this is the six and a half minutes of complete garbage that is Radiator. There are a few more like it as well, songs that would be good for horror flicks but simply drone too long to be useful. But perhaps this was the intention of the artist. If songs like “i” did not go long enough, this might have been the cure for that problem. But even fans of ambient will be slightly turned off by how little some of these songs change. These songs are simply not meant to be focused on, and are instead successful as passive backgrounds.

I won’t make the excuse that this isn’t an album for everyone or that it is very difficult to understand to downplay the fact that it isn’t quite all that it could be. Some of the songs are downright bad and should have been pitched, and all of the songs could have been chopped in half and would fit snugly onto one CD without the effect being damaged. And if he did that, the album would have actually been less of a task to work through and understand, as well as being less downright boring. Everyone makes the complaint that double albums could be shaved down to one CD, but for this I really mean it. Only two or three songs on the first disk are even worth anyones time for repeated listens, as most of them are creepy and not all that effective. The opening Cliffs is decent, as well as Rhubarb, and maybe Tree. The sharp increase in quality on the second disk is downright discombobulating. There are only two or three BAD songs here. Some personal favorites include Blue Calx (just as good as it’s cousins Green Calx and Yellow Calx), Parallel Stripes, Hexagon, and Lichen.

This is not a great album. It’s a good album, definitely, and it’s an important album for Aphex Twin, but you won’t want it unless you have already dabbled in his work and know what kind of an album you are in for. These are not songs so much as they are aural tools. And they aren’t even always completely original. He pulls the Eno cards more than once with varying success, and the more original pieces are unfortunately rather dull. And once again, like every other Aphex Twin album besides 85-92, this album has absolutely wonderful high points and deplorable low points. I can’t even say that it was completely worth it for me just to check it out from the library. But as I said before, this was a needed step to establish James’ body of work and has a select few really great songs on it.

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TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain

May 21, 2007

Of all the albums that topped the best of 2006 lists, TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain was perhaps the most challenging and simultaneously rewarding. I was recommended the album simply on a “you would like this” basis, and alternatively the persons brother told me I would hate it. Thus, I decided it was something I needed to hear, but I put it off. I regained interest by the end of the year when I started seeing the album all over the place, in places as innocuous and simple as Rolling Stone, The Onion, and Pitchfork Media (god forgive me). Although I hate giving any more bearing to any musical criticism juggernauts, but it topped a lot of big name lists. TV on the Radio appeared on the front of Spin Magazine due to Cookie Mountain being deemed the album of the year, for one thing, and Entertainment Weekly gobbled it up too (I think it might have also been their album of the year, but I’m not 100% sure). They were on David Letterman and Jimmie Kimmel. The delay in my interest only augmented the confusion that the album gave me on first listen, but I will attest that this is one of the best albums of 2006 and worthy of all the praise it gets.

What I didn’t mention is that by the time I had acquired Return to Cookie Mountain, the album had gained almost mythical praise within my circle of music-loving acquaintances. They treated it as if it was some sort of nearly impassable wall that once traversed broke into paradise or something. Upon first listen, I was more than just skeptical, but turned off altogether. However, months later, when I had given the album numerous listens and understood it fully, I felt completely comfortable with what it was trying to say. The truth is that Return to Cookie Mountain is as much a puzzle as people say it is, and it is one of the most wildly different albums of pop to hit the mainstream in years. In a world where bands tend to get more and more disposable, TV on the Radio reaffirmed their place in the industry with this record and additionally justified all of their other music when they were more of an underground force. What I can say of this style will probably turn most people off at first, but don’t be fooled. I haven’t heard something this original in a long time, and this album sounds like little else you have heard. I can describe it as heavily beat oriented, a mix between hip-hop, alt rock and trip-hop, with distinctly haunting melodies. It’s nothing short of a miracle, or perhaps an almost unbelievably show of skill, that TV on the Radio has gotten as far as it has, because their style is so unique and at times trying.

For that reason, it might be best to work backwards to truly put together all of the pieces. Although I Was A Lover might be one of the albums finest moments, the fact that it comes as a first track is downright discombobulating. The albums “hit” is Wolf Like Me, an upbeat, rocking, dark masterpiece that puts a lot of what the album has to say out on the table without quite digging in. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing. This is the finest example of the groups dynamic lyrics. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone team up for a wonderful, although not unique, rhythmic vocal style that breaths life into the record and acts as just as key of a role as any other instrument. A good chunk of the albums appeal is actually in the vocals and the lyrics, which are always well focused poetry. Especially breaking are the vocals in Blues From Down Here, “rue the pin/drop it in/let it wash away,” sang in a singsong repetition over a completely destructive backdrop of music. This great line is not unique. The lyrics are just as impressive as the voices that sing them, and the description of a clone in I Was A Lover as well as the momentous Tonight are both highlights.

The continuous blossoming of this album is what makes it so worthwhile, and half the fun is letting it burrow into your head progressively. Every song on the album is key to the overall picture, which I think very few albums can vouch for. Even the weakest track, A Method, is sly and quite infectious rhythm. And what the big picture is could be explained as an urban odyssey of the soul, and an exploration into the psyche of the human mind. This may sound pretentious, but really who am I to judge what this album is really about with lyrics so cryptic and deep? And it never repeats itself either. Every song is singular. The final shoegaze rush of Wash The Day Away is just as shocking as the slamming railroad gospel Let The Devil in midway down the line, and as fun as filled with tension as Playhouses. Sometimes the album surfaces with something a little more positive like I Was A Lover and Providence, but the music is best at it’s darkest, particularly Wolf Like Me, Blues From Down Here, and Hours.

I guess the biggest complaint I have about Return to Cookie Mountain is it is kind of hard to get through in one listen, but no doubt this is in my top five for last year. Once again, you can’t let it slip through your fingers just because of what comes out on the first listen. I did that and it remained under my radar for months. Just try to keep an open mind and let the melodies and great vocals surface. This isn’t easy, but in the end more than worth it.

Also, I did a top fifty albums list on my RYM. Check it out, maybe.

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A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Scribble Mural Comic Journal

May 19, 2007

In a genre driven by individual songs rather than albums or artists, it is very difficult to distinguish oneself ten years after the genre hit it’s peak. Shoegaze just has a hard time producing truly wonderful albums. Asobi Seksu’s release last year, Citrus, was the first in years to justify that the genre isn’t complete bullshit. And I don’t think it would be completely unreasonable to say that it is at this point, because so few bands in the business have kept up the pace and consistently released good material. The obvious come to mind, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But the lions share of shoegaze bands are the type that released one really good album and a few good singles and couldn’t make a sizable career out of it. Ride, Chapterhouse, Catherine Wheel, Lush…All bands that befell this fate of scattered brilliance, and really none of them made any truly important albums. For that reason, at any new shoegaze release, fans of the genre jump to call them unique or “the best since Loveless” or just downright brilliant. Someone called this album all three, so I foolishly got it.

It’s not that this album is horrible or anything, because it definitely has it’s moments, but the problem is that it should have had many more moments. In fact, most of the album feels like it has really good ideas going on that sadly just get botched and not given the correct treatment. It starts off on a shockingly good foot though. The first track, Wake Up Pretty, is a lovely little hypnotic intro into the rest of the album, with off beat glowing synthesizer loops and a very soft beat. This, and the following song No. 6 Von Karman Street sort of represent what this album should have been. Both songs are very hypnotic, almost delusionally sweet swirls of shoegaze. The twins voices echo and harmonize softly in the background throughout, and the beat is driving enough to make it exciting.

The problem with the album I have is that there are lots of really good melodies that are simply not treated with enough care. There are some simply bad moments though, namely Lists Plans and C’mon, both of which are horribly annoying. But at times this album can reach considerable heights and do some very enjoyable things. To say that the album is unique would be wrong though, because this kind of angelic trance has been done before and has been done well. But then again, there have been plenty of great dreampop and shoegaze records that ripped on others of the genre. Scribble Mural Comic Journal at times makes music that is so flowing and natural that it is relaxing to the effect of a druggy haze or half-asleep dreaming. That may sound a bit pretentious, but nothing is perfect. The style of Scribble Mural gets old fast and many times the songs run themselves out before they actually end. And the fact that most songs melodies have no real structure hurts the style as much as it helps, making the record sound like a pleasant atmosphere while simultaneously being a cluttered mess. But with all this said, the effect of the album is exponentially augmented when cranked to high volumes, like most shoegaze records. The more immersed in the sound one is, the better.

To be honest it’s really not that great unless you are a huge shoegaze fanatic, in which case there is surely something fresh and lovely here that you will thoroughly enjoy. But if you aren’t, and I’d only really consider myself a casual shoegaze fan who dabbles here and there, this is a confusing, mediocre set. There are some really lovely ones that might be highlights in the shoegazing community this year, namely 5:15 Train, Watery, and No. 6 Von Karman Street. Proceed with caution, but it should be pretty obvious whether or not you want this anyway.

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Slowdive – Souvlaki

May 11, 2007

Souvlaki – Food – 8/10
The most elusive of Greeks foods available at your local gyros joint, souvlaki is seldom ordered because it just takes a bit more time to prepare and is just a little more expensive than that chili cheese dog or Italian beef that you could also order. The extra change and minutes add up though, and this ends up being filling, delicious, and satisfying, way more so than anything else on the menu. It is a fairly simple dish though. Souvlaki is seasoned meat, usually pork but sometimes chicken or some other meats, sometimes shredded or as dumplings, either cooked on a skewer with various other vegetables or in a pita sandwich like gyros with onions and tomatoes. What struck me about this dish when I first tasted it was how dense and satisfying the meat was. After eating a souvlaki sandwich (which cost me just under five dollars), which was portioned about the same as a gyros that would hardly fill me, I was completely full and unable to eat anymore, and it took some work to put that last few onions down. This deception proved to be a great surprise, and after eating it only at five in the afternoon, I woke up the next morning around six not really that hungry. Which was bizarre. In any case, it is the kind of meat that is easy to pig out on within the confines of your tray. It’s the meat that you love to bite and taste the marinade off of the rough outer edges on your tongue, it’s the type that you chew more than you need to just to savor how juicy and dense it is, and it’s the kind that you like getting stuck between your teeth. There is just something about this that I love. There is just something about it that leaves me longing for more though… It’s not that it isn’t delicious, it just isn’t interesting. On the other hand, a chili dog is less filling but more exciting. It is worth getting though, and it is way better than Gyros or Italian Beef. A good fast meal the next time you stop by an Greek joint.

Souvlaki – Album – 10/10

Slowdive is unfortunately always put second to My Bloody Valentine, and Souvlaki is always put second to Loveless. The danger in this is that these bands as well as these albums are really opposite sides of the same coin in that they are both masters at crafting wonderful shoegaze, but their methods, ideas, and end results couldn’t be more different. Well, maybe not. They both were of the same breed, and the intention was the create lush, beautiful melodies with swooning guitars and a sleepy production. But they just brought the genre to new heights in their own ways. I would first like address the fact that it is physically impossible for anyone to write a review about any shoegaze record without reference to either My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or Ride and their respectable masterworks. And unfortunately this isn’t too unreasonable, because the genre hasn’t quite nailed out it’s kinks even fifteen years after it’s breakthrough, and really only a few shoegaze albums have really mattered or been as original and fantastic since this trifecta of awesome. Most shoegaze bands rip on one of the three, it seems. But Slowdive is the one that is tough to pin down, mostly because they developed so much in their short career and have almost equal love from fans for all three of their albums. Or maybe it is because their style is so unique and hard to replicate that it simply ends up standing alone due to severe difficulty in imitation. To me it seems pretty obvious that Souvlaki is the winner and the pinnacle of Slowdive’s career, and it attains the status of a classic album and a shoegaze essential with ease.

It is perhaps easier to talk about what Souvlaki does right by instead talking about what it does not do wrong, maybe because good things and bad things have floated among shoegaze enthusiasts for years and there is almost nothing left. It could also be because I am very bad at writing reviews about albums I adore and usually end up just raving and using strong positive adjectives and nothing more.I’m going to quote something nerdy, or maybe just too deluged in popular culture to be considered fair description for a virtually unknown indie band from the early nineties, and certainly too vague and wordy for something specific that I am trying to say. With great power comes great responsibility. Using so layered, deep guitars requires a precision that most musicians do not dream of. It’s the kind of album that could have easily been fucked up on a song by song basis due to small mistakes in vocals or drums or something, but it is fortunately perfectly shaped and chizzled down to the finest details. One of the key factors in making moving music is building and relieving tension well, and Slowdive does it on every track, building waves of guitar chords that sound relieving at their first moments and longing at their last. I’m still trying to figure out how this effect is created, specifically on Machine Gun, where sometimes only subtle changes or no changes at all somehow transform their purpose in a matter of seconds. The only real explanation is that the band is simply impeccable in their ability to write soothing melodies without taking the easy way out. It sounds pretentious, but often times this album is soft spoken and beautiful in a tired, dreamy sort of way, specifically on Here She Comes. This song is particularly beautiful because of how it is simultaneously a dreamy lullaby and a touching elegy, and the instruments are played great too. The drums are a hushed chugging beat, the bassline is warm and simple and the guitar echoes between speakers in waves and is beautifully strummed.

The final breath of life on the original release, Dagger, is played similarly. Only an acoustic guitar, layered vocals, and very subtle background sound is present here. These two songs prove that Slowdive is not only capable of beauty when they pile up the guitars and assault the ears with a beautiful wall of sound. But that extreme is also utilized with significant success. The first song Alison is the most poppy thing on the album if anything here could be remotely considered poppy, and was accompanied by a so-so music video. To me, this is the kind of album that deserves visual treatment in the mind only. Alison is a fine song and a good way to start the album off as it is in many ways representative to what the rest of the album has to offer. It is dense in pretty guitars, has a nice little melody and is a good piece of poetry. The segue into Machine Gun and then into the explosion of happy energy 40 Days is an impressive set of songs to start the album off on. But easily the most loud song on the album is Souvlaki Space Station, the muscle that complements some of Souvlaki’s more tender songs. But the song contains some contradiction in it’s structure. While it is loud and very dense, it also does a huge amount with very little. The entire song is simply one repeating riff that builds itself up and takes itself apart periodically, and it somehow manages to be very dreamy and hypnotic. Another popular song is When The Sun Hits, equally as loud as Souvlaki Space Station but instead a melancholy burst of desperation, another truly accomplished shoegaze masterwork.

It is only expected that this album has one or two weaker tracks. It is nothing short of a miracle that this album kept it up for seven tracks before degenerating mildly. And I really would say mildly, because both Altogether and Melon Yellow are darn good songs in their own right and only comparatively weak to the streak of perfection that preceded them. And hey, it might just be me, because people often cite Melon Yellow as a stronger track. I also think it would be a good thing to straighten out some questions about the different issues of the album. Souvlaki was first put out in 1993 on CD, vinyl, and cassette with the album ending on Dagger. It was then re-released in 1994 stateside with four extra tracks from the 5 EP, and they are in some ways essential to the mood of the album. The cover of Some Velvet Morning isn’t that exciting or great, and really neither is the nearly disturbing little instrumental Missing You. But the other two are truly worthy of being on Souvlaki. Good Day Sunshine is a relaxing trance-like foray into dream pop avante-garde and a gorgeously disorienting masterpiece of mood. Country Rain is also wonderfully gentle and exceptional. But the ultimate way to experience the album is the 2006 double disk reissue, with the original release on one disk and Outside Your Room, 5, and In Mind Remixes EPs all included. This is really nice because many of these songs are well worth checking out and are otherwise a pain to get ahold of, making the reissue even more of a treasure. Also of note are the rare Souvlaki Demos which truly increase the scope of what the album had to say through some fascinating b-sides that are unfortunatley of very mediocre sound quality but probably worth tracking down in any case.

I really don’t think the accomplishments of Slowdive on Souvlaki can be understated. The truth is, this is just as good and essential to the genre as Loveless, and is an all out wonderful album. Souvlaki is one of the few albums that goes off in many directions while keeping it’s focus, and it ends up being a dark, melodic, crushing, gentle, soaring, sexual, and contemplative masterpiece that is completely representative of Slowdive’s unique style. While Slowdive had already made some great music and would make some more in the future, everything in their career points back to this album. This is one of the best albums of it’s kind and should not be missed by anyone who wants to know anything about shoegaze.

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May 10, 2007

After you wake, you feel completely revitalized. Your clothes are waiting for you at the end of your bed. You quickly race down the sunlit stairway, touching every other step until the last, which you skip to get to the floor. Feet dangling, you dig through the box for the prize. You eat your Apple Jacks and give the little, quaint, Chinese novelty its two minutes. She is still tired, but she manages to get the goods into the crumpled paper bag. Your backpack sings of painted pots and the animal kingdom, in it’s twenty page entirety. She smiles at you with weary eyes, kisses you on the cheek, and helps you put your boots on. Rainy days in clouded May, she wonders if those self defense classes they wanted her to take would have really been for the better. She counts the hours until you will be home again and she can help you cut words out of magazines.

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Review Shuffle (11 this time)

May 7, 2007

I know I said last time that I would do some more complaining next time I did an album shuffle.

Yeah, about that. I think I have complained more comparatively at least. Most all of these are still albums I like though, but I find if I complain too much I am just dismal and if I rave too much I end up having no strong taste, at least as it appears. I have two reviews in the works, one an album that I don’t really like and one that I really love. I also have a lot of new albums that have come out this year so I’ll review a lot of that stuff too. For some reason this year I have just been picking up tons of new albums which I don’t usually do. This is mostly all old stuff though.

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

I really never got around to getting all the way through this album until very recently. It was one of the albums that just felt like a task to get all the way through although I knew in the first place that it was pretty damn good. This still isn’t one of my favorite Flaming Lips albums, but in any case The Soft Bulletin is very important and popular for a reason. Most all of the songs are very nice little melodies, but simply aren’t expanded upon adequately. What makes some of the Lips’ songs so great is how big and huge they are, and a lot of times, the songs here just don’t develop like they should and are fairly two dimensional, making the album potentially wonderful but kind of dry in the end. But there are some great songs here, and it is an album worth getting to know. Lyrically this is just fantastic. Wayne Coyne is more inspired here than ever and it seems like every song he has awesome line after awesome line, my favorite being “it takes a year to make a day/and I’m feeling like a float on the Macy’s Day Parade” from Slow Motion. Highlights are not few, but once again, everything should have been a highlight if they could have just added some more to each track to make them like the bonus remixes, if that makes any sense. But what really impressed me about this is the sheer command they have over strings in general and their ability to color a song any way they like. This is a good record and is one of the Flaming Lips’ most revered, and I think fans of 90s rock and alternative should really check this out. I don’t know what the deal is with all the different issues of this album though… I think one of them comes with a bonus disk, another with some bonus tracks, and then different versions got either Slow Motion or the Spiderbite Song, both of which are great. Shop around a little and do some research before you buy this one because you will really want the bonus tracks, two wonderful remixes of Race for the Prize and Waitin’ for a Superman as well as a great little tune Buggin’. In short, this is a damn good album showcasing The Flaming Lips’ unique style, but it pales in comparison to Yoshimi.

Aerosmith – Big Ones

I think the majority of the reason I appreciate this is because I listened to it so much as a kid. I basically refused to listen to anything except for The Beatles, this, and the Good Burger soundtrack on a ludicrously long trip to Colorado from Chicago, so I got to know this collection pretty well. People always view Aerosmith as being this really elementary mediocre mainstream rock, but they were really very capable of writing some great songs. This is specifically the best of the bands middle career, which had it’s ups and downs. It seems like about half of this is tough, well written hard rock while the other half is bullshit balladry, most of which is done pretty poorly and I don’t appreciate that much. Specifically Cryin’ and Crazy are alright by sleazy early 90s pop standards, but even then this collection feels too split. But I think it was worth it, considering Aerosmith had just as many good songs in their mid career as they did in the beginning. It’s definitely not all good, but whenever I crank the volume on songs like Rag Doll or Love In an Elevator, or even Eat The Rich, I get some really good nostalgia going on. For me, getting this and the original Aerosmith Greatest Hits is really all I need.

Bob Dylan – Masterpieces

Considering that putting together a Bob Dylan compilation is extremely hard, this three disk Japanese import does the job pretty well for Dylan’s early to mid career. I guess I’m not a huge Dylan fan so I’m not familiar with all of his albums, but this was a good launching point for me into a downright imposing discography. Any release like this runs the risk of not including enough or including too much, and this does miss a few really good ones while including a few questionable songs too (I personally loathe Tears of Rage). But when it comes to Bob Dylan, really it is all about personal preference, and people are going to find songs they love that most are indifferent about and songs they hate that most love. If you want to get into Bob Dylan, stopping here would be the worst thing you could do, because the albums themselves are what hold strength. With that said, you will never get a definitive answer as to where to start in that respect. People will say Freewheelin’, Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61, Bringing it All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks… There is no easy way to dig into this artists body of work, and the only options are to dig and keep digging or simply not get a full picture. But this compilation rustles up some essentials to round off whenever you decide to stop digging, which will happen if this is justified in the first place.

Various Artists – Aqua Teen Hunger Force

To be honest (as if I’m not honest all the time), I haven’t even seen the Aqua Teen movie yet. I really want to and I have been meaning too and it feels like I have been waiting to for years, but all of my friends saw it without me so I guess I’m kind of screwed. I would consider myself and all of my friends to be pretty big Aqua Teen fans anyway, so I think one of them might crack and end up seeing it with me for their second run. I was with one of these such friends at Best Buy browsing for CDs on sale, because god forbid now that Tower Records is closed the only place nearby with a decent selection is Best Buy. I found something I wanted, and then noticed a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico on sale for ten dollars. I figured it was an album I had been meaning to listen to for a long time, and I had it in my hand when one of my friends came up.

“Dude, DUDE! You need to buy this for me. I promise I’ll pay you back when we get back to my place. I NEED to get this.”

I’m a nice guy. So I ended up buying the soundtrack to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie over The Velvet Underground and Nico. You all finally have an excuse to string me up by the balls with a piano wire, because I know you were all looking for one.

At any rate, this is about what I expected. I don’t think I could have possibly had high expectations for something like this in the first place anyway. But this suffers the same fate as many other movie soundtracks do by simply not having that many songs on it. A good chunk of the soundtrack is comprised of dialog from the shows characters, only a little of which is any good. Namely, Master Shake’s touching rendition of “Nude Love.” Beyond that, the disk is about equal parts silly rap, hardcore metal, and humorous shorts. Some highlights are the humorous original song by Mastadon “Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife” where the singer threatens to dissolve any movie piraters testicles, Nine Pound Hammer (the ones who did the 12 oz. Mouse theme song) doing Carl’s Theme, and the ridiculously bass heavy ATHF classic I Want Candy. The album can be, at times, very funny, and even I laughed out loud at a reference to a movie I have not even seen yet, “I Like Your Booty (But I’m Not Gay)”. What I don’t understand is how The Hold Steady got on here. Total crap.

Considering I didn’t really pay for this, I can’t say I’m too disappointed. It’s for the fans, that’s for sure, and if you didn’t already know that then don’t even think about buying this. If you were really ever seriously considering buying the soundtrack to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, you know what you are getting into and could act on that accordingly.

The Album Leaf – In A Safe Place

With In A Safe Place, The Album Leaf has crafted an album that is geared towards a very specific purpose, but luckily that purpose is fulfilled with good to great success. To say that this album is good to fall asleep to might not be such a horrible insult, because it is obvious that this was made to be relaxing enough to fall asleep to. These melodies are relaxing, comforting, and most of all warm, and as the title declares, this music was mostly made to relax and melt troubles away at least for the span of a decent sized album. And really, it is quite impressive how much Jimmy LaValle accomplishes in a little over fifty minutes without really shifting his style much. At points, the goal is changed and the music becomes too tense to really relax too but at the same time it ends up being charming and abrasive nonetheless. Some songs like Window, Over The Pond (featuring Jonsi of Sigur Ros no less), and Streamside are absolutely gorgeous in how relaxing and warm they really are, and at other times songs develop with careful precision into beautiful soaring melodies. I think the production on this album is the biggest problem I had. I didn’t like the beats half the time, but they did end up successfully creating relaxing breakbeats, a monumental oxymoron in the ambient world. Also, some of the songs are just kind of dull and meandering, and to be honest, the album repeats itself and does not really develop or switch anything up. The delicate strings are downright wonderful though, and this album has interested me enough to go see the “band” live later this month. For it’s specific purpose, dream incubation and relaxation, this album achieves impressive heights.

The Melvins – Houdini

I find it very difficult to talk about The Melvins. The Melvins are just what they are. Just about every adjective you think you can describe them with can be refuted, and every positive or negative conjecture can be easily reversed. The only way to tell if you like The Melvins is to listen to them, and probably to start with Houdini. That said, Houdini might not be the most popular album the band ever made, for obvious reasons. For one thing it is startlingly coherent and actually recognizable as a set of songs that have their own identities. This is about as pure as they have ever been, whatever that means. But even when they are at the closest they have ever been to “pop,” they are still miles away. Most of these songs are dirty metallic sludge, and they still prove themselves as being one of the bands that truly held the Grunge movement up. The sheer quality of this album kind of overshadows how the band usually writes music, that is, with the intention of shocking and at times apalling, but there are still some comfortably obnoxious moments, such as Pearl Bomb and Sky Pup. But for the most part this is a really heavy sludge album that usually makes sense, and it packs in a lot of really heavy, really headbanging moments and is probably the centerfold of The Melvins’ long ongoing career. The album surprisingly sticks together and does not have too many disposable moments, but I think the standout songs are the first five in particular, as well as some great ones later like Joan of Arc.

Bjork – Homogenic

Approaching the catalog of an artist as prestigious as Bjork is very difficult, and at first glance new listeners would want to stray from Homogenic in exchange for an album where she looks prettier on the cover. But this album is definitely one of her most serious, moving works and should be an eventual purchase for even casual fans. For the record, this is generally argued to be her best album, and although it may not be easy to listen to at first, the album stands out as being great if you can manage to give it a bit of a chance to open up. From the beginning dynamics of Hunter to the final touching words of All Is Full of Love, most everything on this album is very good and melodies are used to their full potential. But while this album pushes Bjork’s songwriting ability to impressive lengths, it also expands her vocal finesse to it’s most beautiful lengths. Her range and technique are wonderful as usual, but the amount of feeling she puts into her singing is what makes the album truly shine. I think the only problem anyone could ever have with her singing is her distinct Icelandic accent, which to some is wonderful while annoying to others. In any case, Bjork has enough talent to put tingles down even her critics spines. The album’s clear highlight and strongest radio song is without a doubt Bachellorette, an unspeakably moving melancholy orchestral explosion. The consistancy of this is also surprisingly reliable, and although songs like Alarm Call and Pluto are comparitively weaker, the album stays true to it’s unique style of icy melodies dotted with electronic touches. It may not be the easiest Bjork album, but if you simply want to go for the throat and nothing more, this will be the one you want to get.

William Hung – Inspiration

With all due respect, if you accuse William Hung of being a bad singer, you have missed the point entirely and you need to re-evaluate your opinions. The title “inspiration” is one of the biggest understatements in years. I don’t know if there is anything here that is not inspiring. The fact that William Hung, WILLIAM HUNG got a record deal when in fact most American Idol qualifiers don’t get close is inspiring. His sense of humor is inspiring, and unbelievably huge. The fact that he has the balls to make a record like this is inspiring. And to be sure, his little interludes are inspiring too. People forget that whatever Sanjaya winning could have proved, William Hung proved twice as much either way. I can’t bear to call this bad music, mostly because I just have too much fun listening to this. The song selection is actually pretty great, although not all of the songs are key. That is about the only room for improvement that this album missed. In any case, the renditions of She Bangs, I Believe I Can Fly, Hotel California, and Rocket Man are about as good as it gets. William Hung is actually singing his heart out on all of this, so the original hit She Bangs wasn’t just a one time fluke. William Hung is William Hung. And nothing is going to change that. And as much as people like Kelly Clarkson giggle in his face and throw him over their shoulder, the truth is obvious. Fifty years from now, people are not going to remember Kelly Clarkson. People are going to remember William Hung, and THAT is truly an amazing accomplishment.

Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits

Not being completely familiar with Sly and the Family Stone’s discography, I can really say almost nothing as to the validity of this disk as a collection. But what I will say is that upon first listen, this blew me away. It is almost unbelievable how many of these songs have quietly, and others not so quietly, become a part of our culture, and all of these songs are fantastic and memorable. Sometimes the problem is that the songs end too fast, just when the listener starts to be for more, but that makes this even more fun and irresistible to explore.What Sly did upon the making of this music is remarkable. The songs are catchy, fun, and energetic as well as skillfully played, but at the same time they really mean something and teach valuable lessons without sounding like they are preaching morals. Sly and the Family Stone are one of those bands that I would really love to get to know better, because I do know that they are one of the best at their kind and masters of soul and funk. But I can imagine if you need a starting point to get acquainted with this wonderful music, Greatest Hits is more than appropriate. I am pretty sure that all the biggest hits are included here, and you have almost certainly heard more than one. At least one or two more songs could have been included here, but I guess that says even more about the clarity and modesty here, a quality which most Greatest Hits collections sadly lack.

Eiffel 65 – Europop

I remember Europop well, and I remember liking it a lot. And now looking back, I can’t deny that this is severely under par music. The vocals are especially bad, but really the whole production is, and the hooks make a mockery out of the genre. But unfortunately, this album is noteworthy, even relevant. One has to have something going for them if they can construct a pop song as brilliant (although annoying as all hell) as Blue. The song’s power on the radio really can’t be downplayed effectively and for a brief period crashed sleazy dance into the mainstream. The songs are unfortunately memorable, which is weird, but maybe it is really only because of the nostalgic value this album has for me. But at the same time, most everything here is cringeworthy and ridiculous. As much as I would love to, I cannot forget Too Much Heaven, Livin’ In A Bubble, My Console (GOOD GOD) and Silicon World. As much as I hate this now, the songs have good hooks. And I do not think I have the right to completely tear apart an album that sold as much as this did. In short, this is a chunk of the dance genre breaking off and making noise on mainstream radio, which was actually a big deal because mainstream dance became more and more relevant because of it, even if it was justified by just one juggernaut of a song.

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

Houses of The Holy is just…one of those albums. One of those albums that everyone seems to like and I just cannot figure out why. It is pretty much split between good and startlingly bad, and for a Led Zeppelin album this is about as bad as it gets in the early career. But with that said, the album still has a nice selection of good songs. The Song Remains the Same is an interesting ethnic epic that does it’s job pretty well, but Robert Plant falters here, like he does on most of the album. The Rain Song and Over the Hills and Far Away are two of Led Zep’s absolute best acoustic moments and are priceless treasures that haven’t aged a bit unlike their predecessor. The Crunge is usually cited as being the albums worst track, but to be sure it’s a nice little groove while unfortunately completely unnecessary. The next two songs are downright horrible. Dancing Days was an already tired riff that amounts to even less when Robert Plant takes the stage with the least melodic vocals of his career, a complete embarrassment. D’yer Mak’er is a sad attempt at Reggae, and it’s so bad that John Bonham refused to play it live he hated it so much. The last two tracks are alright though, No Quarter is a nice outing into the avant-garde written by John Paul Jones, and The Ocean is the necessary riff rocker to keep the album on it’s feet considering the mediocrity that came before it. I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, but even I’ll admit that this album feels like a missed opportunity and a mixed collection of b-sides. Casual listeners should be encouraged not to give up here, because the band did come back with great success on their next album, but this is one of the weaker in the discography.