Archive for June, 2007

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More small reviews

June 28, 2007

Slowdive – Catch The Breeze [Compilation]
Was it really a good idea to make this compilation in the first place? It should be known that Slowdive is a wonderful band and there really needed to be some kind of introduction for new fans, but why make it two disks when the band had so little material? This includes nine out of ten tracks on the original release of Souvlaki, barely anything from Just For A Day, and half of Pygmalion, as well as a lackluster selection of rarities from some early EPs. To be quite honest, this is unnecessary and poorly compiled, and anyone who is interested in Slowdive after buying this will want the rest of their stuff for the sake of completion, making this even more frustrating. What we really needed was a rarities collection, a compilation of all the hard to find EPs that include other songs that fans really want to hear but can’t bear to spend tons of cash in different places for. Which brings me to yet another problem with this, the price. It’s an import, so it’s going to cost around twenty five in the States if you can even find it, because it’s rare. This is really only for hardcore completionists who want the art and liner notes, but for anyone else the recent re-releases of the studio LPs that round up all of the officially released goodies on their bonus disks is more than enough and does more good than this does. On one hand all of this music is great, so I can’t really bear to give this a horrible rating, but as a purchase this is really stupid.


Blind Faith – Blind Faith
I was very apprehensive when I first listened to this, mostly because I don’t really like Eric Clapton that much. To be honest, I just really didn’t want to like this at all. But for whatever reason I ended up enjoying it to a certain degree. The first three songs are darn good. Had to Cry Today is a classic riff, and Well All Right is too, but I really prefer Can’t Find My Way Home, a quaint little acoustic tune that is probably my favorite song on the album. The one even casual Clapton fans seem to know is Presence of the Lord, which really does nothing for me because the whole religious thing kind of doesn’t sit well. But I guess the peak of the album is the final rocker/jam Do What You Like, which at times is very cool but probably could have been chizzled down, at least the long bass and drum solos. There are really some talented people working on this album. Clapton and Baker are really some of the best on their respective instruments. But like most stuff from this lite 60s blues genre, the guitar style and production bores me to no end. That doesn’t stop this from having some choice songs though, and it may be a better place to start on Clapton’s career than the likes of his solo albums.


Sonic Youth – Sister
Pinning Sister as a second best record really undermines the fact that it is a great record and not just the alternative to the obvious. While this is not an obvious record, like most albums by Sonic Youth, it is still immediately recognizable as a true classic of it’s decade, virtually refining noise-rock and displaying Sonic Youth’s songwriting ability and truly monumental style. Perhaps the comparison is made because Sister is not quite as ambitious or relentless as Daydream Nation, but in any case it is just about as enjoyable in terms of good songs and the overall result. What Sonic Youth does with undeniable success is rain the easygoing nature of American youth into a single album which does it’s damage with great consistency. At some points the album feels like the soundtrack to a quick weekend trip through rural America with your buddies, and to me that is represented by the cover pretty well. Sometimes this album is soft, with the wonderful Schizophrenia and the appropriately titled soft/hard noise of Tuff Gnarl. And sometimes it is great punk with choice numbers such as Catholic Block and Hot Wire My Heart. The album gets more rocking as it goes along and is very abrasive and by all means not a softie, and the only one song goes over the five minute mark, making it feel more listenable to the casual fan and easier to swallow, making this a good place to start. A noise rock landmark that not only deserves respect but demands it.


George Carlin – Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics
Although George Carlin is without question one of my favorite comedians, this is not his comedy working at it’s best. In my opinion, his sense of humor translates best through his books, but for a live comedy album, you could do worse than this. However, most of his completely outlandish comedy is overshadowed here by vulgar social satire, some of which is good and some of which isn’t. More than anything, George Carlin makes some really good points here and completely tears down politically correct walls and makes them his bitch. Especially provocative are “I Ain’t Afraid of Cancer” and “Rape Can Be Funny.” But as informative as this humor might be, it really isn’t all that funny. Carlin is his best when he is spitting anger and completely outlandish, random complaints, but here is more of a constructed approach to his psyche. Essential for fans, but in my opinion it’s a hard comedy album to listen to.


Cocteau Twins – Violaine [Single]
As far as I know, the Violaine series was the last material the Cocteau Twins ever released. In more ways than one, the series of EPs for the singles Tishbite and Violaine are just as important if not more important than the album they came from. Finding these singles is quite the task, and paying for them is even harder, but hunting them down individually or getting them in the box set Lullabies To Violaine is surely worth it. Like all of the Twins’ singles from the time, the song Violaine doesn’t take too many risks but is still quite a good song. All of the other songs are equally accessible, romantic, and at times wonderfully fragile. But the truth stands, the sound of the Milk and Kisses sessions feels a bit recycled from the Four Calendar Cafe recordings. In any case, these songs are lovely and a treat to any Cocteau Twins fans. The swirling bittersweet romance of Circling Girl and Smile are simply lovely, but the other two b-sides are the real treats. Tranquil Eye is a fine lullaby, and Alice is really like nothing the band ever did, from an era that otherwise doesn’t stand out that much. The song is one of Liz Fraser’s best vocal performances, and a mysterious, almost dark song that is a personal favorite of many fans. More than appropriate as a last released song for the band on their last single. For fans who have already deciphered the bands unique sounds, completely essential.


The White Stripes – Blue Orchid [Single]
I don’t know exactly what issue of the Blue Orchid EP I have is, but it has the title track, the two b-sides, and the You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket live take. As a big White Stripes fan, I’ll pick up any singles I see in the store, which is actually pretty rare to see. But this was more of an asset to me than the Walking With A Ghost EP by a long shot. The single is damn good, one of the few good ones from Get Behind Me Satan. And the two b-sides are disposable but fun little scraps/leftovers. Whose A Big Baby is funny and playful as long as you don’t take it seriously, and Though I Hear You Calling is just plain fun. But the live take I’m just not interested in, and although the song has some good moments, it might be my least favorite song on Elephant and is all around not that good of a performance. In a word, interesting. Fans will want this.


Cocteau Twins – Dials/Crushed/The High Monkey-Monk/Oomingmak
This rare EP which I believe can only be found from the Cocteau Twins first box set contains five absolutely wonderful, classic Cocteau Twins numbers. In terms of mood and sound, this matches The Moon And The Melodies relatively closely, or at least the first and last songs do. But to be fair, these songs have much more identity and feel a lot more special than any songs from that album. The lovely Dials starts off the disk, and an instrumental version of Oomingmak ends it beautifully. But it’s the ones in the middle that really matter. Crushed is a typical pick for best Cocteau Twins song from hardcore fans, and The High Monkey-Monk is like nothing the Twins had ever done before, combing their lovely ambiance and dream-pop sensibilities with an eastern tinge making for an absolutely priceless cut. I have no idea about the rarity of this release, but these songs are four of the bands best and whatever trouble it takes a fan to hunt them down is worth it.


Arcade Fire – Funeral
Since their 2003 self titled EP debut, Arcade Fire have reached near mythical, untouchable status in the indie community by means of two fantastic albums and a killer live act. And Funeral raised the majority of that hype. If I recall correctly, Funeral stands as the best selling indie debut of all time, or something like that, but the details don’t really matter… Even upon it’s release, there was a stampede of popularity. Funeral is a tour de force of everything that indie rock has ever been about. Clever instrumentation is the first big draw. Using a myriad of creative instruments such as bells, accordions, violins, cellos, and even kettle whistles during Neighborhood #4, the band produces an interesting sound that does not let up. The fact that this album is about death does not overshadow the fact that it is also about love. For the most part, the album stays solid and lovely the whole way through. Almost every track stands out. The opening Tunnels is a touching love song, Power Out is an amazing explosion of energy, and an anthemic masterpiece is achieved with Rebellion. But they reach true pop bliss with Haiti, an irresistible tropical bounce, when Regine Chassagne whispers “in the forest we are high.” The album is not without it’s small flaws though, but perhaps they make Funeral all the more lovable. The production is creamy and smooth, which is probably why it gained so much popularity in exchange for a little backbone. Also, the vocalists styles are unique but also not necessarily always great. And a few low points are reached, namely 7 Kettles, but the spirit of the album is revelatory and lovely enough to captivate anyones mind. Big surprise, we finally have an indie band that meets almost impossible hype. A real keeper.


The Clash – London Calling
London Calling, The Clash’s massive double LP, is just one of those punk classics that I could never really truly like despite my best efforts. But to me, this isn’t really classic punk but instead classic punk-pop. It’s best moments more than justify it, and I can definitely see why people like it so much, but the majority of these songs are simply tired to me. It’s best moments are either some of the most brilliant, heavy songs the punk movement ever heard or wonderful pop; London Calling, Brand New Cadillac, Hateful, Spanish Bombs, The Guns of Brixton, and Train in Vain are all fantastic songs. But the majority of everything else is plagued by hooks that apparently only I deem cheesy. Specifically, songs like Rudie Can’t Fail, Jimmy Jazz, Lost In The Supermarket, and Clampdown are horribly annoying. Part of the problem I had with this album was the occasional reggae that they tried to work into the music which really only ended up severely annoying me. This is a monumental album, because not ever before had punk been drawn so freaking close to pop, enough so for the genres to meld. Thus, this is an essential punk album and subject of countless classic hooks. I mean really, I heard it first when I was a little kid and I was amazed even back them how many songs I recognized from the radio and pop culture in general. It’s also got that classic album cover that represents everything that punk is all about, and it is eternally plastered in my mind from being framed in so many of my friends houses. It’s a classic album. Half of it simply annoys the shit out of me, that’s all.


The Jesus And Mary Chain – Darklands
Considering the circumstances of the previous album, Darklands is a pretty ambitious album, even considering it’s tame nature in comparison to Psychocandy. Instead of loud, hooky punk-pop, The Jesus And Mary Chain created breathy, touching love songs, as well as including both Reids in the vocal responsibilities. The sheer emotional power that these songs hold is sometimes staggering. The three singles, Darklands, Happy When It Rains, and April Skies, are among the best the band has ever created, and the rest of the album is fairly solid as well. The problem might be the environment in which this is listened to. If you actually find yourself listening to this in your house on a rainy day, you probably WONT be happy. But at the same time, these songs hold considerable weight when played at the right time and in the right place. This may be tiring to listen to all the way through, as it does not let up in it’s revelatory romantic mood, but the truth still stands that this is another record that built a signature JAMC sound, as every record of theirs did. They never really came back to this style, making it feel like an anthem packed explosive valentine to fans. Wonderful in it’s own way.


Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun
The Icelandic band Sigur Ros, by this point in their career, have redefined and expanded their sound enough times to completely avoid categorization. Are they rock? Are they ambient? Or are they simply some breed of sophisticated pop? The only thing for certain is that Sigur Ros aren’t afraid of being themselves, and have an awe-inspiring artistic freedom. Throughout this sprawling sophomore album, Sigur Ros created possibly their most accessible and simulatneously memorable album of their careers. The strategy utilized on Ágætis Byrjun is the same that was used on Von and would be used on future albums () and Takk. That strategy is simple. More means more. Which is ironic, because the opening introduction track is exactly the melody that the listener would want expanded on to about five minutes. This may seem like a pretentious move, but many have mistaken Sigur Ros’ all-over-the-place style and relentless experimentation for pretentiousness only to gradually realise that it is true beauty and the art of learning while writing songs. Really, it is quite impressive how consistant this album stays. The bands style here is to combine subtley atmospheric instrumentation with emotive, soaring melodies. These songs sound huge, both in length and in scope, and the result is surprisingly warm. This also sounds very unlikely, almost too good to be true. But what do you know, Sigur Ros pull it off, against all odds. From the opening Svefn-G-Englar, vocals are given extremely relaxed treatment and strings and a lovely melody is gradually explored. It’s hard to believe it, but every track is standout. Around the middle, the album shifts into a more dark, melancholy mood for the extent of two songs, Ny Batteri and Hjartao Hamast, which help to make Ágætis Byrjun Sigur Ros’ most representative album. The extent of my gruff is that the band repeats themselves a little here and there, but who doesn’t like more of a good thing? Happy, sad, lovely, dark, bright, relaxing, urgent. Sigur Ros are all of these things and more on their many albums, and this is the one that just happens to be the best. Although it may seem “uncool” to like Sigur Ros in some of the indie circles, emotion doesn’t lie. Sigur Ros is a wonderful band with a myriad of wonderful sounds. Start here.


Tool – 10,000 Days
While I would have deemed 10,000 Days the worst Tool album to date a couple of months ago, I have given it enough time to decide that it is slightly better than Undertow. The sheer quality of the album is simply shadowed by how difficult and limit pushing the music is. Every song on the album is in some way a new exciting revelation for Tool, who having been out of the studio for five years really had to prove that they weren’t loosing their touch. Some familiar aspects of Tool are still here. The touches of filler, the difficult rhythms, and progressive style are still here. These details remind us that Tool is still very much one with their fans. During the filler song Lipan Conjuring, Adam Jones “sings” along lightly with a creepy Native American chant. This detail caught my ear for some reason. It is just a subtle reminder that the band does not let up, even when they are crafting a small, seemingly insignificant nuance. Once again, every corner of the album shows Tool doing what they do best in new ways. Maynard’s voice sounds much different at times, which is alright, because his voice actually sounds more smooth and his lyrics are only getting better and more insightful. The radio hit Vicarious is hypnotically dark, as the lyrics describe our painful world to be like. Jambi. The most difficult part of the album is the long, pained Wings for Marie series, dedicated to Maynard’s recently departed mother. Tool have never made a piece this long and progressive, and it’s fun if not a little difficult to get through. The album contains less memorable riffs than other Tool albums, but on the other hand The Pot is easily among the absolute best songs the band has ever creates. It has rock solid riffs, a frenetic pace, and downright unbelievable guitar and bass work. In fact, the entire album features perhaps the most impressive instrumentation the band has shown yet. The latter parts of the album tend towards more hypnotic psychedelia. It’s a difficult album, and not always fun, but it has some great, classic Tool songs and it expands the band repetoire even further, proving that Tool really ARE amazing and don’t lose momentum.

I guess we can nail Tool down to a specific genre now, can’t we?

Progressive psychedelic alternative grunge metal.

Maybe.

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Nick Drake – Family Tree

June 21, 2007

I think most fans find it a little unbelievable that Nick Drake has been dead for over thirty years. It is a little hard to believe. For how fresh these songs sound even decades later, it feels like Drake just left a few years ago. For an artist so precious not only to fans but to the entire American folk scene, it is a shame that so little material is in circulation. The era of this monumental artist that fans seem to appreciate most is the “less is more” themed album Pink Moon, which featured, with only one exception on the title track, only Nick Drake and his guitar. That is the spirit of this long winded rarities compilation. Most all of the songs are home recordings featuring only one instrument and vocals, and exceptions are few.

Which is why, in theory, this collection sounds like it should be completely boring. From what I hear, most of these songs can be found on other bootlegs already, and this is more of an official release of the rarities than anything. This is good. I don’t have time to track down bootlegs, let alone more than one from an artist with such a sparse career, so it’s nice to have all sorts of stuff worth having on an official release, with a few completely unreleased songs no less. But either way, calling the album Family Tree was probably misleading. Are Nick Drake rarities so scarce now that they must be created, as performances from Nick Drake’s family? At that, these songs were probably never good enough to be on full albums anyway. Most all of the songs are simple finger picking and slow vocals.

So that sounds pretty dull, and pretty disposable. But fortunately for the casual listener, this collection is simply essential and completely different on your stereo than on paper. For one thing, the low quality of these recordings only adds to the fragility and mystique of many of the songs. And the fact that they are home recordings brings some personal vitality to the songs, sometimes when Nick Drake speaks after the cuts or makes a tiny little mistake. The fact that these songs are not studio recordings only help them. Sometimes, the fuzz in the background sounds like soft rain, and the effect is amazing. Also, the brevity of most of the songs actually helps as well. All the more room for interesting melodic nuances. For collectors, this is not only an official release from the Nick Drake estate, but it also has a lions share (if not all, after all I’m no expert) of the rarities all in one place. But for casual fans, this is a completely lovely triumph in every way.

Stylistically, I’d have to mark these songs as more bluesy than usual. Which really is an area that was not explored before in Nick Drake’s released career. Some of these takes are extremely relaxing and simultaneously fun, like Cocaine Blues, If You Leave Me, and Black Mountain Blues. A good portion of the album is similarly relaxing blues, but there are other areas touched on. Songs like They’re Leaving Me Behind and Rain are simple and wonderful enough to have been on Pink Moon. But there are also some things that one might not consider real, solid material here. It seems as if the Nick Drake estate was trying to milk some of Nick Drake’s more obscure, some would say useless recordings. At first glance, little nuggets such as a poetry reciting called Time Piece (that features no music at all) and a tiny piano recording Paddling In The Rushes seem like they mean nothing at all. But the truth of it is, even this little “filler” songs are simply dropdead gorgeous. Nick Drake has kept up his romantic, emotional style even at home where he has nothing to prove.

Although it may seem like a blemish to include recordings from Nick Drake’s family, they do add to the experience at levels not understandable unless heard. All of these songs are lovely, regardless of who sings them, and the music speaks for itself. Poor Mum, the family recital of Kegelstatt Trio, and the duet of All My Trials are all wonderful. And the best is the ending… After a touching reprise of Come Into The Garden, a girl who I assume to be Nick’s sister wraps up the album with a mindbendingly fragile and wonderful rendition of the classic Try To Remember. It’s almost like staring into a photograph.

For any Nick Drake fan no matter the caliber, Family Tree is an asset. It plays beautifully and delivers some truly classic songs that stand alongside other of the mans great pieces. Twenty eight songs of pure, touching Drake music. Who could ask for more? Although I’d hardly call it a 2007 “album,” it is still one of the best releases of this year. I love reclining on my garage roof during the summer and listening to Nick Drake. These brilliant gems will keep me staring at the blue sky and the stars for a long, long time.

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

June 17, 2007

Sky Blue Sky

The new record from Wilco, in short, works a little better in theory than in practice. The general standout value of the album is that it is filled with more mellow lo-fi songs than Wilco usually makes. This is exactly the kind of album we have waited for from Wilco, although I haven’t quite scaled all the reaches of their career so I can only say so much. But a little less country and a little more rock and roll seems like the ideal new direction after having made A Ghost Is Born, possibly the bands most riff-y electric album yet. So it is really nice to have a few more mellow songs. But the album isn’t as mellow as you have been told. There are a myriad of louder stomps that Wilco has made before. The quality is pretty mixed. There is some stuff that is really good and some stuff that is downright disappointing. But I’d call it a winner in the end, there is definitely more good than bad.

Even if it isn’t quite as quiet as advertised, it still feels like three parts folk and only one part country and rock. The opening song, Either Way, is a personal favorite and in my opinion one of the better songs Wilco has made. Two acoustic guitars, a quiet organ, soft beats, and a warm bass sound like half of the number they really are, and this is practically a lullaby for a midday nap. What struck me about this song is how fricking good the guitar solo is. I think the band has a new guitarist since A Ghost Is Born, and if he is the one showing his chops all over the place, I’m impressed. Technically the solos are simply but sound very right to the ear. Either way and the song Sky Blue Sky are soothing folky ballads more than worthy of being included on a best of comp. But these songs are sadly rather lonely. if the whole album had more songs like this, I would be more than happy, but instead a more long winded approach is taken to the majority of the songs. That’s okay though. Sometimes time heals, as it does on Impossible Germany where a completely dull and unimmaginative riff is eventually transformed into something truly beautiful (and another solo heaven at that).

But the weaknesses aren’t insignificant at times. Some of the songs are just too tired. I am not too keen on You Are My Face. Shake It Off is just unbearably dull. And Side With The Seeds is a generally good song ruined by Jeff Tweedy’s really mediocre vocal performance. But to be honest, I have always had serious issues with Tweedy’s vocals. The only thing that stops me from giving Yankee Hotel Foxtrot five stars is a few minor vocal issues I have, specifically with songs like Radio Cure and War on War. I get the feeling, at times, that some of Wilco’s songs would be better left instrumentals considering they have enough experimental instrumentation as it is. However, poetically he is very solid. Half the fun of YHF was the lyrics. He fumbles on Sky Blue Sky more than once as though. A lot of times, namely on Side With The Seeds and Walken, he sings way louder than he needs to, and his vocal melodies just aren’t as good as they should be. He has that problem a lot. He doesn’t quite know how to yell, and to be honest, he really shouldn’t. He should just sing.

But in the end the album is more than justified. Over half the songs are very lovely. My highlights are Either Way, Sky Blue Sky, Impossible Germany, and Please Be Patient With Me. There is actually a significant forward step made here in style at points, although it wasn’t really expanded on as much as I would like. If the entire album was more folky quiet stuff I would appreciate it more, but in the end it’s worth your money if you like Wilco and has some of the best songs this year has had to offer.

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The White Stripes – Icky Thump

June 14, 2007

“Alex?”

“What’s up?”

“Turn on the radio to XRT.”

“Okay. Why?”

“The new Jack is on!”

“Yeah, I’ve heard it. Do you like it?”

“He’s a damn genius. It has this crazy organ thing. It’s great.”

“I know. I can’t wait for the album to come out.”

I have concluded after careful consideration and honest observation that my mother loves Jack White more than she loves me. I still contend that White Blood Cells was the first album to truly get me interested in music, and since I acquired it so many years ago, I have worked my way through the discography treasuring most every moment. I have very fond memories of sitting in my room doing algebra homework, while my mother watched my stereo from the doorway with subtle wonder. Within a year or two, when I finally owned all of the albums, she would practically break down my door screaming “ITS JAAAACK” as if it was Beatlemania all over again. The fact that spellcheck does not find error in the word “Beatlemania” and does find error in the word “spellcheck” vaguely adds some backbone to the love my mother has for Jack White. She talks about him like he is the favorite child, a son who has gone off to college and, unlike the other children, calls back frequently and sends her beautiful bouquets of flowers on mothers day. Whenever we take a ride in the car, she demands that I bring a White Stripes album. And she constantly praises his genius. She only has to say the word “Jack” to encompass the careers of both The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. It is not as if she does not care about Meg, because we both realize she is necessary to the sound, but she simply has brought her love to that high of a level. He makes her laugh. It sounds like I am exaggerating. Sadly, I am not.

When we heard Get Behind Me Satan was on the production line, we freaked out about equally. I cut out a full page add from The Onion and put it on my wall, above my CD rack. It is still there. It is in obscured light. She called me on the phone and told me about the fantastic single, Blue Orchid. We were very excited. When we finally bough the album, we couldn’t be more indifferent. I was angry. For an album with so much hype, I was pissed that there were so few winning songs. She was more confused and hurt than anything. I remember playing the CD in the car, and when we got to My Doorbell, she simply told me, “I’m sorry, I can’t deal with Jack right now.” That was the breaking point. That is usually a statement that she saves for Axl Rose. That was a rough ride home. I could easily spend an entire review complaining about Get Behind Me Satan. I probably won’t.

Both of our woes were significantly healed by the release of Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs. We both enjoyed the depth that was given to Jack White’s songwriting, and the quality of the songs, but we realized it wasn’t as heavy as we would like. She sipped a thermos of black coffee in the car.

“This is good, but not Elephant good.”

The milk in my fridge expires on June 19th. On June 19th, the White Stripes’ new album, Icky Thump, will hit stores. I have heard the album. I have not downloaded the leak. I heard it played all the way through on my local alternative rock radio station, Q101. This was a musical experience like almost nothing else I have been through. I have also heard the whole thing legally on the internet, god forbid the only reason I have visited mtv.com ever in the past five years. I refuse to download the leak mostly because listening to The White Stripes on my stereo as loud as I can and bobbing my head back and forth has been one of the few truly authentic listening experiences for me anymore. The White Stripes are a band whose albums I BUY. I’ll buy all their records, no matter their quality. I have entered cheap, dingy record stores and bought their obscure singles. It’s just something that I do. I cannot steal from The White Stripes, especially a damn good record like this.

One of the issues I had with Get Behind Me Satan was the wishywashy experimentation that they utilized. Marimbas and banjos sounded like a good idea. They weren’t, really. They simply were not used well. When I first heard Icky Thump on Q101, what struck me immediately were two songs in the middle, Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn and St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air). Both songs mesh together almost as one identity, and they heavily feature bagpipe solos. The former can be compared to Little Ghost off of GBMS, where the band tried a completely different genre. But Little Ghost was a mostly failed attempt at bluegrass while Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn is a completely successful European folk song of sorts. And St. Andrew is justification enough that the Stripes have ironed out all of their issues. It features Meg on vocals. Most people cringe at this thought due to the damage that was previously done by Passive Manipulation, but here, Meg recites some nice poetry in a warped voice while the bagpipe and drums rage in the background. This song is not unique, in that interesting instruments like organs pop up more than once on the album, but they don’t simply throw in weird ass effects or instruments for the sake of having them and there are plenty of songs that stick to the classic White Stripes agenda of drums, guitar, and vocals.

As far as a collective sound goes, Icky Thump is the bands heaviest album since their self-titled debut, which had the advantage of an extremely raw production. This album, on the other hand, still has a pretty slick production, but unlike it’s predecessor that doesn’t get in the way of the music. On the title track, Jack’s vocals sound very clear and crisp, and are in fact doubled, an effect that they have done really bad things with in the past. HOWEVER, the doubled vocals are wound very tightly and don’t get to be a problem at all. As for style, the signature blues swagger is picked up again, with great success. Jack goes to work with a soloing style on the bagpipes and organs that is very all over the place, and unspeakably heavy. Beyond that, all of these riffs are rock solid and none of them falter in the places where they might have the opportunity to, another weakness of GBMS. This is classic, vintage White Stripes. Bone Broke, the Spanish themed Conquest, and Little Cream Soda are all classic rockers that will go down in White Stripes history, no doubt.

Strong moments are not few. I can sincerely say that there are no weak songs on the album, but maybe it only seems that way to me because I am a really big White Stripes fan, but it should still mean something that even on the first listen I couldn’t recognize any bad songs beyond the fact that I still can’t. For such a solid album, it’s tough to pick favorites. But I’d have to go with Icky Thump, Prickly Thorn, Rag and Bone, Little Cream Soda, and Catch Hell Blues as personal highlights. But just because the album is at it’s best while doing really heavy blues riffing does not mean that is all it can do. The second and third songs are a little more reserved, at least in comparison to the rest of the album. You Don’t Know What Love is kind of reminds me of some of the pop that is on White Blood Cells. 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues is a very mellow little acoustic tune that transforms into a heavy rocker. As far as vocals go, this is second only to Elephant. Especially great is Rag and Bone where Jack and Meg get silly. At points the lyrics sometimes even get dirty, and I have no problems saying this is most likely the sexiest White Stripes album to date as well.

The White Stripes are back with a vengeance. My milk expires in less than a week. All of the record stores in the area have either gone out of business or moved, so me and a carload of friends will give up the extra few dollars and pack it up for Best Buy. The experience of buying records is not like it once was. We can’t go home and spin a record while smoking doobies on the provided paper. But we will go home and crank the stereo all the way up. And I think that my mother will only stand in the doorway nodding her head along with us, and possibly telling us to “turn that shit up.”

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Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

June 9, 2007

It occurred to me at some point while listening to Trout Mask Replica, sometime after I realized that it was only music in an external sense and before I decided that I actually liked it to some extent, that I would never hear any music even remotely similar in my entire life. I realized that there couldn’t possibly be anything quite like this, through imitation or coincidence. The reason that I decided to listen to the whole thing all the way through was mostly because I was sick of not having it pinned down on my RYM. I gave up on it several times. I did more than throw it on the backburner. I downright discarded it, but I decided that I couldn’t let something this weird slip through my fingers any more, and I really wanted to understand it. What is truly interesting about Trout Mask Replica is that it demands some kind of attention, because there is nothing like it and opinions cannot be formed on it by comparison to anything else.

But maybe that is a strength as well as a weakness. Because Trout Mask Replica is the only music of it’s kind (or at least I assume, not having heard the rest of Beefheart’s discography), it is simultaneously the best and worst of it’s kind. To be sure, every aspect of the album is unique. The instrumentation is downright perplexing, and even at it’s most accessible it can only be described as sinister and a bit ugly. The gist of this all is that most of the instruments are played in extremely complex syncopation and confusing, sometimes nonexistent melodies. At first glance this seems nothing except obnoxious noise. Captain Beefheart’s cousin The Mascara Snake, who gets several lyrical mentions (my favorite of which is the opening bars to Pena), plays numerous squawky clarinet solos throughout the massive double record clocking in at almost eighty minutes. The lions share of the songs are played atonally, so almost nothing musical is readily apparent. But this rewards people with a keen ear and people who choose to stick with the album. After a while, otherwise hidden melodies or grooves surface, making the songs individually special. This is weird music, if you even want ot call it music, which I’ll bet many people won’t.

Every once and a while, there are some musical moments though. The main riff in Moonlight On Vermont comes to mind, as well as the immediately graspable dirty blues of China Pig and the somehow sensible Ella Guru. But really, these moments come in every song, even if they last only seconds or are overshadowed by an obnoxious guitar. But this juxtaposition of order and disorder only makes the album more compelling. When one thing makes sense, something else doesn’t, and for that reason, there is a big drawing power. Power to make the listener completely hypnotized and destroyed by whatever the songs have to offer. I was shocked to realize that I enjoyed whatever Ant Man Bee was saying, as well as being able to sing along with the opening Frownland. I shouldn’t enjoy this, but I do. Why I will never know.

There are some reoccuring elements throughout the album that set the record a bit more straight. Captain Beefheart’s voice is completely unique, never matches the tone of the music, and hardly makes any rhythmic sense. It has some kind of dirty southern growl to it, but his downright unbelievable range is what propels it in all different directions on the album. His Zappa-esque lyrics are half of the fun… They generally make no sense at all but end up being surprisingly inspiring. One particular instance is Dachau Blues, where he sings of the holocaust in his lowest of growls. It sounds like he can’t be taking the grim subject seriously, but he must be. Also included throughout the album are several songs featuring only Beefheart himself on vocals and nothing more, projecting his enigmatic, insane personality outwards through words. Also sometimes heard are small, real life dialogs from the Captain and company, affirming the fact that he really is from the same universe. From the introduction to Pena, Beefheart playfully plans out a small dialogue, and the laughter that ensure that even he realizes that what he does is quite strange.

Favorite songs are, surprisingly, not few. There is a gigantic amount of songs to choose from on the four expansive sides of the album. Everything on Side A is just perfect (although I really have no reasons for saying that), and other favorites include China Pig, When Big Joan Sets Up, and Hobo Chang Ba. But in reality, most of the enjoyment from this album is through value of humor, and every song is completely strange in their own funny ways. I’m glad I stuck with this. To some extent, I enjoy it. But once again, there is no standard. When compared to any other music, this is the most ridiculous trite imaginable. But when compared to itself, as most people have done and ended up loving the album (sheer numbers of Beefheart’s fans don’t lie), this is oddly enough nothing except perfect. It gets on my nerves after listening to more than a few songs in a row, but the humor is biting and sometimes wonderfully tongue in cheek, and it can’t really be denied that this is a classic of some genre that the human race just isn’t ready for quite yet.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Gish

June 4, 2007

When I spontaneously created a Top Fifty Albums list on my RYM a couple of weeks ago, I had no reason for Gish being so close to the top except for the fact that it just seemed right at the time. I guess I was simply looking at all of the albums I had given five stars and this just stuck out. When I take a good look from the outside, I would probably say that Gish doesn’t have as strong a set as Siamese Dream. And maybe it doesn’t and my opinion has changed in the past few weeks, but there is no doubt that I adore this album. The question is, why? I don’t even think I could have answered this question until I gave it another spin the other day. I don’t think I have ever had this bizarre of a love for an album. I find myself constantly gravitated to it and have listened to it more times than my memory cares to recall, a number that can only be described as obscene. And yet I still have a bit of trouble recalling what the riffs or tunes in some songs are. And it really only had two songs that could ever be described as radio material, and maybe Siamese Dream’s unfathomable myriad of radio hits makes it pale, but at the same time Gish just feels more loveable and has no weak moments whenever I play through it. A lot of times I feel there is this kind of silent offward nod of approval from my tastes to this album. It’s not an album I rave over, not even comparable to how much I talk about albums I love marginally less. So why is it that I can only shrug and give it a thumbs up when I see it at number two on my list? I guess I just felt like there was some unseen, irresistible dynamic to it. It’s something that I didn’t feel good not knowing.

When I was rating all my albums, I got to Gish and immediately gave it five stars, along with Siamese Dream. I just felt like this was my favorite of the bunch. Siamese Dream probably has better songwriting in the end, but only to a certain extent considering both albums are totally tight. But I have always had a serious, undeniable problem with Siamese Dream that I am still having trouble getting over years after I first heard it. That is, I’m not quite sure I always like the sound of the guitars. The riffing is simply awesome, but the actual sound and production of the guitars is very fuzzy and jagged, and while it does act like the buzzsaw bayonet to the weapon that is the Smashing Pumpkins, I have just had a very hard time getting over it. This can only be alleviated by cranking the album to extremely high volumes. When Siamese dream floats gently into it’s more acoustic or organic sounds, the guitars sound wonderful, and the songwriting more than makes up for it anyway, but on Gish all the guitars immediately stick out and gloss over beautifully. And as far as strength of songs goes, Siamese Dream produced a myriad of wonderful radio hits and unforgettable hooks. Gish, on the other hand, took the route of very cool but ultimately less memorable riffs and hooks that don’t wear themselves out. The definition of this album is cool and chill, and perhaps the less distinctive and easy hooks are what makes this album feel new upon repeated listens. And it really does. Siamese Dream is an album I have listened and whored to my ears so much that I tired it out, but having listened to Gish just as many times, it still feels new.

For individual songs, Gish actually has a pretty big myriad of types of tunes on it. The album only repeats itself twice, and in good ways too. The trio of upbeat but ultimately chilled riff rockers, I Am One, Bury Me, and Tristessa, is staggeringly good. All three songs start up with a really muscular rhythm section and particularly good basslines, and develop themselves with shiny guitars and heavy riffs. The opening I Am One is the one of the bunch that stands out the most though, perhaps because it is the first song on the Pumpkins first album. But even then, it’s quality is undeniable. About halfway through the song, something unforgettable happens, and a crazy awesome guitar solo starts up only to be accompanied by another of equal quality, and both snake around one another for a long time. Then, the only the bassline remains, thumping along at a steady pace, when both guitars come in again and rekindle the mayhem with an explosion of sound. This is only one of the many memorable moments on the albums more upbeat rocking half. Another would be the entirety of the song that is Siva, a long, progressive foray that reels through numerous variations of the same riff. When the band quiets down and does a very subdued variation on the verse and then fades into silence. Which then angrily explodes back into the chorus. A monumental moment.

And interestingly enough, the album is almost cut in half between loud, fun rockers and quiet, completely unique dream pop. For some reason people regard this album as a chief in the genre of dream pop when in reality only half of it could really truly constitute as such. The most popular of these songs is the third song, Rhinoceros. Drifting along romantically at a slow beat, lullaby bass, and pretty textured guitar, the song is nothing short of a masterpiece. What might throw off some listeners though, is how long the song is, clocking in at about six and a half minutes, never really repeating itself either. There is no set verse, and when it revisits the chorus, it does it in different way. Every few bars the guitars change sound to reveal a brand new riff or nuance, and after building up to a glorious signature Pumpkins peak of wonder, the song ends with a sigh of love. This, however, is not a lonely song. The other that stands out to me is Crush, which I have finally decided that I love after not being sure about it for a long time. What threw me off was the fact that the song is built upon a simple major scale as a bassline, the most elementary thing I’ve ever heard. But that doesn’t stop the fact that this is a wonderful, dreamy gem and completely representative of it’s title in every sense. And the following Suffer is just as good. It is almost a bit eastern, but is one of the most gentle, lovely tunes I have ever heard. There is a missing link though. One of the bands best songs, Drown, was written around the same time and was included on the Singles soundtrack. It plays a lot like Rhinoceros, but is arguably better and it would have truly made the album perfect if included.

The two least immediate songs are Snail and Window Paine. I used to think that the album fizzled out after the fifth track, but the truth of it is that this album stays very consistent all the way through. And these two songs are truly vital to the spirit of Gish. Saying that this album is happy and positive would be an understatement, and these might be the two songs that define that mood. Snail is a personal favorite and a great optimistic rocker, and Window Paine might be the beginning of what would later be known as the signature Smashing Pumpkins epic. And the final song, Daydream, truly needs to be heard to be understood. This is the albums only melancholy moment, only song that teeters fragile on the edge. This is a rare moment where D’arcy sings, and she does a very good job. Her soft voice paired with sad strings makes for a great combo. And then the song quiets, and turns into something completely different. I used to think the second part of Daydream was Billy letting his ego get the best of him and refusing to let anyone else take the spotlight in the end, but to be sure it is essential and represents the album very well.

Maybe all things considered I really do like Siamese Dream more, or at least respect it more, but I still enjoy Gish just as much. Maybe it is simply a matter of consistency. Although Siamese Dream’s best moments are downright unbelievable, it has it’s weaknesses, and Gish honestly has none besides the fact that it only stands slightly less tall next to Siamese Dream. I can look for problems in this album and turn up empty handed every time. Another reason I love it so much is because I feel like it encompasses my personality with surprising accuracy. I love relaxing, dreamy music as well as rock solid riffs, and Gish has both, sometimes slamming them together with shocking accuracy. It just feels like the perfect soundtrack to a lazy summer day. Or maybe it is the perfect soundtrack to the nineties, spanning seemingly unrelated genres to make the ultimate tribute to the breed of people that shaped the 90s music scene. These people were eclectic, leftist, laid back and yet undeniably in-your-face. So why did the word “apathy” hold so much leverage to people who truly cared so much about everything? Gish just has a little bit of everything. It is chill, abrasive, catchy, solid, sexy, and full of love. I don’t think one could ask for more.