Posts Tagged ‘cocteau twins’

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Three Cocteau Twins Reviews

December 28, 2007

Sunburst And Snowblind

A great little EP to accompany one of my favorite Twins’ albums, Head Over Heels. The version of Sugar Hiccup here is superior, and makes the original version obsolete. From The Flagstones and Hitherto are wonderful songs, arguably better than some songs on Head Over Heels, but Because of Whirl-Jack isn’t as good, although a nice inclusion. I am pretty sure this rounds off the released material from the Head Over Heels sessions. There is no reason not to get this one. It only enhances the album which it accompanies, which was already nearly perfect.

The Spangle Maker

One of the most overrated Cocteau Twins releases. People often cite Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops as a turning point in quality for the band, but I personally find it trite and annoying, and one of Fraser’s most contrived vocal performances. The Spangle Maker is a frequent fan favorite, but the tune is tired and uninspired. Fraser’s vocals once again take a fall, only spending a tiny amount of the nearly five minute song delivering characteristically excellent vocals, the rest of which is some of the least melodic of her repertoire. Pepper-Tree is the saving grace. It is quite nice. However, in general, this three song EP is pretty weak. It seems to spark something for other people, but it was only worth it to me for the sake of completion.

BBC Sessions

This two disk set of BBC recordings of Cocteau Twins are useless and peripheral upon first glance, but closer listening opens up their purposes. One initial strikeout is how lopsided the collection is in respect to the breadth of their career. The lions share of these recordings are of songs from the Garlands and Head Over Heels eras, while the bands most popular periods, of Treasure and Blue Bell Knoll are given little and no attention respectively.

The reasoning for this becomes clear to fans upon closer inspection. The truth is, the Garlands era songs are generally exceptional but poorly produced and hampered by Fraser’s then unhoned vocals. Coming back to these tracks with an updated knowledge of production and better instrumental skill does the band good, and most of these songs deserve their facelifts. The collection is led of with Wax And Wane, and with a faster tempo and more clearly produced haunting instrumentals, feels utterly complete. A few songs that were once negligible are now standouts, namely Feathers-Oars-Blades, Strange Fruit, and My Hue And Cry. And the songs that were already fantastic are also given quality, often times unique deliveries. The wonder of the re-recording of Blind Dumb Deaf is just one the many surprises to be found here. In the said track, the steady drum machine fires off cold beats quickly int the void as the bass plays a hypnotic rolling as if on a wooden ship under the dancing storm that is Guthrie’s satanic guitars. Fraser sings in the middle of all this, unphased, as if some untouchable angel.

It doesn’t sound very likely, but these versions do bring out the best of their songs, and they reveal that even in their primal, incomplete stage, the Cocteau Twins were one hell of a band. Also particularly nice are the new versions of Hazel and Hitherto. The former is the Twins’ most relentless gothic assault and arguably their heaviest song, and Hitherto is a beautiful, tragic number that can be likened to Musette And Drums.

This collection is by no means perfect, and on the second disk, the quality takes a nosedive with the Treasure era tracks and continuing through the Twins’ Capitol albums Four Calendar Cafe and Milk And Kisses. Everything past Beatrix is flat out mediocre, save a very beautiful cut of Otterley. The bands most popular album, Heaven or Las Vegas, is only given one song, and Victorialand and Blue Bell Knoll are completely ignored. However, the majority of the first disk and a good chunk of the second are filled with revised versions of some of the Twins’ most perplexing tunes that are revised and touched up to as perfect as they will ever be. This is not an essential Cocteau Twins release, but considering the state of the Cocteau Twins fanbase (that is, only rabid), there are many goodies to be found here, especially in respect to Garlands and Head Over Heels.

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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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Yet Another Ten Reviews

April 23, 2007

For some reason, this time I ended up reviewing a lot of albums that I love and not so many that I just like a lot or are in the middle. I pulled some of them out of the vaults. I find it easier to praise than to complain, I guess. Some of these are my absolute favorites. I’ll bitch more next time, I promise.

Alice in Chains – MTV Unplugged

This Unplugged concert was, for all intents and purposes, Alice in Chains’ final farewell. There is almost nothing that is not conclusive about this collection of songs, and in some ways it does it’s job very well. Alice in Chains was just screaming for an Unplugged concert, having two acoustic EPs under their belt and an impressive array of softspoken songs alongside their haunting metal. But perhaps there just wasn’t quite enough in the queue for the acoustic treatment. While half of these acoustic takes are absolute treasures, the other half are miscalculated performances of songs that should not have been acoustic in the first place. The renditions of Down in a Hole and Rooster were the only songs appropriate from the bands second album Dirt, and Angry Chair and Would are simply better loud and electric. Frogs probably was not a good choice to include either, nor was Sludge Factory, the name of which lets the listener know it is best played with muddy obnoxious guitars. While these clunkers are present, the rest of the performance is solid. Performances of classics such as Nutshell, Got Me Wrong, and Over Now are among the bands best moments, and unspeakably touching. Some other songs from the Sap and Jar of Flies EPs could have been included, but for the most part the most important cornerstones are hit that should have been hit. Another perk of this show is that the band is in excellent playing condition even after not playing a show for many years, and the guitar sound is as distinct and delicious as many other famous Unplugged shows are known for. The rendition of the unreleased Killer Is Me would have been grounds to buy this in the first place, and it is the perfect closer to the bands career. On one hand some great songs are played here, but the setlist is just not that well thought out. Depending on the listener, this could be either wonderful or bland, thus leaving this to be for the fans only and really a wasted opportunity.

Boards of Canada – Trans Canada Highway

While nothing works effectively as a replacement for a Board of Canada LP, Trans Canada Highway is a more than good way to whet fans appetites. While this is fairly short in terms of new material, it is also easily the best EP Boards of Canada have released yet. Boards of Canada are a band with such scant material that fans delightfully lap up whatever material they can get their hands on. Luckily, this is a solid release and completely consistent despite it’s brevity. Dayvan Cowboy, the head track from The Campfire Headphase, is truly one of the greatest songs Boards of Canada have ever produced, and it is very worthy of being included here as well as being remixed. The remix, however, feels like a completely new song and is not just a throwaway. Trans Canada Highway does almost feel like a miniature BoC LP though, as it almost equally split between longer building signature electronica and short aural vignettes. The two longer new songs, Left Side Drive and Skyliner, are both fantastic and among the bands best. The signature Boards of Canada sound is marginally augmented by a simple matter of experience, and both songs are absolutely gorgeous in every way you love the band to be. Left Side Drive is a great chillout track with a great, steady, varying beat and awesome synthesizers floating in the background. Skyliner is equally as priceless though, layering itself an impressive amount of times and carefully changing the beat in comfortable ways. The two short interludes are both heavenly, otherworldly ambiance that you would expect a group with as much clarity to produce. Trans Canada Highway may simply be a taste of Boards of Canada’s future, but it’s a fantastic EP and a necessary augmentation onto an impressive discography.

Jane’s Addiction – Strays

This really isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. Sure, it doesn’t compare to Nothing’s Shocking or Ritual de lo Habitual, but very few albums do, so what is the point in complaining? People don’t seem to get that they should be thankful that the band came back and did their career justice at all. The album is not as completely standout on a song by song basis, but there are a few of the bands absolute best songs on here. True Nature is the heaviest Perry Ferrel and company have ever been, The Riches is a classic riff that seamlessly transforms into a relaxing segment that is very distinctly Jane’s Addiction, and Just Because and Superhero are very respectable short rockers. All of the other songs are good, just not great. Part of why people complain so much is because these are more aimed at the mainstream, but after doing as much trailblazing as the band did a decade earlier, this is a bit of a relief in some way. The production is solid, but Perry’s voice has deteriorated a little bit and is at his best when he’s really yelling. It’s no question that this is Jane’s Addiction’s worst album and it does not really stand out that much, but it’s a treat that fans will especially love.

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

All things considered, Physical Graffiti was the last Led Zeppelin album that really mattered. And it was a surprise too, considering Houses of the Holy was rather disappointing when compared to the bands earlier numbered albums. Fortunately, the bounceback was in the form of a gargantuan double album around the time that the bands popularity was at it’s height and anticipation was at a record high. The album delivered in any way that a fan could ask for, with as much hard blues as could ever be asked for, and enough new heavy sophistication to keep critics who wanted change and variance happy. The disk delivered as a middle ground between every extreme the band had ever relinquished in. Custard Pie is a shorter lighthearted sexual blues knockout, and In My Time of Dying is a marathon ten minute blues epic. Trampled Underfoot is a danceable organ oriented heavy trance, while Night Flight is shorter guitar pop reminiscent of earlier days. Even Led Zeppelin’s love for eastern music is touched on with Kashmir and In The Light, alongside the pounding dinosaur rock of Houses of The Holy. Surprisingly enough, yet another middle ground is reached when one considers that the album was about half full of older unreleased tracks and half new material. The result of all of these factors convening is a colossal smorgesborg for fans of hard rock, and not just Led Zeppelin either, but a wider audience. You could even say this album shows the band in their absolute prime, and although it may never surpass the popularity of IV or II, Physical Graffiti is a grand album and anything but a let down.

Luna – Bewitched

Although Luna’s momentous worth should truly be judged by the span of their long career, their most respectable effort, Bewitched, should not be overlooked. The album not only defined the bands sound for many great albums to come, but presented it with unmatched consistency. The mood that the pleasant dreampop group always tried to convey was a sleepy melodic dreamscape, and if there is one kind of dream that people love to have, they are dreams of love. The impressive aspect of not only this album but Luna in general is that they can do so much with so little; the simple dreamy chords and lullaby bass line gently carry the title track into a definitive sleeping song, and utilizing what could easily be Beatles lyrics, centered around love and wispy attractions. The level of sophistication in the songcraft is also very impressive, and while certain songs like Bewitched and Sleeping Pill may make do with simple strums and reserved beats, others like Great Jones Street and This Time Around boast beautifully spontaneous guitars and complex yet accessible melodies. The album also has two killer openers, setting the mood perfectly. On one hand the more uptempo daytime song California (All The Way) that very well might be the least depressing breakup song ever, and the dropdead gorgeous innocent classic Tiger Lily, that may just make your heart melt. If you have ever wanted a varied collection of top notch dreampop, look no further.

Brian Eno – Another Green World

Essentially, this album was the first venture into the art of synthesizers, loops, and synthetic sounds incorporated into pop music that was easily accessible. And it still stands as an absolutely gorgeous venture even to this day, which makes it even more amazing that it was released in the seventies. Although I hate to quote AMG, the writer of that sites review for this says it best. Another Green World plays like a dream sequence, or at least the ideal dream sequence, of creations both relaxing and structured. The record is almost short lived, and in a way sadly so, because each song almost begs for more time to express itself. This work of art comes in two specific but scattered parts. There are a few melodic pop songs featuring Eno’s pop/rock lyrics that accompany a catchy electronic background. Some of these songs are the compelling St. Elmo’s Fire featuring Robert Fripp on a downright mean guitar, the charming I’ll Come Running, and Sky Saw, which was probably the most out there pop music at the time. The other side of the spectrum are a wealth of amazing instrumental pieces that seem to describe their moods in perfect harmony with their names. In Dark Trees is an unsettling nightmare, Sombre Reptiles is a wonderful natural groove, and The Big Ship might just be Eno’s most gorgeous creation. The final five songs on the album are also to be noted as one of the strongest wrap-ups in pop history, reiterating the defined structure of the album. And while Eno amazes on all of these levels, he keeps up a specific style, which is about what would happen if someone built a time machine and simultaneously mixed the future of pop music with classical aesthetic, as the cover art projects. While Brian Eno may have arguably changed music even more with his ambient series, this was the record that not only pointed in that direction, but also made all of that able to happen. What Brian Eno did with Another Green World inspired a wealth of change in the pop music industry, and if not for it, electronica, ambient, or even structured mood music would not have been possible. So not only did Eno make a fantastic record, but he set the stage of music for years to come. Almost all artists today owe something to Eno, unless they foolishly believe that the studio’s only function is to record what is played and nothing more.

The Radio Dept. – Pulling Our Weight [EP]

Radio Dept.’s follow-up EP to their 2003 full length debut Lesser Matters ended up being more than just affirmation that the band were a one shot deal. The Pulling Our Weight EP ended up trumping an already impressive album of lovely dream-pop with only five songs, all of which are utterly fantastic and indesposable. This EP is the Radio Dept. shedding off whatever weaknesses they may have had and exploding with their full talent much like a blooming flower. The title track is the bands greatest and most representative work. The song seamlessly presents hook after hook over the trademark soft looped drums and shy hushed vocals, and the accompanying music video is a charming work of art on it’s own. The album surprisingly looses no momentum even with the consideration in mind that from the top, there is no where to go but down. A shockingly touching aural poetry is delivered with We Climb The Wired Fences, and I Don’t Need Love I’ve Got My Band is the romantic keystone of the disk and a lovely display of gently cascading guitar solos. The short two minute haiku Someone Else is tropical and relaxing, and the band once again displays their knack of creating an atmosphere with subtle touches without loosing their pop sensibilities. The album is rounded off by what seems to be a shoegaze revival, The City Limit. The song carries along a wonderful soundscape and many more beautiful melodies to contemplate. This is truly one of the most accomplished works of pop music produced in years and the Radio Dept. may well be the best band indie band out of Sweeden ever. Pulling Our Weight EP is a masterpiece of underspoken dream-pop, a perfect culmination of everything this wonderful band has to offer, and a grand sign of what the future may hold. One of the best EPs ever, for sure.

Silversun Pickups – Carnavas

Silversun Pickups’ full length debut has been pinned as a lot of things. They say takes influence from certain alternative bands of the nineties a lot, but in truth this album is fairly unique. But being unique does not always make you fantastic, as Carnavas proves. The song with the most pinnable source is the opening Melatonin, a pretty obvious My Bloody Valentine rip, but it is actually a very good song despite it’s unoriginality. But if unoriginality was the only problem with this album, it would simply be a damn good album for nostalgic alt rockers. But the problems dig deeper than that. The mood here is despondent, which is fine, but unfortunately the theme does not develop throughout the near hour it lasts. The concluding moments of this pretty much sum it up. “We’re always going to cross the finish line while everybody wants to run and hide, but now it’s too late.” Whatever opportunity that Carnavas had to be concluded beautifully was botched. Sound wise this album just feels tired. This could have been a great shoegaze record, but the drums are too loud, the guitars are too subdued (this problem is relieved if you REALLY crank it), and the vocals are awkwardly miscalculated. The vocalist kind of sounds like s/he wants to scream like Dave Grohl but doesn’t quite have the guts to actually come out and do it, and if they did it would just be painful. The upshot is that these guys can write some very good songs. Lazy Eye has gotten some significant radio play for a reason, Rusted Wheel is a very contemplative outing, and some of the albums first half can be very fun. But the fact that these people know how to write music is unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that they simply cannot produce it well quite yet. If you have heard some of these songs and liked them you will find comfort in the rest of the record, but it still really isn’t that memorable. As imaginative as these songs are, they feel like wasted ammunition, and I can only hope that the future holds good things for these possibly talented but misguided musicians.

Tool – Ænima

Tool’s second album Ænima is a significant leap forward from an already great album, and it secured the bands fanbase while delivering one of the ninties more compelling metal albums. Like all of Tool’s albums, this takes time to open up. At first it seems passive and less forceful than the aggressive and fast-paced Undertow, but Ænima is truly an informing listen. And simultaneously driving too. On one hand the album delivers a radio hit with Stinkfist, but after that the listener is plunged right into the middle of the issues and ideals that are to be put accross. As opposed to being stated explicitly, these themes are to be realized after close inspection. Even then, fans of Undertow will love this album. Songs like Eulogy and Forty Six & 2 are alternately introspective and uncompromising. And yet the album still rocks out while delivering it’s complex and important messages. Hooker With A Penis is a short rocker (at least for Tool), and the title track is more rock solid than anything off of this album or Undertow. And the album can get progressive too. Eulogy, Pushit, and Third Eye are all huge, interesting pieces that are expanded on in complex ways that only the attentive ear can decifer quickly. When I first bought this album I didn’t like it at all, but after giving it a chance and looking for what makes this so popular, every song on this album opened up. This really isn’t inviting, as far as the general style goes or the colorful yet disturbing filler, but this is a fantastic album and it really put Tool on the map for a reason.

Cocteau Twins – Treasure

Treasure is Cocteau Twins’ most popular and influential record, but it’s questionable whether it is truly the best. Undeniably this is the Twin’s at their stylistic peak, delivering the goods with a greater and more constructive precision than ever before. These melodies are, for the most part, touchingly beautiful and accessible. This is really the breakthrough music that the band had been working towards, although the Spangle Maker EP was geared towards the same thing with significantly less success. The difference lies in the vocals, and Treasure is Liz Fraser’s vocal peak. The most obvious and unique charm of this record is Liz Fraser’s new vocal style. She no longer even tries to sing words but instead sings in unintelligible sounds thus extending her voice into what is now truly a musical instrument. Side A is quite simply perfect, and all five songs are beautiful and essential. Ivo is perfectly refined nuanced poetic dream-pop and one of the bands absolute best. The following Lorelei is misleading. The song has unbelievably beautiful hooks, a quality that the band were not known for, but if you turn up the volume on this, spontaneous eargasms will follow. Beatrix is as regal as it is fresh even over twenty years later, Persephone has deliciously dirty guitar cutting accompanied by another flawless vocal performance, and Pandora (For Cindy) is a lovely, relaxing, and almost tropical song that points directly to the bands next album, the beautiful Victorialand. An album with this much momentum seems unstoppable, and it almost is, but the unfortunate flaw of Treasure is that Side B derails a bit. Or maybe it just seems like it does because some of the songs aren’t as standout as those that preceeded them, but in any case it feels like the album runs out of energy. Amelia is very good upon closer inspection, and Aloysius is just as priceless as anything on Side A. But Cicely feels like a revisit to Persephone only with less enthusiasm, Otterley has almost no melody at all (although it is pretty ambiance), and Donimo is a vocal misfire. Even considering the fact that some of these songs are not quite as priceless as others, the album still stands in quality and this may well be the Twin’s best, most moving album.

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Eleven Reviews

April 1, 2007

Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains [Tripod]
Tripod
For their final studio effort, Alice In Chains delivered a full album that they did not accompany with a tour. They did, however, perform on David Letterman, and watching that performance even today will send chills down even casual fan’s backs. Alice In Chains Unplugged may have tied the loose ends up and ended up being the final farewell, but this album is where you see the breakdown happening for Layne Staley. Not that the album is all melancholy or heavy metal. This is actually AiCs most diverse record, and it touches on everything from the most hardcore sludge they have ever produced (no less Sludge Factory, and Grind too) to more positive songs (Heaven Beside You, Shame In You). But you can definitely hear the dissolution of the band in this record, mostly because it bounces around so much. The beautiful classic Heaven Beside You segues into the insane nausea of Head Creeps without any provocation. Most all the songs are good except for a few in the last half that don’t quite cut it as AiC classics, but Heaven Beside You is still one of the bands best and Again is the heaviest thing since Them Bones. The real winner is Over Now. After what appears to be a curl-up-and-die maneuver with the interesting Frogs, there is silence, and then a muffled recorded trumpet resound, after which the confused positive/negative song kicks in and does significant emotional effect on the listener. The biggest problem with this album is the production, which falters very obviously. The idea to continue layering Layne’s vocals was a good idea, but the vocals are treated very poorly here and the sound is simply not heavy enough. Such an emotional record should not have been treated so preciously. A remaster, perhaps? It’s not perfect, but it is a respectable way to throw in the towel and contains some of Alice In Chains’ very best songs.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin [Box Set]
Tripod
This box set released in 1990 acts as an inflated greatest hits to the music of Led Zeppelin. Each disk both covers a specific time period as well as a musical aesthetic. The first disk is the dirty blues rock that made Led Zep famous, the second disk more folky acoustic stuff (my favorite), the third disk is the longer stuff mostly from the middle career, and the fourth disk is the best of the latter stuff that kind of needs to be included for posterity. Jimmy Paige himself chose the songs so the selection is solid, and every song is great. But the truth stands that this box set was probably unnecessary. There are some rarities rounded up, the bands two famous b-sides Traveling Riverside Blues and the Bob Dylan cover Hey Hey What Can I Do, as well as a brilliant live Jimmy Paige take of White Summer/Black Mountain Side. But beyond that, there isn’t too much incentive for fans. This collection is geared towards the fan who is a little more than casual but less than obsessive, a rare breed for Led Zeppelin. For that reason, people interested in the band could have done better with the two disk greatest hits, and people who want more could have gone with The Complete Studio Recordings box set, which also has the two aforementioned b-sides. The fourth disk may be useful for people who do not want to get too into the bands latter mediocre career, as it gathers the best of those albums pretty effectively. As a collection of songs this is easily an A+ purchase, but as a compilation it is just dumb. One is probably better off just getting The Complete Studio Recordings or starting the long fan trek of buying all the albums. Led Zeppelin was a fantastic band and this is a good portrait, but why stop at this when you could have the whole deal?

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right to Children
Music Has The Right To Children
Surely Boards of Canada’s finest work, Music Has The Right to Children is at first downright confusing and off-putting but is ultimately a great ambient work. This is an album that has no clear purpose but in that sense reasserts itself within each song, creating everything ranging from small interludes to long beat oriented ambient techno. I remember walking home one day listening to this on my headphones. An Eagle In Your Mind was playing on the way there, the cool constantly changing beats keeping my mind interested and relaxed over the interesting synthesizer. Then the second I unlocked my door and walked into my dark apartment, The Color of the Fire started to play. The song is basically an airy drone underneath a childs voice horribly echoed and warped, complemented by bell-like instruments. I kind of freaked out. I didn’t know what the hell was going on and I felt like the sounds were real enough to be in the actual apartment. That is when the true purpose of this album opened up to me. Music Has The Right to Children is an album of electronic audio toys. Every song on the album has it’s own fun charms. There are some more straightforward pieces, especially the chill Turquoise Hexagon Sun comes to mind, and other times the album is more challenging, like with Sixtyten. Roygbiv is unspeakably fun or the short time it lasts, and Wildlife Analysis is a relaxing ambient opener. The whole album has a recurring mood of comfortable technology, and for that reason the album sticks together very well for how much it bounces around. It may have a few weaker songs, but the strong songs are enough to compensate and make the album a joy to listen to at any time, and a personal favorite as well. Rarely will you find an electronic/ambient album that is both passive and interesting, but Music Has The Right to Children makes the cut and is a completely unique, priceless album.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
Richard D. James Album
The issue everyone seems to have with Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album is mostly due to confusion. Confusion that the record simply does not straighten out. James’ approach on this record is completely skewed, and while this is definitely a product of his usual fun and ultimately effective psyche, listeners will likely be put off by his odd taste. Simply put, this record isn’t sure if it wants to be happy or evil, and the result is a big mess. It’s a fun mess, and an interesting one too, but by no means is this for the casual electronica listener. The ingredients are usually simple ambient melodies that could have worked as songs on their own (or maybe with soft beats) inflated to ludicrous levels of energy by breakneck beats. A surprise lies at every turn of this album, and as a result, the listener is hardly ever spared their temporary sanity. The opening 4 is an Aphex masterwork, a touching gel of strings hammered by the fast beats to make an interesting and contemplative modern piece. But then conversely the next song, Cornish Acid, is fun in a horribly evil way, with practically the same beats overlaying a creepy synthesizer. These decided contradictions are placed by the minute. Sometimes the trick works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Goon Gumpas strangely enough has no beat, and it’s a charming melody, enough to make even the happiest listener suspicious of what tricks might be up Richard’s sleeves. Girl/Boy Song is fairly innocuous even under the asteroid field of a drum machine, and another highlight. Logon Rock Witch is just evil, with a playful organ/jack-in-the-box tune that drifts into a creepy haze. And of course, Milkman is a schizophrenic trick that needs no explanation. This album probably does what it sets out to do with flying colors. I simply don’t always enjoy the goal. The intent is to make good electronic music, and there is a myriad of good tracks here, specifically 4, Fingerbib, and Girl/Boy Song. But the intent is also to confuse with an obnoxious juxtaposition of clashing elements. This can be enjoyable, and there are people who enjoy beats like this, so this is no throwaway. But I probably would have enjoyed the album more had those beats not been there at all. This album is insanity, take it or leave it.

The Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?
Irish rockers The Cranberries delivered their most acclaimed record as a debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We. There is a certain charm to this kind of music, and no question they presented their style very well for a debut. But there is simply something about this that is lacking. If anything, the wonderful tune Dreams is enough to justify the rest of the album repeating itself. And it does sort of linger on the same melancholy Gaelic themes a lot. When it does it with specific taste and hooks like with I Still Do, it’s alright. But one would think that if the band continued on in the same way they presented Dreams, the album would have been nothing short of phenomenal. But unfortunately, what The Cranberries do the most is not necessarily the most interesting. In any case, some songs here are just priceless, namely Linger and Dreams, but for anyone who wants good Irish rock, a very narrow genre, it definitely wouldn’t be a bad purchase.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach
Standing on a Beach
The Cure are the owners of a frighteningly large body of work and can therefore be a complete hassle to approach. Starting at any individual album can likely result in misconceptions or an unclear picture of what The Cure were really like because at every leg of their long career they have been a bit different. The later compilation Greatest Hits just doesn’t do the job, and there has not yet been a good collection that has covered the bands whole near three decade career. When Standing on a Beach was made, there was never any question whether another collection would have to be made because the band was already making their next album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, so this was never meant to be a complete picture but it is most likely the best place to start diving into The Cure’s imposing discography. The material here runs from the subdued punk of the bands debut Three Imaginary Boys all the way through the commercial sucess The Head on the Door, and the development is undeniably great and a wonder to listen to. Robert Smith’s voice is honed and the guitars are refined over the years that this spans. All the songs here are great, and it’s a wonder how a band so comtemplative and long winded can make such great pop gems. Accuracy is not any issue because this is a collection of singles, but the band definitely gave their best to the radio and never lost their grace in the process. The Cure are a great band and worthy of exploring, but it is tiring and troublesome to know where to start. This is not a complete picture, but there will most likely never be a completely accurate one, so for casual fans this along with the bands other singles collection Galore will be all one could ever need. And for those who want to dig deeper, this is a good branching point and signpost for where to go next. Either way, Standing on a Beach is a collection of great songs and further proof that The Cure are always fantastic.

Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Pretty Hate Machine
At what it does, Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine is a killer record. But unfortunately it has some qualities that are hard to get used to or simply not for everyone. This isn’t considered one of the industrial genres best records for no reason. Most all the songs are irresistibly catchy while staying abrasive and heavy. For a first song, Head Like a Hole is still arguably Trent Reznor’s finest concoction of muscular guitars and hypnotic electronica, and the lyrics aren’t bad either. However, one of this albums many flaws are how hit or miss the lyrics are. Half the time, they are spot on and a joy to hear unfurl (lay my hands on Heaven and the sun and the moon and the stars / while the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car), and at all other times they are cringeworthy at best (how could you turn us into this? / after you just taught me how to kiss…you). Another problem people will have with this album is the very ’80s production values, such as the echoed snares and the stylized synthesizers. But fortunately the core of the record is simply good enough to keep it’s quality apparent even after almost twenty years under it’s belt. Each song is individually crisened with great hook and develops with great guitars and catchy electronic beats and tunes. Not only are all the songs strong, but the record presents itself like a finely cut gem. None of these tunes are as bleak or pained as Reznor’s later songs, but they still have a significant bit of emotion. No question, this is a thematic album based on a relationship that is both painful but also seductively fun, but the lyrics just don’t quite cut it in the end. All the tracks are standout, from the devils hook Kinda I Want To to the sexual pulse of Down In It. The album has great things to share with the right listener, a lot like The Downward Spiral, but it’s problems catch up with it pretty readily. Although it may not be an indesputable masterpiece, it is still a great collection of songs, one of the first truly good industrial records, and a fantastic start to Trent Reznor’s great career.

Cocteau Twins – Garlands
Garlands
Garlands is no question Cocteau Twins most off the wall, odd creation. Being the bands debut one can only expect so much, but either way this is hardly an enjoyable listen. The intension here is clouded. This is kind of a stab at the gothic genre but without as much force as The Cure or similar artists. Garlands is of it’s own world, though. The beats are almost primeval, and the guitar and bass provides a quiet, reserved swirl of out of place sound in the backdrop of Liz Frasers at this point un-honed vocals. To say I don’t understand this record is avoiding the obvious fact that I don’t enjoy listening to it, but the album may well be purposefully strange. Almost every track is an uncomfortable swirl of insanity, and the guitars rarely do anything more than unsettle, and the songs do not conclude very well. One has to wonder, judging from the sharp rise in quality with the proceeding record Head Over Heels, whether this disorder was intended. But the album does have it’s redeeming moments that justify it’s existence. Blind Dumb Deaf is absolutely gorgeous in a sad paranoid way, the title track Garlands is actually kind of interesting, and Wax and Wane is often cited as a Cocteau Twins favorite by hardcore fans who like the bands earlier work. The truth is, this is just setup for the brilliance of Head Over Heels and the spectacular career that follows, but this might actually be your thing if you are looking for early gothic music.

Oceans 11 Soundtrack
Ocean's 11
For a movie that has an otherwise fantastic soundtrack, the CD release is a let down in most all ways. Whoever compiled this clearly did not know what the hell they were doing, that simple. What struck me about Oceans 11 most the first time I saw it was the awesome jazz score, but on here, most of the songs are smashed in value by way of either brevity or inclusion of in-movie dialogue. Tunes like Pickpockets, Ruben’s In, and Stealing The Pinch, and Hookers would be ten times more enjoyable if they weren’t so criminally short, and the dialogue sprinkled throughout is not only unnecessary but also annoying. Some otherwise darling Percy Faith songs are only played as background music to dialogue… So stupid. What saves this for near salvation in the longrun is the fact that the music is fantastic. Boobytrapping, The Projets, Gritty Shaker, $160 Million Chinese Man, and 69 Police are all great songs and long enough for the keeping. Claire de Lune is, as always, a charming classic as well. But the fact of the matter is, the production here is catastrophic. Fans of the movie and it’s music deserve better, and this just doesn’t deliver on the level it should.

Smashing Pumpkins – Rotten Apples: The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits
Rotten Apples
As a sampler to the Smashing Pumpkins discography, Rotten Apples does a fair job, but as a Greatest Hits compilation it fails on a few levels. For one thing, the song selection is rather mixed. To be fair, this is not “Rotten Apples: Best Of Smashing Pumpkins.” Instead, we are treated to what is supposed to be the bands biggest hits on the radio, and in many ways those hits are not presented well enough. Any fan could make the argument that certain songs should have been included, but for a few reasons this compilation just can’t decide whether it wants to be a Greatest Hits or a Best Of, so it falters more in the face of these complaints. The choice of including a shortened version of Drown from the Singles soundtrack is a nice treat though, and two bonus unreleased songs are saved for last as the incentive for fans. These two songs are, no question, fantastic. But attention to the bands whole career is divided between it’s uneven components at the demise of quality of songs. Once again, personal preference is a prevalent complaint. Mayonaise was a much bigger hit than Disarm, and there was no reason whatsoever to include Eye at all. Landslide is truly one of the bands greater gems, but it does not reflect on it’s respective album quite as much as something like Frail And Bedazzled would. If you want a place to start, this might be the best bet you have.

Nirvana – Nirvana Unplugged
Nirvana Unplugged
For as long as I can remember, Nirvana Unplugged has haunted, amazed, and touched me on levels that no other record can. It would be silly for me to pretend that this isn’t my all time favorite record considering how much I come back to it even after long periods of leaving the bands music on the backburner. Every song here is a classic, and each song, be it one of the bands songs or one of the covers, is flexed to it’s otherwise unseen limits, displaying all their glory at completely new revealing angles. Instrumentally, the music is hypnotizing, and I’m yet to figure out why even after all these years, but the perfect rhythm section probably helps and the beautiful guitars are always wonderful. The momentum the album carries is never interrupted, from the Beatles pop of About A Girl through the Meat Puppets set straight down to the Leadbelly cover. Absolutely every moment on this album is as good as can be; there is not one weak song, and even Something In The Way, which I have always considered to be one of Nirvana’s lesser songs from their popular days, is seamlessly transformed into a wonderful gem. Considering Kurt Cobain shot up some heroine right before this show and was nervous out of his mind, the quality of the music is nothing short of miraculous. The band is, in fact, in better playing condition than they have ever been, even if Dave isn’t used to playing so quietly and Kurt is high and emotionally broken. There is clearly an uneasiness here, which makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable. Kurt exaggerates the price of a Leadbelly guitar among other precious nuances shared with the audience in between songs, as if to hide what emotions are really there. Thankfully, this music speaks emotions that words cannot capture and more than makes up for the less than adequate suicide note that Kurt would write in not that many more weeks. This is not only the greatest recording Nirvana ever did, but it is also the unequivocal culmination of their entire career, perfectly tying up any loose ends and leaving me with nothing more to desire from what has always been my favorite band even under deep scrutiny. It is my personal opinion that no record is ever completely perfect, but for all intents and purposes, this is as perfect to me as any album has ever been.

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Ten More Reviews

March 15, 2007

Cocteau Twins – Love’s Easy Tears

Love’s Easy Tears kind of ties Echoes In A Shallow Bay as the Cocteau Twins best EP. It’s killer, that much is obvious; both Orange Appled and Those Eyes, That Mouth are frequent picks for favorite songs by the band, and both are fantastic. Those Eyes, That Mouth is a hypnotic pop love wave, and it’s really hard to get better than that. But Orange Appled does it. The song is just about as good as Carolyn’s Fingers if not better. It has a killer hook and a quenching Guthrie solo alongside absolutely gorgeous vocals, as usual, from Liz Fraser. The title track is also very fun and simple, and Sigh’s Smell of Farewell is nice too, just not as good as the others. In short, this is vintage Cocteau Twins, and some of the best of it. Don’t waste any time; if you are a fan who wants to delve into the EPs, go for this first. First timers should pick it up if nothing else because the songs are fantastic, but it might be better to start with a full album like Treasure or Blue Bell Knoll.

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Psychocandy

When The Jesus And Mary Chain first started out, they had an idea, and it was delicious. And usable too, and even better, it could appeal to a mass market. Fans of pop and catchy hooks could appreciate the melodicism, and punk rockers valued the noise and chaos in the sonic density. The idea was to ultimately slam innocent pop tunes into a wall of sonic guitar sheen and noise, and the result is somewhat reminiscent of the albums title. It is candy and very sweet candy, that much is true. But it is candy in the most perverse and guilty way possible. Just listen to any track on this album and you will hear the utterly ingenious pop flowing through different parts in ways that even The Beatles would be somewhat impressed with if the production was smoother. But it’s not. It’s both rough and smooth, ugly and beautiful. These tunes are constantly accompanied by a sonic wall of meaty feedback, guitar shine, and occasionally the addition of a disturbing but fun sound effect like a hushed scream of agony in the background or an unintentional burst of noise. And it just keeps coming. Every track on this album is priceless in some way, from the pretty surf rock ballad Some Candy Talking to the relaxed rock of Taste The Floor to the pretty Just Like Honey and even the garden variety punk of Never Understand. Each song has an almost sinisterly simple beat and a simple chord progression. Even skilled musicians will sit and think to themselves, “hey, I could have written this.” But then they will realize that they so couldn’t have. What’s really amazing about this is how none of the songs have choruses or verses…a melody or tune is never used for more than a half minute, after which a completely new and impressive hook is thrown the listeners way. It’s candy, delicious sweet candy, and only a skilled band could have made it. It would take a little while for The Jesus And Mary Chain to reach a wider market and truly gain respect, but this is the start of something beautiful and easily The Chain’s best album.

Led Zeppelin – Coda

This is really not as bad of an album as you have been told it is. If you would even consider it an album. We should really be thankful of Jimmy Paige and company for releasing this after our dear John Bonham died, although it was more of a contractual thing than an act of kindness, but in any case this wraps up just about everything the band had to release save a good live album which would take a few decades to surface. So this is a b-sides collection. It doesn’t do anything more or less, and considering only a select few album tracks by the band are ever bad, this isn’t a huge blemish on the bands discography. We’re Gonna Grove is a pretty immediate winner, and it goes back to the blues rock that the band started out with. Wearing And Tearing is actually also very good, an answer to the seventies punk movement. Beyond that, Bonzo’s Montreux is an interesting drum-fest and Poor Tom is among the best of the bands Led Zeppelin 3 material, and most likely the best on the album. Yeah, of the two sides, half the material is bad, but not disposable. For a band where every scrap is a treasure, this is really pretty good. But only for the hardcore Zep fan.

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow Single

The Only Shallow single from My Bloody Valentine is actually a promo on vinyl that subscribers to certain French magazines acquired in a 1992 issue. The single contains three great songs, the first of which is Only Shallow, one of the better songs from Loveless. The song is truly single material, and it’s huge sound and wonderful melody are reasons enough to have made this single at all. But two b-sides are also included. Sugar is a MBV classic and one of the bands rarest songs. Instrumental B is also very good, and was released prior to this single on the Instrumentals promo a few years earlier, accompanying the Isn’t Anything release. A true rarity for hardcore MBV fans; it’s an antique, but it’s probably worth a ton and well worth the price if just to hear Sugar.

Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth

Back in 2005, Nine Inch Nails returned from a six year fallout with the fifth studio album and nineteenth Halo, With Teeth. I remember driving home from the record store and listening to this for the first time, and I was generally impressed. This album does get a lot of shit though, and I can’t exactly put my finger on why. Collectively I suppose it is kind of weak, but this easily delivers some of Reznor’s finest material since The Downward Spiral. The sound still echoes of The Fragile’s reconstructive cool production, but the album still stands alone with a good amount of success. It’s a compelling enough listen to make fans happy, and the songs are very good. Many songs are characterized by heavy riffing, especially the grooving The Collector and a popular live/club pick, The Hand That Feeds. But most of the songs are very individual, especially Only, Every Day Is Exactly The Same (a personal favorite and subject of it’s own remix EP), and Beside You In Time. The disk ends on Right Where It Belongs, a very Hurt-esque ballad that deserves some respect. The problems are minimal, and this is about as consistent as The Fragile, simply one disk less. If this is the future of Nine Inch Nails, I’m happy. Without a doubt this is the worst album NIN has produced thus far, but considering this album is very good, I think that says a lot for how much talent Reznor actually has. A good one, hardly disposable like most people will tell you.

Singles Soundtrack

Singles really wasn’t that great for a date flick, but it had a pretty good soundtrack and at least captured the look and part of the feel of the 1990s Seattle grunge scene. In retrospect, this soundtrack is probably less disposable than the movie itself. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of various rarities from some of Seattle’s most popular rock acts, save the conspicuous absence of any Nirvana. And there were some songs from the movie that didn’t make it here, namely Alice in Chains’ It Ain’t Like That and Soundgarden’s Spoonman. But hell, you probably already had those songs if you were ever interested in this disk in the first place. For that reason, the inclusion of Would? and I Nearly Lost You is probably unnecessary to the grunge fan, but both songs are fantastic in any case. Other highlights include some contributions from former Replacement John Westerberg, some really good Pearl Jam rarities, Soundgarden’s Birth Ritual (one of Chris Cornells best vocal performances), and a great Mother Love Bone take. It’s more of an odds and ends collection, but that is actually good, and you would stand well to pick this up if you like grunge or 90s alt rock.

But come on, theres no version of the movies original novelty “Touch Me I’m Dick.” That would have been a hilarious inclusion.

Malory – Not Here, Not Now

A decent shoegaze album, Not Here Not Now delivers the dreamy goods in as good of a way as it can. The problem is probably a lack of originality, because the band rips on Slowdive pretty relentlessly. This can only be complained about so much considering Slowdive are one of the worthiest bands to rip on in the genre, but the sampling only makes Not Here, Not Now more easy to call an attempted Souvlaki clone. If anything, the acquisition of this album would be justified enough by the opening Falling, an absolutely gorgeous dreamy instrumental that is nothing like anything else on the record. But the rest of the album doesn’t exactly continue with this same style and very obviously draws influence from Slowdive in just about every way. But in the same way Kevin Shields would probably be proud of some of Pia Fraus’ escapades, Neil Halstead probably wouldn’t have too much of a problem with someone drawing heavily from his style if it is done this tastefully. Dany, Sunday Nights, and Spring are all gorgeous songs, but once again, you can’t help but feel like you are being lied to. Everything down to the male/female vocals, soft beats, and emotional guitars, this practically IS Slowdive, the only difference being the bands serious problems with concluding their songs which Slowdive can conversely do very well; the most pretty of these songs just seem to drone with no conclusion when they were clearly within sight. It’s good, but uninspired and unfortunately completely disposable.

My Bloody Valentine – Olympia, Paris

While every My Bloody Valentine bootleg can be considered a treasure, this may well be the bands worst available bootleg that I have heard, and extremely overrated. The band is simply not in fantastic playing condition at this show, for one thing. But the real killer is the fact that the recording quality is atrocious. This bootleg is really almost unlistenable, but it does win in one respect on one song. The version of To Here Knows When here is good if you crank it up to ludicrous volumes and appreciate it for what one of MBVs greatest charms is, a wall of beautiful sound. However, this is really the only time that this bootleg is worth anything.

Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports

The ambient breakthrough of Brian Eno, Music For Airports was the blooming result of years of ideas and contemplation. Eno first honed his pop skills with the utmost reliability, and then took a turn for the experimental. The new idea was mood music, relaxing pieces that could be used in films or to make someone feel a certain way with just instruments. The new direction was explored with great success on Another Green World, again employed on Music For Films, and completely fleshed out into an ambient masterpiece with Music For Airports. The idea was simple, and utterly ingenious. Eno had been in an airport and had a bad experience witht he music playing, and decided to make a record of music built specifically for being played for the enjoyment of a wide array of people in public places. The soul of the music is relaxation and sheer beauty, but when the music is analyzed as closely as Eno explains it, it only makes more and more sense. The music had to be long so that it wasn’t changing too much on the listener, easily interrupted by P.A. systems, higher or lower than voice frequency so to not be a nuisance, and ever changing to keep the listeners interest. And beyond that, the music also had to be non intrusive a nd passive in the background of a situation, and also accessible to a wealth of people. While this is not the first album to employ modern ambient sounds, it is surely one of Eno’s most influential and enjoyable ambient works.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon

Considering the direction that it’s predecessor Bryter Layter took, Nick Drake’s last album is at first seemingly a step backward. The complexities of Nick Drake’s other work has been conspicuously stripped down to it’s core, a brutally honest album consisting of little more than Drake’s voice and a skillfully played acoustic guitar. And even more touching is how sudden and momentous it feels. And yet Pink Moon doesn’t play like anything close to a suicide note or a final farewell so much as a deeply personal and trusting letter from a friend. Aftergiving this gem enough time to unfold, every song can reveal a subtle relaxing beauty. The title track is fantastic if not a little misleading, projecting the definitive late night chill image. But as the album goes on, the music stays revealing and yet surprisingly simple. Only someone such as Nick Drake could possibly say so much with only a few chord strums like he does on Horn or discuss mixed feelings like on Parasite. In many ways, this is as close to Nick Drake as you will ever get, and as moving of an album as it is relaxing. Truly a classic album, taking the best of the folk genre and it’s most important aspects and bringing nothing more than poetry and personal taste.

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Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels

January 25, 2007

As far as Cocteau Twins records go, the question is never whether or not it is great, but instead how great it is. The band made a point to make comforting records, at least save Garlands, and as jarring as it is, Head Over Heels is actually one of the more comforting they made. Sound-wise it is one of the bands more dark and disturbing records, although it does have it’s gorgeous moments, but what makes this record truly comforting is the fact that it lays down the foundation for even greater things to come while delivering a solid set of songs. By the time this was recorded, the groups original bassist quit the lineup and Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser were left by themselves. Setback? Hardly. It just so happens that the second Will Heggie left, the remaining duo made their first great album, and arguably their best. Instead of being as accessible or serenely beautiful as Treasure or Heaven or Las Vegas, it is a challenging and strange record that actually ends up being just as rewarding and interesting.

While Head Over Heels may seem a bit unrefined in comparisson to later Cocteau records, you need to keep in mind that this truly defined the bands sound. From the opening drones of When Mama Was Moth, Head Over Heels innovates at every turn. You can still hear an echo of Garlands’ songwriting style even in the opening track, but very distantly. The song is tame yet dark, and Liz Frasers hymns are spot on, expressing some kind of angelic mysticism in a creepy sort of way. The next song Five Ten Fiftyfold expands on this darkness in a surprisingly catchy way, staying almost even a bit bleak with it’s minor tones and guitar squalls while Fraser resounds at her absolute best. The albums most mysteriously dark and yet touching moment comes later though, with The Tinderbox (Of A Heart), a knockout performance on every level. The song has the signature Guthrie beautiful guitar drones and picking in conjunction with beautiful changs by Fraser. Don’t let anyone fool you, while people may say that Blue Bell Knoll is the bands darkest record, it just isn’t. This takes the cake in that category, if you could ever consider any of the Cocteau Twins’ records truly “dark.”

Keep in mind that this album was made before Simon Raymonde joined the group and therefore still doesn’t have their signature aching beauty. This would come soon enough with The Spangle Maker EP and consequently Treasure, but it’s not like everything on this record isn’t spot on as it is. Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser deliver on every level they possibly could, Guthrie reinventing their sound from the ground up to a distinctive hypnotic guitar-laden heaven, and Fraser giving one of her best vocal performances. Not every song is dark or anything, it just kind of seems like it. The albums clear winner is Sugar Hiccup, a lovely dreampop masterpiece. What really amazes me is how much Guthrie truly manages by himself in the song creation department. While I’m sure that Fraser contributed more than just her knockout vocals, Guthrie is the man behind the tunes themselves, and would be until Raymonde joined in and shared the weight, but considering that these songs are just as pretty as most of the bands later work, Guthrie deserves a big pat on the back for his efforts here.

There is actually a lot of variety here, at least for a Twins record. But really, every Cocteau Twins song is extremely individual and can be treated like it’s own treasure. I do feel that stylistically, Head Over Heels is particulary varied. In Our Angelhood is the most telling of the bands roots. It plays like something earlier by The Cure and almost touches on punk, in a pretty sort of way. It’s just about the most upbeat or at least the most grooving you will ever hear the band, and is truly one of the cooler songs the band made. And yet for how recognizably cool many of these songs are, the album is truly a challenging listen. Sometimes Fraser’s vocals are downright eccentric, especially on Glass Candle Grenades and the following In The Gold Dust Rush. These two songs especially take a long time to get used to and fully appreciate, but the effort pays off and at their core these two songs are truly fantastic. And Multifoiled is another tough entry, completely out of place with it’s late night bar jazz groove, and yet is a lot of fun. The album concludes a bit more conventionally though with two vintage Twins tracks, My Love Paramour and Mussette and Drums. The former is a grand hypnotic groove, and the latter is one of the albums strongest, an emotional explosion of beautiful guitars and Fraser’s always beautiful singing.

If you are new to the Cocteau Twins, you are better off starting elsewhere, but this album is classic, no question. People have complaints about it of course, but for the most part I think they are mostly due to the fact that this album jumps all over the place and was really before The Twins layed down their perfect sound, which they would subsequently do with Treasure. But as a sophomore album (and it’s usually that second one that really shows a bands talent, isn’t it?), this record cast aside all the dreary unexciting sound that Garlands was and created something completely new, using Liz’s vocals to their fullest and innovating at every turn with Guthrie’s guitars and unbelievable musicality. That is what makes this album truly comforting…the thought that there is still so much brilliance ahead of the band and that from as good of a record as this is, it only gets better. Once again, this is the Cocteau Twins not quite at the top but getting very close. It may not be as pretty and dreamy as Blue Bell Knoll or the bands swan song Treasure, but Head Over Heels is a wonderful record in it’s own right, in all of it’s dark, uneasy glory.

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Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

January 1, 2007

They say that there is no such thing as a casual Cocteau Twins fan. I’m starting to believe this more the more often I turn on my iPod. I can feel myself getting sucked into the bands undeniable beauty, and I’ll admit it, it feels great. I’m a straight male, and my heart got melted the first time I heard Lorelei. I didn’t know what to make of it, it was just so beautiful. At first I felt like I could break this habit by being a casual listener, but I think I may have completely skipped that classification without even having more than a few of the bands albums. The Best Of compilation Stars And Topsoil was nice, but simply not enough. I had to have more. So I got Treasure, the bands supposed best, and Heaven or Las Vegas, supposedly the second, third, or fourth best depending on the fan you ask. I was not disappointed. I love both albums thoroughly and yet I thirst for more. It is hard to say which of those two albums is better. If I had to really come to a decision, I would probably say Treasure, but both are fantastic. While Treasure is the album for a chill winter morning, Heaven or Las Vegas is conversely the album for a warm summer night. It takes a very talented band to make music of such opposite environments work so perfectly, and to be sure the Cocteau Twins will never fail you regardless of the time of day, and that is a reliability worth falling in love with.

In many situations, first impressions mean everything. In that respect the Twins know how to give you the best possible first impression possible when presenting their work to the listener. They did it with Treasure, that’s for sure, with a near flawless opening trio of songs. And they do it here too with the utmost precision and beauty. But even before listening to the music, the band has already shown you beauty even with the cover art. In many ways, this art encompasses the album very well. The music is blurry, surreal, artistic, urban, and drenched in warm neon. Every song is hand picked, like the rest of the Cocteau’s catalogue, and every song is very individual and special. The opening track, Cherry-Coloured Funk, echoes of aching beauty and special love that most other bands could not dream of musically working out through their entire careers. The Cocteaus could do it in their fucking sleep, and the listener would be left begging for more. The talent of these people is not to be underspoken. Very few others have surpassed this beauty of this band, you have to understand that. I’m still trying to come to grips with this fact even after only having two proper albums.

The style on this album is very urban but no less lush, tame, or special. Vocalist Liz Fraser (who may just be the best female vocalist in pop music history), has changed her style a bit, leaving her musings more intelligible. On albums such as Treasure, her words were not even words so much as angelic sounds and phrases that had no real connection to any other language. On this album she sings some unintelligible vocals like these, and some that are clearly meant to be real words that are simply warped a bit to sound more pretty. You can understand them sometimes, and when Ms. Fraser sings “Is this Heaven or Las Vegas?” on the title track, you really believe that she’s wondering such things about the city that never sleeps. Even when you can understand individual words around one another, they don’t make much sense, as Fraser wisely speaks more to how the words sound as opposed to what they actually mean. The bass plays a much heavier role, especially in the flowing dream-funk of the creepily named Pitch The Baby. Of course this role is passive and non-intrusive, and it works wonders. Robin Guthrie gives a knockout performance all over with his guitar work providing sonic texture for each song. Often times Guthrie ends up being the warm blanket to the listeners ears, and while his guitarwork is never extravagant, it always sounds delicious and ephemeral. This style is something that all guitar plays should be jealous of. Mr. Guthrie has a way with making one or two guitars feel like a thousand and therefore saying huge amounts of ideas with not so much to work with. While Liz Fraser may be the heart of the band, Guthrie is the soul and has a fantastic body of work to be proud of.

And as always, the drum machine is here, masterfully worked as usual. The beats are kept soft and many times slow, yet all the more driving than usual. Great stuff. They never fail to use the medium well.

On a side note, I have never been to Las Vegas but have heard both very good and very bad things about it. I think one thing that can’t be denied, even just from looking at pictures, is the beauty of the city at night. I have always been partial to driving around at night in urban areas, just to see all the lights. Sometimes I take pictures of all the neon as a passenger and I adore the feeling that all the blurred lights give me. From a photographers standpoint, Las Vegas would surely be heaven. I could never see myself living out in the country just because the lights would be so few and far between. While I do think I’d love to see the night sky lit up over a landscape that isn’t polluted by unnatural light, I have a natural attraction to not only large groups of people but also city lights, especially reflected through wet city pavement. Consequently, this has ended up being a very special album to me already.

Once again, the opening part is the best. There is a great one-two punch of Cherry-Coloured Funk followed by Pitch The Baby, two timeless songs, and if those weren’t great enough then Iceblink Luck will hit your soft side. It is a fruitful celebration of sorts, rejoicing over a loved ones ability to heal. It is absolutely gorgeous and one of the bands absolute best songs. I think a lot of times dream-pop bands forget that romance is key to their genre, and they sacrafice a bit of meaning for the sake of not seeming to sappy or something. Maybe it is a gift that the Twins can communicate these feelings of romance perfectly, but it is also a gift that they are not ashamed to do so. Iceblink Luck is this breed of sheer bliss. But the great tracks continue to expand beautifuly with multiple listens, Fifty-Fifty Clown and the title track being just as unspeakably beautiful as their predecessors. If there is any place where the album falters a bit, it is in the fact that the second half of the album is a bit less consistant than the first. This, however, can only be complained about so much, because the first half of the album is sheer perfection, five songs worthy of more awards than can be given. To say that the second half of the album is “only great” is a crime, because the whole damn thing is great. You just have to treat every song like an individual and things unwrap very nicely. Especially the ending… Oh, the ending. You have to kind of hear that to really understand it, so I won’t tell you anything about it. Listen to it with your heart in place and you will be taken away.

It’s okay to sound sappy sometimes. I get sappy when certain music comes on, this band producting some of that music. While this may not be better than some of the bands other work, namely Treasure and other albums that some other more knowledgeable fans will tell you of, it is still a killer album, and a true classic of it’s age. It is clearly the more accessible and poppy side of the bands work, and anyone who has any urban loves like I do or a desire to listen to good dream pop will NEED this album.

By the way, if you ever needed any proof that Liz Fraser is the best of her kind, watch this and prepare to be dropped gently to the floor.

And here is a video from the album, just as another piece of the beautiful puzzle.