Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Album: Slanted And Enchanted
I want to qualify everything I'm about to say with two things. The first is that I don't think this record is perfect, and it falls short in the same way Murmur does, where the last bit of the record just doesn't match up to the rest of it. Also, this is my favorite Pavement record...as I just don't see what the big deal about the rest of their stuff is.
Slanted is the indie record of the decade, for sure. Slacker, cool, relaxed, sloppy, beautiful pop. There isn't much indie music from the 90s that doesn't owe something to this record. Lo-fi as fuck as well, this album is a great template. And it starts off so well. "Summer Babe" and "Trigger Cut" are a superb one-two punch of pop bliss and get me in such a good mood whenever I hear them.
Even when they turn it up a notch, such as on the third track "No Life Singed Her" they still rock out hard and do well. In fact, most of side one plays on the band's strengths of oddball pop songs played sloppy as fuck but with catchy as hell hooks. Even the Fall rip-off "Conduit For Sale" is memorable (though it's lifted from "New Face In Hell" in both music and lyrical delivery). It ends with the weirdo "Chesley's Little Wrists" and you're feeling great. Seriously, side one is great.
"Loretta's Scars" pick up side two with brilliance. The best song of the album, easily, it is the band's best song! And the next few songs on side two are great follow-ups to the stuff that is done on side one (though "Two States" is a bit stupid..."Perfume-V" makes up for it!)
However, the album gets to the point here where it loses steam. "Fame Throwa" and "Jackals, False Grails" are good, but not exceptional, and with songwriting and song feel, they've already been done. "Our Singer" is a nice enough song, but would've fit in better with side one and one of those superior slower songs could've been later on.
Pavement are a massively overrated with a damn great first record. And you've just read how I feel about it.
Artist: Jesus Lizard
Label: Touch & Go
I don't know how I forgot how brilliant this album is. For those who don't know, Jesus Lizard formed out of the ashes of such awesome bands as Scratch Acid and Rapeman. After their debut EP Pure, the band ditched their drum machine and really came into their own.
Goat is the band's second album, but with the pedigree of their background...the idea of a sophomore slump or the band "coming into their own" wouldn't be fair. The band clearly knows what they are doing, and with this album, perfect their style. It is easily the best album any member of the band was ever a part of. And right from the get-go, that's evident. As great as their first album Head is, "Then Comes Dudley" on its own puts this record a mile ahead of its predecessor.
Every song is crystal clear...and where so much music overdoes volume these days, and there is massive compression is a shining example of analog recording done well...where if you want to hear it be louder, turn it the fuck up! The band is also hilarious throughout the record. Lead singer David Yow declares "I can't swim!" in "Seasick" and "Nub" features hilariously sung Spanish. The guitar lines are menacing, the bass is a PERFECT TONE. It's not too distorted, but it certainly isn't smooth at all. And the drumming is amazingly precise and jeez does this album show you how important getting the drums to sound just right is.
There is a precision to the menace on this record. Every note is right on time, not a crash that lands early, not a note mis-played. While the music inside the record is crazy, the band is in total control.
"Lady Shoes" is the best song on the record. Yow's vocals are so distorted and vicious...and every drum beat is PERFECT. The guitar line is amazing...and so fucking brilliant...I can't describe. I just can't.
The album is over in a cool 30 minutes. Some prefer the follow-up Liar, but for my money, it doesn't get better than Goat. Easily one of the best records of the 90s and an essential record for anyone who loves great punk rock.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Artist: Djeli Moussa Diawara
Flamenkora is a superb album by Afro-Pop artist Diawara, and primarily features his playing of the kora...an instrument that some say has existed for over a thousand years. While some of his work prior to this was built around electronics, Flamenkora is a pretty subdued record which emphasizes primarily traditional instruments.
I won't claim to know enough about African music to write much more. Djeli's voice is absolutely beautiful and a lot of music that has come out of the Ivory Coast in the last few years that I've noticed (Andy Palacio and other stuff on that label) clearly owes a lot to this kind of pop music. Superb vocals abound, and every song is a treat.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Murmur, coming in on nearly THIRTY years after it was first released, still remains the defining (and first truly great) college radio record. The record is nothing truly original or earth-shattering, and neither was the band...but their legacy lives on for what the music...which first appeared on this record (1982's Chronic Town EP did not have nearly the same impact).
DIY American punk was making a huge impact on college radio stations across the country at this point...and even the ones that only had an impact in hindsight...by majority subscribed to the loud and fast punk rock. Minutemen, Husker Du, and Black Flag had to earn their keep just as REM did, but REM focused on melody and guitar interplay, ripping off then-obscure groups like The Soft Boys and Big Star.
The songs that make up Murmur are, by and large, beautiful. They are at other times, though, aggressive and dark. REM did a superb job of mixing a variety of feels on this record and still make it one complete unit. "Radio Free Europe" and "Catapult" soar with beautiful harmonizing..."Sitting Still" is a slacker anthem, and "Talk About The Passion" and "Perfect Circle" are exceptionally beautiful.
I will say, however, that the album isn't perfect...and I find it receives more lauding than it deserves (as many classic indie rock records do.) I still can't shake the feeling that the last third of the record PALES in comparison to the first eight songs, and re-treads most of what has already been done on the album at that point. "West of the Fields" is dark but not that great..."We Walk" is too sweet for my liking and just doesn't hold up well.
Murmur is a good album with some EXCEPTIONAL songs...which I guess kinda sums up my feelings about REM as a whole.
Artist: Sly & The Family Stone
Album: There's A Riot Goin' On
As I slowly trudge through my library to do this...and it's obviously going to be a never-ending project, the exciting thing is what albums have gotten better to my ears and which have left me disappointed. Today I'll attempt to review a bunch of albums that I was primarily into in years past (not exclusively, though). When I got into this album, I thought it was brilliant, and as I listen to it now, especially with the crisp sound of the reissues from a few years ago, the brilliance of this record still shines through.
This might be one of the first records I've reviewed here that I would absolutely consider one of the 10 or 20 greatest albums ever, and I don't know how anyone couldn't be moved by this. After the unreal highs the band brought with 1969's Stand! and the two subsequent singles "Hot Fun In the Summertime" and "Thank You Falettinme Bemiceelf Again" (spelling?) it seemed like the good times would never end. But the 1960s did, and Sly is high on everything there is, and if the Stones' Let It Bleed signaled the end of the 60s, There's A Riot is a perfect illustration of the fallout...the after effect.
Sly's voice is no longer bright and jubilant...instead he slurs his words with desolate reverb and an effect (don't know if it's just the way he sang or something done with technology) that screams disillusion. And the lyrics also signify that disillusion as well, as "Family Affair" shows inter-family strife and "Spaced Cowboy," as far as I'm concerned, takes a big swipe at traditional American values and entitlement.
The music is also sparse and dark. Funk bass drives the songs...there is sparse drumming. And the organ and keyboards are off-putting. Back to the lyrics, though...they are sarcastic and offensive. Sly is not pleased...and it's as if he's disgusted in his own past optimism.
Every song on this album is superb in every sense of the word. You are fucking up if you haven't heard this album.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Artist: Husker Du
Album: Flip Your Wig
Husker Du's final indie label record, 1985's Flip Your Wig, is actually quite good. I remember being very turned off by it the first time I heard it, but listening to it now, I see it's strengths and merits.
Right off the bat, there is a different sound to the album, which you can attribute to this being the first of the band's records that Spot didn't produce. The title track opens the album with ferocity, though, and the band's sound is very identifiable. It sets the tone for the album. The album is very straight-forward, and while still very much punk rock, the band sounds more like R.E.M. now than Minor Threat. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, because the quality of lyrics is much greater, and the overall strength of songs is also noticeably improved.
One of my biggest problems with New Day Rising is the vast divide between quality of some of the songs. While "Celebrated Summer" and "Books About UFOs" rank among the best of the band's songs, the last fifth of the record and a song or two in the middle really, really, really aren't that good. That album featured the band's first real lapse in judgment and songwriting as far as I'm concerned.
However, this isn't necessarily to say it's a big improvement on Flip Your Wig. I feel that the problem with this record is that while there is an even-ness to the quality of the songs, that quality is much lower than it was for the band's preceding efforts. It doesn't help that song length has significantly lengthened and that the best songs on the album follow a similar formula where the song title is chanted anthemically in the chorus.
There are some amazing songs on this album, there really are. And the production is so strong, and I really wish the New Day Rising songs sounded this good and crisp...the guitar really sounds almost better than ever before. But there are some seriously lame songs on this mature record. I will certainly be prone to giving Wig another chance in the future, now though, which is more than I would've set about it before.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Artist: Killing Joke
Album: Killing Joke
Chalk this one up to the albums I'd always heard of but slept on for years category. Honestly, I don't know why I even bought this album, I think I just saw it for cheap enough on CD that I figured if I didn't buy it at this price, I was never going to bother with it. But what a mistake that would've been, because this album is essential and one of the best of the post-punk era!
"Requiem" really sets the tone and it's slow and brooding place work well. It feels like an overture for the rest of the record. Extremely rough guitars that sound like a fucking tool-set just as much as they sound like guitars (a sound Steve Albini would notice more than just a little. clearly a huge influence for him.)
In truth, every song on this album is excellent, and while there is certainly an industrial feel with the way the instruments sound, there is still unbelievably catchy choruses and hooks.
The only thing I'm sure anyone would really complain about (and I'm sure MOST people may complain about it) with the album is the production. Boy does it sounds like the 80s. The drums and vocals are riddled with that "EIGHTIES PRODUCTION" sound...and it does annoy a bit, but the strength of the songs make up for it.
This is still the only Killing Joke I know, and I probably should get their second and third albums, as well. But for now, this album still kicks a tremendous amount of ass, and I'm quite satisfied with it.
Artist: Max Roach
Album: Percussion Bitter Sweet
Max Roach's 1961 album Percussion Bitter Sweet is not only his personal masterpiece, but a landmark jazz record that is often missed when discussing the greatest albums of its time/its genre. It's daring, engaging, and moving in ways that still, nearly FIFTY years later, are ahead of its time. Enough good things truly cannot be said about this album.
I am no jazz aficionado or expert, but I do know that the 1960s were a time of massive transformation for jazz. Constant releases from Blue Note that began in the 1950s took on a hard and post-bop feel. The innovations of the 1940s by the likes of Parker and Gillespie were being utilized in full force by the next generation immediately after...the guys that earned their chops playing with the aforementioned. And while the early part of the 1960s were a time of significant change in jazz, much more massive transformations would come in the later part of the decade, with the incorporation of funk into the genre and the development of fusion. What I am trying to say, then, is that the 1960s saw HUGE transformation in the jazz world.
It's still so dizzying that this album came out in 1961. That's eight years before Bitches Brew, four before Ascension, and fourteen before Headhunters. So much of the development of jazz over the course of history had to do with black power, and in the later '60s, this was explored more explicitly than ever before. But with this album and its predecessor, 1960's We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, Roach was very outspoken in a time of great turmoil with civil rights.
I've yet to mention anything about the music, so I should do that, I suppose. The album opens with a fucking explosion and Abbey Lincoln's. superb vocals, which return in "Mendacity." Not only is Roach's drumming spot on, but playing by the likes of Eric Dolphy and Booker Little also aide in the triumphantness of the album.
The melody's soar all over this album, and the playing is superb. Max Roach was always an innovator and on Percussion Bitter Sweet everything turns out perfect.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Artist: Yo La Tengo
Album: I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
Until this past February, I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I'd really sat down and listened to either Yo La Tengo album I owned in full. I'm pretty sure by the time I was a high school senior I owned the two that remain the only two I own (Painful and Heart Beating...) but they never did anything for me. This remained the case even after getting to experience their superb Chanukah show three years ago.
But as the first post in this blog showed, Painful has recently won me over, and in fact, become one of my favorite albums of the 90s. So it seemed inevitable that I was finally getting into Yo La Tengo, and with a few more listens, the album that most consider their masterpiece would sink in with me.
Well, on one hand, I finally "get" the album, and I've come around to have an opinion on every song. And in reality, there are no bad songs here. But the problem is, YLT's reach exceeds its grasp. They've always been genre-hopping music snobs, but there is no cohesion to this record. And consider it a double-record, which it is on vinyl. Many of the greatest double albums, from The White Album to London Calling to Double Nickels on the Dime, and countless others, all thrive on not staying in any one place or mindset or musical style for too long. That's what makes them great. But where this album isn't superb, is that a lot of the songs are just kinda lazy, and just seem included to keep the album diverse. In fact, one of the things that makes Painful so good is HOW cohesive it is. This is not the case on ICHTHBAO.
Another "problem" is that...there's a lack of even-ness. The greatest albums ever, while perhaps having one or two songs that every fan can get behind, are even in terms of song quality. Is there really a song on Exile On Main Street or Zen Arcade that is HEAD AND SHOULDERS more brilliant than any others? No, because most of the album is damn good, with a few exceptions that are truly superb. This album, however, has some of the Tengo's best songs (notably: "Sugarcube", "We're An American Band", "Autumn Sweater," the space-y "Spec Bebop" and my personal favorite "Deeper Into Movies.") The aforementioned stand among some of the best songs of the decade and certainly of the band's career.
Unfortunately, this level of brilliance isn't sustained through the entirety of the album. While it is a very good album, I'm always waiting for the standout tracks to come on. And like other bands as prolific as they are, there is often instances where a little editing could've gone a long way. (With all of the above songs, plus the first two and the cover of "Little Honda", you still have nearly a 40 minute album).
Yo La Tengo are an awesome band, and I totally can get behind their existence and ethos. But it's still hard to listen to most of their albums in full, including this one.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Album: Fugs First Album
It was bound to happen...as I attempt to listen to every release I own (what am I on? 12/1000ish...?), I'm bound to be disappointed. The Fugs remain an influential band because of the tone of their first two releases and early singles. A bunch of Bleecker Street beatnicks decided to make a rock and roll album. Cool idea right?
Listening to it over five...six years after I first heard the band...the album seems tired and dated. The funny songs like "Slum Goddess" and "Boobs A Lot" just aren't that funny. The folkie stuff isn't that catchy...the worst thing is I just can't see a reason to listen to this album. Like at all.
The Godz were definitely weirder...Holy Modal Rounders were not only better musicians and songwriters...but they didn't start to suck after their first two albums...they actually massively improved! And in terms of sheer minimalism and weirdos from the mid-60s...The Monks perfected it.
Maybe I'll go back in a few months and take back this review...I mean this is the first time I've ever really not enjoyed this record. But jeez, it's just not that good. And not even the bonus/early tracks like "CIA Man" or "We're The Fugs" seem that interesting at all.
Heavily dated, well-intentioned but not that great.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's first four albums, when he was just a folkie still, often rank just below the quality of his work in the middle of the 1960s when he revolutionized rock and roll. His second record, Freewheelin' is the first in which he took over most of the songwriting duties, and is certainly an...interesting album.
Don't get me wrong, the songs here are mostly excellent. "Blowin' In The Wind" is the classic and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is one of my favorite songs by the man. On top of that, even the protest songs like "Masters of War" and "Oxford Town" work because of their A) brevity B) sarcasm and C) spite. When Bob did touch on topical/political issues, he never whines. Bob's songs have a timelessness to them on this album, and they mostly hold up lyrically.
I say mostly because Bob writes a LOT of words in his songs. I think that on Highway 61 and Blonde On Blone...once he had a BACKING BAND, it worked well. He had more tangible song structure and there really was a full ensemble aiding to his lyrics. But they are often so a-melodic, and an acoustic guitar just isn't enough to hold everything else up.
So what I'm trying to say is Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is a great album with some awesome songs. But it still pales in comparison to what he'd be doing merely a year later, and it's definitely hard to listen to it outside of a context of "this was only the beginning," as opposed to enjoying it for what it is.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Artist: The Isley Brothers
Album: Givin' It Back
Givin' It Back ushered in a totally new and purely brilliant era for the Isleys. Throughout the 60s they had a steady string of hits and had great artistic control, writing all the songs that appeared on their albums. But for this album, they dropped a lot of the funk and groove, going in a new direction...and it's probably the best album they ever released.
The album features zero original songs. Instead, the Isleys opted to cover some of the bigger songs of the era. For a group so revered in R&B circles to be covering Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, James Taylor and Bob Dylan especially with the racial mood of the country...was sensational. Eric Burdon, Stephen Stills and Bill Withers composed the other songs you hear on the record. What makes this record of ALL covers so good is how they've improved on every original. Whether it's their sensational singing, the extra groove they are able to lend to these songs, or the tone of the acoustic guitar ("Fire And Rain" namely, which I think may be my favorite cover of all time), they not only do the songs justice, but improve upon them.
Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper contribute to the playing, and by 1973 they'd be fully accepted members of the band. Bill Withers even contributes some guitar playing to this record! (and "Cold Bologna," the song he wrote, certainly sounds more than just a little like "Harlem" the first song on his first album Just As I Am, released the same year.) It's also one of the last they'd release on their own T-Neck Record Label, which eventually moved to Epic.
It's almost wrong to call this a new "era." On one hand, this album along with Brother, Brother, Brother and 3+3 feature many, many covers. But that's only three albums, and by 1975's The Heat Is On they were recording mainly originals, again. Furthermore, 3+3 has a lot in common with their late-70s work, and certainly shows the direction they'd be taking in terms of disco/dance music.
Still, Givin' It Back remains a landmark and really original work. It closes with the absolutely superb "Love The One You're With" and the songs, not surprisingly, cover so much of the emotional spectrum. The album is an absolute joy to listen to and even the sad songs can put a smile on your face.
Artist: Husker Du
Album: Land Speed Record
I think one of the lamest compliments that you can give a record is that it's "aptly named." So while I won't compliment this record on those grounds...it is aptly named. On Husker Du's debut LP, which is a live record, blows through 17 songs in under 30 minutes. Which I guess from a hardcore punk perspective isn't too impressive, but the fact that it's live...so there is feedback and count-offs between songs...which probably add an extra minute or two...it's awesome. But nothing about this record is typical hardcore punk, either.
The cover features photos of the coffins of the first soldiers killed in Vietnam, and the song titles indicate themes about destruction. And the music is blistering fast. But still...it owes little to the school of Minor Threat or Black Flag in terms of influence. The songs are lightening-fast bursts of pop, honestly. Sure, the distortion is up to 10 and the vocals are frighteningly furious, but the pop structure is there.
There's not much more I have to say on this record. It really is the best document of the early Husker Du sound, though. Everything Falls Apart has some amazing songs, but a lot of the sound of that record suffers from a studio environment. Here, however, you get to hear the pummeling way in which the songs were meant to be heard. If you already own Zen Arcade and New Day Rising...don't go to the later stuff, get this one next.