Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All I know and all I have is time and time and tide is on my side

In the movie High Fidelity, if you look closely in the background of a lot of the shots, you will see the picture to the left. This is the album cover for Brian Eno's Before and After Science, a fantastic album that is one of those albums that has several important significances attached to it. High Fidelity would make the list of 25 movies that have inspired my life (hmmmmmm.....) and lord knows the music snobbery of it's characters is something I can relate to. I mean, I love a lot of music, but I hate the kind of people who look for "Isn't She Lovely" for their daughters. Anyways it wasn't seeing the artwork in the background of the movie that led me to the discovery of Brian Eno, it was a friend whose music snobbery led me to the album. He is also a fan of High Fidelity but I doubt that is where he got the record suggestion. Anyway, this has no bearing on why it's great. It's just how random sometimes things can end up on your stereo.

Brian Eno was an obsession I had upon hearing this album. I knew of his work with Talking Heads and U2 as a producer but I never knew he was in Roxy Music and had a strange duel career as glam rocker/ambient musical God. The real memories of fully engulfing Eno was being fully engulfed with Mononucleosis in 2006, the last semester of my college career. Now talk about a sucky time in life. This album is half fun and half very ethereal and dreary. That's the kind of bi-polarism that I was going through while laid up with the latter half of the album being a better representation of that. The overwhelming solitary confinement that was forced upon me was accompanied by some very soothing tunes. It was music to allow my mind to wander and contemplate things that my physical self was unable to. That's what makes it so special.

The fun side of the record has songs that are just sheer silliness, funkiness and brilliance all in one. The opening groove of "No One Receiving" is musically one of the finer tracks on the disc with interesting bass grooves awash in pulsating percussion all surrounded by an interesting but repetitious guitar riff. It was silly tracks like "Backwater" that would give me a smile with it's hilariously meaningless lyrics, yet ultimately catchy ones (sample: "If you study the logistics and heuristics of the mystics you will find that their minds rarely move in a line.") It may very well be the most catchy song ever written that I had never heard in all my life up to that point. It's catchy and poppy but it's almost anti-pop music. Explain that! "Kings Lead Hat" (an anagram for Talking Heads) is also chock full of nonsense. It's not until the last half of the record that the atmospherics really kick in. My theme song for a while would have been "Here He Comes", "Julie With..." is lucid dream enducing beauty, "By This River" is a melodramatic tear jerker, "Through Hollow Lands" is more of a portrait than a song in it's sonic awesomeness and "Spider and I" just caps off the album as it's standout. I see it being used as two figures stare at the cosmos and seeing how tiny and insignificant they might be in this world and your problems just seem to wash away.

It's a strange feeling to get from a record. The feeling of music syncing up with what is going on in your life the time you start to listen to it. And for this reason it will remain one of those frozen moments saved by music. It may have not been the brightest time in my life, but it is something I learned a whole lot from and having a soundtrack to that is important.

1. The Who - Tommy
2. Beck - Odelay
3. Television - Marquee Moon
4. Weezer - Pinkerton
5. Brian Eno - Before and After Science

Up Next: Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's time I got back to the good life

Sometimes a band you love dies. And sometimes that death is beautiful. Weezer's Pinkerton was that last breath of greatness before they spiraled into oblivion. Seeing one of your favorite bands die is tough. The amount of love you put towards a band and the amount of enjoyment you get from them squashed by their own personal problems is tough. But something about a record where they pour their soul out on to a CD is just sheer brilliance. And as far as I am concerned, Pinkerton is a pop album of epic proportions. I think all people that truly love Weezer realize that they will never be able to do something like this again and it's almost like a part of your chidlhood has died.

But that's the kicker to growing up. You get over things. You learn from your mistakes and from your adolescent ways and you then become nostalgic about certain things that you used to love. Pinkerton is exactly that. It was an album that any angst ridden pre-teen/teenager can relate with. It's about love and loss and anger and whining etc. It's also an album of really catchy and fun although dark songs. There is something strange about youth relating to such a dark album. Does that speak for us as a way that we seek comfort in someone else's problems or are we relating to them? I think relating is the best way to describe it. I've never had a huge heart destroying end of a relationship, but when your young, they all feel that way. Love is lost and it feels like death, so it's suiting that Pinkerton is something young romantics are drawn to. Even if you aren't, it's just damn good pop music. It's a shame that Weezer could never follow through after this album and after Matt Sharp left the group.

Needless to say, the opening distortion on "Tired of Sex" acts like a ten year portal back to my frivolous high school days. It's a grungy pop song for Weezer who was relatively not grungy at all. The lyrics are stupid, but the beat and the music is sheer fun and angst. "Getchoo" and "Why Bother?" are a little more straightforward in their style and continue in their harsher pop sound. It isn't until "Across the Sea" comes in that we have a true pop music masterpiece even though it may be the creepiest pop song you will ever hear. The music and structure of the album is probably Weezer at it's finest musical moments. The singles "The Good Life" and "El Scorcho" will stand as sing-along anthems of the day and the closer melancholy "Butterfly" ends on a power pop note of heartbreaking proportions.

1. The Who - Tommy
2. Beck - Odelay
3. Television - Marquee Moon
4. Weezer - Pinkerton

Up Next: Brian Eno - Before and After Science

Friday, July 25, 2008

These cold wild seas have left us turning

My days at Wow Video help me find a lot of new things and meet a lot of awesome people. Working at the local video store definitely opened me up to new things (be it ridiculous Porn titles or then out-of-print movies like Brazil and Monster Squad.) The kind of people who work at Wow were not just awesome, but came from all different walks of life. Two different albums on this list are from this time period and both opened me up to new avenues of musical greatness. The first one is Television's Marquee Moon. An epic piece of music amid the tumult of the punk rock/new wave explosion of the late 70's, Television came out like a strange beacon of rock's grandiosity but through the style of the times. For that reason, Marquee Moon really has interested me as an album that is somewhat forgotten in the annals of rock history but is just pure greatness. I know anyone who likes music or some great musicians look to Television as one of those insider rock groups.

The record was released in 1977 and it stands as a testament before it's time. It fits in better among some of the post punk of today and yet it's a post punk record in the middle of the punk rock revolution. For me it's a breath of fresh air and a real chiller of a record. Upon my first listening to it after a co-worker told me that she knew I would love it I was on board. This album stands as a good ear mark for my re-birth in music love that was kind of stale in the last few years of high school and jump started during my tenure as a college radio host of "The Lost Tracks" which then turned into "Peel Slowly and See." This show (which just had a name change after it's first year and a half on the air) was dedicated to my love of the album as a whole. Most songs played were of album cuts of popular artists. Less like msot college radio which just digs up the obscure, my focus was more "let's strip away the singles and hits and take a look what else is on that album." For me, hearing a band like Television on the radio would not happen except in the realm of college or non-commercial radio. To me as a young music nerd was a travesty as Marquee Moon holds some of the finest rock performances I've ever heard up to that point. I made it my goal to try and spin this record as often as possible and include it in my mixes that I gave friends as my own egotistical gesture of kindness.

I don't know if my love of Television has spread to anyone I know, but if it hasn't that's all fine and dandy. I can keep this love to myself. The album itself is something I can put on in any mood and something that really just sounds great to listen to. It doesn't try to hard to be anything it isn't yet it's complex and a daunting listen at the same time. When the album starts off with "See No Evil", you wonder why they didn't get big praise until much later in the United States. The fluttering riff in the background with the more standard harder riff in the foreground sounds so good. It's a fast poppy song with all the trappings of a hit, but nonetheless. "Venus" stands as one of my favorite guitar songs of all time and houses some of my favorite lyrics to date ("I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo.") The titular track may be the greatest guitar epic ever recorded. The creschendo of guitars the explodes into a euphoric light show stands as one of my favorite moments in rock music history. It's the kind o song that shows how bloated Prog Rock can be, yet has all the epicness of prog. Guitars are the muscle here and it just works on a perfect level. More imposing in tone, "Elevation" has again some of my favorite lyrical moments (like the one in the title) and "Torn Curtain" follows easy suit as a great closer with equally great guitar posturing.

This album may not have the most exact moments of life-altering greatness that some of the other albums on this list might, but it does have it's place as one of the best recordings I have ever heard in my 25 year lifetime. It's this kind of record that I enjoy sharing with others and love talking about when I find and meet new people who love the album as much as I do.

1. The Who - Tommy
2. Beck - Odelay
3. Television - Marquee Moon

Up Next: Weezer's Pinkerton

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I came here to tell you about the rhythms of the universe

If Tommy was the first album that I learned of it's greatness from my parents, then Odelay was the first album I purchased that really meant something just to me. The music of Beck isn't something everyone can get into. In fact, in grade school, I don't remember having a lot of friends who enjoyed my love for Beck as much as I did. I think somewhere in one of my grade school "Thought Books", the first page was dedicated to track titles from Odelay and a really bad recreation of the strange floppy looking dog jumping the hurdle. It was this album that spoke to me as a young adolescent and of most albums that I was into at the age, it's one that will never get old and possibly gets better each time I listen to it. Something about the mix of hip-hop sensibilities and Beck's penchant for blues really was unlike anything I heard and is unlike anything I still have yet to hear.

Beck has many albums that have touched upon moments of my life and it's really hard to not credit him as one of the few artists that really have an introspection into all the fractions of my own personality. Odelay has the best mixture of these in one excellent package. As much as Midnite Vultures will remind me of partying with friends and Sea Change will remind me of heartbreak, it's Odelay that reminds me of my how my life was shaped into the strange slacker of sorts that I am. The album has all the heartbreaking anthems and goof-off jams to fill a party with. It's more of a package deal with Odelay than a single sided experience. One thing will always remind me of was my first time overseas. In 1997, I went to Greece with my family and brought only a few cassettes with me. On one side I recorded the entire Mighty Mighty Bosstones album Let's Face It and on the other side was Odelay. I played that tape so much that I now associate everything else I was doing at the time with that. Whether it was falling in love witha foreign country, reading the latest Gary Paulsen novel or riding a ferry through the Aegean and watching the sunset. It's strange to think that these songs somehow set the scene for that trip, but somehow they did. Strangely enough, the next time I was in Greece I lost a ton of cds and only had two albums just like on this trip. Sadly it wasn't Odelay and that's a story for another day.

The music of Odelay speaks for itself. It's one of the finest recordings of the 90s. It has variety and sounds fantastic 12 years later. The hits like "The New Pollution" and "Devil's Haircut" still rank as some of my favorite all time tracks and the best parts of the album are songs lke "Hotwax" and Novacane" where some of Beck's catchiest moments lay in wait. A meditative track like "Jack-Ass" is followed by the party anthem of "Where It's At" and each are equally spine tinglingly good. The track that hits me the most is the hobo anthem that really is much different from any other song on the album. "Ramshackle", which is clearly about Beck's time as a poor starving artist really has a tone and meaning of the disappointments in life but a solemn acceptance that all things come to an end and happiness can be found in the loved ones around you. It's a sad song but bittersweet in a way. It's a gem amongst some of the craziest tracks you've ever heard assembled. Way down at the end of Odelay, it really tears a hole into your soul and keeps it's warm acoustic glow inside.

Finding the first album that spoke to just me in a different level than any of the classic albums on this list is something really special. It's strange to think this album is over 10 years old now and can be seen as a classic to new Beck fans and younger music lovers out there. This is why Odelay deserves a spot on this retrospective.

1. The Who - Tommy
2. Beck - Odelay

Next up: Television's Marquee Moon

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tommy can you hear me?

As far as I am concerned, my life changed the minute I first went rummaging through my parents record collection and put on the Who's Tommy. I was always a fan of rock and roll as a kid. I had two parents whose combined record collection shed tons of light onto many great bands. It was in grade school, near the end of my tenure in the most important formative year of my life (1998) that I first really understood what it meant to listen to an album. Before then I had CD's (some of which will turn up on this here list) and I would skip around to all my favorite songs and make mix tapes from the then great alt rock radio. But when I first pulled out the musty vinyl record to try and find that Who song I really liked at the time ("Pinball Wizard")... it was then I realized what it was to listen to music, especially a real album.

Tommy is one of those albums that just exerts such a raw life force via music. It's a mystical event listening to Tommy every time. Each time you hear that album from start to finish, you really truly get something out of it. At least I do. The Who is easily the most important rock group for me and it was this moment back in '98 that really opened my eyes to what a band could do in the studio and even live. If you have never listened to Tommy recorded live, be it the Live at Leeds or Live at the Isle of Wight Festival recordings, you haven't gotten the full force of how Tommy is beyond an album and really a full fledged rock music experience. From the opening riffs of the "Overture" to the fade out of "We're Not Gonna Take It", you are taken on a truly amazing journey that is beyond expectation.

The amount of songs on the double LP shows the range and ability that the Who had as a band. Before this point, the Who were on the verge of doom. Their last few albums, although great in their own right, showed a band at odds with themselves and having trouble. Tommy was Townshend's genius idea for a band to write an opera of sorts and show that Rock and Roll music was much more than just Top 40 singles. If there was any album to show how important the Album was as a medium of music, Tommy is such an album. People say Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds redifined the album as more than just a vehicle to have a bands collection of singles culminated in one place, but it was Tommy that showed a band could do more than just have a small concept for a record. They bridged the gap of music and storytelling and did it without flaws.

One of the greatest moments in music for me was first hearing "Overture" in my family room. It may just be a culmination of all the musical themes found on Tommy but it is beyond powerful. When the organ comes in at about 2:19, you are filled with a spirit energy that shows you how glorious just music can be. Keith Moon's drumming is a highlight of the opening and was the inspiration for me wanting to be a drummer. Songs like "1921" and "Amazing Journey" made me want to be a songwriter. Jams lke "Sparks" and "Underture" made me want to be in a band. Vocal deliveries on "Go to the Mirror" and "I'm Free" made me want to be a front man. All of these things would become dreams of mine and it is because Tommy is such a powerful piece of rock and roll music. The musicianship, the lyrical explorations and the overall grandiosity of Tommy is something that should be shared with everyone and taught in music appreciation classes.

Without hearing Tommy, I can safely say that my life as it is today would have been vastly different. I would have never been in a band, would have never wanted to perform in front of an audience and may not have taken many of the other paths in my life. My radio show, my closest compatriots and my lust and zeal for all things artistic would never have come to pass. This is a lot to assume, but it definitely has affected me on such a level that I can say that music has definitely paved the way of my life and Tommy is responsible even if just a little bit.

1. The Who - Tommy

Next up: Beck's Odelay

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Twenty Five Albums that Shaped Twenty Five Years

I have been thinking about this list and it's not a best of or a year by year breakdown of the 25 years of my life, but more of a roadmap to show the growth and love of music that has gotten me to where I am today. August 21st is my 25th birthday and to celebrate my love of music, I will be reviewing 25 albums that have gotten me to this point of being a music lover. There will not be an order or a rhyme or reason as much as just 25 reviews of records that have changed the way I listen to music. I stole this idea a bit from Jelone who beat me to the punch, but my way of doing it is a bit different. I may not fully love a lot of the music that was released during my tenure on this planet, so a lot of the albums that make this certain list will NOT be from 1983 - 2008.

The first album, which will be posted in a separate blog asap will be the definitive life changing record for myself, Tommy.

Philadelphia Freak Folkers Gallop to Goodness

Right now in the City of Brotherly Love there is a great revival of psychedelic freak folk music. Bands like Dr. Dog and An American Chinese are raising the bar high for interesting pop sensibilities with a psychedelic touch. One such band, hailing from New Jersey but mainly working out of Philadelphia, Lemons are Louder than Rocks, are doing a great job of keeping the fire burning. Their blend of 60's folk guitars dipped in psychedlia with a tongue-in cheek vocal/lyrical content is a refreshing touch. Their firwst EP All My Old Friends showcased this and now their self-produced full length record Gallop follows with a steady stride.

The group has a strange sensibility to their music. The lyrics may seem silly at times, especially in the goofy yet catchy track "Roast Beef Sammich", but behind the silliness is a heartfelt touch. The titular track sets the pace for the albums tone. It's swirling organ back-up, trumpet blares and bouncy ryhthm lets us lucky listeners in on a feel good spirit. The freakout jam of "There is No Death For Me!" is followed up by the gentle and beautiful "Looking At Me." The gentle guitar riff and soft vocals are a great transition from the rest of the disc. The stand-out sing-along epic of "Keep My Bag" follows after with a catchy repeating piano and organ riff. It's toe-tapping goodness and reminds me of a campfire sing-along with everyone gathered around in camraderie and hopless romanticism. Another stand-out track is the album closer "Lewd Nudle" which shows the excellent musicianship of the band. It's a rollicking acid jam reminiscent of early Pink Floyd or Cream would rock out live.

Lemons Are Louder Than Rocks is the kind of feel good rock music that the Philadelphia area is teeming with and they prove that they are more than just a bunch of goofs with extremely catchy songs and lyrics you can relate to. Pop music should be so lucky to have such a growing culture of roots music like this.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Real Action Film

It takes the right team to make an action film. Action movies are churned out left and right every Friday. Movies like Crank or Transformers come along and they are true slices of entertainment. They are made for what they need to be. Then every once in a rare while an Action Film comes along. The kind of movie that goes beyond the explosions and digs deep into the heart of the psyche. Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight, gets this and has made a truly fantastic Action Film.

Let me be clear here: The Dark Knight is not a movie that digs super deep philosophically or morally (although it does work as a great social commentarty), but enough that it raises its intense action scenes beyond just being intense set pieces. It gives meaning to the chaos, as much as anarchy can have meaning. I'm not going to go into storyline here. It's nothing new story wise. The true genius behind this movie is the combination of the acting and the directing that made it a dance of visual brilliance and subtlety. The way Nolan was able to get the performances he did from a stellar cast of leads and supporting is a true triumph. The for major leads- Bale, Ledger, Eckhart & Oldman- take talent to the next level.

Christian Bale's triumph of playing a " me!" is wholly invigorating. He is a hero who knows his limits and his flaws and realizes exactly what he has brought upon Gotham. Heath Ledger is so outstandingly creepy that when people laugh in the cinemas at parts he plays, you almost cringe at them. There wasn't a single thing funny about his joker. Yes he had some genius one-liners, but even those were calculated and malicious enough to make you cringe in fear and horror. A scene where the Joker is being interrogated is just fitfully brilliant acting on Ledger's part that you can't but wonder how taxing it must have been to emerse yourself into that psychopathic mind. Aaron Eckhart plays Harvey Dent, the white knight of Gotham City, and although his part is understated at first, you see the mind of a man on the edge brewing behind his eyes. He may have been the shining light in Gotham's most tumoltuos time, but as in many of Nolan's films, even the good have a touch of evil somewhere tucked away that can come forth if pushed to the limits. Lastly, Gary Oldman, an actor who can never go wrong, also understates and slow plays his Detective turned Commisioner role. He's a true police officer not entirely liked by all because he wants one thing and that's the peace that Gotham City deserves.

The reason I still call this an Action Film is because beyond all the psychology is a truly riveting stunt filled spectacle. Unlike past Batman films, The Dark Knight is almost 100% location filming. Scenes where a policemen's parade for slain officers erupts into chaos thanks to the Joker is utterly breathtaking. The main chase sequence through Gotham's underground ending in the most glorious truck stunt you will ever see on film just explodes with brilliance. And the reason why? Very minimal CGI and real stunts. When you see the Joker's Truck do a front flip, that's not a computer altered truck. That's an 18-wheeler hurtling through the air. That's something you don't see very often anymore. Another mind boggling thing of chaotic beauty is when the Joker walks non-chalantly out of a hospital as it slowly explodes. This wasn't shot in Chicago like most of the film, but it was a set piece built for the sole purpose to succumb to the Joker's crazy rampage.

The film may be a tad bit long in the tooth, but it's a tooth that sinks right into your neck and feels good. It's the kind of 2 and a half hour film that you never want to end. As much as a lot of it is intense and in your face, it's something that gets your adreneline pumping and your suspense sensors flairing on overdrive. It's social comment on terrorism and heroes vs. villains is something that is such a dark and grey area that it will question both sides of the arguement for Homeland Security and the way things are done to "protect" the citizens. It's not ultra deep, but it's still there and really works. This is a must see film on the big screen and probably will be one of the best films you will see all year. There really is only one word to describe it... triumphant.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Finding the Human Spirit in a Desolate Place

Director Werner Herzog has a way of film making that takes what looks to be a documentary about the natural world, but ultimately ends up being about the nature of the human spirit. In Grizzly Man, we see a ultimately disturbing portrait of a man rather than a movie about living with bears. Although it's stunningly visual and shows off the wilderness as a place of raw and savage power, it also shows the emotions of it's protagonist and the derangement that takes him out to that place. In Herzog's new documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, we get a similar view of the human spirit but in a little less dark way. This time, Herzog and his crew brave the Forgotten Continent of Antartica to find what drives the human spirit to adventure.

The opening of the film is a gorgeous underwater shot of a diver illuminating a frozen piece of sea ice that points to the depths of the Ross Sea like a stalactite glow stick. It was these images a friend of Herzog sent him that drew him to visit Antarctica. Herzog at the beginning promises his audience that this won't be another documentary about "fluffy penguins" and although one digression where we see the goofy birds (more on that later), we intead get a really strange mission statment that mixes the question "Why do men wear masks and chase the bad guy?" to "Why do other smart animals, like chimps, not utilize other lesser species?" These questions are less about being answered by Herzog but are more the basis of his ultimate question: "Why is human nature so inherently drawn to exploration and further knowledge when all things in life are for the most part futile?" He never states this as his mission, but he sure does accomplish this stark vision of humanity into the desolate wastelands of Antarctica.

Herzog travels with his team to a remote settlement of sorts on a small island off the main coast of Antarctica with the large Ross Sea in between them. The Ross Sea, during the aural summer, is frozen solid with 8 feet of ice. Herzog has a way of capturing the spirit of the strange crew of misfits that include a descendant of the royal Aztec family, a lady who traveled from Chicago to Peru in a sewer pipe and a PHD in a language that has died. As one fo the people put it, they were all the people who didn't belong and sank to the bottom of the globe. Somehow, these folks have a passion and drive for science enough to bear the extreme weather, the 24 hour daylight and all matter of terrible living situations. The film then finally ventures into the vast wasteland, but underneath the ice is a living and thriving environment filled with strange creatures and wonderous otherworldy sounds. These images are some of the most breathtaking in the film.

The one thing, though, that holds back the film is its wandering sense of direction. Maybe this was done on purpose to show the wanderers who live in Antarctica, but the lack of a direct focus to the documentary makes it more of a visual feast than an intellectual one. The greatest moment in the film is when a lone penguin heads out into the mainland, unlike most penguins who either stay at their breeding grounds or go out to sea. This one penguin seeks adventure, much like the people observing him, even if this seals his fate. Herzog uses the only penguin scene to show that humans aren't the only ones with such an adventursome spirit. Encounters at the End of the World is a gorgeous film that may not answer all it's philisophical questions, but that is part of the mystery of life. It's all one adventure that leads to another and without any end in sight, just like the miles of snow covered mountains in Antarctica.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Know I'm not Supposed to Get Girl Talk...

... but seriously? I mean, yeah it's interesting to listen to songs remixed and juxtaposed, but there is nothing really interesting to just taking small clips of songs and shoving them in a super collider and turning it on to full tilt until all your records come out smashed together and mixed up. This is the problem I have with Girl Talk.

Yes, I can see why people listen to this and sit around in awe. Feed the Animals takes all kinds of genres and really mixes it up. A music snob who listens to everything might appreciate the song recognition when "Procol Harum" is the backbeat or when Huey Lewis dip dip dips through the track as your hip-hop backbone. But, something about this as an album format just boggles my mind. When the disc starts, I really really like it. You get an amazing smattering of awesome beats that really work together and flow like a normal song would. The backbone to most of "Play Your Part (Pt. 1)" works as a song. Then the vibe of the song changes completely two minutes into the song when Twisted Sister and Temple of the Dog change it entirely in tone. This makes it really hard to get a certain grove going. It might work when you are drunk in a club, or tripping on some sort of drugs, but as an album it's like that annoying kid who just skips through every song on their iPod every five seconds until something good comes on and that never stops. Yet it's like 12 kids doing that at the same time. And of course anyone knows that certain songs can easily match up to each other, but it doesn't really work to hard. "In Step" is just one of these moments on the album that really just doesn't seem to work. It has a vibe but then just shifts vibes.

It truly is musical ADD as Mr. Dogg has mentioned. I bet a kid with ADD would like this more than anything. You could probably loop it and they wouldn't notice it. I've never listened to a lot of hip-hop through my life. I always have found it better listened to when I'm ready to party or dance or when I'm out at a club with friends. And maybe that is the place that Girl Talk would work. But it's an album, not a night club. I shouldn't be so critical, but it just doesn't work for an album. I want to like Girl Talk. But it's overkill and takes sampling to a weird shitty level.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Quality over Quantity

Beck is quite an eclectic eccentric songwriter. And his career is getting pretty long and has matured a lot with his 13th album, Modern Guilt. One constant in Beck's career has been his producers. Most of his albums were produced either by the Dust Brothers (Odelay, Geuro) or Nigel Godrich (Mutations, Sea Change, The Information.) Beck has made an interesting switch and worked with none other than up and coming producer Danger Mouse. This may be one of the most interesting changes in Beck's career filled with swerves from slack - folk to funk to hip hop and sometimes all three combined.

The Oughts have seen Beck at his most tumultuous. Sea Change is a masterwork if there ever was one and everything since has been so jam packed, it almost seemed a little much. As much as Guero is an excellent album, it has some tracks that could easily be trimmed from the album to make it work a little bit better as an album. The Information suffers from this a bit more and also suffers from a lack of production. As much as Nigel knows how to shine, he isn't a very good hip-hop oriented producer. He may have been better suited to produce Modern Guilt, but that is neither here nor there.

Modern Guilt is Beck's shortest album and that allows it to grow and mutate and become a cut above it's past two predecessors. I wonder how much may have been left in the studio or in Beck's basement that did not get put onto this album, but I'm sure with the large amount b-sides we already has floating out there, he might have a bunch more songs waiting to be found from these sessions or at least this period of songwriting. Whatever the case may be, we finally get a Beck album that is overall consistent without tracks that are easy to skip over. This doesn't mean perfection, but it means no wandering.

The first track "Orphans" is a summer time, car windows rolled, salt air in your face melody fest. It really sets the tone for the rest of the album. A small dash of backup from Cat Power adds to the airy vibe of a fantastic pop song. Beck doesn't tread very far with any experimentation, but the track still has a fresh sound and an originality to it. "Gamma Ray" sounds like a 60s pop tune and is much more standard than anything Beck has recorded in the past few years. But even here the production is what makes the track. Much more ethereal and spacey comes in the single "Chemtrails." One of the more interesting musical moments on the album, the drums and bass really take hold of the listener. Some of Beck's signature noise freakouts occur near the end and we get a classic cut off into nothingness. It's a very satisfying track. The titular track again has a vibe of mixing the best of Beck's futuristic bleeps spaciness, but is a jaunty throwback to 60s pop. The surfy guitars, piano frolics and crunchy drum beat makes the track sound like something The Zombies or early Stones might attain. Beginning with "Youthless" and continuing on through "Walls" and "Replica", we here the most challenging and contemporary songs structures. Interesting beats abound, funky vibes and more sensory kinetics going on behind the tracks than the first half of the record. "Soul of a Man" has a fantastic riff to compliment the strange guitar wails and the driving kick drum beat. The hypnotic drum and guitar combo on "Profanity Prayers" are reminiscent of space rockers The Secret Machines, but less grandiose and more down to earth in it's simplicity. The finale, "Volcano" may be one of best finest songwriting moments. Lines like "But there's a ghost in my heart/That's trying to see in the dark/I'm tired of people who only want to be pleased, /But I still want to please you...," shows some of the maturity Beck has grown into on the album and how even a 40 year old Beck can still write a fantastic lyric.

The album plays through very quickly and is quite a refreshing and interesting listen. My real love for the album is in it's combo of well written song structures and refreshing production. Danger Mouse definitely had his hand in making Modern Guilt Beck's most consistently good album since Sea Change. A song like "Replica", which DM has a partial writing credit is something that wouldn't happen on a Beck album usually and it makes for one of the finest musical moments the disc has to offer. I'm ambivalent on how to rank this among is other greats, but listening to this record next to Odelay or Midnite Vultures makes one think.... how does one artist sound so drastically different from disc to disc? For Beck, it works from time to time to change it up, and more so than his past two efforts it works very well. Another thing keeping Modern Guilt a cut above his latest is Beck's embrace of his vocal talents. I love Beck's hip-hop efforts as much as anyone else, but his honest voice on songs like "Orphans" or "Volcano" makes the album flow straight through rather than jump from style to style in a very frenetic way that The Information hurt from. This is Beck's pop album on his terms. Catchy yet quirky. Honest but shrouded in mystery.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Best of 2008 So Far...

Every year, I like to examine what I think is the best albums the year has produced thus far. And this year has been an interesting one at that. A lot of new phases in my musical loving. I have been doing a lot of research in bands that I missed along the way (i.e. Big Star, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) but let's forget all the old stuff I'm catching up and see what the new artists are churning out. Most of these I have already blogged about, but thats because I usually only write about things I can fully enjoy. I just picked up a few records from this first half of the year but wont include them until my head can fully wrap around them (namely DCfC and Nick Cave's latest.) I was going to to top 10, but I dont think some of the scraps I have leftover are worth including. So 9 it is.

Without further ado.

9. Lemons are Louder Than Rocks - Gallop
Just like last year, some local yokels have put out some of the best music to offer yet. The Jersey bred boys pack a handful of witticisms and honesty amidst their brand of freak folk melodies and, well, freak outs. The titular track itself is a goofy campfire ditty stacked with enough fun sing-along fodder for the next six months that you can't imagine what else the band is going to pack into their first full length record. More silliness comes in the carefree package of "Roast Beef Sammich" about a date gone terribly wrong. "Looking at Me" feels like a Paul Simon track that never made it out of the basement and it has great sentiment in its simple guitar picking and whistling. Gallop is the kind of album you bring to the beach with you late at night with a handful of friends sitting around in prayerful silence sometimes while othertimes you sit and giggle about times of old. Sentimental and fun. That's the recipe for success.

Standout Track: The 7 minute feelgoodery anthem "Keep My Bag"

8. Islands - Arm's Way
I may have sounded a bit misleading with my short write up on the latest Islands effort, but the truth is this is a solid album. Polished and a great listen overall. My only concern was the strangeness of the first album made it so great. This one is more from the heart (the album cover itself suggests that) "The Arm" is a baroque sensation and an excellent first track/single. The guitars taking the forefront with a bed of strings behind it in a way that Arcade Fire might turn their heads. It's a worthy single to pick up as there is a sweetass cover of Beck's "Cyanide Breath Mint" on it. The track "Abominable Snow" was a leftover from the debut, but fits in with the tracks here than it would on the first album. The whirly organ swirls in the background give it a fun house feel and reminds me a bit of The Fever, God rest their souls. The 7-minute in the rushes is anthematic enough for the album to give it a prog edge amidst its indie guitar posturing and baroque string veils. It's a valiant record.

Standout Track: The kinetic energy of its first half and the calypso breakdown of the second half of "J'amie vous voirre quitter"... its only 3 minutes long and it packs a punch.

7. Saviours - Into Abaddon
American Metal is NOT dead. Not that anyone was saying it was, but it's not all just commercial shit floating around. Some bands still get it. And is there a whole lot to get with metal music? If there really is, Saviours understands. The best way to describe what Saviours does on Into Abaddon would probably be a maelstrom of ear splintering riffage. From the first seconds of "Firewake Angel" to the apex of "Mystichasm" earth shattering guitar antics, it's no holds barred metal. Their live show is nothing to sneeze at, but these boys from Oakland know where they found a good home and thats at Kemado Records. The one label holding the sword high (no pun intended... see later) for bands who want nothing more to do but rock as hard and as ballsy as they want. Tracks like "Cavern of Mind" and "Raging Embers" hearken back to the riff kings of the early 80s American metal scene.... Metallica?! Remember those guys? Well, sort of like them. The real treat here is the intensely different lyrical delivery. Hardcore screams fade into the guitars as if to give them further distortion. It's great driving music, but you better be in a biker gang to get away with blasting.

Standout Track: "Mystichasm" will have you trashing from beginning to end. And when the closing solo comes, you still won't be prepared.

6. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath
More intensity care of the fallen angels of At the Drive In. My first reaction to this album was perplexity. It's so fitting an album name for what you will get yourself into. But after 5 listens, you still won't feel it. After 15 listens you realize it's just crazy. After 30 listens you realize you keep replaying it over and over. And if that's not a sign of a good album, then by 50 spins you will. The album starts so overwhelmingly fast with "Abernikula" that you really have no clue whats going on. The songs structure is so radically great that by the time the funk breakdown near the end comes in, you will let your guard down and "Metatron" will kick in before you knew track one ended. It's moments like that that make The Bedlam in Goliath a stellar outing. I still have some problems with this album as a whole. It might be a little but too long in the tooth. But it is a Goliath record. So why not excess it up? After more spins then my head can remember, it's a worthy outing nonetheless.

Standout Track: "Goliath" owns supreme over all other tracks as the one track that is probably the most coherent in the Volta's entire catalog.

5. The Sword - Gods of the Earth
Enter the other Kemado Records rockers. And not the last of that labels ear candy for the year. Doom, Stoner, Hipster... whatever genre limit is thrown their way, the Austin boys raises their axes upon high and slay yet again. No slump this time around, the follow up to their blistering debut Age of Winters, is steadfast in it's mission: to keep hard rock alive one heavy riff at a time. Don't let the acoustic intro to "The Sundering" fool you. It will turn up as fast as you turned it on. The songs plod on with the fury of Thor's hammer. Tracks like "How Heavy This Axe" and "Maiden, Mother and Crone" will show their ability to write a track furious and catchy. The heaviest track is the blistering post apocalyptic/biblical image fest of "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephryians." I have no idea what a Hyperzephyrian is, but I know I wouldn't fuck with them if I bumped into them on the streets. All in all, The Sword know how to rock as hard as they can and their ultra intense live show will leave you shaking with fury.

Standout Track: "Lords" has a riff that will stay with you for a long while and the song has the most interesting structural elements the band has unleashed yet.

4. The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
Leave it to Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo to back peddle after the fantastic genre bender Pretty in Black to a simpler sound and make it refreshing. Lust Lust Lust is a mood piece and a half and it's lamentations of the titular deadly sin is done with a spacey gusto the band has yet to produce. Production wise, this is the most stylistic the Raveonettes have sounded yet. Recorded with wall of sound fullness and Sonic Youth style feedback filling in the already crammed atmosphere, the songs still have a cloudy feel to them thanks to the harmonizing genius of the two. I feel The Raveonettes won't ever get the credit that is due to them thanks to the comparisons to other acts that they get (JaMC to name the most frequently compared), but songs like "Aly Walk With Me" and "You Want the Candy" still show that the band has its own vibe. Mixing surf guitars and delicate lyrics dripping with sexual innuendo is what the Raves do best. And on Lust Lust Lust it's all amped up. Listening to these tracks on my over-priced-but-worth-every-penny headphones at high levels is worth the hearing loss risk. So much is hiding amidst the reverb.

Standout Track: "Dead Sound" is sumptuous turned as high as your stereo, iPod, recod player or computer can go.

3. Portishead - Third
As much as I loved Dinosaur Jr.'s return to form last year, there is something to be said of the radical change that Portishead has taken. Dropping their trip-hop vibe for something entirely different, Third sees Portishead taking their 11 year break to come back with something hauntingly radical, yet keeping their original mission of melancholy. "Silence" starts off with a pulsating hypnotic rhythm that will set you in a trance and when it abruptly ends, the jarring notion is quickly lost as the dreamscape of "Hunter" creeps up and again hypnotizes you sonically. This record is as moody as it gets. It sets the pace for the paranoid times we live in and the melancholy will wash over you. It's weird thinking that the third record of a band could be so drastically different in ways yet seems like the right follow-up to the rest of their stalled career. If any world I have overused already in this write up could best sum up the album, it's hypnotic. And maybe that's their trip elements coming back in amidst the guitars, synths and mangled drum machines.

Standout Track: "Machine Gun" hits with such force that it's hard to not feel it inside your rib cage.

2. Danava - Unonou
The undefinable Danava are yet another of a few acts on this very list that have spit in the face of the sophomore slump. The Portland Oregon troops have churned out a glam prog masterpiece of sorts. It's sprawling anthemetic passages scorch the 55 minutes the album provides the listener. From the titular tongue twister of a title to the swirling synth intro of "The Emerald Snow of Sleep", Danava keep you guessing where they will take you next. It's hard to think of where these guys really come from. Their music is so other worldly in an alien way, it makes for a unique listening experience. When they bring in trumpets and strings on "A High or a Low" you wonder what exactly they want to do with their music, but you want them to keep doing it. Sure, "One Mind Gone Seperate Ways" sounds eerily like Zep's "Achilles Last Stand" at times, but hell if you are going to sound like something why not an amazing epic such as that. Easily one of the most impressive live acts you will see this year, Danava is something not worth missing. It just is a fools game. The music is so amazing and epic in every aspect that you must find a way to get this record. Apparently its only worth 6.99 on iTunes right now, which is kind of insane, but take advantage of that and enjoy.

Standout Track: "Where Beauty and Terror Dance" is a perfect single and a rollicking track filled with a catchy riff and an amazingly tripped out outro.

1. Black Mountain - In the Future
And there it is. I don't see this getting dethroned from the top spot anytime soon. Black Mountain has proven that they can write all different songs all within the scope of their classic rock vibe. The tones of the guitar, the varying usage of synthisizers and melatron and the dueling vocals of Amber Webber and Stephen McBean just scream greatness. "Stormy High" is a track for the ages that kicks the album off right while spacier elements come in trough songs like "Wucan" and "Queens Will Play." Webber's ethereal "Nightwalks" closes the disc in the perfect manner after the sprawling epic "Bright Lights" will floor you with it's sonic fury. It isn't that Black Mountain is bringing anything entirely new to the spectrum of music that makes them outstanding, its more the command of songwriting and style that makes them as good as it gets. Without excellent songwriting, it would be style for the sake of style and without style, it would be stale rock and roll exercises. But Black Mountain rises above these pitfalls and fills their craggy anthems with refreshing dynamics to rock and roll traditions. That is what makes In The Future outstanding.

Standout Track: "Tyrants" is the best song of the year. Still leaves me with chills.