Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2010

2010 was a pretty excellent year for music, but only 10 albums have been chosen. These were the ten that got my ear. Sorry for the delay in publishing.

10. The Sword - Warp Riders - The Sword lost one of their integral parts in 2010. Trivett Wingo, their drummer, left the band. Not on bad terms, but just needed to end his tenure. Luckily, it was before the recording of Warp Riders, easily The Sword's cleanest and most rock influenced record yet. The riffs are huge and the rhythm section is bone crushing. On their first "concept album"of sorts, The Sword ditch the Viking lore of their past two records and create a universe of their own. Interstellar travel, mystic orbs and a lone archer wandering a desolate planet litter the lyrics with stoner metal geekery. Rush's 2112 must have been an influence here. "Tres Brujas" owes a lot of it's sound to southern rock. The obvious send up of ZZ Top's bluesy guitar licks are backed up by a nasty cacophony of Wingo's drumming. "The Chronomancer I: Hubris" is the albums chunky epic with riffs that go back and forth. The pinnacle of the record is in "Lawless Lands", a blues metal masterpiece. With Zeppelin-esque guitar effects and the albums best guitar solos, it stands as the best hard rock song of 2010. The Sword gets a bad rap for their vocalist J.D. Cronise's kind of laid back delivery, but not every metal singer needs to scream their convoluted lyrics. In fact, the more blues rock delivery makes this record sound like a step forward in The Sword's sound.

9. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - It's no surprise that The Suburbs would be the record to bring indie favs Arcade Fire to the forefront. I'm still surprised that this record hit #1 on the charts. That being said, it is definitely Arcade Fire's most ambitious and relateable record yet. The Suburbs is a very intense and complex record. It takes a few listens to fully absorb everything that Win Butler is trying to tell us in his indie rock opera. This album doesn't have the same kind of vibe as either Funeral or Neon Bible and in that, it really stands out. "The Suburbs" is the perfect opening to the record, setting the scene of the story to come. "Ready to Start" is a static yet tense track, building the kind of tension that explodes later in the album on tracks like "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", the apex of Arcade Fire's epic intensity on the album. It's a long record to listen to, with 16 tracks and clocking in over an hour. But ultimately, it's as gratifying as any Arcade Fire album.

8. Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart - Black Mountain ditched their lofty, grandiose prog rock anthems in 2010 in exchange for a mixture of fast-paced rockers and acoustic power folk. Wilderness Heart's longest track clocks in at five minutes and fifteen seconds as apposed to their last album (a sixteen minute epic called "Bright Lights.") This is a welcome change. For psych rock, nostalgia bands like Black Mountain to keep it fresh, you got to change your game up from time to time. Take for example the extraordinarily catchy "The Hair Song." The layers of instruments make it sound like a Who song with acoustic and electric guitars playing the main riff and the rhythm section keeping it real and a touch of Deep Purple organs. "Old Fangs" is an eerily static song with nary a guitar solo to be found. The creepy organs take center stage here. Other highlights are found in the more metal moments like the lone highway biker anthem of "Let's Spirits Ride" and the pastoral closer "Sadie." It's Black Mountain's catchiest record yet. Short, but sweet, Wilderness Heart was the crossover that never happened.

7. Brian Eno featuring Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams - Small Craft on a Milk Sea - Ambeint king and producing juggernaut Brian Eno elicited the help from Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams for easily his best instrumental record since 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. As far as calling this an ambient record, I think that's a little off. It starts off quiet with the beautiful "Emerald & Lime" but by the time you reach track three, a darker edge takes shape. The mid-section of the album is where the real magic happens. Tracks like "Horse" are fodder for electro-remixes and dance club backing tracks, but on this record they take another more harrowing effect. You feel as if you are adrift on the titular sea, weathering the elements bombarding you in a foreign landscape. "2 Forms of Anger" is static yet tense and layered. "Paleosonic" is a feast for the ears. It slowly builds with bleeps, gurgles, scraping synthetic waves and electric guitars that pierce and pull apart. What does it all add up to? The years most intense headphones experience and a beguiling record filled with otherworldly sounds that really put you in another dimension.

6. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach - An album about materialism, societies wastes and the digitizing of the world, Plastic Beach is the best concept album of the year. With loads of cameos from Bobby Womack to Little Dragon to Snoop Dogg and back again, it's a huge collaboration of an album. At it's center is Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlitt steering the Gorillaz in a more grandiose direction. There is hardly a song such as "Feel Good Inc." on this record. Instead, the real shining moments come in the melancholy spacescapes. "Empire Ants" is easily the Gorillaz most poignant and beautiful track to date. It oozes with melody and saccharine sweet hooks. The album also has mostly a darker undertone, especially on the Mos Def show stopper "Sweepstakes" and the static anti-funk jam "Stylo." Bobby Womack steals the show on "Stylo" with improvised lyrics that seem to come from the inner depths of his soul. And if you are looking for the danceable side of Gorillaz, you aren't completely out of luck. The kitschy consumer culture lampoon "Super Fast Jellyfish" and the Bashy and Kano led "White Flag" will tie you over for now. It's a busy album with a ton going on, but in the world of the Plastic Beach, it's all about excess and waste.

5. MGMT - Congratulations - MGMT's Oracular Spectacular lit a fire under the indie rock scene as well as the radio airwaves of your local alt-rock music station. "Kids" was inescapable and "Electric Feel" was the real shining star of that record. But Congratulations to most seemed to be a sophomore slump. A study in art rock deemed too weird to set the world on fire the way the previous album had. Well, for my dime, the experimentation and wackiness of Congratulations is far and away better than the faux pop of it's big brother. Say what you will about MGMT's horrid live show, where they lib synch their most beloved song to a crowd expecting to get that in full glory. Songs here are sprawling, like the 12 minute epic "Siberian Breaks" that essentially dissects all things psychedelic into a beautiful landscape. "Flash Delirium" may be the closest to a single you can get off this album, but as the song builds and builds it explodes in a fury at the end. "I Found A Whistle" is a delightful psychedelic fever dream and "Brian Eno" is a art-rock ode to the patron saint of all things weird. As far as albums go, Congratulations shows more experimentation and has more moments than Oracular Spectacular did. Sure, nothing is going to launch them to fame off of this record, but I have a feeling that is exactly what MGMT wanted. And they are better off for it.

4. Grinderman - Grinderman 2 - Nick Cave is unstoppable. Be it writing awesome screenplays for badass Australian westerns, writing novels of depraved lunatics, scoring films with Warren Ellis, releasing albums with his Bad Seeds or taking a load off with Grinderman, the 52 year old rock veteran has yet to slow his pace. On Grinderman 2, he ups the ante big time. The depravity, the distortion and the overall intensity are through the roof. "Worm Tamer" is a harrowing affair. A classic blues riff with a raspy recitation of his "serpent wrangler" of a woman; it's a dark yet fun track. "Heathen Child" is just as dark. For fans of King Crimson, there is a brilliant reworking called "Super Heathen Child" with Robert Fripp tearing at your skin thanks to his ridiculous guitar work. Slow burn to start, but bombastic and loud by the songs midsection, "When My Baby Comes" is one of those Nick Cave affairs that oozes with melody until exploding forth with noise care of Warren Ellis' distorted violin and Jim Sclavunos' ferocious bass line. Some would say this seems like a mid-life crisis, as Cave's lyrics swoon over dangerous women and depraved activities that no 52 year old should be writing about, but Nick Cave is a special kind of person. He's above it all and with a new Bad Seeds record coming in 2011, there is no end in sight.

3. The Black Keys - Brothers - The Black Keys have always been on my radar, and select songs have always caught my grasp. But something about their dirty blues production was never enough to captivate me. It wasn't until this years Brothers that I was able to really fully immerse myself into one of their albums. Top to bottom, it's hands down their best. Rather than stripped down guitar and drums, this album is filled with sound and layers of instruments. The big single, "Tighten Up" is an undeniably catchy track, but it's B-Side, "Howlin' For You" is the true highlight of the pop sensibilities of this record. "Ten Cent Pistol" is a good bluesy number and "Too Afraid to Love You" is about as close to R&B the Black Keys have ever gotten. In a time when pop music is riddled with over-produced junk and a lack of good rock and roll, The Black Keys really stepped up to the plate to save us from the muck and mire of today's rock music wasteland. I'd rather be blasting "Next Girl" with it's guitar fireworks and blues stomp then ever hear any other new rock song on the radio ever again. It's lyrically excellent and excellent musically. Not a lot of rock bands out there that can say they nail both on one record.

2. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker - When Kevin Parker posits on album opener "It's Not Meant To Be" that "...I boast that it is meant to be, but in all honesty/I don't have a hope in hell..." he is definitely not talking about the greatness that is Innerspeaker. Far from the truth. Tame Impala's full length debut is a workout in psych pop unmatched by any other album that I can remember. It's pop songs are drenched in a haze of reverb and effects beaming in songs like "Alter Ego" from another dimension. Their undeniable comparison's to The Beatles due to Parker's eerie similarity to 60's John Lennon can sound like they are any other run-of-the-mill 60's nostalgia act, but that's not the case. There is still something new about these hooks and the sound design. Soaring effects take front and center, but effects can just be that. Luckily, the songwriting is just as strong. "Lucidity" crackles and fizzles with a hook as good as any rock song from the past 10 years. "Jeremy's Storm" is a sprawling instrumental that is surging and relentless. The closer, "I Really Don't Mind" is an apathetic anthem for the times. All in all, the voyage from start to finish on Innerspeaker is what makes this album so good. You are quickly whisked away to a psychedelic landscape and you'll end up getting lost in the wash of reverb that ensues. As far as psych rock albums go, this is easily one of the best in a long history of psychedelia.

1. Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM - It's safe to say that Charlotte Gainsbourg is the best muse around. Her second album, 5:55, was beautifully crafted by the hands of Air, Nigel Godrich, Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon. It's a beautiful record. This time around, she has just one callaborater in Beck Hansen. Beck writes, produces and surely plays copious instruments on the best album of 2010. After a water skiing accident that left a blood clot in Gainsbourg's brain, it's no real surprise that she'd team up with Beck. The titular track is just as jarring as the experience of being put into an MRI machine. All the tracks are ladelled with death imagery, but it's all sort of accepting. rather than a fearful record, IRM is an album that's dark, but willing to admit the fragility of life. That's where Charlotte Gainsbourg's voice comes in. "In The End" is a short poem where Gainsbourg's fluttering voice really soars. "Who's to say it's all for the best in the end" is a beautiful epitaph of sorts. Although death is a constant overtone on the record, the album isn't short of it's sultry turns as well. "Trick Pony", a bluesy riff embedded in a bass and drum showdown is about as sultry as it gets on IRM. Just like on 5:55, some of the best songs on IRM are in French. "Le Chat du Cafe des Artistes" is an eerie string laden track that sounds sinister and below the sultry French spoken are easily the albums darkest lyrics. The album wraps up nicely with "La Collectionneuse" that slowly spirals out of control, unraveling at the end. Charlotte Gainsbourg is the finest muse oen can find these days. The music and lyrics are easily Beck's best since Sea Change, which is saying a lot as he's released several decent records in the past ten years. The two duet on "Heaven Can Wait," a straightforward pop song, but don't be mistaken, this is still Charlotte's show.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 30 Tracks of 2010


Sorry for the long delay! Between work, life, getting engaged and the holidays, I've been stressed and too lazy to write. So we're back. Grooves will continue with Brian Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks in 2011. Until then, here are some year end insights starting with In The Wake's Top 30 Tracks of 2010!

30. Mumford & Sons - "The Cave" - My sister demanded me listen to the Mumford & Sons album Sigh No More for quite some time and sadly I took too long to get to the quality folk rock record. "The Cave" is definitely a stand out single for the new band. When the banjos kick in, this song really takes off.

29. John Legend & The Roots - "Compared To What" - The smoothest man in R&B plus the smoothest band in hip hop team up for an album of 70's soul cuts with a slant on social justice and change? Yes please! This cover of the Les McCann and Eddie Harris stands up nicely with todays world politics and the American experience in 2010. You can get this track on Wake Up!

28. Neil Young - "Walk With Me" - Neil Young + Daniel Lanois = LeNoise. A strange album of sorts as it's just Neil and his guitar plus effects and production care of Lanois. The end result is a spaced out take on Neil's chunky, grunge guitar playing. It's a refreshing track.

27. Broken Bells - "The High Road" - Although Broken Bells is an overall disappointing album, it has a of few catchy, inescapable tunes. The straightforward poppy goodness of this track is undeniable and is one of those songs that you can't help but sing along to.

26. Goldfrapp - "Alive" - Goldfrapp's Head First is a slice of delightful pop music. Where many are swooning for Lady Gaga, I swoon for Alison Goldfrapp. A blindingly catchy synth pop tune in the vein of Olivia Newton John in the 80's, it's saccharine sweet and amazingly fun to party to. The video is also pretty amazing.

25. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Bright Lit Blue Skies" - Although this may be the worst band name of the year, the album Before Today has some crazy good pop tunes smattered around some weirder experimentation. This track is a surf pop anthem, simple in it's hook but catchy as hell. This song reeks of California.

24. The Black Keys - "Tighten Up" - Brothers was a revelation for the Black Keys. extending their sound past their gritty Delta blues roots into the realm of soul, rock and R&B at times really extended the fan base of the veteran blues men. The lead single from the album is definitely one of their catchiest tunes yet.

23. School of Seven Bells - "Dust Devil" - Much like their first album, the sophomore effort Disconnect From Desire is taking a while to really sink in for me, but it's a great musical experience. The incessant beat and static musical track intertwined with the Deheza twins' impressive vocal arrangements lives up to the intensity of the titular windstorm.

22. Sleepy Sun - "Marina" - Psych rock was KILLING it in 2010. Sleepy Sun is no exception. Fever is a fantastic record and the lead off track "Marina" is a hodge podge of great sounds. Starting off with a fuzzy, heavy riff and swaying into sublime vocals and back again before breaking into an islandy breakdown, it's got everything a psych rock fan could want.

21. Autolux - "Spots" - Waiting for Transit Transit was the worst. When it finally came, it was good but it was hyped up for me being a huge Autolux fan. That being said, the record has it's fair share of great tracks and this sleepy, swooning track is definitely the best of the lot. Carla Azar's jazzy drums are the highlight of this beguiling track.

20. Gorillaz ft. Bobby Womack & Mos Def - "Stylo" - The darker cousin of "Feel Good Inc.", this track is hectic, static and overwhelmingly catchy. Bobby Womack steals the show.

19. Kylesa - "Tired Climb" - Another late addition to the 2010 album line-up, Kylesa's intense Spiral Shadow starts off with a raging blast. "Tired Climb" feels like the title, an uphill battle of heavy guitars, snarling vocals and an catchy hook that digs in deep.

18. Surfer Blood - "Floating Vibes" - Remember Weezer? Neither do I until I listen to Surfer Blood. Astro Coast is what Weezer should aspire to. Smart yet still catchy. Youthful yet not cliche. Lyrically great and with a hook to speed down the Atlantic City Expressway to, "Floating Vibes" was the real song of the Summer of 2010.

17. The Black Angels - "Yellow Elevator #2" - Honing in on a much more concise and hook laden approach, The Black Angels' Phosphene Dream is just as psychedelic as their previous two albums. Jefferson Airplane and The 13th Floor Elevators (wonder if this an homage?) melted into a new psychedelia. One of the spaciest tracks of the year.

16. Owen Pallett - "Midnight Directives" - When Owen Pallett was forced to drop his former moniker Final Fantasy due to a video game franchise, he emerged with his most triumphant record. "Midnight Directives" is a revelation. It's frantic, melodic and bombastic.

15. Brian Eno - "2 Forms of Anger" - Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abraham create one of the most paranoid songs I've ever heard. Starting out with what sounds like the churning of some robotic fortress, the song slowly builds and builds with sounds both foreign and rudimentary. The pulsating bleeps that come in and out and echo to the final building guitar riff. It's a glorious feast for the ears.

14. Teenage Fanclub - "Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything" - Power pop's greatest revivalists came out with their best albums in years. The sprawling album opener is about as good as it gets. Swelling synth strings, smooth vocal harmonies and and a catchy fuzzy riff bring this song to new heights of catchiness.

13. Grinderman - "When My Baby Comes" - Nick Cave's Grinderman is obnoxious. But it's the best kind of obnoxious because it's Nick Cave. The first half is a weird tribal croon that swells with Warren Ellis' strings before the build to ecstasy, then takes a dive into dark, twisted guitar snarl and drums that break bones. A fantastic song from the coolest record of the year.

12. The Sword - "Lawless Lands" - ZZ Top meets Iron Maiden with a dash of Zep. The Sword finally has found the right balance of southern blues rock, cock rock swagger and back to basics metal on Warp Riders. This track is easily the best unheard hard rock song of the year.

11. Charlotte Gainsbourg - "IRM" - Have you even had an MRI? This song embodies that feeling perfectly. Echoey, bone rattling percussion, buzzing sounds that are unnatural and that come in and out randomly and somehow just in time with each other. Charlotte's dazed vocals add just enough dynamic to this drone of a song.

10. Tame Impala - "Alter Ego" - Psychedelia is definitely on the upswing, especially in inide rock circles. Tame Impala's Innerspeaker is a fantastic record. When this track beams in and starts it's otherworldly shift into guitars drenched in all sorts of effects, you are instantly transported to another place that is all at once unique and familiar.

9. MGMT - "Siberian Breaks" - I'm a sucker for epics and "Siberian Breaks" is the best of the year. A pop epic is something that doesn't come often. Usually metal or prog will cover that, but MGMT have written their most dynamic song here. Shifting from Kinks-esque sunny pop and morphing into McCartney style melodies and landing in a future scape of synthesizers, this is a travelogue for an acid trip.

8. Dr. Dog - "Shame, Shame" - Philadelphia's own freak folkers consistently release quality albums and Shame, Shame follows suit. Their songs are honest, heart wrenching and fun. This titular track pulls on the heart strings and Toby Leaman's fantastic vocal performance brigns this song to it's lofty pop goodness.

7. Grinderman - "Worm Tamer" - Have I mentioned how badass Nick Cave is? He doesn't get all the credit as Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn Casey are a helluva backing band. "Worm Tamer" is a static garage rocker that snarls with beeps, buzzes and all sorts of feedback squeals as Cave croons about his girl being a "mambo rider" and a "serpent wrangler." It's dark, sexual and it's creeps forth like the worm of the title. And it fucking rocks.

6. Black Mountain - "The Hair Song" - Black Mountain ditched the long-winded epics on Wilderness Heart and the songs are better for it. The poppiest Black Mountain song yet, "The Hair Song" is the best the Webber/McBean vocal duality and features one of the most wonderfully constructed psych pop tracks of the year.

5. Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" - The best song to encapsulate the overall feeling of The Suburbs (both the album and the place.) Regine Chassagne steals the show with yet another brilliant vocal performance over what sounds like the end credits to a lost John Hughes film.

4. Charlotte Gainsbourg - "Time of the Assassins" - Producing and writing the album, Beck has lifted Charlotte Gainsbourg's music career to new heights. Her brush with a near death experience and his obsession with death matched perfectly on IRM and this haunting tune is the perfect embodiment of that. slow plucked acoustic guitars, lofty backing vocals and strings combine with Charlotte's gentle voice for a dark yet sweet tune.

3. The Black Keys - "Howlin' For You" - Starting off with a Gary Glitter infused drum beat and developing into a fuzzed out reconstruction of classic blues riffs drenched in muddled fuzz, "Howlin' For You" is undeniably my favorite Black Keys song yet. It's quirky, catchy and ultimately satisfying.

2. Tame Impala - "Lucidity" - When bands tap into the sound of The Beatles, a lot of people shrug, but I must completely disagree. Taking a taste of "Tomorrow Never Knows" acid and launching into a crunchy garage rock riff drenched in reverb, this song takes off (much like the video) and immediately lifts the listener into the stratosphere before crashing back down in a fury of guitars and fuzz.

1. Gorillaz featuring Little Dragon - "Empire Ants" - The dreamiest song of the year. What is so special about this particular Gorillaz track? Well besides it sounding unlike anything else in the Gorillaz canon, it's a space rock anthem for the ages. Beautiful shimmering piano, dream pop guitars and Damon Albarn start the song up and midway through, Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano takes over as does the synth parade. It's a beautifully melancholy song (superior to "On Melancholy Hill" from the same record.) If you were to tell me that Gorillaz, the makers of "Clint Eastwood" and "Dare" were to ever release a song of such pop sweetness, I'd probably have laughed in your face. But on Plastic Beach, there are several of these moments, none of which compare to "Empire Ants."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Grooves: Pink Floyd - Animals (1977)

Pink Floyd is one of the gods of rock and roll. Be a hater or a lover or a casual fan, you cannot deny the impact of the bands catalog on rock music. As much as the bands early, psych pop career and their huge stadium appeal are two huge factors of Pink Floyd's success, it really all boils down to their daunting catalog of albums. Pink Floyd used the medium, from album art to musical concept, to perfection. They thrive on vinyl. The two sides of a record make Pink Floyd albums what they are. In this case, Animals stands as a stark testament of what else was going on at the time on record. The punk rock scene was exploding in England and it seemed as if bands like Pink Floyd were immediately doomed. Luckily, however, the band channeled the punk rock spirit on Animals, even if only in it's lyrical darkness and skeptical view of the world at large. Otherwise, this is as anti-punk rock as it gets. A whopping 5 songs, three of which are over 10 minutes, Animals is a beast of a record. It also happens to be one of the best of Pink Floyd's career and in my opinion, the last, truly great Floyd album.

As a youngster, I remember my first steps to the Church of Pink Floyd. I purchased Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall before any other Floyd albums mainly because as a naive kid, they had more songs on them. When I first looked at Animals, I scoffed at it due to only have five songs. i figured five songs to not be worth $12 or whatever cds cost in 1998. My mind didn't understand five songs! I just wasn't having it. As I grew older and discovered vinyl, I realized my stupidity and embraced albums with short track listings. I bought Wish You Were Here which had five songs, but not Animals. I don't recall when I first listened to Animals in its entirety, probably in college, but I do remember getting this vinyl at Repo Records on South Street sometime in 2004, around when Floyd reunited for Live 8. It's clearly an album meant for vinyl. From it's fantastic artwork to the music contained on it, Animals is a necessary vinyl for any collection.

"Pigs on the Wing (Part 1)" is the calming first half of the bookend of the album. A love song of sorts, it's simplistic acoustic guitar with Roger Water's trembling vocals. It's a short intro to the harrowing affair that you are about to get yourself into. Slowly fading away as quickly as it begun, the track leads right into "Dogs." At a staggering 17 plus minutes, "Dogs" is as daunting a task as any to listen to. However, unlike many super long tracks in the history of rock, there is enough dynamic changes in the song that it never feels as long as it is. "Dogs" is pretty standard prog rock sprawl, with copious movements within the song. What makes a lot of this album stand out is that it has some of Roger Waters' best lyrics, not something standard to prog rock. Waters takes dead aim at those on the top of the heap, comparing them to the ravenous dogs that prey on the weak of society. Gilmour steals the show with a fantastic vocal delivery and even better guitar posturing. As the song builds and builds toward the end, Waters takes over the vocals and spits out some of his harshest lyrics on side one that builds with anger and intensity as the song comes to a crashing close. It's an impressive track that is gargantuan in size.

"Pigs (Three Different Ones)" is one of Pink Floyd's best tracks. Much like "Dogs," it's lyrically vicious and sonically a monster. David Gilmour uses a talk box for the first time to emulate the pigs snorting at the very start of the song (and in the solos to come) and Roger Waters steals the show with one of his best bass workouts yet. It's no wonder Les Claypool covered this album with his Flying Frog Brigade. It's a funky bass groove throughout the track with loads of guitar howling and boogie organs in the back ground. Waters is in control until the bridge when David Gilmour gets his stab. The bridge slowly builds with the flanged out guitars and all of sudden launches you into the pig pen. Gilmour's talk box solo is devastating. Not just on that level, but on the underlying guitar howls of Floyd's past underneath it. The midsection is so fat and full and textured, it fits the theme of the song perfectly. When we return, Waters wails back into our ears and we continue with the groove laden front half of the song. As the song comes reeling to a close, it's hard who to pay attention to more. Gilmour slams into a classic solo and Waters competes at full force, keeping the bass groove yet intensifying it. It's easily one of the greatest moments in Pink Floyd's history of classic guitar workouts. Then come the mindless masses. "Sheep" is essentially Rick Wright's time to shine. His organ intro is delightful and continues as the rocking intensifies. Possibly the most seething lyrically, "Sheep" digs into the mindless masses with a pitch fork. "Meek and obedient you follow the leader down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel" may be one of the single best lines of lyric Roger Waters ever wrote. As the mid section bursts with sound and builds with synthesizer beams, leading back to the main riff, we seem to get some glimpse of hope before plunging into a dark and spacey mid-section. Over vocoder, a re-working of Psalm 23 is read as the slow rumble of sheep bleeting before blasting into the final verse and explosive laugh care of Roger Waters. Then with an explosion, David Gilmours final volley of guitars digs in and slowly fades away. We are then in clearer pastures and "Pigs On the Wing (Part Two)" ushers us out with another ray of hope.

This is essentially one of the best album experiences one can get. The needle lifting off of the record at the end of this intense journey is icing on the cake for some reason. Built perfectly, Animals is a record that would be lost on the iTunes and even the CD generations. "Only five songs?!" That was my impression of this album at first. What you don't realize is it's essentially three monstrous songs that the ADD generation of singles and 99 cent MP3's can't wrap their head around. When you go to your record player you know just how much you are getting per side in music. It's more tangible to see the value of a record. Animals has been the most gratifying listen of this undertaking thus far, and it will no doubt be a trend of the most enjoyable experiences being Pink Floyd albums.

Up Next: Poseidon hits 500 Posts, takes a long break and will reveal top 30 tracks of 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grooves: The Hooters - Amore (1983)

Philadelphia, PA. One of the greatest musical cities in the country. From the golden age of doo wop to modern indie rock, Philadelphia always oozes with some great tunes. In the 80's, The Hooters were the darlings of Philadelphia. Growing up, it was impossible to avoid "All You Zombies" or "And We Danced" on the airwaves. Hometown heroes are always well played on local stations and luckily The Hooters created some decent pop hits in the 80's. I would never have gone out of my way to own a Hooters record, but a friend recently gave me some smooth tunes on vinyl as a gift and i am obligated to write about the records in my collection. Amore, the first album by The Hooters will not get glazed over just because it was a gift and not something I would buy. Vinyl gifts are my favorite kind because they make you listen to something you may not have gotten for yourself. That's the joy of records. They are easy gifts, they are great gifts to receive (even as a gag) and you open your eyes to something you wouldn't usually go out of the way to research. The Hooters are the perfect example of this.

Having zero knowledge of the band beyond their hits and Philadelphia's love of their hometown boys, I have to do some research here. Amore was The Hooters debut record and surprisingly was released independently. It's an EP of eight tracks, half of which would be re-recorded for future records. It's all of 25 minutes long. It's impressive that a band in the 80's self-produced their debut to great success. The EP was a hit in Philadelphia selling over 100,000 records. Clearly, The Hooters hit the ground running, launching their career.

Amore kicks off with the titular track, a poppy, kitschy love song. It's got a good hook but it sounds more like a cheap rip off of Duran Duran. The sax solo is the highlight of "Amore." "Blood From a Stone" is the first of several tracks that got re-done on future albums. It's much ore like a Hooters song than "Amore," sounding like the precursor to "And We Danced." The guitars drive this track and we're treated to a fantastic Casio-sounding solo halfway through. Fantastic in a cheesey sense. "Hanging On A Heartbeat" has a different structure, bordering on ska but filtered through the gloss of 80's excess. It's relatively forgettable. We finally get to "All You Zombies." And much different than anything that proceeded it, it's a far step forward in sound. However, it's a version that most would not be used to. It's a tad faster in tempo and a totally different vocal track than fans of the song would be used to. It still is by far the best song on this EP thus far, even though it's not the single version. It's much shorter too, which is a shame as it being the best of the tracks on the EP, you don't want it to end.

Side two starts off with "Birdman," which starts off with an XTC sounding intro. A drum machine churns out an interesting beat as the band plays a very staccato riff. It kicks into a Police like reggae riff. It's easily one of the more interesting songs on the EP. Musically it's much more dynamic than most of the first half. The bass line is a meandering, funky groove. It's an amalgam of 80's sounds that works really well. "Don't Wanna Fight" is another ska infused new wave track, but only moderately. It's far too slow of a song to get a groove going and too upbeat to really be a good power ballad. "Fightin' On The Same Side" starts off sounding like a goofy, carousel music and it doesn't move past that. It's a catchy enough tune, but it's pretty forgettable for the most part, like much of this album. The closer, "Concubine," follows suit. These songs are all structured well and the music is well played, but lyrically and musically in general, it's all kind of boring. None of these songs are necessarily bad, but aside from "All You Zombies" and "Birdman," it's relatively forgettable 80's pop music fare.

Record collections are almost never complete without a few misfits. Everyone grabs albums they later don't go back to. When something is 5 cents, it's hard to say no. The one thing I can take away from The Hooters Amore is that it's relatively impressive for a band to self produce and release a record to such a cult following. Most of these songs would go on to be re-recorded behind major label backing and the bumps on the EP definitely are worked out, especially in the much more intense future version of "All You Zombies." The Hooters are a local favorite of Philadelphia, but Amore is not the way to go for a casual fan. But hey, if it's a gift or its 5 cents, definitely check it out. You don't have much to lose.

Up Next: Pink Floyd's Orwellian Masterpiece

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grooves: Neil Young - American Stars N' Bars (1977)

I am not a fan of country music. Not in the least. But when Neil Young is doing country music, I love it. Maybe it's because even if it's veiled in country music tropes, like twangy guitars, fiddle players and a bouncy line-dance beat, it's still a Neil Young song at heart. American Stars N' Bars, while not entirely country (especially side two) has some of the best Neil Young country songs one can find. But there is more to this album then some country twang. It's less of an album and more of a compilation. The songs found on this record were all recorded at different times and were intended for albums like Homegrown and Chrome Dreams. Some of the songs were recorded as early as 1974. It gives the album a stranger vibe than most with the first half being country and the second half having a hodge-podge of all sorts of sounds. This vibe isn't necessarily bad, it's just much different than what had come before. It's a forgotten album of sorts as it's only really huge hit, and a huge one at that, comes at the very end in "Like A Hurricane." It still sold well, but you can tell that Young is running out of steam a tad. It would be interesting to see what would have happened if the two failed albums had come to fruition. But, we can only speculate. And luckily, American Stars N' Bars holds up even if it's a collection of songs. It happens to be one of my top 5 Neil Young records.

I nabbed this at Prex, as many will have been, and as usual it's in good condition. But less about Prex and more about this record. Side one, the country side, is Neil Young in top gear. "That Old Country Waltz" is a last call anthem if I ever heard one. The album art itself, created by Dean Stockwell, shows Neil Young flat on his face drunk. I can hear this song coming from the jukebox in the bar. That lone couple dancing the night to its end, that lonely drunk swilling from his glass, tipping his hat to the band before tossing his last quarter into the guitar case. It's a perfect album opener that sets the tone perfectly for the first half of the record. "Saddle Up the Palamino" is about as cliche country sounding as you can possibly get. Linda Ronstadt and Nicollette Larson deliver fantastic backing vocals, a fiddle whines over the guitars and it the lyrics are about heartbreak. It stands out, however, as Young doesn't change the tone of his guitar, leaving his classic grungy crunch on the riff. It's a wonderful track that shows how country under the helm of Neil Young works on a different plain of sonic goodness. "Hey Babe" is my least favorite track on the album. It's got some nice pedal steel guitar care of long time Young collaborator Ben Keith, but otherwise it kind of lacks the same flair that the first two tracks have. "Hold Back The Tears" changes that with a wonderful violin and a show stopping harmony with Linda Ronstadt. The pedal steel and fiddle offering on this track is superb adding to the angsty vibe of Young and Ronstadt's vocals. It's one of Young's best tracks and comes as a surprise to me that it was not a single. "Bite The Bullet" then comes in with the sound and fury we're used to from Young. It's still a country rocker, but the intensity of Young grunge tones elevates it. The solo is a prelude of what's to come at the close of the record, with it's visceral pops and tones of gain. As it strays a little more from the country ballads, it's the perfect bridge from side one to two.

"Star of Bethlehem" is the oldest of the tracks on this album. Whereas the first side was all recorded in '77, this track dates back to '74, around the time Young's "On The Beach" was recorded and released. This shows in the music, even if Ben Keith's dobro playing adds that country twinge that makes it fit in with these tracks. Emmylou Harris steps in to lend her voice here and it's a sweet song down to it's melody. "Will to Love," the first of the two epics, was recorded in '76, is Young all alone playing all instruments. A crackling fire burns in the back as the simple acoustic guitar melody flits and flies over a low end of xylophones and the occasional bass guitar. It's a very unique song in the Young catalog. It has psychedelic elements and imagery in the lyrics and the music bursts and pops with different sounds from here and there. A campfire story song with a psychedelic folk twist. Blasting forth from the sleepy song is Young's flagship guitar anthem, "Like A Hurricane." It's classic Crazy Horse with their heavy and strong backbone as Young wails his weary lyrics over a surging guitar part that explodes into one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. As far as picking favorites among a catalog like Neil Young's it's next to impossible, but every time I listen to "Like A Hurricane"--which is quite often-- I can't help but think that there is no better song. For some reason, it doesn't stick out on the record, either. There are no female harmony parts, twangy fiddles or pedal steel backup, but it fits the mold. Every time I sit through the guitar solo, I'm moved. It's a sloppy solo, but every note is perfect. The explosions of the notes are piercing to the ears but the only way to experience this is at full blast. "Homegrown", the title of the album that never was, closes the record with an equally loud guitar romp. This time in a short little tune that fits in well with the country side of this record, it's a perfect closer bringing all the sounds full circle.

As much as American Stars N' Bars is an album of songs that were all from different times in Neil Young's career, it still works. Without every reading more about this album until this time, I would have not ever known that. It's still a wonderful record, housing some of Neil Young's finest songs. This doesn't have the huge hits like Harvest or After The Gold Rush, but I'd say it has pound for pound more high quality Neil Young songs. It's a fantastic record, and one that I don't see too often when shopping for vinyl. That being the case, if you see it, get it. It's worth it.

Up Next: Philadelphia's finest -- The Hooters

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grooves: Don McLean - American Pie (1971)

Will Don McLean ever get out of the shadow of his most well known song, "American Pie?" My guess is no, but the fact remains that Don McLean's album American Pie proves that beyond the culture bomb of the titular song, McLean is still a damn good singer-songwriter. My mother is a huge Don McLean fan beyond his one massive hit. His other songs are quiet at times with some of the most beautiful poetry. and I say poetry over lyrics because the way his lyrics run on many songs flow with the beauty of a romantic poet. This album may have some of his best written poems. Only his second album, American Pie is a well crafted album of wondefully arranged tracks. Be it a piano ballad, an acoustic love song or a full band pop song, there is a little bit of everything on this album. Discovering this is the first step in getting Don McLean the kudos as a singer-songwriter what he deserves: recognition beyond just his one huge song. And it's a pretty tough feat to overcome, especially given the fact that this album is named after it.

This is yet one of many of albums found in the walls of Tunes. Tunes is an institution that has been a part of my life since being a kid. Tunes on the Dunes in Ocean City, NJ was my first Tunes of choice. Each summer, I'd stop in there and pick up some classic rock album. Then it was on CD, but Tunes opened my eyes to many new and old artists. They finally started selling vinyl and organizing it sometime in the mid aughts when vinyl fever really started for me. I grabbed this record for $1. It seemed like a must own as I had grown up with it. It's as good a record as it is a piece of nostalgia.

American Pie clearly starts off with "American Pie." Without lingering on too long on a song everyone and especially their mother knows, "American Pie" is an important litmus test in how rock and roll has an effect on society. The death of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens was not only a tragedy in the sense of loss, but it was also a first step away from the innocent 50's into the more turbulent 60's. Don McLean obvious notes this in his litany of sorts showing the change after "The Day The Music Died" and what would happen in the country thereafter. I feel as if you could dedicate this entire post to "American Pie" as it is such a transcendent piece of rock history and pop music, but this is a look into the album itself. "Till Tomorrow" is the first of several acoustic ballads. With just acoustic guitar, some mild electric piano playing in the background and some very sparse instrumentation, it's a more conventional singer/songwriter track but still has that beautiful poetry McLean is so good at. Perhaps McLean's second most famous song, "Vincent", a ballad to Vincent Van Gogh, is just as sparse as "Till Tomorrow." One artists lament to another, lyrically it's one of McLean's best. "Flaming flowers that brightly blaze" is a wonderful lyric that is just as expressionistic as Van Gogh's paintings. The troubled mind of Van Gogh must have hit a chord with McLean. It addresses the troubled life of Van Gogh and in beautiful form. "Crossroads" ends the side on a melancholy note. Most of this record is very sad lyrically. Don McLean has a melancholy lament on all tracks, even though they all shine with beautiful melody and wonderful singing. Piano and vocals accompany this very sad song. Lyrically it's about the decisions we make, some good and some bad. It's a touching song and a great end to a wonderful first half of the record.

"Another Side" as this record states, starts with "Winterwood", the first track since "American Pie" to feature a discernible backing band. And although it's a wonderfully groovy track, there is something about the band addition that makes this a little less effective than some of the other songs on side one (called "One Side.") It gives the song a different vibe all together. "Empty Chairs" follows more along the lines of "Vincent" with McLean's wonderful lyrics backed by a gently plucked acoustic guitar that pops. This is my personal favorite of the love songs in Don McLean's collection. It's a lost love song from the stand point of someone who didn't see it coming. It hits home on many levels. Who hasn't felt the loss of someone they loved? It's as beautiful as any Nick Drake tune and just as poetic. It's definitely the highlight of side two. The crackle on this record is perfect, channeling a wonderful spirit behind the loneliness of the song. "Everybody Love Me, Baby" is a bigger distraction than "Winterwood." It's a half tongue in cheek pop song, but something about it really turns me off. I don't think McLean sells the pastiche very well. "Sister Fatima" is a peculiar track. It's a musically beguiling track and lyrically it seems to be an indictment of paying for grace from God. It's another distracting song, which was omitted when American Pie was re-issued in 1980. I guess this means I have an original record? Cool. "The Grave" is a much more effecting track. It's a dark song, almost like Tim Buckley's "No Man Can Find The War" with it's intense lyrics of war and death. It's followed by the traditional "Babylon" which is as chilling of a follow-up as you can get. It's a fitting end to an album about facing death, the ending of relationships and the loss of important figures in life. A traditional which slowly builds upon several tracks of McLean's clean vocals and a banjo being plucked. Indeed a stirring contrast to the almost joyous "American Pie."

With a few tracks left for the throwaway bin, American Pie holds its own surprisingly well. Yet you will rarely hear any song but the titular and maybe "Vincent" if you are lucky. It's a truly wonderful album, and McLean would go on to put some other fine records together. "American Pie" the song eclipses American Pie almost more than any other album containing a big hit song I can think of. It's truly a shame, but one great thing I can say is that those who like singer/songwriters should not be without this record. And what better way to discover it, be it for the first time or all over again, than on vinyl.

Up Next: Neil Young is the first repeat artist and this time, Dean Stockwell does the album art.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grooves: Louis Armstrong - Ambassador Satch (1956)

One great thing about vinyl is inheriting it from people who no longer want it. My dad had a co-worker looking to unload and of course I immediately stepped up to take the records. It was mostly Dan Fogelberg records, which I quickly sent to Tunes for cash. However, there were some jazz records and a few gems to be had to assimilate into my collection. One of those was a live Louis Armstrong record called Ambassador Satch. Being an ex-trumpet player from days past, Armstrong has always been an idol of sorts of mine. As the title of this record goes, in the 50's, the State Department named Louis Armstrong and Ambassador of Good Will to Europe and Africa. It's a testament to Satchmo's personality as well as his brilliant skilled and soulful playing. Satchmo's influence on Jazz and music in general was huge and this album is a nice experience of live tracks from his tour of duty abroad as an ambassador as well as a few studio performances. Easily one of the most important icons of American music, owning some sort of Satchmo album should be a prerequisite for having a vinyl collection.

Being a hand-me-down, the record isn't in the greatest condition, but the album plays wonderfully. The outer jacket may be a bit worn, but it's almost 50 years old. It's pretty impressive that the thing isn't warped or scratched to oblivion. One thing I love about vinyl is the history behind it. When you get a hand-me-down record, sometimes the original owner wrote their name on it or doodled on the cover, never thinking that the record would one day be seen to some as obsolete or be seen by the eyes of a new owner. Ambassador Satch for me is a historical document as much as it is a good record. It shows that music can work as an important bridge for international relations. Satchmo is such a great figure in American music. The essay on the back sleeve has a great quote about the power of jazz in the 50's: "American jazz has now become a universal language. It knows no national boundaries, but everyone knows where it came from and where to look for more." Proof positive of the importance of music in the world we live in. Having this record is a piece of history that I appreciate, especially getting for free. I would probably not have bought the record as most of the time I stick strictly to rock in its many forms, but the Comstock Lode of jazz records from this one person was a great gift.

The album kicks off with some audience ambiance and an introduction of Louis Armstrong before tearing into a beautifully fun and bouncing "Royal Garden Blues." The best thing about jazz is that even though this is a Satchmo album, every facet of the music is astounding. The entire brass section lays the boogie down, the drums and bass keep the backbone strong and even get a highlight solo here and there. You can tell when the crowd roars that Satchmo just laid down some impressive trumpet playing. Unlike some live recordings, the crowd noise never distracts. If anything it adds an element of greatness to the record. Satch introduces the next track with that signature growl of his. "Tin Roof Blues" is a classic amongst bluesman. It's a slinky song compared to the bombastically fun "Royal Garden Blues," but it glows with life just the same. Jazz traditionals never sound overdone, especially in the hands of Satchmo. The trumpet solo is as stately as it gets, howling with Satchmo's classic trumpet affectation. "The Faithful Hussar" is a tune Satchmo picked up in Germany whilst on tour. He liked it so much, he added it to his European roster of songs. It's a whimsical tune that sparks with life, especially during Satchmo's fine scat singing during the mid section. Even in the latter age of his long career (he started playing jazz in the 20's,) Satchmo's tunes still sound fresh and new, if not a little dated as the 50's jazz masters like Miles Davis were giving a new cool edge to the institution. The side ends with "Muskrat Ramble," a perfect tune to jitterbug to. It's a fitting number to boogie to and the bands playing is as tight as ever on the track.

Side two opens up with an Italian announcer battling the raging crowd for attention to introduce Louis Armstrong. The only thing that will stop the crowd is for the band to kick in, and they do so with "All Of Me," the first track with vocals on the record. Satchmo's famous growling roars in. It's a perfect jazz standard for Satchmo, whose trumpet playing is easily some of the best on the record. "Twelfth Street Rag" follows adding a touch of ragtime to the mix. In Satchmo's hands, it gains a power all it's own. You can tell Satchmo and his All Stars are having a fun time on this track. The crowd seems to enjoy it just as much with laughter and applause every so often. Side two seems to be brimming with the best of Satchmo's trumpet playing on the record as he adds a fantastic trumpet solo to this rag. Satchmo "keeps it rolling" with "Undecided." It's a quick, bouncy jam. All players are rocking at a breakneck pace, it's hard to keep up. "Dardanella" comes next slowing the pace just a bit. Loads of clarinet over a short bouncing piano and drums, it's a minimalistic song for the most part coming and going faster than it picks up at all. Satchmo breaks out a classic in "West End Blues." This is easily one of Satchmo's most revered songs. The explosions of trumpet are powerful as the bluesy number slinks forth. Closing the album is the explosive "Tiger Rag," yet another classic jazz track. The New Orleans standard was yet another famous track for Satchmo, who blazes through it with his band at a furious pace. It has one of the best fake-out endings ever as the band launches right back into.

There are only a few records in my collection like this and after listening to Ambassador Satch, I look forward to approaching these records again. Jazz is something that to many is misunderstood. But there is jazz and then there is Satchmo. Louis Armstrong transcends jazz. He takes ragtime and melds it around his own New Orleans sound. This album is great to own not just for the contents of it's music, all of which is a welcome change to the rocking I will be listening to throughout this experiment, but it's also a piece of history. The back of the record has an essay about the power of Jazz in the 50's and how Satchmo himself was an Ambassador of Good Will. It also breaks it down track by track. Although it's a tad beat up, it's made it 55 years and still sounds great.

Up Next: Don McLean's masterpiece

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Grooves: George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (1970)

George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. His songs are always filled with lush, beautiful melody. His lyrics are poetry yet simplistic in their meaning. On All Things Must Pass, we get as close to a flawless record as one putting out 3 LP's can get. As stated many times before, my Beatles upbringing wasn't only in the band itself, but almost every facet of their aftermath. For me, there is no better thing to come from The Beatles' demise than that of All Things Must Pass. It's a deluge of greatness. Contractual obligations only allowed George one song per side on any Beatles record. Once the Beatles disbanded, it was go time for Harrison. He unleashes a daunting 23 track assault on his first proper solo album. It's pretty incredible and save for the jams that I hardly listen to, it's more or less a flawless victory. Surprisingly, it's the best selling post-Beatles record from any member of the band. It's only surprising in that George is hardly the most famous or popular Beatle. The content is definitely some of the best post-Beatle output and has some of my all time favorite songs.

One thing that makes this record a treasure for any vinyl collector is it's presentation. Three LP's is a lot of vinyl to store and so it comes in a box of sorts. Each record has it's own sleeve with lyrics and tracks with the third record having a picture of a jar of what's called "Apple Jam" (More on that later.) The album also comes with a poster of George in full beardo mode. His beard takes up most of the poster, but getting an old, kind of dust yet in great condition poster makes buying the album for all of $10 at Tunes in Marlton all the better.

All Things Must Pass is easily the bets non-girl group Phil Spector production there is. Many people don't love his Wall of Sound, but with George Harrison, Spector is in his prime. "I'd Have You Anytime", co-written with Bob Dylan, is a hazy, twangy opener. It sounds like waking up on a beautiful morning, with a little haze in your eye and a yawn deep down. It's a lovely lyric of honest love. "My Sweet Lord" may have gotten Harrison sued, but it's crescendo of back-up singers (all George Harrison) and it's pop sensibility make it a great single. The album really shows its muscle on "Wah Wah." It's an intensely personal song but has a riff that shreds as good as any. The guitar solo is extremely exceptional and the sound coming through your stereo is huge. "Isn't It A Pity" closes side one with one of Harrison's most beautiful ballads ever. It's a brilliantly melancholy song about the human condition. This song isn't as overtly spiritual as some other songs on this record, but it's more humanistic message gives it a universal appeal.

Side two starts with the rocking "What Is Life" yet another one of George's existential tracks. Phil Spector fills every nook and cranny of this song with some sort of sound, be it tambourines, acoustic guitars, drums, backing vocals by George and the Harrisons and loads of reverb. This song should be played through a Fender amp. "If Not For You" is a Bob Dylan cover from Dylan's album New Morning. It's a really beautiful song in Harrison's hands. "Behind That Locked Door", which was written for Bob Dylan, comes next and is a beautifully woozy track. It's slide guitar work via Pete Drake is an inspired touch. I would love to hear Neil Young cover this song (and have heard My Morning Jacket cover it.) Booming in after the hazy beauty of "Behind That Locked Door" is the epic burst of "Let It Down." It's a very poetic song that explodes with horns, wailing guitars and intense drums. It rivals "Wah Wah" for best rocker of the album. "Run of the Mill" ends the side and it's title lives up to it's expectation. It's not one of the better tracks on the album.

Side three makes up for the anti-climatic "Run of the Mill" big time. "Beware of Darkess" is the pinnacle of this album. It's my favorite Harrison lyric. It's very poetic and flourishes with great beauty and sends a great message. It's a truly uplifting track. "Apple Scruffs," a silly ditty dedicated to the Apple Studio groupies is kind of a throwaway if it wasn't so damn catchy. "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)" is a beautifully whimsical track. Lyrically, it's derived from words that were found at the estate of Sir Crisp, which George purchased. The cover art of the album was a portrait taken on the estates beautiful gardens. "Awaiting On You All" is a romp of a song musically and lyrically is all about spirituality. George lists the kind of things you don't need in order to find spirituality. "If you open up your heart, you'll see he's right there." Spirituality isn't a trek to a holy place or a prayer on your death bed, it's inside you all the time. "All Things Must Pass," originally intended and practiced during the Get Back sessions gets Harrison's first full on treatment. It's yet another amazing portrayal of Phil Spector's production with grandiose guitars slathered in reverb, horn embellishments and it's own unique atmosphere. As is with many of the songs on this album, and much like "Here Comes the Sun," this track oozes with uplifting yet existential meaning. "It's not always gonna be this grey" is just about as great a line as any to show that even the bad times will pass.

Side four kicks off with the kind of goofy "I Dig Love." Before this listening experience, I probably have listened to this song all of one or two times. After this listening experience, I can safely say that it will most likely remain that way. Definitely my least favorite song on the album. On the contrast, "The Art of Dying" is a fantastic song, featuring a 19-year old Phil Collins on percussion. It's yet another bombastic track of monolithic sound. It's a confirmation of all of George's existential strife preparing himself for the end. The ultimate end is inevitable and George faces it directly in this song. "Isn't It a Pity (Version Two)" is a fitting reprise after "The Art of Dying." Shorter in length, but a slower tempo, it's more dirge like with it's organ heavy approach. The side closes with "Hear Me Lord," yet another fitting part of a trio of songs about death and acceptance and repentance. The track stands as a prayer of forgiveness closing the side with a lamentation. As this ends the more proper part of the record, it's a fitting closer.

The last two sides to the record are the Apple Jam, as it is called on the sleeve. I can't lie to you; the Apple Jam is one of those things I rarely listen to. It's the strange misfit of the album, yet on vinyl, it takes on a new life for me. Side five starts with "Out Of The Blue" which is a meandering static jam with not enough variety to make it into a worth while improv jam. Clapton never makes fireworks enough. It flows into the Monthy Pythonesque "It's Johnny's Birthday." It's a carnival goofball throwaway that really doesn't fit with everything else that has been coming our way on the album. It's only worthy as it was recorded for John Lennon's 30th Birthday in 1970. "Plug Me In" is the only redeeming song on side five. It's a classic blues riff and pretty well structured but it feels like it should have been proper vocals. It's less George Harrison and more of some strange super group rocking a blues jam proper. It's a pretty decent track, but again, it sticks out amongst the rest. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound doesn't seem fit as well to the psych jams as it did to the spiritual mantras from the four previous sides.

Side six is two final jams. "I Remember Jeep" is a juggernaut of big names. Ginger Baker, Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton and George Harrison all on one track. Flying in on the explosion of tape feedback from a previous George Harrison song called "No Time or Space." From this a boogie jam filled with soulful piano playing, a pounding rhythm section, and jangly guitars. Amidst this boogie jam are explosions of sound. This is a definite upgrade from the meandering sound of "Out of the Blue." There is still something about it that just really sticks out. Spector's reverb doesn't give the song enough edge to really rock hard. "Thanks For The Pepperoni" is a Chuck Berry jam. It's a classic remodeling of the "Johnny B. Goode" riff, but it all gets drowned in the Spector mix. With a little less reverb, this would be a much more eviscerating track. The mix ruins the playfulness of it. My only real take on the whole Apple Jam is that it must be a nice catharsis for George Harrison to take the helm of these great names that he had been working with for years and just conduct a studio jam. He deserves to let loose and have some fun with his friends. One thing is for sure. The joy of vinyl makes it so you can just not put the third LP on and still experience the album just fine without listening to the jam. It's almost the first "bonus disc" in the history of popular music.

All Things Must Pass is a fantastic record. In our age of deluxe boxed sets, this was easily the first of its kind. A big thick outer casing holding three records of original music from your favorite artist, a poster and an in depth track listing with personnel on all tracks, it's really a wonderful presentation. Then we are doubly thanked by getting high quality songs. It's a wonderful listening experience. Even if the Apple Jam isn't really that great, it's still far ahead of its time. The spiritualism of George Harrison's songwriting combined with the wonderful musicians helping to craft the songs and a heaping helping of Phil Spector bombast makes this the perfect proper debut album.

Up Next: In the 1950's Satchmo was an Ambassador of Good Will to the World. That's how great his music is.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grooves: Mott The Hoople - All The Young Dudes (1972)

It's quite serendipitous that All The Young Dudes comes immediately after Aladdin Sane. If not just because Bowie produced and wrote the titular track, but also because this A-Z endeavor has gotten me on a real heavy glam rock kick. Mott the Hoople is one of those bands that gets stuck under the weight of their biggest single, "All The Young Dudes." For ages, I just assumed it was David Bowie as it pretty much hits every Bowie-ism possible. When I found out it was written by Bowie and produced by him, I then assumed that the rest of Mott the Hoople's music must not be that great as it's hard to live up to Mr. Stardust. However, further research into Mott's music has been nothing short of a glam odyssey worth every penny. One great thing about vinyl is if you can find an album in a $1 bin and you don't know much about the bands music other than a song or two, you might as well get the album. If it's a terrible record, you lost $1. Such is the case for All The Young Dudes. This is where anyone delving into Mott's catalog will start and it's definitely a proper start.

Mott the Hoople's history is important to this record. Their early records are a melange of Rolling Stones cock rock and Dylanesque lyrical balladry. It's a good mix on some songs, but the albums leading up to their glam years are hit or miss. Songs like "Backsliding Fearlessly" on Mott the Hoople is a perfect mixture of these two sounds. They struggled from their beginnings and were on the verge of breaking up in 1972 when David Bowie stepped in. He has been quoted as saying Mott the Hoople was one of his all time favorite bands. He gave Mott a song called "All The Young Dudes" and offered himself to helm the production of another album. Lucky for Mott the Hoople as they came full circle and brought a fantastic performance on the album. Their reinvention into a glam rock giant was all care of their guardian angel, David Bowie. The thing that really rules about Mott the Hoople is that they prove it that they are more than just a pet band of a monolithic giant of rock history. They are actually great songwriters in themselves. It just took the right muse to get them off the ground.

All The Young Dudes starts with a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane." It's a perfectly apt song for the band, with it's bar room swagger and supremely catchy riff, but in the hands of Mott, it sounds a bit flat. It lacks the intensity in the vocal performance but shines musically. This is all turned around with "Momma's Little Jewel." A shining jewel of a performance all around, the track has a great boogie stomp to it. The songs that shine the most are the ones that Ian Hunter and Mick Ralphs write. Their covers are good, and "All The Young Dudes" is about as great as a song gets, but in the original songs, there is a different vibe to it. "Sucker" is easily one of my fav Mott songs. It's got a great chugging riff, a blazing sax part, care of David Bowie, and some of the best overly sexual lyrics of the glam era. Unlike The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs", "Sucker" makes the sado-masochism sound like a romp. "Jerkin' Crocus" finishes the side with equal parts glam vamping from Ian Hunter's vocal performance. If there is any song that seems to be a prelude to the resurgence of glam rock in the 80's, "Jerkin' Crocus" seems to fit the bill. You could gear Poison or Ratt revamping this track with heavier guitars and over-the-top theatrics.

Side two begins with a ringing telephone on the forgotten single "One of the Boys." It's classic track about all the debauchery and other tomfoolery that comes with being one of, well, the boys. It fades out into sounding as if the band is rocking over the phone that was calling us at the beginning before swelling back into the rock. "Soft Ground", written and sung by organist Verden Allen is the weakest link on the record. It's a forgettable rocker that fits well with the rest of the album, but doesn't really stand out. Mick Ralphs' tune "Ready For Love/After Lights" is one of my favorite songs on the album. Mick Ralph's would leave Mott the Hoople after this record and re-record the song with his new super group, Bad Company. Mott's treatment isn't much different from the revamped version other than the production value and the superior vocal performance of Paul Rodgers on the Bad Company album.. The Mott version isn't as good as the Bad Company take, but it's still a rocking good song. The different parts to the song that are added by Ian Hunter definitely adds to the track. The closer, "Sea Diver", is a quite closer and kind of a welcome sound from some of their older albums. It doesn't have the over the top glam rock sound the rest of the album does and it is a perfect respite from the large amount of rocking that just ensued.

Mott the Hoople would go on from their successful All the Young Dudes to record two more albums before disbanding in 1974. Most of the original personnel left after this record, which is surprising as this was their high watermark at the time. It's not my favorite Mott album (we'll save the praise for that record when the letter H rolls around) but it's an quintessential album for anyone's collection.

Up Next: George Harrison's 3 LP Adventure

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grooves: David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)

Just like Neil Young and The Beatles, David Bowie is one of the 12 Olympians of my love of music. Without Bowie, I'm not sure where my life would be at this point. My parents didn't have a lot of Bowie records, in fact they only owned Station to Station on vinyl and maybe a Greatest Hits on CD. As a kid, I bought the ChangesBowie best of and still listen to it (just did on the way to work today.) When I got older, I finally delved into Bowie's entire catalog and boy was I in for a surprise. The hits are great, but the albums flourish with such fervor and passion that I immediately fell in love all over again. Bowie wore many masks throughout the 70's and went everywhere from glam rock to Philly soul to krautrock. I have a hard time picking a favorite album, but one thing is for sure, Aladdin Sane is my favorite glam-rock era Bowie album. It may not be full of hits, like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but it has some of the best early Bowie musical performances around. Mick Ronson is at his all time best, laying down some of the crunchiest riffs of his career. Bowie amps up the glam and strangeness here, straying away from the overly baroque sounds on Ziggy for more of a guitar assault with some sax, care of Bowie himself, and some of the best piano on any Bowie record. It's a gem and a must own for any vinyl fan.

This is another purchase from Album Hunter in Maple Shade. I think I've had this record for quite some time now and Aladdin Sane will always remind me of a transitional period in my life. I simultaneously got the deluxe edition of this album on CD from Polly's in Vorhees, NJ. It's an album that I needed on both mediums. The deluxe CD comes with a bunch of outtakes and alternate versions and a few other songs, but the album is so good, that the extras were just a small reason for getting it.

Defining glam rock is strange as the classificaton and naming of glam was because of the style and not the music and songwriting. Sure, Bowie was an androgynous, space-aged funky freak who wore man-dresses and make-up, but the music of glam rock is why I go to the genre. Glam rock is usually a combination of both blues and garage rock mixing in lyrics of mysticism, futurism and nostalgia all in one. Especially on Aladdin Sane. "Watch That Man" is a bar room rocker with boogie piano, hard, crunchy guitars care of Mick Ronson at peak form and backing vocals from female singers to give it a little extra kick. It's a wonderful kick off to the album. After the raucous start, we are treated to "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)" The song has the typical glam futuristic lyricism and one of the best piano performances in rock and roll history. Mark Garson's intense, staccato and frenzied piano solo is unlike any other I've heard. It's truly a fantastic song that explodes with emotion and fury. "Drive-In Saturday" is one of those lost Bowie singles that was much bigger in England than it was in the US. It's a doo-wop throwback and a post-apocalyptic summer time anthem all in one extremely catchy song. It's just as good as any other Bowie single and easily one of my top 10 Bowie songs. The saxophone care of Bowie himself ads such a sexy vibe that wouldn't be heard again in such grandeur until 1975's Young Americans. "Panic in Detroit" is as paranoid as any song on Station to Station and has one of the best percussion sections in any Bowie track. It's very limited on cymbals and let's the guitars and bass meander in and out of each other with the bass taking a funky vibe, the guitar psych rocking it and the drums giving off a tribal pound. "Cracked Actor" is one of the grungiest songs and one of Bowie's hardest rockers. With a Neil Young rattle on Mick Ronson's guitar with a groovy rhythm section, it's a sinister indictment of Bowie's future home. It's kind of strange as Bowie launched into acting , became heavily addicted to cocaine and extremely paranoid. "Cracked Actor" is a futurescape for Bowie himself giving it even more of a sinister edge. Obviously, he didn't know it at the time, but he predicted his near future. It's a hell of a way to close side one.

Side two starts with more Mark Garson magic. "Time" begins as a show tuney piano ballad, all flamboyant and pomp. Then Mick Ronson kicks in taking it up a huge notch and launching Bowie's haunted vocal performance into the stratosphere. It's an extremely intense song and points to Bowie's experimental future while still holding on to his guitar driven rock of the past. It's about as epic as it gets in terms of grandiosity. "The Prettiest Star" by comparison is a pretty basic track. It's easily the weakest link on the album, but it's by no means bad. It's hard to compare another doo-woop, hand clapping pop track after the intense avante-burlesque of "Time." A prelude to Bowie's next album Pin Ups (which will appear on this endeavor,) Bowie tears through an inter-stellar cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together." It comes out of nowhere with this insane synthesizer intro (a prelude to Low, perhaps.) It boogie's forth at an intense gallop and has all sorts of insane twists and turns. "The Jean Genie" is one of the most underrated Bowie songs. It was written the year prior during Bowie's tour of America, as much of this album is based on his first impressions of the USA (the album has a city name attached to every song where it was written.) It's what Bowie calls "a smorgasbord of imagined America." And the lyrics and musical style is wonderfully Americana but with the lens of a Brit. Closing the album is another Mark Garson show stopper "Lady Grinning Soul." It's a truly beautiful song that floats through the air with it's romanticism. It's also one of Bowie's finest vocal performances, unmatched until Station to Station via a cover of Nina Simone's "Wild is the Wind." It is a truly unmatched song in the early part of Bowie's career, save for maybe "Life on Mars?"

Aladdin Sane is definitely my favorite glam era Bowie album after this listening adventure. It has such a raw power and strange, historical importance for the pantheon of David Bowie's career, yet I feel it doesn't get the props it deserves. It definitely is a great vinyl experience with each side being chock full of ear candy. Bowie would then slide into Diamond Dogs, which is my least favorite early Bowie record. It was all excess, even more so than Aladdin Sane. But the Bowie later to come would make up for that with a intense turn in the late 70's during the Berlin phase of his career.

Up Next: One year earlier, Bowie produces Mott The Hoople

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grooves: The Sword - Age of Winters (2006)

As much as some people may not enjoy playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you have to see the value in what it has done for popular music. Mixing rock music with video games is nothing new, but these games bring the music to the forefront and with it, you will inevitably hear something new to you. Be it a younger audience discovering Deep Purple for the first time or someone older getting a little taste of Paramore and finding out it's for them, that has a magical quality to it. What does this have to do with Grooves you might ask? Without Guitar Hero, I would most likely not have heard of The Sword. Sure, maybe someone would have introduced me to it, but GH2 is who I have to thank for this love. The Sword is one of those bands that gets the reason why vinyl is better than CD's. sure, you can't take a record with you in the car, but The Sword always includes a digital download of the album with the record. Their album art is always really cool and each of their records comes in some multi-color format. Age of Winters, which is their first record and the album that has "Freya" from Guitar Hero 2 on it, is pressed on translucent vinyl. Very cool. It looks like a disc of ice, carved from a Norwegian fjord.

The Sword is on easily my favorite non-Matador independent label, Kemado Records. Other bands that had Kemado under their wing at one point or another include Danava, The Fever (sadly defunct), Cheeseburger, Saviours and Vietnam. I purchased the album directly from the band at their show during the tour prior to releasing their second album, Gods of the Earth. As you can see by the album cover, it's got some gorgeous artwork. This is a staple of The Sword as you will see on their two other full length LP's as we continue this grand excursion in analog. I mentioned in the last post how it was fitting that The Sword show up so soon and that is because they are currently on tour and coming to Philadelphia touring behind their new album Warp Riders. Getting to spin this record was already in the cards as I need to amp myself up for the show.

Age of Winters does not fuck around. Side one starts with an instrumetal "Celestial Crown." The guitars rumble in like the surging North Sea tide and as the song picks up, you can immediately conjure up the image of warlords aboard a Viking ship running head-long for foreign shores, preparing for battle. As the song comes to a rumbling close, it immediately launches into "Barael's Blade." Here is when the gang-planks drop and the warriors start their furious fight. It's a riff heavy track that is bludgeoning and fast. The fury doesn't stop (and won't) continuing on with "Freya." It's the kind of battle cry metal chug that got me into this band. It's not so much a song that is showy in it's guitar solos, but more impressive in it's sludging and heavy sound. The mid-section is just a neck breaking back and forth between fast drums and extremely heavy guitars. Probably the best track on the album, "Winter's Wolves" tears at the flesh with it's Iron Maiden chug and intense rhythm. It's a staple of The Sword's live set, where it takes on new heights in thrash goodness. The side ends with "The Horned Goddess" which is hardly a highlight on the record. This track is best suited for the live show where they expound on it's sludgy riff, but on the record it kind of pales in comparison to the rest of side one.

Side two starts off strong with "Iron Swan." This is speed thrashing at it's best, with an acoustic and tambourine stomp intro. It's easily the fastest, heaviest song on this album, only to be matched by Gods of the Earth stand out "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians." Try saying that ten times fast. "Lament of the Aurochs" is a little long winded. It's the first "epic" of sorts for The Sword and not until this years Warp Riders have they been able to nail down a downright enthralling epic. More instrumetal (n omitted on purpose) comes by way of "March of the Lor." Supposedly it has 8 movements, but it's all of 4 minutes and much like other Sword instrumetals, it's very awesome. The Sword's lyrical content is much like any doomy metal band. It's hardly what you're listening for and the production on this album kind of proves that point. On the instrumetal songs, we get crisp guitars and pummeling drums. But if vocals were involved, they would be buried behind the cacophony of metal demanding a listener who wants to hear tales of warriors and wolves and Aurochs, whatever they are, to turn their record player up to insanely loud levels. This isn't a bad thing as metal should be blasted, but until Warp Riders, the vocals hardly make an impact. "Eberthorn" closes the disc in grand fashion, wrapping everything up in a guitar blitz not much different than the eight tracks prior. This may sound like a dis of sorts, but The Sword write consistently bone crushing tracks throughout Age of Winters. It's only 42 minutes, perfect for vinyl as you may see, and it rocks furiously only getting a little indulgent during the one epic.

The Sword may not be the greatest metal band and I may not be the best judge of metal in general. What I do love about The Sword is their epic consistency. They slightly change their game on Warp Riders by taking their epic tales into the stratosphere, but not much else ever changes with The Sword. This consistency makes them a damn good band. It's hard to release three decent records in a row. They might get harshed on either by hardcore metal heads calling them "hipster metal" or by the average person as run of the mill or cliche metal, but their rootsy vibe and adoration of Black Sabbath aside, they still know how to slay. To me, that's all I need from metal. Ridiculous riffs, splintering guitar solos and cheesey lyrics to get lost in.

{Editors Update: Sadly, Trivett Wingo, Drummer for The Sword, has left the band. This is indeed sad news as he has shown his weight in gold on Warp Riders and is a huge part to my love of The Sword. The website for The Sword has more info. I wish him the best in the future.}

Up Next: One of several David Bowie alter egos