Saturday, January 30, 2010

Discography: Brian Eno

My next discography is going to be an interesting one. Brian Eno has a doppelganger career as both a glam/avant rock musician and then slowly transitioning into the world of Ambient music. It's also going to be somewhat incomplete as most of this will be Eno and not any of his collaborations (with the likes of Harold Budd, John Cale and David Byrne as well as his two album stint with Roxy Music.) Sadly some of Eno's other Ambient albums are harder to come by, but alas I feel as if this will be pretty complete regardless of this. So this is more or less a half discography spanning from 1974's Here Come The Warm Jets to 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.

Here Come the Warm Jets
(1974) Brian Eno's first solo record after departing Roxy Music as well as after his experimental work with Robert Fripp on (No Pussyfooting), Eno teamed up with countless musicians for Here Come the Warm Jets. Surprisingly recorded in 12 days, the album is filled with frenzied guitars, bombastic lyrical wordplay and one of the best guitar solos you'll ever hear. The record is about as close to glam rock as any in Eno's career. Songs like "Needles in the Camel's Eye" and "Cindy Tells Me" are spacey rockers chock full of wonderful sounds. The stellar track, and easily Eno's best of the more straightforward rock era, "Baby's On Fire" has easily one of the best guitar solos care of King Crimson's Robert Fripp. It's a searing track that is filled with sound. Fripp's guitar takes over and brings it to a new height. Warm Jets may be one of Eno's more standard albums in the sense of straight rock music, but even in that case it's still out there and ahead of it's time. Eno would have a different take on what pop music could be a few albums later, but even here he juxtaposes what his experiences with Roxy Music were like.

Key Tacks: "Needles in the Camel's Eye", "Baby's On Fire", "Cindy Tells Me", "On Some Faraway Beach", "Blank Frank"

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) In the same year, Eno would progress his sound immensely from the awesome Here Come the Warm Jets to the strangely sparse yet utterly captivating Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy.) Although this album still boasts a rock sound, it's almost a punk rock statement to release music as choppy and strange as what appears on the album. A song like the rollicking "Third Uncle" or the gloomy and foreboding "The Fat Lady of Limbourg" are polar opposites and strangely distant. The art rock takes on forms like "Burning Airlines Gives You So Much More", a wonderful pop track as well as the quirky "China My China" with it's typewriter solo. All in all, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) seems to be a leap forward in some respects even if it's a small step.

Key Tracks: "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More", "Fat Lady of Limbourg", "China My China", "Third Uncle"

Another Green World (1975) Just another few months after Taking Tiger Mountain, Eno released easily one of his best records in Another Green World. Gone are the glam rock trappings and only five songs have lyrics and vocals. This record is the first indication that Brian Eno was going to take his music into a new direction. The spaced out expansion of his music is a divergent turn from the previous years two records. Songs like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "I'll Come Running" is as close as a pop song as you'll get here. Both are way more spaced out than the more hard hitting tracks from Here Come the Warm Jets or the strange and stark songs from Tiger Mountain. Instead these tunes are floating in the ether. "The Big Ship" slowly comes in witha wave of guitars that sound like the music of another world. "In Dark Trees" plays up more paranoia in it's sound as an interesting arrangement of guitars and strange bleeping percussion ripples in and out. All of these emotions are felt through the music and not through the lyrics. It's in this that Brian Eno would really find his home as Another Green World is the first sign of his ambient career to come.

Key Tracks: "Sky Saw", "The Big Ship", "St. Elmo's Fire", "In Dark Trees", "Golden Hours", "Becalmed", "Everything Merges With The Night"

Discreet Music (1975) Again with two albums in one year (not including Evening Star with Robert Fripp), Discreet Music is the first fully fledged piece of ambient work that Eno undertook. The titular track is one whole side of the record and is an experimental tape loop. For a better, detailed description, go here. The sounds of the synthesizer loop over each other and create different sounding passages that are just overlapping threads of sound. It's intention is best used for meditation, background music or what I prefer to call a "dream machine." It's calming and ambient and in that respect, it's perfect for all sorts of activities to fill in the dead air of silence with something more engaging. The second half of the record is variations on Canon in D Major by Pachelbel. These are intriguing deconstructions, but for the most part the best thing of Discreet Music is the single side track. The album in that sense is more of an interesting experiment and observation on the deconstruction of music.

Key Track: "Discreet Music"

Before and After Science (1977) Eno's last album with lyrics for some time, Before and After Science has more conventional tunes, but it's a perfect place to see how Eno's ambient sound would meld with more conventional pop tunes, all found on the second half of the record. The first half picks up the speed more so than the previous two albums with the anagram rocker "King Lead Hat" and the silly yet entirely engaging and catchy "Backwater." Where the album really shines is in it's spacey and brooding second half. Each song has an ethereal element to it, bringing his ambient sound and blending it perfectly with conventional songs. "Julie With..." is a perfect track that slowly sways in with its delicate guitar and piano as one of Eno's best vocal performances then gently comes into view. "By This River" is a deeply saddening track giving the feeling of utter and complete stagnation. The stellar outing is "Spider & I" which has some of the most beautifully stark and simplistic, yet emotionally captivating music and lyrics that Eno has ever captured. It's all dreamy and hazy and as with many of the songs on the second half, slowly comes in and fades back out with utter beauty. It's easily Eno's perfect record.

Ket Tracks: A masterpiece is a masterpiece. Not sure if I can say any tracks aren't great.

Music For Airports (1978) As Before and After Science ended Eno's career with more conventional music, he started his ambient career off on the right foot. It may be the most unbearable record if you try to approach it as conventional music. Instead, it's best treated as a meditation piece or music you use to study to. The tracks are divided up into numbers without titles and each piece, much like Discreet Music, the music is looped tapes of synths, pianos, guitars or vocals for each track that seem like pre-written songs, but it's all just as it happens. The vocal track "2/1" is just a series of 20 second loops, each a different length, repeated. The sound is utterly breathtaking and dynamic. It sounds as if they interact with each other but in reality it's just a loop. The best of these tracks is the 16 minute "1/1" with it's simple piano slowly creating something beautiful.

Key Tracks: "1/1", "2/1"

Music For Films (1978) Although Music for Films works less on an album level then other ambient records, it is worth noting that unlike both Discreet Music and Music for Airports, the music is not just looped material but actual musicians working on the pieces of music. An all star line up including John Cale, Phil Collins and Robert Fripp are all in tow and each track has it's own idea. The tracks are meant to be the score to "imaginary films" and are soundscapes that could easily be used as a soundtrack. Some songs did go on to be in films, such as "Slow Water" which utilizes Fripp's sonic guitar tones. It's more or less an intriguing selection of songs, but as a whole it pales in comparison to much of the other prominent Eno ambient recordings you could get. I find myself going back to this record the least.

Key Tracks: "Slow Water", "There is Nobody", "Quartz", "Patrolling Wire Borders"

Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983) Although there were other ambient albums in between this and '78's Music for Films, those were all collaborations and also extremely hard to find. That being said, someday I will update this section with Discography: Brian Eno and Various Collaborations. Anyway, of all the ambient records, Apollo is by far the best. It contains some of Eno's finest moments and has been used in several films, namely the documentary For All Mankind. It has several different styles involved on the record ranging from the stark and minimalistic "Stars", the almost ambient-country feel of tracks like "Weightless" and the synthesizer driven and utterly heartbreaking "An Ending (Ascent)." This dynamic calls for a little more variety on the album and also opens up the lanes for some amazing guitar work care of Daniel Lanois. A song like "Deep Blue Day" is ever grateful for Daniel Lanois' amazing guitar flourishes. This being the best of Eno's ambient albums, if this type of music is something that you are into, then this would be the best place to start.

Key Tracks: "An Ending (Ascent)", "Deep Blue Day", "Stars", "Always Returning", "Spirits Drifting", "Silver Morning"

That's all for now. There are many more Eno albums, some I've heard some I can't find. But this is more of a part one. Someday down the line I will hunt all of these records down.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Magnetic Clamour of IRM

When I read earlier in 2009 that Charlotte Gainsbourg was releasing a second album in Janurary 2010 with Beck writing, producing and playing a lot of the music, I was immediately frothing at the mouth with anticipation. Charlotte's 5:55, which stood at #59 on my decade albums list, is a beautiful record. However, knowing that Air was her backing band then and Beck would be handling that now, it would come as no surprise when the album would sound shockingly progressive and different. Luckily I was able to hear IRM in part when Charlotte stopped in Philadelphia recently, her first time touring and first time in our fair city. Now that the album has officially graced our shores, I can safely say that it is a work of delightful genius. It's important to know that several songs address the near death experience Charlotte faced, hence having to have an MRI (IRM in French.) That said, the track "IRM" has the claustrophobic sounds that and actual MRI has. The clamour and shifting of mechanical parts and the otherworldly sounds that are emitted from the machine. The album has many sides, but one thing is apparent; Beck draws on percussion, acoustic guitars and orchestral arrangements (some done by his father.) The song "Vanities" is a delightfully stark track filled with a delicate guitar pluck to shadow Charlotte's voice and then the strings come in and change the mood even more. "Time of The Assassins" is a short but sweet tune with Beck's cooing in the background of the chorus. As usual, a highlight of the record is when Charlotte sings in her native French. The track "Le Chat du Café des Artistes" is one of the most Beck sounding tracks taking a page from "Dark Star", the best track from his record The Information. Brooding drums and bass are accentuated by a Hitchcockian string arrangement. What IRM does is expand upon Charlotte's strengths as a singer. Although 5:55 is an excellent record, IRM progresses beyond just the love song driven piano ballads and goes somewhere else in the stratosphere. Her duet with Beck, "Heaven Can Wait", shows that there is even more promise for her career. The album is a delight and if she returns to the United States to tour it further, be sure to check it out. It was a fantastic experience.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Discography - Beck

It's no surprise I'd tackle my favorite solo artist next. Beck's album arc is stranger than most artists. He's our era's David Bowie in that respect. He's more prolific than most artists of the newer generation. Ten records out from 1994 to 2008 and that does not include some of the indie records and the slew of B-Sides and unreleased stuff. For our cause, We'll start with Stereopathetic Soul Manure.

Stereopathetic Soul Manure (1994) The first of three records in one year, Beck released Stereopathetic Soul Manure on Flipside Records before his debut came out on the major label on DGC. The album is a schizophrenic hodge-podge of all kinds of strange experiment, traditional tracks and other sound clips. It's definitely Beck's most peculiar album in the catalog, but it also contains some stellar samplings from Beck's early career. Songs like "Satan Gave Me A Taco" show Beck's troubadour/slacker story teller roots that would be paramount throughout Beck's early era. "Rowboat", a fantastic blues song, was covered by Johnny Cash at one point, shows also that Beck still has a firm foot in the blues. It's less of an album and more of brain droppings. I can't really recommend this outside of rabid Beck fandom.

Key Tracks: "Rowboat" "Crystal Clear (Beer)" "Satan Gave Me A Taco"

Mellow Gold (1994) Beck's first major label release is a time capsule of the 90's counterculture. Much like "My Generation" by our first band to get the Discography spot, "Loser" is an anthem of the 90's and one that is undeniable to the culture of the time. It's a lot harder now that Beck has become so prolific, but for the time many thought "look at this guy." and thought he would slip into obscurity. Luckily the album pointed to the future with tracks like "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)", a surprisingly stark look at the record industry, "Blackhole" which is an underrated sleeper on the record and "Soul Suckin' Jerk" which is a punk rock sloppy mess of a brilliant track. What Beck does best is take genre and sound and juxtapose them and Mellow Gold has plenty of gems worth playing some 15 years later into his career. The cool thing here is that the genre melting is so intense that it really just sounds like Beck. Mellow Gold isn't by far my favorite album, but it's a genuine classic and a must own.

Key Tracks: "Loser", "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)", "Soul Suckin' Jerk", "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997", "Beercan", "Blackhole"

One Foot In The Grave (1994) Getting a very sleek and extended re-issue this past year is one of Beck's most underrated albums, One Foot In the Grave. It's a swampy, muddy blues album that has slapdash production but an honesty that is pure and wonderful. This record, released on K Records, was the second indie released album by Beck in the same year and is by far the more superior. The songs are rather short, but unlike Soulmanure, they are at least not fragments of songs but consistently good blues. The Skip James cover "He's A Mighty Good Leader" is the front runner of the sound on the album with just a guitar, a stamping foot and Beck's wayward vocals. "Fourteen Rivers, Fourteen Floods" is the best Delta blues song that Muddy Waters didn't write. "Cyanide Breath Mint" lends to the anti-major label execs wanting him to stick to the "Loser" shtick and "Asshole" is one of Beck's finer songs of love lost. One Foot proves one thing and that's Beck knows the blues.

Key Tracks: "He's A Mighty Good Leader", "Sleeping Bag", "Cyanide Breath Mint", "Asshole"

Odelay - (1996) What else can I say about Beck's perfect album? I mean, start to finish Odelay is something else. The addition of The Dust Brothers in the production room would usher in an era of cool and probably be his best production collaborator. I know that's hard with Nigel Godrich being his other constant companion, but we'll get to that soon enough. Whether it's the big hits like "Devil's Haircut", "New Pollution" and"Where It's At" or the fan favorites like "Novacane" and "Hotwax", there are a slew of excellent folk-hop goodies to be had. When the end hits you with "Ramshackle," it's hard not to see just how brilliant Beck really is. Nostalgia aside, I still don't know if Beck has sounded as good as on Odelay. It's really a stunner of a record and one that should join the ranks as one of the best of all time.

Key Tracks: Hard to not list every song.... the only not so great track is "Derelict" and even that song rules.

Mutations (1998) Before I was hardcore into Beck, I didn't even know Mutations existed. I knew songs from the record, but it was a VH1 Behind the Music type show about Beck that got me intrigued by this album. Bought it immediately and found the first introspective look into Beck without all the clamour and bang of his prior records. That's not to dilute the meaning behind his blues or crazy records, but Mutations strips it away and brings on the baroque. Nigel Godrich's production brings in a less frenzied pace and on songs like "Cold Brains" and "Lazy Flies" we still get the upbeat Beck style, but from a different angle. The amazingly beautiful "Nobody's Fault But My Own" brings in sitars and tons of other sounds swirling in the background making it easily one of Beck's finest songs. Overall the album is one of Beck's finest artistic statements with heart felt songs to his Grandfather like "We Live Again" to the calypso of "Tropicalia." It's all Beck still but it was something different. Beck's first serious album of sorts.

Key Tracks: "Cold Brains", "Nobody's Fault But My Own", "Canceled Check", "We Live Again", "Dead Melodies", "Tropicalia"

Midnite Vultures (1999) After Beck's more personal, quite and reflective album Mutations exploded the most enjoyably fun record of the 90's, Midnite Vultures. That's right, most fun record of the 90's. Especially for it to drop amid the late 90's suck zone of popular music, Beck created an electrical sex explosion of an album. With Prince and David Bowie's Young Americans being his muse, Beck concocts sexy lounge tales of love("Debra",) Kraftwerk infused debaucheries robot sex ("Get Real Paid") and straight up dance floor ready jams ("Sexx Laws".) His hyper frenetic take on hip hop, "Hollywood Freaks" takes the whole sound to the highest and most ridiculous with screams of "he my nun!" in the background as well as calling out Norman Schwarzkopf. Vultures was also a Dust Brothers production and the clamour of sound effects, sampling, instrumentation and all other sorts of wackiness add to the sheer fun that Midnite Vultures can bring. From the first time I heard it to today, it's been a staple for any party (and originally was played at midnight at every party) as well as a staple for getting amped for any good time. For some reason, this is Beck's most misunderstood record, and to me that is a crying shame. Your loss, really.

Key Tracks: "Sexx Laws", "Nicotine and Gravy", "Hollywood Freaks", "Get Real Paid", "Broken Train", "Debra"

Sea Change (2002) Almost every great artist has their heartbreak/break-up album of sorts, but Beck's Sea Change, coming after his over sexed and hyper kinetic Midnite Vultures was a surprise left turn. When I saw Beck for the first time on his small pre-Sea Change one man show, Beck shed his heart out on forthcoming tracks like "Sunday Sun" which immediately stunned me. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking number and on the album it takes a whole level of beauty with it's arrangements and freak-out ending. Tracks like "Lonesome Tears" never lets the listener rest with the ache that he feels. "The Golden Age" is a faux prosperity. The line "these days I hardly get by" is a heart wrenching feeling for a supposed Golden Age. "Already Dead" is definitely a feeling many have gone through when the loss gets so hard, but what's funny is that beyond the lyricism being straightforward and honest, the music is still compelling and fantastic. It's by far the best of the Nigel Godrich albums, with stunners like "Paper Tiger" filled with swooping strings and a funky bass groove. There is no denying that Beck's finest work in the past decade comes from the heart rather than from a stranger place that Beck usually traverses.

Key Tracks: "Paper Tiger", "Lonesome Tears", "Sunday Sun", "Already Dead", "Lost Cause"

Guero (2005) Beck's latter career in the 21st century had troubles after Sea Change. Although Guero is chock full of excellent songs, something is missing from it as an album. Part of my feeling in that regard is the fact that the leaked version of Guero was much more captivating. "E-Pro" had less production and an abrupt ending, "Scarecrow" was a 7 minute static jam with some amazing Beck harmonica and bluesy guitar work and some songs that ended up being B-Sides ("Send A Message To Her" and "Chain Reaction") were actually superior to some that ended up on the actual release. Regardless, songs like "Missing" and "Earthquake Weather" luckily remained intact and ended up being some of my personal favorite Beck songs. The album boasts some nice celebrity guests like Jack White rocking the funky bass line on "Go It Alone" and a surprisingly strange turn by Christina Ricci on "Hell Yes." Overall, Guero is one of Beck's more uneven albums but it still has a ton of excellent music. Maybe he should have stayed with the original leak track listing, but something that trivial isn't worth dwelling on. Guero is a nice little record that has a great selection of tracks.

Key Tracks: "E-Pro", "Missing", "Hell Yes", "Girl", "Earthquake Weather", "Farewell Ride"

The Information (2006) Easily the weakest link in the chain, The Information is a muddled album. It is one of those cases where an album could easily have been an EP with the best tracks numbering in at around 4 or 5 and the rest is just there. Nigel and Beck wanted to do a hip-hop record of sorts and this is what came about. Woozy bores like "Soldier Jane" and "Think I'm In Love" are muzak compared to your usual Beck and only work when used as background music. However, songs like "Cellphone's Dead" and "Dark Star" bring the heat with more intriguing musical elements and lyrical wordplay at first glance absurd and at second glance great social comment. The album shifts back and forth from redeeming tracks to boring sleepers and the final track is a bit of a mess. It's surprising that Beck's long worked on record ended up being less enjoyable then Guero which was pounded out between sessions for The Information.

Key Tracks: "Cellphone's Dead", "Dark Star", "We Dance Alone"

Modern Guilt (2008) Luckily Beck picked up a new companion in the studio with Danger Mouse and in 2008, beck released a morbid but delightful psych pop record in Modern Guilt. It's by far Beck's shortest record since One Foot in the Grave and it's even shorter than that record. Somehow Beck learned his miscue with The Information and instead of packing in tracks, gave us the ten best. Short, poppy but dark, Modern Guilt boasts one of the defining moments in Beck's career in "Chemtrails." Although not the usual clamour of funky grooves and sounds, the track swells in and out like the tide with fantastically woozy synths and falsetto and then comes crashing in with it's intensely groovy bass and Moonesque drums. "Gamma Ray" may seem like a cheap rip off of "Girl" form Guero, but it still works as a beach blanket party shuffle. "Volcano" is Beck at his darkest giving up on humanity to get "back into the womb of the world." The titular track is an ode to the Zombie's and "Orphans" is a perfect album opener. It also houses one of the most poetic and beautiful Beck lyrics of all time, and it is in this lyrics that I leave you on this edition of Discography:

If I wake up and see my maker coming
With all of his crimson and his iron desire
We'll drag the streets with baggage of longing
To be loved or destroyed
From a void to a grain of sand in your hand

Key Tracks: "Orphans", "Chemtrails", "Walls", "Volcano", "Replica"

Beck is up to lots on his website via Record Club where him and musician pals will get together and cover full albums. He's almost three records deep, but I will not be reviewing these. Beck, more so than The Who, has a mountain of B-Sides and unreleased tracks as well as other smaller indie records. My apologies for not delving into these but due to their wildly out of print nature, I would not want to tease you into thinking you can get them without it being illegal or damn lucky to get.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Summertime Haze of Real Estate

Psych surf sounds like the wrong way to describe Real Estate, the titular debut of the Jersey born band. It isn't quite classically surf rock like Dick Dale or Link Wray and it is somewhat hazier and covered in a thin veil of darkness to be as sunny as The Beach Boys. It's psychedelia, but never hard rocking and it's pop music, but it's never over produced. Real Estate is the album I missed last year that has potential to be a lasting favorite. There seems to be something much more honest and special about this group. The first track, "Beach Comber", comes in slowly and drifts up to your ears as it's drum beat shuffles in from the haze and the guitar picks away at a catchy little riff. It's simplistic music but the production, rife with the white washed glow of a summers day at the beach allowing all the optimism of a vacation come through in the calming sound, still has some uncertainty to it. The opening lyric "What you want is just outside your reach/You keep on searchin’" is of that wondering spirit many get with just a moment that the music conveys. That clouded, summertime restlessness. The music is perfect for that feeling. "Pool Swimmers" is that twilight feel of sneaking into backyards to find a spot for night swimming and the song is filled with an eerie joy. "Atlantic City" is an instrumental groove jam that sounds like the euphoria and depression that you get at the same time from entering the casinos. If anything, Real Estate may be the perfect album for dreaming of the summer. If anything, the group have been my crutch through this cold New Jersey winter. I can't wait for this record to become the soundtrack for relaxing down the Jersey shore, where the inspiration for the record came.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Discography: The Who

I always come up with some ambitious idea and never really keep up with it, but while new albums trickle in, I will be going back to my favorite artists and picking out key moments on record in a new series called Discography. I know, boring name, right? Don't have the creative juice to jazz that up just now.

What better way to start then with my all-time favorite group, The Who. Each album will get a short write up and a rating of some sort. Think of this as a rip off/watered down version off A.V. Club's Primer. This won't include every single release, but at least for The Who it will include all studio records AND one live record, integral to the listening experience of the band.

My Generation - (1965) - The Who's debut is an explosive piece of 60's mod rock. The album sprawls and shows a band in it's early phase. This record is the definition of Maximum R&B. Moon and Entwistle carry this record, which was the moniker of The Who's early career. The fuzz and distortion all over this record and the power the band has is obviously best described through easily their one song everyone knows, "My Generation."
Other great take-aways are "The Kids Are Alright" and "A Legal Matter." The sense of Pete Townshend's British wit and his sense of the mod scene is prevalent in these lyrics as they are all for the rebellious youth of the mod culture.

Key Tracks: "My Generation", "The Kids Are Alright", "A Legal Matter", "The Ox"

A Quick One - (1966) - After only a year between debut and sophomore release, A Quick One showed signs of progression. It would be the first Who record to have songs written by each member, it includes a delicious cover of "Heat Wave" and has the very first rock opera of Townshend's career in "A Quick One, While He's Away." The best tracks include lead off rocker "Run Run Run" and Entwistle's growly kids tale, "Boris the Spider." The progression shown was in the varying depths of songwriting from the cutesy love songs like "Don't Look Away" or the powerful instrumental mayhem of "Cobwebs and Strange." It's easily one of The Who's most underrated albums, although it still lacks the magic that would come in just another year.

Key Tracks: "Run Run Run", "So Sad About Us", "A Quick One, While He's Away"

The Who Sell Out - (1966) Where A Quick One is an underrated Who record, The Who Sell Out is one of the most underrated albums of all time. Period. What this record does may very well be the pinnacle of rock and roll in the 60's. It epitomized an era and has some of the most unique Who songs you'll ever hear. Shaped around the concept of pirate radio, Townshend whipped up some of his best love songs ("Sunrise", "Our Love Was") and easily his best rock song in "I Can See For Miles." There isn't a dull moment. Between the catchy jingles, the varying approaches to rock or the brilliant and bombastic nod to the future in "Rael" this easily could be The Who's best record. It's tough to admit it when there are 3 more studio albums of equal but different importance coming up.

Key Tracks: "I Can See For Miles", "Sunrise", "Tattoo", "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand" "Rael"

Tommy - (1969) - A long gestation period and loads of touring occurred in between Sell Out and Tommy lead to speculation of The Who breaking up and plenty of other controversy, but luckily instead Tommy drops and everything changed. A bonafide classic rock center piece, there is nothing wrong with Tommy except its ambition. Even with tons of takeaway tracks, Tommy is still a record that demands attention for 74 minutes. From "The Overture" to "Where Not Gonna Take It", there really is no time to put the thing down. This was groundbreaking and insanely ahead of its time at this point and it was the end of the 60's for The Who. 40 years later, Tommy still sounds fantastic. It's really a no brainer, but anyone not owning a copy of Tommy is doing themselves a huge injustice.

Key Tracks: The entire album? But especially "Overture", "Amazing Journey/Sparks", "Underture", "I'm Free", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

Live At Leeds - 1970 - Although it's a live concert, there is no way Live at Leeds can be left off this discography. It is one of few live albums that are must own material. It's also a must own Deluxe Edition. The stripped down LP and early CD releases are an abomination compared to the Deluxe Edition which has the entire concert, including the live version of Tommy. That disc is good and all but it's the blistering covers of Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" that proves why The Who is the greatest live Rock and Roll band of all time. "Heaven and Hell" kicks it off in usual Entwistle dark comedy, but this version trumps any studio copy of the same song. The real kick in the pants is the insanely fantastic live version of "A Quick One, While He's Away." After hearing this first and not knowing it was live only to here the audience kick in was mind blowing. It's a ride that every fan of The Who must take and even the casual listener would enjoy.

Key Tracks: "Young Man Blues", "A Quick One, While He's Away", "Summertime Blues" "Shakin' All Over"

Who's Next - 1971 - After Woodstock and Live at Leeds, The Who entered the 70's and changed their act massively. Using tons of studio technology to lay down tons of tracks, Who's Next is a remarkable record that sounds pristine and authentic to this day. "Baba O'Rielly" still packs a massive punch to the heart strings, "Bargain" is an underrated rocker, "The Song is Over" is some of Pete Townshend's finest songwriting and "Won't Get Fooled Again" never fails to blow it's listener out of the water. With the added sound of synthesizers to the mix, The Who embarked on a fantastic journey with Who's Next which is easily their most appealing album. Not a single song on the record is weak. It's hard for a band to release something this good.

Key Tracks: Start to finish perfect.

Quadrophenia - 1974- Another really long break between albums, due in part to the Tommy movie, Pete Townshend had time to write one of the most daring and ultimately would become their greatest achievement, Quadrophenia. It may not have the easy access that Who's Next does, but Quadrophenia is a challenging album. It definitely marks the high water mark of musical ability in the group. John Entwistle shines brightest here especially on tracks like "The Real Me" and "Sea and Sand." Pete's lyrics are at their most introspective and his guitar work stands as a testament of sheer power. Moon's drumming on songs like "I've Had Enough" and "Bell Boy." It definitely has some of the groups darker moments with tracks like "Doctor Jimmy" showing the dark side of boozing. All in all, it is a beautiful record filled with intensity and the best musicianship The Who ever showed.

Key Tracks: "The Real Me", "Cut My Hair", "I've Had Enough", "Sea & Sand", "Love Reign O'er Me"

The Who by Numbers (1975) - Over ambition will usually lead to some sort of slump, and although The Who by Numbers is a stellar album, it still pales in comparison to four home runs in a row. The biggest beef fans and critics had with By Numbers was it's dark and cynical tone, but it is easily one of the most daunting lyrically in The Who catalog. Songs like "However Much I Booze" or "Imagine A Man" sound less like Who songs and more like Pete Townshend tracks, but nevertheless still rock. It's in this split that makes the album a tad bit weaker than most. Rock tracks like "Slip Kid" and "Success Story" sound more like what the band would bring to the table collectively and they are shining moments. However, something is lacking in coherency throughout that makes this record a weak follow up. It lacks the intensity of Who's Next and lacks the overarching ideas of Tommy and Quadrophenia. It works well as a collection of songs, but not as an album.

Key Tracks: "Slip Kid", "However Much I Booze", "Dreaming From the Waist", "Success Story"

Who Are You (1978) - The final Who record with the full line-up, Who Are You is an intriguing mess. It has dull moments when the songs just fail to do much such as "905" and "New Song," but it also showed that The Who still had lots of power. The titular track is still one of the best songs The Who have ever produced and the intriguingly sparse "Music Must Change" are two tracks that have tons of capacity. "Sister Disco" is also a favorite with it's intriguing swirling guitar and synth effects. Sadly, Keith Moon passed on shortly after the album was released and The Who would never be the same.

Key Tracks: "Who Are You", "Sister Disco", "Music Must Change"

Face Dances (1981) - Even though The Who was changed forever with Keith Moon's death, they soldiered on for a few more albums. Some may say that the late era Who discs are more like Pete Townshend solo records would be somewhat true. Pete's better songs landed on his 1980 standout solo record Empty Glass. Still, there were enough tracks that were deemed worthy of The Who moniker and they are lasting as well. "You Better, You Bet", a tongue-twister lyrically, is easily one of the Who's finer late period songs. "Don't Let Go The Coat" sounds more like a Pete song, but Daltry's kinda screwy vocal performance makes the track magical. John Entwistle also brought his A-Game with "The Quiet One" which is a fantastic rocker. Other than that, Face Dances fails to deliver much more.

Key Tracks: "You Better You Bet", "The Quiet One"

It's Hard (1982) Just one year later, It's Hard was released and left much to be desired. It is by far the weakest of all Who records. Again, most material was sub par to what Pete Townshend was releasing by himself, but there are still glimpses of genius. Maybe just one. "Eminence Front" is The Who's best 80's track filled with a droning and constant synth back bone, Pete's furious guitar jamming and John Entwistle kicking in here and there. Absent is Roger Daltry on this track, making it and odd choice as a Who track when I'm sure on a Pete Townshend album it would have worked just fine. "Athena" is a catchy enough track, but it fails to really be too lasting of a track. It's Hard proved that The Who, although still fantastic live, had a hard time creating magic in the studio. Somehow Rolling Stone gave It's Hard five stars. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Key Track: "Eminence Front"

Endless Wire (2006) - Oddly enough, the best tracks from Endless Wire, a better album then It's Hard or Face Dances as a whole, are the tracks where the two surviving members of The Who are all you can hear. Tracks like "Man in a Purple Dress" lambasting religious figures who feel the need to wear ridiculous vestments to give them credibility, or the beautiful, poetic and poignant "God Speaks of Marty Robbins." The final track, "Tea and Theater" became a fan favorite as it sadly represents what could easily by the final track on the final Who record. The only rocker on the disc to really captivate is part of the Wire and Glass EP called "Soiund Round." It's a quicky rocker reminiscent of early era Who that really makes you remember the greatness of the band. Overall, the disc feels a bit stale at moments, but when the two Who members left come together, something whistful and beautiful was created.

Key Tracks: "A Man in a Purple Dress", "God Speaks of Marty Robbins", "You Stand By Me", "Sound Round"

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Contra Not So Revolutionary

It's no surprise really that Vampire Weekend's second effort, Contra, is anything but revolutionary. At times, it has all the pop elements and trappings of a fine record, but other times it strays into the world of "We want to be Paul Simon REALLY bad" territory, which is a bit labored. There also seems to be a track that uses auto tune? Anyway, let's get to the matter here: Vampire Weekend is not anything to write home about, as per usual, but they can still write a decently catchy song. The lead of track and second single, "Horchata" shows that the band does have some room to grow bringing in new sounds like marimbas and more synths taking place of the jangly guitars from the first record. To me, that has it's ups and downs. What I loved most about songs like "A-Punk" or "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" were the interesting guitar arrangements. The track "Holiday" most replicates this sound, but without going further. If these Ivy League boys wanted to, they could probably shred some sweet rock music. The first single "Cousins" is a raging rocker buried under this polished sound. It has the most redeeming elements, with hyper-kinetic drums and super fast guitar theatrics. After that, everything else seems to be trying to hard. Every song sounds like it's purposely supposed to sound islandy or Carribean. There really is not sense of self on the record. "California English" is a laughable track with it's unnecessary use of the awful auto tune effect. It adds no depth to the music or the lyrics and if anything it's a detraction. There are many decent moments on Contra, but they are overshadowed by the weaker tracks. With a little more guitars upfront in the mix, Vampire Weekend could have tapped into something spectacular. Instead, we got a failed experiment of sorts and an album stretching for direction. I guarantee, as many other publications have already proved, that this album will launch the band for some reason into a sort of limelight that any indie band could achieve, but there is not much left to enjoy on the record. Oh, and did I mention that the album art really annoys me?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Looking Ahead 2010

2010 is here and I could not be more excited for some of the cheesey and quality entertainment to come. Here is a quick glimpse at some possible new music and movies that I can't wait for.

Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM - Already releassed in Europe, the much anticipated follow-up to 5:55 (#59 on the best records of the Decade.) It's intriguing enough as Charlotte always seems to surround her with talent. On 5:55, Air played the music, Nigel Godrich helmed production and Neil Hannon and Jarvis Cocker took the lyrics. This time, it's all one person: Beck. That's right, Beck wrote, produced and plays on almost every track. Basically getting a new Beck record via a new voice? Yes, please! Should be out this coming Tuesday, January 12th.

Autolux's Transit Transit - Although not as epic or long of a wait as Chinese Democracy the length between Autolux'x fantastic 2004 debut Future Perfect (#17 on the best of the decade!) and this year's (hopefully) release is uber anticipation. Supposedly coming in January, Transit Transit is the epitome of "can't wait" anticipation.

Vampire Weekend's Contra - I was split on the first Vampire Weekend. I mean, it's decent pop music but all the "best new artist" or "album of the year" talk back in 2008 was laughable at best. I still am intrigued and enjoy them enough that I am anticipating the new record with a skeptics eye. Sometimes it takes album #2 for me to be sold on an artist.

Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island - Why this didn't come out in 2009 is beyond me. What looks to be Marty tackling the thriller/horror genre looks exciting. Although his past thriller/horror movie, the crappy remake of the eternal classic Cape Fear, was a piece of trash, the trailer for Shutter Island shows that Marty might have it in him to tell a badass ghost story of sorts. Plus the cast is stacked. DiCaprio, Ruffalo, Kingsley, Williams, Clarkson, etc. Very excited.

Disney's Tron Legacy - Ok so this is a summer popcorn flick, yes. But a popcorn flick remake of the classic 80's Tron that keeps Jeff Bridges around and has Daft Punk doing the soundtrack? Sign me up! Plus the trailer looks pretty intense.

The Wolfman - I am sick of vampires. A better mythology: Werewolves. And wehn that werewolf comes in the form of Benicio Del Toro with the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving and Emily Blunt in the cast, I smell a great flick.

Christopher Nolan's Inception - When I first saw the trailer I was sold. DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt in a Chris Nolan thriller? Of course I'm going opening night! I couldn't ask for anything more this year. After a relatively disappointing 2009, it's good to see easily one of the best directors around coming back full force. The last film in between Nolan's Batman franchise, The Prestige (#26 on best of the decade), it's bound to be something special.
Other notable movies to watch (whether hilariously bad and unecessary sequeels/prequels/remakes or legitimate interests for both popcorn and art films): Wall Street 2, Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Jonah Hex, The Book of Eli and I'm sure loads more later in the year.

As for music, not sure what else is coming this year, just anticipating some acts to release stuff. Possible Radiohead in the fall, the new act Broken Bells (Danger Mouse and James Mercer of the Shins) plus GOD knows what else.

2010, I can't wait for you to start.

One thing I know I won't enjoy this year: The Oscars. Although I have yet to see some bigger contenders, I'm not entirely sure if I want to see them.