Sunday, December 6, 2009

Can - Tago Mago


How is this record so dang good and fun to listen to? I mean, on the surface it's nothing more than a steady drum beat, jamming guitars, and crazed vocals that drone on and on. But what this album has in spades is a locked in, dead-on groove and one of the coolest rock singers in history. Heck, I'm sold.

The amazing thing is that normally I'd expect music this hypnotic and spacey to kind of float on in the background without keeping my full attention for the entire time. You know, mind wandering music. But not this. I'm captivated like a cat watching a plate of tuna on a merry-go-round. Watch it go 'round, and 'round, and 'round.

The consensus masterpiece of the album, "Halleluhwah," is the perfect example. The drums and bass are locked into a groove that, dang it if I can't stop bobbing my head and tapping my foot to it. It's freaking addicting. And the experimentation over the top of it is fascinating. The screechy violins, the groovy guitars with Damo's scatting alongside them, the crazed keyboards. Count. Me. In.

After the heavy groovefest of "Halleluhwah," "Aumgn" provides a reprieve with its complete absence of a beat, instead opting for noise experiments. The noise is joined by tribal-sounding drums towards the end. It's a welcome palate cleanser, and creates quite a stark, in-the-basement-of-a-dungeon-like ambiance.

"Peking O" is by far the most experimental piece on the album. Electronic beats lay the foundation for wild piano, keyboard, and all sorts of other doodling around. Damo's vocals are played backwards at hyperactive speed with manic beats and keyboards. He sounds like a paranoid, hallucinating 5 year old hyped up on a couple liters of coffee...

And speaking of which, "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" is a great album closer, which calls back to the more conventional aspects of the first half of the record.

I've yet to mention the entire first side of the album, which challenges side B (filled entirely with "Halleluwah") as my favorite side on the album. "Paperhouse" and "Oh Yeah" are especially essential listening.

The key to enjoying this album is to stay with it. It's gotten better with each listen so far for me. It's nearly impossible to capture everything it offers initially. But patience has rewarded me one of the best krautrock albums I've ever heard.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Feelies - The Good Earth

The Good Earth just sounds good. The guitars shimmer like they're being played live, right in front of you. The drums are clean and precise. It's the sound of a band that's extremely comfortable, concise, and relaxed.

It has a very earthy and organic feel to it. It's a great road trip album. Great acoustic songs set to standard 4/4 time and somewhat campy vocals over the top.

Let's see, so far I've described this album as "good" and "earthy."

How original of me.

The Velvet Underground has often been mentioned as a huge influence to The Feelies, and I can affirm that sentiment. But it's not at all in a contrived or forced way. They still do their own thing. And they just have a coolness about them (albeit more in a nerdy sense than their predecessors) that emerges from their sound.

The first two songs serve as the perfect introduction as perhaps the most conservative and conventional of the group. But they're also two of the best.

"The Last Roundup" is set to a galloping pace, the guitars and drums drive in and out like a swerving car on a highway. It's a great contrast to the rest of the album.

"Slipping (Into Something)" is the most epic piece on the album. In VU fashion, they take a delicate and mid-tempo tune, speed it up, and turn it into a fast paced race to the finish as guitars strum and drums beat louder and faster. It may not be original, but it's executed to perfection.

"Tommorow Today" is nearly psychedelic. I don't know what effects they used to get that sound, but it's almost hypnotizing.

Basically, this is just a really good record to play when you feel like drifting away to a really comfortable place with no real concerns or worries. Comfort food at its finest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Beatles in Mono

Over the past few years I've come to really appreciate a lot of The Beatles work, especially their later output (save for Sgt. Pepper, which I still haven't really grown attached to). Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album, and Abbey Road are all great albums. When the box sets came out I debated which one to get, and almost went with the stereo intially. But really, the early albums don't make much sense with all the seperation (especially if listening in headphones), and since mono's the way they really meant their music to be heard up until their last few albums, I thought this would be the way to go.
First of all, the packaging is some of the best I've ever seen. The outer case is solid and inside are lp replicas, complete with the outer plastic protective sleeve and the inner sleeves (they give you two options - a sort of rice paper, transparent sleeve, and a paper sleeve...I think both are great and I'm torn on which ones to use). Even the cd labels are like the records themselves.
The sound is great so far. It does lack a little punch at times, and the sound isn't as full, but the clarity is defintely there. With ears so used to hearing in stereo, the mono at times can be a little dull, but I quickly get past it and appreciate hearing all the details.
This is also my first real exposure to their first five albums, which are all great even if they do rely a little too much on covers.
All in all this was a great purchase and one I'll have fun taking care of and listening to for years to come.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Top Albums of the 2000s: 9-1

So, I guess I did this wrong...isn't this supposed to be 10-1? Well whatever, but here are the last 9...

9. dredg - El Cielo

A concept album about, of all things, sleep paralysis. Even the liner notes are filled with letters from sufferers of the ailment. Few albums flow as well as this one, with instrumentals that aren't superfluous and ebbs and flows as the album progresses that make for a complete work. The vocals soar over the music and although the band may have a slightly harder edge to them than the vocals would typically call for, the contrast works great and both balance each other out.

8. Animal Collective - Feels

Animal Collective always have a sense of freedom and inhibition to them, but perhaps never so much as on Feels. It's much more organic than their progressively electronic direction since this album, and it really emphasizes their primal, adventurous nature. These aren't songs so much as they are just pure celebrations of life.

7. Portishead - Third

Imagine the Silver Apples, except add a lot more depth of songwriting and a haunting female vocal. Yep, perfection is acheived. Who knew these trip-hop pioneers had an album like this in them. It's haunting, bleak, and downright scary at times ("Machine Gun"). I feel like this album would be best listened to in a dark basement with one hanging lightbulb in the middle of the room. Yeah, I know, very cool.

6. The Cure - Bloodflowers

Most people look at this album as a late comback, an afterthought, merely The Cure turning back to their sound of their early 80's sound. They couldn't be more wrong. This is pure melancholy pop bliss. Sublime acoustic guitars, great build-ups, and superb melodies make this a truly unique album in their catalogue. Some also think this is just an album of Robert feeling old turning 39 as it came out (even one of the songs is titled "39"). But I don't care, it's amazingly gorgeous and their most underrated album by far.

5. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights

In concept, this album really shouldn't be that amazing. But man, when I put this on, the mood is just one-of-a-kind. I wish I could explain how it works so well, but try as I might, it's difficult. Let's just say that the planets aligned and what really should've been just another ok post punk album turned out to be an absolute classic. There are hooks, but it's not a "catchy" album. There are dance-type beats, but it isn't something to dance to. Every song is top-notch and they manage to create amazing songs back to back without repeating themselves. It has the perfect late night, haunting busy city mood, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

4. Deerhoof - Apple O'

This album makes me smile just thinking about how much fun it is. It's like a reckless, cacophonous barrage of crazily pounded drums, thrashed guitars, and a Japanese girl singing on top of it all, sometimes coo-ing, and sometimes singing like a crazed maniacal child. Their technical ability puts it all together so it's not just a random assortment of untalented losers having fun with instruments and yelling at microphones. Just like Animal Collective gives me a sense of adventure and fun, this album gets me loose and just allows me to have a pure fun time.

3. Radiohead - Kid A

Don't you just love those moments you will always remember as changing your perspective on music and art altogether? This was that moment for me. I was getting into Radiohead probably just a year before this came out, and liked them enough that I was excited for the release of Kid A. I bought it the day it came out and with the opening notes of "Everything in its Right Place" I was...I guess the words would be "confused" and "intrigued." It was so incredibly out of left field from what they'd done before, let alone anything else I'd ever heard from anyone. But something about it kept me coming back, as fascinated as a little child is with moving lights. I still think it's an incredibly fascinating album to this very day.

2. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica

This is one of those truly perfect albums. If you haven't read my review of it in this blog, go back for my reasons as to why this is one of my top 10 albums of all time.

1. Sigur Ros - ( )

This one's probably a headscratcher for most people. #1? Really? Yes, really.

For an album with words in a language nobody understands, this conveys so much emotionally. The atmosphere is stunning - I'd say it's the aural equivalent to starting down at the Grand Canyon (which I have done) or up at Mt. Everest (which I can only imagine).

It's really heavy - heavy in the sense that there are moments where you feel the weight of silence and pace as if it's nearly tangible. Really, "Untitled 5" conveys the feeling of floating in space or teetering off of the edge of a steep cliff with it's insanely slow tempo and somber mood. But then there's the moment in "Untitled 3" where the piano line goes up an octive and it's just beautful and peaceful. But if the rest of the album is stark and bleak, the last two tracks are the avalanche that brings it all down to a climactic end. "Untitled 8" ends with such force and magnitude that, if you'll excuse my cheesy hyperbole, it's nearly breathtaking. Incredble album.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top Albums of the 2000s: 19-10

19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

Though the impact of this album has worn off slightly over time, it's still one of the most powerful albums in terms of dynamics. Labeled post rock by most, I'd describe this as classical music with a rock influence, replacing melody with sheer force and volume. It could be music for the apocylipse.

18. Thrice - Vhiessu

I thought I'd largely written off post hardcore a long time ago as a generally adolescent genre full of petty anger and immature frustration, but this is one of the few exceptions. The power in this album is in its maturity, thoughtfulness, and illusions to Christian theology.

17. Joanna Newsom - Ys

This album is just pure fun to get lost in. It's classic Van Dyke Parks storytelling combined with a shrill female vocalist and a harp with orchestration around it all. Sound intriguing? Probably not. But you'd be the fool for not giving it a chance.

16. Radiohead - In Rainbows

This was a nice surprise after the really disappointing Hail to the Thief. For once, it almost seems as if Thom as become a little less gloomy, and though the music is hardly lighthearted, it is more relaxed and settled in. It doesn't stray too far from the electronic-rock they've been doing this decade, but it's just done really well with great songwriting. Nothing is done for show or for expiramentation, like I felt was the case for the aforementioned album. "All I Need" is their best song since 2000.

15. Elliott Smith - New Moon

Although these songs weren't recorded in the year of its release, let alone this decade, it still was released this decade so I'm counting it. These songs, supposed "throwaways" from his golden Either/Or period, are little less amazing than his album material. And a full two discs worth at that.

14. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

I think I've heard these gals labeled as the girl version of Fugazi. It's a pretty apt comparison. They share the same aesthetic of punk combined with straight out rock, progressive arrangements, and a powerful lead singer. I haven't heard many Sleater-Kinney albums, but if this isn't their peak I'd be highly surprised.

13. Antony & the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined loving music by a homosexual, operatic chamber-music type male singer. Stunning, I know. But the songs are so heartfelt, and his voice is so sincere, and the arrangements are so gorgeous, it would almost be more shameful to admit that you didn't have the heart to love this music.

12. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Besides having basically the coolest album title of all time, the reason this has turned into my favorite Yo La Tengo album is because of how great all the songs are despite being so diverse and the sheer quantity of them. From the raukus guitar jam opener, to the guiet ballads, to the garage-y rockers, to the nearly doo-wop-esque pop, they seem to do it all, but they do it all so well. This band is so incredibly underrated.

11. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

I was ultimately disappionted with Strawberry Jam. I could appreciate the direction they were going, but it didn't hold much for staying power. Their fun side seemed to have been replaced with maniacal craziness, which is fun for only so long. So I was surprised when this, their next album, had much more of a pop influence. And it works perfectly for who they are as musicians - carefree, fun, and unhibited. It was only natural for them to translate that into a largely pop album, and it makes for a really addictive set of songs.

10. PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

For some reason maturity is the golden word for this list, and it fits here, too. PJ used to be a raw, rough-edged rocker, but here she's a slightly more polished, sophisticated woman playing rock music. Even the album cover denotes such, with her looking so urban with her shades and handbag walking across a busy street. But her songwriting has matured as well, into some of the best songs she's ever written.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Top Albums of the 2000s: 29-20

29. Teenage Fanclub - Howdy!

Although the so-called "highs" of this album aren't quite as high as other TF albums, this is probably their most consistent outside of Songs From Northern Britain. There's a lot more maturity and subtlety to their songwriting, and it tends to be more of a grower for that reason. But the reward is there for those who stay with it.

28. Elliott Smith - Figure 8

Lots of people were turned off when Elliott discovered what a music studio was, but I think those complaints are largely overhyped. His songwriting is just as strong and the added production and instrumentation allowed for a lot more range in his music.

27. Radiohead - Amnesiac

At first I threw this album off, as many did, as a Kid A throwaway disc. While that's still maybe partly true, that doesn't prevent this from having its own merits. It's even more alienating, more submersive, and a very involved listening experience.

26. The Notwist - Neon Golden

I still think this album is ten times better than Give Up by the Postal Service. I don't know why I always compare the two in my mind, other than both are mostly electronic and pop in nature. This is much less a sunny album, while still having some really catchy melodies to go along with its atmospheric parts.

25. Fugazi - The Argument

Still not their best album (that title will forever belong to Repeater), this is a much more mature Fugazi. This is the sound of a very confident band, making a very confident record.

24. Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling

This is the biggest surprise for me in this list. Mogwai dropped off the map as far as I was concerned and I didn't pay much attention to them. By chance I gave this one a listen and it became my favorite of theirs. They rely less on the post-rock cliche of building crescendos and more on nuances and layers and variety.

23. Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse

Rarely do bands put out such an incredible record so late in their career. They meld noise, pop, and rock so seemlessly it's almost as if they can do this in their sleep. They are able to expand ideas throughout the album without being overbearing or boring.

22. Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out

This is such a hushed album it takes some patience and time to let it unfold and become interesting. It's an album no 17 year old would ever "get." It's about marriage, pain, patience, dancing, and all around growing up. Very much best listened to in the late evening in the dark.

21. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight

The best explanation I've seen or heard about this album, is that it's as if the band members were playing jenga with these songs, seeing how much they could take out while still keeping everything in tact. Almost like the Young Marble Giants, they take pop, simplify it as much as possible, and make some really addicting music.

20. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs

Unlike anything I'd ever heard before it, this album - and particularly one of my top 5 songs of the decade, the opener "Leaf House" - was an album that made me rethink things about music and what was possible. It's so weird to the average person, they'd think you were on crack for liking it. But it makes me feel so unhibited, and so free and happy because of the very fact that I not only can like it, and even love it, but that I very sincerely DO.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Top Albums of the 2000s - Albums 39-30

39. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

"It's going to be a beautiful day" is one of the lines sung over an almost triumphant chorus on "One Day Like This." Those familiar with Elbow's general aesthetic may find that line surprising, but their generally melancholy music finds some light on this album. Not enough to blind you, just enough to help you see your way through.

38. Scott Walker - The Drift

What a freaking creepy album this is. But that's the fun of it, to experience extreme emotions without any of the consequences of life experiences that would be required to duplicate these kinds of feelings.

37. Thom Yorke - The Eraser

I usually don't like when a singer or someone else from a group goes solo, but it works well here as Thom is able to show that he really is the creative force of Radiohead.

36. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

It's difficult to figure out where all of their influences have come from, but it's a unique combination. They put them all together as best as they have on this album.

35. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time

This album seemed pretty simple and like nothing special until I heard it a few times and instead of being bored with it, I became entranced in it.

34. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

The guy's got ambition. Not that he's actually going to make an album about all 50 states, but that his music is anything but simplified and stripped down. "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." is one of the best songs of the decade.

33. Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Spoon didn't hit their creative peak here, but it wasn't much of a letdown, either. I don't think these guys are capable of putting out a bad album.

32. Wilco - A Ghost is Born

My attitutude about this album has shifted more times than I can count, but I've finally settled into thinking it's very underrated. It has variety, it has the pop gems, it has krautrock, and it has mystique.

31. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus

This is the only Bad Seeds album I've ever been able to get into. There's a definite overtone of gospel influence, which would normally turn me off of anything, but not this.

30. Wilco - Yankee Foxtrot Hotel

Like the Arcade Fire, I don't give these guys as much credit as most other people, but once the album settles in it really does have one of the best middle runs of any album of the decade.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Top albums of the 2000s: Albums 50-40

This list will surely evolve as I hear more albums from this decade, but as of now this is what I've come up with.

This decade was an interesting decade - a decade where indie became mainstream, Justin Timberlake evolved from a boy-band pretty boy to critically acclaimed pop artist, and American Idol did a great job of killing everything that's good about music.

50. Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle

Before Sam Beam made the transition further and further away from his homegrown, 4-track, low key approach to making music, he made this excellent collection of quiet acoustic folk. His voice is almost whispered, and you can hear every guitar screech and every breath. An extremely relaxing, calming, and reassuring album.

49. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm

J. Mascis loves his guitar. It's always been by far the most prominant feature of his band, and nothing changes here. But here, he manages a feat that isn't easy - he grabs me with his guitar solos. I've never been one that's huge for guitar solos. And the songs are all solid. Kudos to these guys.

48. Caribou - Andorra

The first thing that caught me about this album was the cover. One of the best of the decade. But the music inside is great, too. A really great summery record of hazy pop.

47. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow

A record with songs so extremely catchy they make it seem a little too easy. It makes you wonder why you couldn't just wake up one day and write a record full of great songs.

46. The Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music

Over time I've become more and more open to country influenced music. This is further down the path but is full of addictive and uplifting songs.

45. Sunny Day Real Estate - The Rising Tide

The last and best album from this group.

44. Spoon - Girls Can Tell

I can still remember the excitement I felt as I discovered these guys virtually on my own and pressed play after buying the album with little expectation. It immediately brought a smile to my face and was exactly what I wanted at the time.

43. Massive Attack - 100th Window

A very underrated album, this is much more subversive than their prior albums. There's a sense of tranquility I get from these nearly hypnotic songs.

42. Reigning Sound - Too Much Guitar

Garage rock like it's the 1960's again. Some of the best throwback rock music of the decade.

41. Arcade Fire - Funeral

I never grasped onto this album as much as nearly everyone around me, but it is a solid album nonetheless.

40. The Shins - Oh, Inverted World

Just a great, warm sounding summery album. Every song is top notch and it flows extremely well as a cohesive unit. Did this album change YOUR life?

Friday, October 9, 2009

New list coming soon...

I'm working on a top albums of the 2000's list, look for the first installment to come in the next few days...

I'm so excited!!! And I hope you are too!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Talking Heads - Fear of Music


Brain Eno certainly had a lot of influence on many bands in the 80's, and his imprint on the Talking Heads is no different. Fear of Music is miles away from the punkish Talking Heads: 77, as evidenced by the opener "I Zimbra" - a tribal tinged jam.

There are a lot of nuances in this record that expand on the template the Heads had already established, such as Byrne's often matter-of-fact delivery almost hushed below the music (like when Byrne says "when the rays pass through" in "Paper"), or the razer sharp guitar that acts more as percussion ("Cities").

This record certainly has a broad range of styles. From African/tribal influence ("I Zimbra") to dance ("Life During Wartime") to paranoia ("Memories Can't Wait," "Animals").

My favorites on the album run in order to end a spectacular side 1 - "Cities," "Life During Wartime," and "Memories Can't Wait" - one of the best three song sequences they would ever put together.

But sadly, this record isn't without its bland moments, and side 2 has most of them. On "Air" the band merely plods along doing very little of anything interesting, and while this isn't always the end of the road for some groups whose singers can carry a song on his own, Byrne is such a monotone singer that unless the band is doing something interesting, there just isn't much to hang onto. "Electric Guitar" is equally as uninteresting with its predictable and pedestrian instrumentation and vocal delivery.

The highlight of side 2 - "Animals" - is a paranoid and jerky song with Byrne passionately and frenetically singing/shouting about, well...animals, and how they're "setting a bad example" and "making a fool of us." Rarely has Byrne truly abandoned his typical delivery and really made me believe he's experiencing any emotion whatsoever - even if only fabricated emotion.

"Drugs" closes the album on a subdued and sparse note. If I were to apply an image to this song, it'd be somebody going through a maze and trying different doors, with all its starts and stops. It's definitely the right way to end an album about fear and paranoia.

All in all, this isn't the most consistent Talking Heads album out there. But it's highlights are some of the best work they've ever done. Fear of Music is a definite progression for the band, and the highlights make up for the subpar material.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Smiths - Meat is Murder


The Smiths never really could do any wrong. I mean that. Everything they did, save maybe a song or two in their career, was pure gold to my ears. Meat is Murder is just another chapter in their illustrious career.

Johnny Marr is clearly the star of this album. His guitar shimmers, jingles, glides, twists and turns. His ideas are crisp and he executes them with precision. And I'll be like the 25 thousanth person to say that his guitar on "How Soon is Now?" is one of the most mesmorizing, gorgeous guitar parts of all time.

Morrissey's approach seems little more...I dunno...dry on Meat is Murder. The vocal melodies are there, but there's an undertone of sadness that seems more evident and palpable than on their debut. Even The Queen is Dead has moments of slight levity. Here he sounds kind of depressed in a rainy day in London sort of way (especially on one of my favorite songs, "Well I Wonder" - which is appropriate since it actually has rain sound effects towards the end). I mean, he's always had a sad streak going on, but he usually matches it with dry wit and humour to balance it out. Not so much here that I can tell.

Now, regarding the much maligned title track. Look, I don't care for the mooing cows much either, nor the overdramatic message, and nor will I ever become a vegetarian. But the song itself isn't as horrible as others make it out to be. It's a little....dramatic, sure. But I don't think it *quite* ruins the album. If anything, it just reinforces to me that this album is the one to take the most seriously as subject matter, I suppose. Even the song before it, "Barbarianism Begins at Home," has a "plodding with a purpose" sort of feel to it. Like it's travelling to a specific destination and nothing will stop it.

It's not usually the first Smiths album I pull out when I'm in the mood for Moz & co., but by no means does that mean it's not a dang good album.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs...First Impressions

So, I bought the new album, Popular Songs, last night on my way home from work. I'm listening to it for the first time right now and here are my intial first impressions:

- It's extremely quiet and subdued, much more than I expected
- It's a late evening/night album for sure
- They have continued their evolution, but it isn't as advanced as their last album in terms of variety and range of styles
- Ira and Georgia's vocals seem more...distant...? I dunno, they just sound a bit different on this album
- It slips into the background very easily
- It's probably going to be a grower (which is good if that's how it turns out)
- They still know how to close out an album better than anyone else around today

All in all, intially I'm a little disappointed, mainly because they set the bar high with I Am Not Afraid of You..., but it's a lot better than Sonic Youth's new output, that's for sure, just for sake of comparison. For as long as YLT has been around, they amaze me with how they continue to put out relevent albums and continue to evolve their sound in extremely interesting ways.


Ok, after another listen tonight, it's definitely opened up to my ears. There's more poppiness to it than I originally thought, and the subtleties are coming out more and more. I'm pretty sure it's going to get better with each listen. I like the added orchestration and various sounds they've encorporated. So far I'd say it's one of the best albums of the year.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Yo La Tengo Coming Soon!!!!

After the surprisingly good, and very awesomely titled "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass," Yo La Tengo comes at us again with a new album. I've only heard the one song so far, "Here to Fall," and I'm already excited to see what they've got to offer this time around. It comes out in 6 days and I'll be one of the first getting it in my hands.

Here's some Yo La Tengo trivia for all of you.

Have you at all wondered where their name comes from? I know when I first heard the name of their band I thought it was going to be some lame Spanish dance music with lots of horns or something.

Ira Kaplan is a huge baseball fan, and specifically a fan of the Mets, being that they're originally from Hoboken, NJ. In the 1962 season, Mets center fielder Richie Ashburn always found himself colliding with their Venezualen shortstop Elio Chacon. Richie was always yelling "I've got it! I've got it!" but Spanish speaking Elio never understood. Finally, Richie learned how to say it in Spanish, and started yelling out "Yo la tengo! Yo la tengo!" He found Elio backing off now that he understood. However, left fielder Frank Thomas didn't understand Spanish, and after colliding with Richie on one occasion, he asked him, "what's a yellow tango?"

Now you know where that seemingly random name comes from.

Slowdive - Souvlaki


Many consider this album as part of the great shoegaze triumverate, consisting of Loveless, Nowhere, and this. But, I think Souvlaki tends to lean quite a bit more toward the dream pop side of things. The swirling guitar fuzzed out effects you normally hear in shoegaze are here, but aren't as dominant and pronounced. Melody and vocals take more precedence instead. I'd compare these guys most to Galaxie 500. Slower in tempo and dreamlike.

"Alison" is one of my favorite album openers ever, and a great way to start out. "Souvlaki Space Station" is one monster of a track with its crazed out reverb effects, and serves as a nice mood piece in the middle of the album. "When the Sun Hits" is another highlight, and comes off especially well right off of "Souvlaki Space Station."

Aside from the three songs mentioned above, the rest of the album has a tendency to float together into one big mass. They get comfortable in a zone and rarely stray from it. Taken individually I'd probably appreciate these songs more. Let's just say that the 10th bite of a great steak is never as tasty as the first. Particularly, after "When the Sun Hits" ends the album seems to go into cruise control and I tend to really tune out and lose interest. "Altogether" and "Melon Yellow" add very little to the album and are very similar in tempo, mood, etc. By the time "Dagger" comes on I'm often itching for it to end so I can put on something else.

So, I'm a little torn. At its best, Souvlaki is breathtaking and sublime - some of the best dream pop you'll ever hear. I just really wish they'd pushed it further and really tried to break out of the rut they seemed to fall back on a little too often, because it just gets a little tiresome by the end.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Clash - London Calling

Boy, is that album cover ever decieving.
The way The Clash combine so-called "punk," white reggae, and rockabilly is pretty different and unique, I'll grant you that. But a horseradish and jelly sandwich is different and unique, too. Just don't expect to see me having one for lunch anytime soon.
There are some songs that I really don't mind. "London Calling" actually gets my hopes up every time I play the album because it makes me think the album has grown some balls since the last time I heard it. "Brand New Cadillac" doesn't do much to sway my hopes, either. And "Train in Vain" is a pretty good song, and ends the album on a good note. But in between it's all downhill from here. I absolutely cannot stand "Jimmy Jazz." "Rudie Can't Fail"," "Spanish Bombs," and especially "The Right Profile" all feature the most annoying vocals from one of my most dispised frontmen of all time, Joe Strummer, with his whiny croons and yelps. I mean, what on earth is happening to Joe at the 3:07 mark on "The Right Profile?" Somebody get the man some medical attention. Actually, nah, just let him suffer. Instead, get me a paper bag to puke in.
To top it off, it doesn't help that he has bright and cheery horns backing him up like he's some Las Vegas showman or something.
An album with "Wrong 'Em Boyo" is supposed to be a punk album? Are you kidding me?
To these ears, London Calling is nothing more than a really bad experiment gone awry.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Afghan Whigs - Black Love


Although I still consider “Gentlemen” to be the absolute Afghan Whigs classic, “Black Love” is the one album that makes me reconsider at times. A transitional album as the Whigs were starting to grow past their alt-rock roots and further incorporating soul into their blend of rock, it foreshadows where they would go on their follow up, “1965.”

Every song on here has all the marquees of classic Whigs material – angry rants of past relationships gone bad (“Blame, Etc.”); driving guitar rock (“My Enemy”); slow, crooning ballads of remorse and regret (“Crime Scene, Pt. 1,” “Step Into the Light”). Check, check, and check. But they also add different elements not heard before, such as violins, keyboards (they make a really funky, groovy appearance on “Going to Town”), and…an organ! Any alt-rock band that can successfully incorporate an organ (note to the Arcade Fire – “successfully” is the key word) gets an “A” in my book. Not too mention, they make extremely good use of the piano.

Ok, I must confess, I think it’s just a keyboard with an “organ” effect, but still!

I must say I’ve never found Dulli’s lyrics to be a strong point of the Whigs music. He uses over-dramatic metaphors (“come crucify my heart” – uh, ok Greg, it’s not THAT bad), and he uses the word “baby” about as liberally as a teenage girl uses the word “like.” We get it, already. You’re emotional about things.

The thing I’ve always found interesting about the Whigs work is how they often mesh bitter and angry lyrics with optimistic and high spirited music. They do this more than anywhere else on “Black Love.” I hear Greg’s rants and croons and screams, and ultimately come out thinking hey, this world is worth living in, despite all the crap that happens. There is no better example than the incredible closer, “Faded.” If there is a better Afghan Whigs song than this, I am not aware of it.

Ultimately, this is a very close runner up to “Gentleman,” and achieves a very nice blend of rock and soul.

I like it, baby.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

David Bowie - Low


This was the third Bowie album I bought, after Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. I put my headphones on and pressed play, and within about three songs in I was thinking, why isn't Low generally considered Bowie's best work? The songs were more streamlined and extremely catchy. Bowie doing euro-synth-pop just made sense.

That should have been my warning sign.

The albums I love on first listen nearly always lessen over time, and most of my most adored albums didn't really grab me initially. You see, the pattern is hardly ever broken.

From that first listen on, the album hasn't grabbed me as much. I do still love the first, poppy side, but the second - the atmospheric and instrumental side - seems like an afterthought of meddling and wandering atmospherics.

The other thing I've come to realize is that even the songs from the first half don't seem complete. It's frustrating to listen to the opening instrumental, "Speed of Life," and think of what Bowie could've done with that song if he'd added vocals and maybe expanded on it a little more. Instead, I feel like I'm listening to house music being played while waiting for the final act to come on stage.

When things do come together, they come together very well. "Breaking Glass," "Sound and Vision," and "Be My Wife" are prime examples of how well Bowie can pull off pop music (albeit with a little help from some guy named Eno).

If you split the album into two and reserved them for different listens, I'd probably give the second side more respect. As it is, the drastic change in direction is way to arbitrary and nonsensical and ultimately detracts from the album as a whole.

To me, this will always be Bowie's album of unfulfilled potential.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See a Darkness

This is the only Will Oldham album I own, but it's about all I need from him. I don't often feel the burning desire to put it on merely because it requires a very specific mood. I got it at a time in my life when things were kinda gloomy and I wanted an album to commiserate with. But although it's definitely a darker album, there's an element of detachment I feel when I hear it. Like I'm hearing someone else telling their sad story, but I'm the neutral listener just absorbing the story without feeling much of an emotional response. Even when Will sings "Death to Everyone," I feel like he's telling some sort of mythical story or old legend of some sort, rather than a sad, pity-seeking lament. Good thing, too, because it'd be way too dramatic otherwise.
That said, the "story," or album, is very much worth listening to, even if you're not down in the dumps. It has a very reflective, sad, and even mournful mood, but there's a ray of hope and light that strikes through it all. The perfect example of this would be the title track, where Will sings:
Oh, no, I see a darkness
Did you know how much I love you?
Is a hope that somehow you
Could save me from this darkness.
The overall highlight for me has to be "Nomadic Revery (All Around)," which has a climactic buildup with a very effectual peak.
I don't normally talk about production, but I have to here because the production on this album is sublime. Everything is so subtle and clean, and so crystal clear. The drums, his voice, the piano...everything sounds as if it's being played live right in front of you. And there's an excellent use of overdubbed vocals.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this album to anyone who likes the idea of darker singer-songwriter music with a hint of gothic gloomy storytelling (or something like that).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Red House Painters - Ocean Beach


Mark Kozelek has definitely made some downer music. But there is a calming and reassuring tone in his voice that always holds the music just above water. That said, Mark’s musical ship seems to have finally landed with Ocean Beach.

Dang, that came out wrong.

Let me try again.

What I mean by that, is I no longer feel like I’m drifting along aimlessly and hopelessly, with no urgency and no real end to look forward to, as I have in other of Mark’s work. That isn’t to say that Mark isn’t still a melancholy sap (I mean that in the best of ways, I promise). He is. But now he’s let the sun break through just a little on the music that serves as the backdrop for his soul-searching poetry. And I have to say, it’s more than refreshing.

The beats are a little more bouncy, the instrumentation a little more colorful, and the ideas a little more concise. And yet, the lyrics are still very sad and melancholy. The conflicting tones make for an interesting listen.

Take “Over My Head” for example. The beat is optimistic, the guitars gliding along in a beautiful melody, and here’s what Mark sings over it:

“Sometimes you get so alone without a friend. It’s hard to know who you are, and to pretend.”

You tend to stop happily bobbing your head at that point.

No, but really, this album manages to be both beautiful and sad, and I ultimately come out of it with a sense of warm appreciation for my life, friends, and everything I love in life. “Drop” is my all time favorite Red House Painters song, and it superbly ends what is, for my money, the best album Mark Kozelek has ever released.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sonic Youth - The Eternal


I love the band to death, and this is a good record, but man oh man are they in cruise control. It's all starting to sound the same to me and that's disappointing, although it was inevitable. I don't know what I'm missing because everybody else thinks this album rocks harder, but to me these songs may as well be from the Rather Ripped sessions. This is especially disappointing since they are now free from a major label's demands and could really branch out if they wanted to.

So, while this is a good record it's just way too redundant for me to get much from it. Always sad for this to happen to a band you love. But again, it was inevitable.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sam & Dave - The Best of Sam & Dave


Let's just get this out of the way right from the outset: Sam & Dave are the best soul artists I've ever heard. They're backed by the most groovin' n' rockin' studio band in history, Booker T. & The MGs, for the greatest ever soul label, Stax Records, home of other soul giants such as Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes.
The duo creates an exciting synergy that exudes an energy I've yet to hear in any other soul music. Their music is pure fun to listen to. Every song is like a celebration. It's everything soul should be. But more than that, it's missing the social commentary and dark themes that makes much of the other soul music that was being released at the time almost a drag for me to listen to.
The band is as loose as ever on these tracks. There's an ease and a flow that only comes from bands who are clicked right in with each other. The shuffle feel they get on "I Thank You" makes me wanna scoot my feet across the floor and the groove on "May I Baby" just makes me smile a mile wide. The horn playing in general, and especially on "You Don't Know What You Mean to Me," is exquisitely relaxed in certain parts and punchy in others. As someone who has played lead trumpet in several jazz bands in my life, I appreciate all that much more how much attitude and soul these guys are able to pour out of their instruments.
But as great as the MGs are, Sam & Dave make this music what it is. Their voices are strong and they use all sorts of different stylings, dynamics, and phrasings to emphasize the groove of the songs. And they play off of each other perfectly, never stepping on each others' shoes. A perfect tag-team effort.
Favorites besides the songs I've already mentioned include "Hold On! I'm Comin'," "You Don't Know Like I Know," "Soothe Me," and "A Place Nobody Can Find."
If you haven't checked these guys out, or only know them for their most popular song "Soul Man," as made popular from the movie Blues Brothers, please do yourself a favor and give your life some soul.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica


I love albums. You know, actual albums that aren't just a collection of songs. No, not concept albums. Just cohesive, whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts albums. Albums that take you places.

As far as those type of albums go, The Moon & Antarctica is perfect in every sense of the word. Each song builds off the one before it, and continues from the first song until the last. It even climaxes in the middle of the album, but doesn't disappoint through the end, either. I couldn't be more sincere when I say this is a genuine, masterful piece of art.

Isaac has always had a knack for writing good songs, but here it's focused in crystalline fashion. Before this album, the band was just jamming out tunes (and dang good ones, mind you), but here there was some serious work involved, I'm certain. I can just imagine the band in deep concentration and focus until 4 in the morning getting things right, adjusting things, perfecting things. Whether or not they didn't isn't important. What is important is that the final product makes it sound like they did.

Perhaps the moment where you realize this album is different is when "The Cold Part" begins. It's floating, but stark and chilly atmosphere is something you never heard from these guys before. It's the beginning of an absolutely epic middle third of the album, the part that glues the rest of the album together. It climaxes with "The Stars are Projectors," by far my favorite part of the album and by far the best song they ever wrote. I won't ruin it for you if you haven't heard it, just know that you need to give it a listen if you haven't before. It's a far cry from the "Float On" Modest Mouse you may be familiar with.

Things get much less atmospheric and abstract with "Wild Pack of Family Dogs," a simple diddy of acoustic guitar and accordian with Isaac musing over it all. It has that charm and simplicity Isaac pulls off so well. And it doesn't feel out of place at all after such a dramatic center part of the album. Just one example of how perfectly this album was constructed.

The last third of the album carries the album home without a single misstep. "Lives" is the most poignant of them all, with introspective lyrics about how it's difficult to remember that even if we could change ourselves to be anything, we'd probably be disappointed, so just take advantage of the life you have. The bridge gives me chills every time. "Life Like Weeds" is equally as good and leads to the outstanding and furious album closer, "What People are Made of."

I have literally only a handful of albums that I would take over The Moon & Antarctica. Not even OK Computer or Loveless top it. It shows a maturity of songwriting and album composition that's extremely rare and difficult to pull off so masterfully. I can't recommend it enough.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Maybe a little background would be appropriate...

Before I post the first of my reviews, maybe I should share some essentials about my taste and what I like to listen to.

25 of my favorite bands/artists:

1. The Cure
2. Sonic Youth
3. The Smiths
4. Radiohead
5. Sigur Ros
6. Teenage Fanclub
7. Jeff Buckley
8. Portishead
9. Animal Collective
10. Modest Mouse
11. Joy Division
12. Fugazi
13. R.E.M.
14. Yo La Tengo
15. Belle & Sebastian
16. Deerhoof
17. Talk Talk
18. Massive Attack
19. PJ Harvey
20. The Jayhawks
21. The Beatles
22. Elliott Smith
23. The Velvet Underground
24. Led Zeppelin
25. Sam & Dave

My top 35 albums:

1. The Cure - Disintegration
2. Jeff Buckley - Grace
3. Sigur Ros - ( )
4. Joy Division - Closer
5. Sigur Ros - Ágætis byrjun
6. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
7. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
8. Radiohead - OK Computer
9. Sonic Youth - Dirty
10. The Stooges - Fun House
11. The Cure - Faith
12. R.E.M. - Murmur
13. Slint - Spiderland
14. Antonin Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 Performed by the New York Philharmonic
15. Deerhoof - Apple O'
16. Radiohead - Kid A
17. Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime
18. The Cure - Pornography
19. The Cure - Seventeen Seconds
20. The Cure - Wish
21. The Cure - Bloodflowers
22. Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
23. Lilys - Eccsame the Photon Band
24. The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs
25. dredg - El Cielo
26. Fugazi - Repeater + 3 Songs
27. Portishead - Third
28. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
29. The Jesus & Mary Chain - Psychocandy
30. Massive Attack - Mezzanine
31. Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life
32. The Cure - Join the Dots: B-sides & Rarities
33. Animal Collective - Feels
34. Sam & Dave - The Best of Sam & Dave
35. Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Nothern Britain

And we're off!!!

So, anyone who knows me, knows that I love music. It's no secret. I might be borderline obsessive. If you don't believe me, just come into my home and take a look at my collection of nearly 500 albums.

I've always loved writing album reviews in my spare time just for fun. Recently, I've played around with the idea of posting reviews online for anyone who is interested. I'll probably also use this as a means of posting lists, interesting upcoming concerts, and other random tidbits.

Hopefully this can be a means of finding great new music for all who come and read the $0.02 I have to offer on these albums. goes nothing!