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.