Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground


I love the John Cale VU. Their first two albums are great and have their place chiseled out in the history of rock music for good reason.

I just happen to love Cale-less VU even more.

I think experimentation and thinking outside the box and all that is great. It should be done much, much more nowadays. However, most don’t do it because, although the potential reward is much greater, the risk is also much greater. And musicians already take a huge risk by trying to make a living in music. VU was no exception as it turned out to be an unsuccessful approach in terms of sales and popularity. But, the payoff was huge for us, as it was a huge success in terms of inspiration and breaking new ground. I shudder to think of what music would be like today if it weren’t for these guys.

All that said, I may be contradicting myself a bit by saying that stripping the mighty Velvet Underground of its eccentric, mad genius was exactly the best thing for VU, as it allowed the beauty of Lou’s songwriting and singing to shine through unimpeded. Although it hurts to say it, this is an excellent example of addition by subtraction. I think we all knew Lou had it in him to pen such simple, gorgeous songs as “Candy Says” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” and now he actually could. And how refreshing it is just to hear them jam out simple, rockin’ songs as they do so well on “What Goes On” and “Beginning to See the Light.”

Then there’s the really underrated song of the album, the mid-tempo, slow-building “I’m Set Free.” I get chills when the song culminates to its chorus and they all harmonize “I’m Set Free!” It’s like the sober little brother of “Heroin.” Just awesome stuff.

Ok, so I can’t escape this review without addressing the most controversial song on the album, “The Murder Mystery.” While it’s really quite a fascinating experiment on wordplay, studio trickery, and sound collages, it just doesn’t belong on this album. It comes out of nowhere and takes nearly 9 minutes away from the tone that was established so perfectly on the previous eight songs. I rate this album as I as I do despite it, not because of it. It’s the one flaw that brings it down from perfection, and it’s a shame that they had to include it. It would have been much better released on another album, or as a b-side.

Fortunately, Mo brings the album back to earth with the quaint, innocent acoustic sing-a-long song, “After Hours,” appropriately closing the door on the best thing The Velvet Underground ever did.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


So we all know the biggest issue of the last decade in music, in terms of how it's released and distributed, has been the issue of downloading. Now, I'm not about to go into a lecture one way or another to say it's right or it isn't, but allow me to just say that becoming open to it has, well, opened up a few doors to music I wouldn't have otherwise heard.

Recently I downloaded two albums that are out of print and are either costly to acquire, or flat out impossible. I've always wanted to hear the most praised My Bloody Valentine EP, You Made Me Realise, as well as Live '77, a live bootleg from a very obscure Japanese noise-rock band (but highly praised in certain circles) Les Rallizes Denudes (who never released any proper albums). So now, after wanting to hear these albums for so long, with minimal effort, here they are sitting in my collection. Should've done this years ago, to be honest. I don't know what was stopping me other than I've always been VERY anal about wanting the physical copy of any music I truly want to hear and own (I know, I know, you can stop rolling your eyes at my absurdity now).

I don't plan on going on a downloading spree and just acquiring everything under the sun, new releases, etc. because I still am very much a "purist," and love expanding my physical collection. But being more open to the idea will allow me to hear a lot of great music I never would've heard otherwise.

I'm late to the party (way beyond fashionably late, too), but at least I came, right?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Massive Attack - Blue Lines


This album and I didn't get off to a great start. My introduction to Massive Attack was the spectacular and timeless Mezzanine. It instantly became one of my favorite albums ever. Then, later I decided to backtrack and check out the equally praised Blue Lines.

What I heard disappointed me. It sounded firmly planted in the 90's with it's production style, vocals, and overall general vibe. It didn't have the lush atmosphere and deep, brooding vibe of the aforementioned Mezzanine. Nothing really seemed to build or expand. It was just a bunch of songs with decent grooves and dated effects. I barely wanted to hear it for a second time.

As I've given this more and more chances, I've come to appreciate the warm soul that this album exudes. It's an album to just chill to, not really put your full attention to necessarily.

If I can find a way to get past the dated sound, there are actually some pretty good grooves and soulful vocals. I do tend to cringe a little when I hear that extremely contrived and repetitive rap phrasing such as in the title track. I find the key to enjoying this album is to not take it too seriously.

But really, it just depends on my mood. If I can stomach this album, I quite enjoy it. Right now, as I review this album, it leaves me a little cold and it just really doesn't do a whole lot for me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Beck - Sea Change


Beck really goes all over the place musically, doesn't he? I don't know about you, but of all the directions he's taken throughout his career, I was most surprised when he went the direction of downtrodden, lonely singer/songwriter. Perhaps not nearly as surprised, however, as when I discovered this is Beck at his best.
The restraint really suits his voice and persona quite well. I could only halfway buy into him when he was dancing around singing about "Sexxx Laws," but here on Sea Change I can really feel he's in the zone.
I'm really most impressed with the songwriting and overall use of various instruments, including a quite prominent string section. The strings add almost a theatrical-ish element without taking away from the intimate feelings of the songs.
While the album is definitely more on the downside of things, it's not exactly depressing like, say, Elliott Smith is. Instead it's more slanted towards being apathetic, no better exemplified than by the third track, with the very straightforward title "Guess I'm Doing Fine." Because of the somewhat lighter feeling of reluctant acceptance, this album is more relaxing and even calming than other released by other artists along this same vein.
Maybe another reason this album is relaxing is because Beck himself sounds a little worn out. He even states that he's "tired of fighting, tired of fighting for a lost cause." He sounds beaten and defeated. But somehow still, I find comfort in those words instead of worry or pain.
Not only is Beck in top form musically on Sea Change, lyrically he's at his most poetic and profound. He certainly sets the tone on the opener "Golden Age" with "These days I barely get by, I don't even try." And on "End of the Day" he profoundly points out that "You owe nothing to the past but wasted time, to serve a sentence that was only in your mind." I worry sometimes how guilty I am of this, but at least I'm not alone. Many more lyrical gems are scattered throughout in every single track.
Many times Beck evokes Nick Drake on this album. I know it's blasphemous to say this, but I really would put this on the same level as much of his work, save for maybe Pink Moon.