2006 Music Reviews
Ambulance LTD, New English EP [EP] (2006) B-
Nice hearing "Heavy Lifting" in an early, less glossed version (it's still haunting), and their B-sides sound better than the LP they released a little while ago.
Animal Collective, Feels (2005) B-
It's refreshing that they haven't given in to (assumed) pressures to make the music more accessible, although that can sometimes be to the detriment of the album as a whole ("Bees" and "Daffy Duck" are murder to get through). "Grass" is an addictive song; "Loch Raven" is a lot like Seefeel.
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (2005; Retail) A
I'm not even going to bother with the whole "is the Jon Brion version better than the retail one?" because no matter how you look at it, "Extraordinary Machine" is the best album of 2005. Even Sasha Frere-Jones was impressed with it, and that guy knows what he's talking about, unlike fanboy me with my Fiona posters and Fiona t-shirt and breathless adoration (I heart waifs - you hear what I'm saying, Alicia?).
Arab Strap, The New Romance (2005) C+
I like Arab Strap, but this just isn't distinguished enough from, oh, all their other albums, like "The Red Thread" or "Monday at the Hug and Pint" to make me feel anything but apathetic. I have this same reaction to recent works by Stereolab and (to a degree) Sleater-Kinney: they've proven to be so consistent over the years, I can't 'hear' them developing or changing gears or trying new things ... though it wouldn't be Arab Strap without a truly astounding closing track ("There Is No Ending").
Architecture in Helsinki, Fingers Crossed (2003) D
Cutesy-pie twinkling-stars pop mush, and precisely the kind of stuff they'll play in elevators in the future, that is if we still have elevators, those elevators play music and we're all still here on Earth. Or, if not elevators, it'll be playing innocuously overhead while we pick out deck chairs in Ikea.
Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006) B-
Rambunctious full-length debut by the highly-touted U.K. outfit - they sold out venues with a 5-minute drop-in-the-bucket, so I can only imagine what this LP will do for their popularity. The songwriting isn't quite as good as Bloc Party or Franz Ferdinand - who they'll inevitably be compared to - but the youthful spunkiness (especially on the miraculous "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor") shines through. If you should have the opportunity to see them live - where they really stand out - do so.
Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll (2005) B+
Derivative but bouncy post-punk that goes the self-confessional route, with lead Eddie Argos talking about the band itself, whiskey dick and an old crush named Emily K. (and even, God forbid, a move to Hell-On-Earth Los Angeles). The band name suggests a lack of musical ability, but don't be fooled: they know what they're going for, and they're good at it.
Babyshambles, Down in Albion (2005) C-
They don't know when to quit, have one of the worst band names in music (Swift reference or not) and actually had the gall to include a terrible reggae track in the middle of the album ("Pentonville"), but anyone that could pull off the crass "Fuck Forever" and make it sound sincere can't be worth that much contempt. Most substantial artistic accomplishment in the whole work: the photos by Hedi Slimane in the booklet.
Band of Horses, Everything All the Time (2006) C-
"The First Song" is a fine opening track - with a killer guitar hook - but the rest is less inspired, from the faux country "I Go to the Barn Because ..." to the traipse-through-the-daisies "Part One," which sounds like a mediocre Chan Marshall song.
Basement Jaxx, Crazy Itch Radio (2006) D+
Same thing happened to them that happened to Röyksopp (and Daft Punk): they slipped into mediocrity. I blame the remix work for 'popular artists,' myself - spend enough time with 'Tara Reid' and you become 'Tara Reid.'
Beastie Boys, To the 5 Boroughs (2004) C-
I really didn't like "Hello Nasty" and am only slightly more impressed with this, which starts off with the addictive "Ch-Check It Out" (the video is a must-see) but then loses its appeal with stale lyrics (two low points: "Hey F*?# You" and "Oh Word?") and beats from the mid-80's. The 9/11 and anti-Bush preaching made the Rolling Stone editors swoon, but it doesn't work for me.
The Beatles, Revolver (1966) B+
Don't care for "Love You To" or "Doctor Robert" or "Tomorrow Never Knows." Also, I was disappointed to find out "Got To Get You Into My Life" is about scoring weed (damn it, Paul, you need to stop "explaining" things). Everything else is remarkable.
Beck, The Information (2006) C+
I was thinking: maybe Beck's penchant for weirdness is not out of in-born ability, but rather the influence of Scientology? Maybe he wasn't kissed by the Gods of Music ... maybe it was Xenu's wet lips that were behind the weird! Personal criticism aside, the best thing on this is the trippy 10-minute final track (with multiple movements), which really shows Beck in experimental mode; otherwise, it sounds like a neutered "Odelay" produced by Nigel Godrich.
Beirut, Gulag Orkestar (2006) B
A twenty-year-old American from New Mexico decides to make gypsy music ... and why the hell not? When I first heard this, I was actually convinced I was listening to the soundtrack to an Emir Kusturica film. Is it a novelty? Technically yes, but that doesn't make it any less meaningful.
Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (2006) D
Quick! Think fast! When was the last time this glorified elevator music mattered? Keep your guitars and your coffee shops: I've graduated to bars and cramped automobiles. Isn't the life pursuit really self-improvement? Follow thy own advice, tenacious Scots....
Be Your Own Pet, Be Your Own Pet (2006) B+
Yes, this is kind of a teen take on "Fever to Tell" (before those teens actually get involved with real drugs and real hoodlums), and Jemina does sound like a young Karen O, but the real truth is that the quality of the band belongs to the split-second timing of the three boys behind her playing post-punk with every pore in their greasy skin. Don't tell Her Highness that, though. (My favorite lines: "Have fun / and be safe with it / just kidding / fuck shit up" on "Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle." I couldn't agree more.)
The Black Angels, Passover (2006) C+
Droning vocals sneak in through fuzzy guitars that sound like they were tuned by the Jesus and Mary Chain. While it's perhaps a tad too hollow for my tastes - the 'hidden track,' which is about Iraq, should probably go - the band does show a healthy amount of vitality.
Black Dice, Broken Ear Record (2005) C
Avant-garde electronica isn't exactly easy listening in the first place, so it helps if there's a concept to cling to or some kind of looping structure to please the auditory centers, but it's as if after "Creature Comforts" they sought to make themselves even less approachable. That's their decision, of course, but then I'll counter with the fact that I'm trying to do small scale music criticism here, not art criticism ... and as music, I'm not exactly blown away.
Black Eyed Peas, Monkey Business (2005) D-
Three tip-offs this is horrible: (1.) It starts with the Peas rapping over Dick Dale (2.) Justin Timberlake is allowed in the proverbial building and (3.) it has song called "My Humps" on it (hey, what else can you think of that rhymes with "my lady lumps?").
The Blood Brothers, Young Machetes (2006) B-
Hooo boy, screaming. It's taken me a couple of listens to get my mind around this post-punk jumble - it's sloppy, but impassioned and feverish, as if the desire to make music overwhelmed any interest to make it accessible. Not for all, but worth a chance for the adventurous.
Haley Bonar, Lure the Fox (2006) D
Bland, near monotone nasal slow pop - I'd say she could probably do it in her sleep, if I wasn't so unsure as to whether or not that's exactly what happened.
Booker T. & The M.G.'s, Green Onions (1962) C+
I like "Green Onions" well enough (and the "Mo' Onions" track could be considered a remix) but find myself less pleased by the remaining cuts (not to mention the mediocre Ray Charles cover).
Boris, Pink (2005) B-
All right, I'll admit that I kinda like this Japanoisexplosion if all those drooling over this will admit they're just suffering from an emo-induced hangover and forgot what it meant to turn the amps up and yell was all about.
Boyskout, School of Etiquette (2004) D-
Mopey dames with guitars and synthesizers get mary-chained into one obnoxious, poorly-played-out package. They don't have the talent to carry Le Tigre's tampons.
Built to Spill, There's Nothing Wrong With Love (1994) B+
Spirited and quirky, they keep things on a fairly even keel, balancing the eccentrics (the heavy "Some") with the serene. Doug Martsch's crackling voice takes some getting used to, and the band isn't immediately accessible, but I think this particular disc is worth revisiting.
Built to Spill, You in Reverse (2006) C-
Will probably play better for the Phish crowd who like songs that meander and don't exactly end up any place, or any listener determined to take a long saunter when a brisk run would be harmless and recommended. There's nothing astronomically wrong with this, but I get the feeling it's so very technical, if you catch what I mean: the careful production, the steady progression, it all seems so set and frankly unexciting. It could be that I've been listening to too much power pop of late, but I doubt it....
By Divine Right, Sweet Confusion (2004) D-
Painfully moronic rock and roll from a bunch of dopes who like to go on stage and make themselves seen and heard and have figured out how to play their instruments like everyone else, but never got around to coming up with something worth saying. Sample the stupid (from "City City"): "I'm not supposed to tell / Got to sound the bell / Get you outta ya shell."
Cage, Hell's Winter (2005) C+
A mixed affair, I think. I've said before (in other places) that the cinema should not be a personal therapy session, I don't think music should either (and it's clear Cage has a lot of demons to battle), but at least he takes care of most of the tracks himself (with the help of El-P) because the track with Jello Biafra and DJ Shadow is just plain bad.
John Cale, Vintage Violence (1970) B+
The man certainly knows how to put an album together. Like the album "Paris 1919," this is just a solid collection of rock and roll all the way from the bar-room fun of "Hello, There" to the lovely "Amsterdam."
Calexico, Garden Ruin (2006) D
Pretentious mixture of part indie, part country music - you'd think with such a low-key delivery he'd have something special and private to tell you, but what he actually has to tell you is what he learned from other songs.
Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006) B-
I could have done without the overdone "Country Mile" and a lot of this sounds the same as the previous album and the album before that (translation: they are what they are) ... but when you've got jangly-pop down this well - where others flub it so terribly - why ask for change? Side note: I wonder if they came up with the album title (and accompanying song) from when they were last in Philadelphia. The Illadelph can be a scary place....
Cat Power, The Greatest (2006) C
Gets more whiskey-stained and down home than Chan's usually willing to go, so if John Cougar Mellencamp and Bonnie Raitt ever need someone to tour with, she's got her guitar packed. I liked her a little better when she was doing mostly covers of Oasis and Phil Phillips & the Twilights, but that's just me.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004) B
Cave's one of the veterans of rock music, too eccentric to slip into the American mainstream like the Rolling Stones, but he's still got the talent - and gumption - to forge a double album, with disc two acting as a retelling of the Orpheus myth (and here I thought only Cocteau was into that sort of thing).
The Clash, The Clash [UK Version] (1977) B-
Wore out its welcome for me faster than it should (or at least I thought it would) - it's not "London Calling," though few albums are - but songs like "Police & Thieves" (my favorite on this disc), "London's Burning" and "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." are indispensible.
The Clash, London Calling (1979) A
Everyone and his fucking brother thinks this is one of the greatest rock albums ever made. I am not inclined to disagree. My personal favorite: "The Right Profile" (it's about Montgomery Clift, honey).
Jarvis Cocker, Jarvis (2006) B+
Jarvis sans the rest of Pulp still gives off the same feeling of desperation and intelligence - his songwriting craft comes through in "Black Magic," the tongue-in-cheek "Fat Children" and the Pulpesque "Tonite." I hope Jarv got this out of your system finally - now he needs to take Candida, Mackey, Webber and Banks out to dinner and cover the bar tab, because that's one impressive musical team.
Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man (1988) C+
The synthpop production sounds just terrible today, but that doesn't mean Mr. Cohen has less to say - it just makes it more awkward to listen to. "Everybody Knows" is amazing and so is "Tower of Song."
Cold War Kids, The Mulberry Street EP (2005) D
The lead singer of The Walkmen has a secret side job no one knew about - while he's busy squawking, there are some noodleheads playing obnoxiously bad Brian Jonestown Massacre riffs in the background. The photo project is a little pretentious: sorry, mates.
Cold War Kids, With Our Wallets Full [EP] (2006) C
Better than the "Mulberry Street" EP but still not as confident as the "Up In Rags" album released shortly thereafter - he's still doing the Chris Cornell thing, veering in between speaking and screaming (somebody lower his mic volume ... please).
Cold War Kids, Up in Rags [EP] (2006) A-
When I heard "Hang Me Up to Dry," "Hospital Beds" and "We Used to Vacation" live, I was impressed, but on record they're even better to the point where I'd consider them three of my favorite songs of the year. The improvement over "The Mulberry Street" EP is noticeable, but the fact that they changed some of these tracks for their LP (for the worse!) is a little puzzling. I'll stick with this short and sweet disc, thanks.
Comets on Fire, Avatar (2006) B-
I'm going to come right out and say I don't think they can sustain the required creative flow for their extended (7-8 minute) songs, but it's admirable that they try. There are sections in this that are exceptional, only to give way to mediocrity less than half a minute away.
The Concretes, In Colour (2006) D
Camera Obscura does the same thing, only so much better (is there a stimulant available on the market strong enough to wake up lead singer Victoria Bergsman?). It's telling that my two favorite tracks by this band are (1.) their cover of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and (2.) the Avalanches' remix of "Chico" ... and neither is on this disc.
Cornelius, Sensuous (2006) C+
Spotty release by Cornelius - his remixes give him a stable foundation to build his eccentric sound pieces on top of, but when he's alone these last few albums have slipped into cut-and-paste beeps and boops and vocal loops. It isn't bad at all if you're up for Oyamada-san playing with ProTools.
Cranes, Particles & Waves (2004) D+
The music itself is slow and pretty, that is until they start in with the hideous keyboards and let the 12-year-old girl that acts as their lead singer out of her cage.
Crooked Fingers, Red Devil Dawn (2003) C
I don't recall Tom Waits needing or wanting a replacement, but at least he has people in line, waiting. Gets too embellished with the strings and power ballads, but it is earnest, which counts for a little.
DangerDoom, Occult Hymn [EP] (2006) B-
Funny sampler from the Cartoon Network, Danger Mouse and MF Doom that sounds like a bonus disc to the "Madvillainy" album. Best part: there's no Meeeatttwaddddd there (thank you, Master Shake).
The Damnwells, Bastards of the Beat (2003) C
Like Collective Soul without the soul or spirituality, they don't have the nerve to keep the same tone as their first (very short) song, "Assholes," running towards the safety of self-pity and girl-beckoning and audience/MTV friendliness.
Damone, Out Here All Night (2006) F
Wolfmother : Led Zeppelin :: Damone : Poison. (This is not a compliment for Wolfmother, either.)
Death from Above 1979, You're a Woman, I'm a Machine (2004) B
I don't know about you, but the very screech of those screeching guitar-like sounds at the very beginning of "Romantic Rights" and "Going Steady" are precisely my idea of what metal should sound like (even though this is certainly far from "metal"): heavy, abrasive and confrontational. The album itself isn't bad, aside from some unfortunate sagging in the middle; it does help itself out with a strong closer ("Sexy Results"). Too bad mad duo Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger decided to end this project; the MSTRKRFT stuff is decent but not very memorable.
The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (2006) F
Nice to know some things never change: the Middle East is still a mess, U.S. Foreign Policy draws ire from 99% of the civilized world and the Decemberists fail to write a record that sounds any different from their previous one. This is certainly not a band we need epic 12-minute songs from. Thanks for nothing! Hang your head low!
Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (2006) C+
Emotive and personal, but I miss the baroque-pop nature of "Your Blues" with the sweeping violins and MIDI sounds. Bejar's voice - and tendency to embellish - is the only unique thing about this.
Dirty Pretty Things, Waterloo to Anywhere (2006) D+
Pete Doherty or no Pete Doherty, these guys sound like every other similarly-grouped act released in the last three years. Look, I didn't like the Libertines or Babyshambles discs either, but at least every song didn't sound the damned same.
DJ Shadow, The Outsider (2006) D
Phonte Coleman's number is fun (gotta stop with them MySpace hoes!), but I have this nagging suspicion that Shadow's best days are behind him - he's no longer the pastiche-master of music, disc jockey supreme, but out to make another mediocre hip-hop album. When did you lose your soul, Mr. Davis?
Drudkh, Blood in Our Wells (2006) C
Entirely too indulgent and bloated for me to find anything of merit, but I know at least four or five people that will love this. Isis fans will undoubtedly react strongly to it.
Dub Trio, Exploring the Dangers of (2004) B
Outstanding musicianship is on display here as three guys from New York City make dub music good enough to make me think of not just King Tubby but Mad Professor and Lee Perry.
The Duke Spirit, Cuts Across the Land (2005) C+
Liela Moss' voice is husky and seductive - it reminds me of Nico's, but her backing band isn't the Velvet Underground. Only portion of their songs make a lasting impression ("Win Your Love," "Hello to the Floor" and "Lion Rip") since the basic idea behind many of the songs is to repeat the same two or three lines over guitar noise.
Bob Dylan, Modern Times (2006) B+
I'm not going to fall into the trap of calling this 'groundbreaking' or anything like that - it's just Bob, solid as ever. It's a good record. Sometimes he sounds like Bo Diddley. Most of the times I get the impression he'd rather sing about a girl than politics, knowing he has a better chance of changing the girl. I like that.
Eagles of Death Metal, Death by Sexy (2006) D+
Dumb rock fun and they know it: in interviews and TV spots they always seem to be poking fun of themselves and their song lyrics reflect that same half-jokey attitude ("Oh doggie / where's your bone"). Trouble is, it's hard to be genuinely funny or all that interesting as a band if you're this self-conscious (also see: Electric Six).
Ezee Tiger, Ezee Tiger (2005) B
Hyperkinetic one-man outfit, playing everything but spoons, thrashing and making an overblown ruckus ... that is, when he isn't on the organ or just creating gurgling noises. I can only imagine what this looks like live, with all those instruments strewn about the stage. Wild.
Figurines, Skeleton (2006) C
Disarmed me with its aching and simple opening track - a piano, a cracking voice and some anguish - before turning into a band that sounds eerily familiar to Modest Mouse, only without the hooks or cleverness.
Fine Young Cannibals, The Raw & the Cooked (1989) A
Their album title comes from Levi-Strauss but has nothing to do with anthropology; their band name comes from a Natalie Wood film about Chet Baker, but their sound is more pop than jazz. These discrepancies aside, this was one of my favorite albums as a kid, and now as an "adult" (quotations needed) I can admit that junior Matt had decent taste. The first three songs are drop-dead excellent, especially "I'm Not the Man I Used to Be," which a pre-teen couldn't wrap his mind around ... but a twentysomething can. Roland Gift's voice is one of the oddest in music, and I mean that in a good way, not a Captain Beefheart way.
The Flaming Lips, At War with the Mystics (2006) D+
Before when they were being weird they were making great songs to go along with the front, but there aren't any jaw dropping tracks on this paperweight, repeating the "We're all going to die" mantra from "Yoshimi," overstaying its welcome with "It Overtakes Me..." and trying to squeeze a single out of "Mr. Ambulance Driver." The Who did rock operas. These guys should not do rock operas.
French Kicks, Two Thousand (2006) B-
I don't hear much of a progression from "One Time Bells" or "The Trial of the Century," but I still like the delicate guitars and sing-songy melodies. Demands another listen, just not right now....
The Futureheads, News and Tributes (2006) C
Kicks into gear with the last two tracks, because that's when the caffeine finally kicks in (I especially like the Beach Boys-esque "Thursday" and the stomping Franz Ferdinandian "Face") ... but with so many excellent bands coming out of the UK with their own blend of post-punk, why suffer these thoroughly mediocre lads gladly?
Charlotte Gainsbourg, 5:55 (2006) C
Charlotte's voice - though sexy as hell when she's simply speaking - doesn't lend much to the songs with her team of Super Collaborators (Air, Jarvis, The Divine Comedy). The backing music sounds like Air, and the lyrics read like Cocker, but the result is resoundingly neutral. Gainsbourg's limited vocal range is a major hindrance.
Marvin Gaye, What's Going On (1971) A
One of the most life-affirming and beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard ... and by all accounts, Gaye was battling his own demons while he was putting it together. It's nine songs of elegant mastery.
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (2006) C
More objectifying women, more violence, more bad jokes ("Heart Street Directions" and all those dumbass skits) ... hold on, people are actually calling this a masterpiece? Like, "It Takes a Nation of Millions..." masterpiece? No, "Ironman" is his exceptional album - I have a cassette copy in my car that gets steady play - and I expect more from an album than crisp production work and countless contributors.
Giant Drag, Hearts and Unicorns (2005) B+
Quite the stunner of a debut with its addictively fuzzy guitarwork (which sounds a lot like My Bloody Valentine, hence the "Kevin [Shields] Is Gay" opener) and tongue-in-cheek delivery by lead singer Annie (the interviews with her are hilarious - she's prone to going way off-topic, talking about three-ways and Kirsten Dunst's teeth). "I don't know what's going on between those two," commented an acquaintance about the relationship between the two prime members - but like Jack and Meg White, if they can keep it up, they'll prove to be a formidable two-some.
Goldfrapp, Supernature (2005) B-
Sometimes she sounds like someone trapped in the 70's and is hustlin' at 54, other times she sounds like she's making bland little MIDI files for the Internet. You know what? I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Regarding "Ride a White Horse": Get this chick more coke right freakin' now.
Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom, Days of Mars (2005) D
I don't know if anyone remembers or not, but Vangelis already did a pretty serviceable score for Blade Runner way back in the early 80's.
Gorillaz, Gorillaz (2001) C-
I can get behind the "virtual band" concept (although the "band members" are all real people; these aren't machines writing and playing their own tracks) and creative artwork/animation by Jamie Hewlett but the music itself is another thing, with loads of repetitive filler in between two really good songs ("Clint Eastwood," "19-2000").
Gotan Project, Lunático (2006) D+
I hate to break it to you, but adding digitized beats to basic tango is not revolutionary, folks. This is supposed to make me want to dance like a lunatic, but the music acts like a weight tied to my ankles and prevents me from even shuffling over to the CD player to stop it.
Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere (2006) C-
Mostly tossed-off tracks with some heavy production work; the one excellent melding of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo's styles comes in "Crazy," which is one of the most heavily-played 2006 Summer Singles, and rightly so. The rest: only so-so.
Grizzly Bear, Yellow House (2006) C
Yes, friends, it's another Critical Darling creating another puzzled reaction in yours truly. It's basically an off-shoot of Animal Collective, only more intimate rather than cerebral and less experimental and challenging.
Gun Club, Fire of Love (1981) A-
Scott W. Black has said this is one of his favorite albums. Scott W. Black has excellent taste. Sounds like Flipper meets the Velvet Underground - a love record about guys that would rather stalk the girls they fancy by peering in their windows or calling and hanging up than sending flowers or poems.
The Helio Sequence, Love and Distance (2004) C
It's not so much that I can hear the sound of ProTools loading on the hard drive, but I can't hear the heart: it's one thing to use technology to make better music, but another to make music that sounds like it was processed front-to-back by a machine. I can get behind the dizzy pop fantasia of "Don't Look Away" and "S.O.S." - the hooks sell them - but when it's just straightforward sonic swooshes and synths, they're a step below.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland (1968) B
Yeah. I know. Look: I just don't care for this kind of ... indulgent random jam-type stuff, where Jimi shows off his prodigious chops. I'm really, really in the minority on this one, preferring the relatively straight forward "Are You Experienced?" although I confess this must have been a blast seeing him noodle with the guitar live on stage. I'll have to settle for "Woodstock" and "Monterey Pop."
Herbert, Scale (2006) C
Sounds like it was put together by someone best known for his work as a producer (and yes, I do mean that as an insult). It's glossy, elaborate, technically precise but hollow.
The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (2006) C+
Came across as garbled to me for the first few tracks, that is until it got to "Party Pit" and the phrase "Gonna walk around and drink some more" and I 'got' the (rather obvious, rather condescending) message (I mean duh, it's right there in the title). It's still staggering to me that the last people who are critical of the boys and girls in America are the boys and girls in America. And their parents.
Holly Golightly, Truly She Is None Other (2003) D
Capote's heroine sure gets around: first prostitute, then marriage material, now boorish British indie singer!
Hominy, Hominy (1998) D-
It's Amateur Night at the local Drinking Dive, there's vomit, Bud Light and sawdust on your Bruno Maglis and the band on-stage looks like they've seen a thousand bad miles. Do you run for the door or do you use the broken Yuengling bottle next to your torn shirt to slit your throat?
Hood, Cold House (2001) C-
They can't make the Matmos-esque clicks and beeps sound like anything more than random samples haphazardly clicked-and-pasted into the tracks; they can't make vocals sound haunting like the boys in cLOUDDEAD could. What can they do?
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness [EP] (2003) B
Just as dreamy as their debut LP in 2006 - the guitars intertwine beautifully, and the melancholy never becomes oppressive.
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, Fear Is On Our Side (2006) B
They make no mistake about being raised on the moody bands everyone associates with "being moody" (no use dragging names out at this stage in the game - hell, they embrace it: they've already played with Echo & the Bunnymen for heaven's sake), but being inspired by those that have come before you isn't always a bad thing, especially if you take the concept and run with it in your own direction. This Austin, Texas' outfit is not always successful - "At Last Is All" and "Last Ride Together" are ho-hum - but I never expected a masterwork. This is a band to keep an eye on.
Isis, In the Absence of Truth (2006) C-
Takes so long getting to where it thinks it wants to go that by the time it arrives at someplace it calls the end, no one's sure what just happened. Oh, and regarding whatever nonsense these guys are spewing about Borges and Don Quixote: save it. I know you never read those guys, and those are some pretty thin strings you're using to tie it all together.
Islands, Return to the Sea (2006) C
What you have here is a mixed bag of half-formed ideas: there's your catchy instrumental number ("Tsuxiit"), the cluttered hip-hop "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone," the Caribbean "Jogging Gorgeous Summer," the gaudy "Volcanoes," the Of Montreal-ish "Rough Gem," the tribal "Ones" ... and no cohesion.
Isolée, We Are Monster (2005) C
I can go along with the "dance music" classification, but it's the 'intelligent' adjective that has me wary. Despite the sporadic outburst of creative flair ("My Hi-Matic"), I can't say it did much to shake me to my foundation - it doesn't convey sheer bliss like K&D or Thievery Corp. can, it doesn't freak me out like RDJ, it isn't moody like Boards of Canada and it fails to get wildly experimental like Kid 606 and Coldcut.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, Darklands (1987) B+
Though I prefer the super hostility of "Honey's Dead" and the out-of-the-starting-gate fire of "Psychocandy," this is a moody little entry in the J&MC canon, wavering between bliss ("Deep One Perfect Morning") and depression ("Nine Million Rainy Days"), tossing in a fun Phil Spector-esque ditty when they feel like it ("Cherry Came Too"). And yes, I can forgive the drum machine.
Jóhann Jóhannsson, IBM 1401, A User's Manual (2006) C+
So gorgeous ... but so what? I'm all for stretching out one's theories about technology and emotion, but adding a few sound samples and the barest of explanations (Jóhannsson's father used to work on computers in Finland) over (admittedly amazing) strings still doesn't stir me all that much. For some, it'll probably be a show-stopper, and that's fine for them - I, personally, require more mental rigor (like Richard James).
Daniel Johnston, Continued Story / Hi, How Are You (1985 / 1983) B-
Raw, yes, honest, yes, brilliant, I strongly doubt it ... but we should humor our crazies, right? It's better to hear about madness from the mad than the sane who are merely pretending, I think.
Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye (2006) B+
Synth-pop that manages to run through their predecessors (Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys), but put a spin on the formula, stripping the music so there's this minimalist shell - the pervading theme is that of loss, and this sounds like the correct approach. Effeminate but not prim; catchy without being too listener-friendly.
Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds, Philosophy and Underwear (2005) D-
Four adjectives for this because that's all it deserves: Spastic, disjointed, disorganized, tedious.
Kid 606, The Soccergirl EP (2000) A-
I'm not saying the collective work of Kid 606 is going to work for everybody, but I find his music to be incredibly soothing if I'm in the right mood for it ("Thank You For Being My Angel" sounds absolutely beautiful in its mystical, it-is-3 A.M.-and-you're-in-the-dance-club feeling).
Kid 606, Why I Love Life (3") (2002) B
Ethereal mini-album by one of the world's most important voices in electronic music - he takes discord and turns it into amazingly affecting pieces of music (the two parts of "Sad Motherfucker" that bookend the disc are just that: melancholy).
Kid 606, The Action Packed Mentallist Brings You the Fucking Jams (2002) C
Kid 606 has his way with some well-known artists, like D12, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z and Kylie Minogue, making this more of a remix disc - or even (dare I say) a demonstration in the art of glitch - than an exercise in original music. Frankly, I prefer 606 originals than him doctoring already popular songs.
The Killers, Sam's Town (2006) C-
Same glam set-up as "Hot Fuss," but as they say in the biz, the songs just aren't there. Plays like a B-side bonus disc to that first - and unusually strong - disc, and just when I was thinking they've got something strong like "Bones," it gets played like a Mighty Mighty Bosstones track (I'm waiting for the awesome acoustic version of this to come from Cat Power, Jose Gonzales, etc.).
Kings of Convenience, Quiet Is the New Loud (2001) D
More like "Monotony Is the Easy Way." This ode to Simon & Garfunkel lacks the lyricism and composition for repeat listens, and the half-whispered duets on every goddamn track aren't helping anybody.
Klaxons, Xan Valleys [EP] (2006) B
There isn't much to make of the references to Pynchon or Burroughs, but this is spirited, danceable music - not as technically developed and intricate as !!!, naturally - and their live performances are supposed to be rewarding for those who believe in better-living-through-chemistry.
The Knife, Silent Shout (2006) C+
This is the kind of band that likes to play music so robotic and silly it would make Gary Numan blush (and layer their digitally altered voices over it) ... so right off the bat they aren't exactly my ideal outfit (they also refuse to show up to awards ceremonies, wear costumes to hide their faces and rarely perform live ... which I can stand behind). Sadly, there's nothing on here as gorgeous as the straight-from-the-80's "Heartbeats," and if you're going to play around with synthpop, you'd better be careful.
Marit Larsen, Under the Surface (2006) C
Overly precocious and cutesy ("Sinking Game," for example, is like Nellie McKay without the wit and irony) debut from a 20-something Norwegian - once you get past the somewhat intriguing information that she wrote most of it herself (a feat these days!), it sounds like Disney Pop fodder. Although it is a relief to be spared the Aguilera/Spears hedonism, I must admit....
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Hearts of Oak (2003) C-
It's hard to discount someone capable of making a song as catchy-good as "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" or as lyrically clever as "The Ballad of the Sin Eater" but perhaps that's proof that even the most unthrilling of musicians (with a falsetto that makes me want to shove sharpened twigs into my ears) can, on occasion, staple together a song worth listening to over and over again. As for the rest of it ... meh.
Liars, Drum's Not Dead (2006) D
They're right: the drum - which gets a lot of use here - is not dead. In fact, it is a very popular musical instrument in the percussion family. The album, however, sounds like funeral music for a dying band that just wants to goof around on their instruments ... could that dying band be Liars?
The Long Blondes, Someone to Drive You Home (2006) B
Blondes impart advice to blondes or non-blondes: they want to be your sweethearts ("Edie Sedgwick! Anna Karina! Arlene Dahl!") but are wise enough to tell their youngers that it's okay to wait. Cockiness abounds, and the Grrl Power is in full force - Sleater-Kinney steps away from the mic and these contenders appear. This doesn't mean they're as good as Sleater-Kinney yet - they don't have the originality, but the lyrics are punchy and wicked. This is a band to watch.
Mastodon, Blood Mountain (2006) C
Lots of growling and Prong-inspired moments, but I'm not so sure this is the metal album to listen to this year. Also, when it comes to mountains and music in 2006, I prefer mine to be made of cookies.
Mates of State, Bring It Back (2006) C
Sunny-day pop that comes from the Belle & Sebastian School of Music - while I can stomach some similar bands (Scotland's Camera Obscura, for one), the sing-a-long-with-the-Korg tracks all start to sound the same after a while. Stripped down I can handle, but it better have the wit of Momus.
Matmos, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast (2006) B+
Even if you don't care about the album's concept (ten songs dedicated to ten underground icons, most of whom were homosexuals) or where the sound fragments originated (as their previous albums have shown, Matmos will record almost anything and put it in a song), you can still admire the construction and creepiness on display here. No two songs are similar, and they range from the raucous ("Germs Burn for Darby Crash") to ethereal ("Semen Song for James Bidgood," featuring Antony of Antony & the Johnsons).
Matson Jones, Matson Jones (2005) C
So slight at less than 30 minutes (it's more of a glorified EP) and the vocals sound like they were grumbled into a shitty $5 Radio Shack mic and not encoded properly, but the drums and cellos work well together. I can imagine some people hating this, but there is a real curio factor to it.
Matson Jones, The Albatross Mates for Life But Only After a Lengthy Courtship That Can Take Up to Four Years [EP] (2006) C-
Same deal as the 2005 full-length - it's a curious little band that makes me wish the Kronos Quartet stopped playing World Music and started writing songs about themselves.
Mazzy Star, She Hangs Brightly (1991) D+
Hey, I'm all for pretty babies and their melancholy ways but this leans on Hope Sandoval's voice for potency instead of songwriting. It could have used a "Fade Into You" in there, somewhere.
Mirah, C'mon Miracle (2004) C+
Has this little Hem thing going - soft spoken and peaceful and easily overpowered by a strong wind blowing outside my window - but sometimes the girls in the fields with their sun dresses and acoustic guitars need to give it a rest, though. Am I right?
Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head (2006) B-
It's so appropriate that Cyndi Lauper is on here, because the retro-thinking (and retro-dressing) McKay's newest album sounds like an artifact from the 80's. No, it doesn't have the same kind of youthful zest or as many beautifully melancholy moments as the first album - and the political ranting gets a little too much (it was forgivable on "Get Away From Me" - now she's just bitter) - but there are enough strong moments to make it worth the listen ("There You Are in Me," "I Am Nothing" and "We Had It Right" with k.d. lang are superb). If this is everyone's idea of a sophomore slump, I think the young lady's going to be okay after all.
Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica (2000) B
Their (very) early work was too scattershot to make a lasting impact, but I think it was this particular album in which Isaac Brock and Co. really found their collective groove. The first several tracks deserve special mention - "Gravity Rides Everything" is one you'll notice from a car commercial (look, it's the 21st Century, there's no such thing as Selling Out anymore, it's about getting paid and using the money wisely) - although later songs retain some depth ("I Came As a Rat," "Lives").
Mogwai, Young Team (1997) A-
Close to a decade later, this could very well stand as Mogwai's greatest achievement: it balances the soft and loud and carefully sneaks in recorded conversations to an unsettling effect. The concluding track, "Mogwai Fear Satan" deserves special note - it's over 16 minutes of noise and feedback, and must be a bastard to actually perform.
Mogwai, Come On Die Young (1999) B
While sometimes these Scottish lads sound lazy - as if the tracks could have been written over a breakfast of beer and oatmeal - there are other times when they become impassioned, like on "Ex-Cowboy" when they want to come through your speakers and take you apart, or on "May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door" when they want to sneak into your neo-cortex and hang around a bit. Please stay on the line ... please stay on the line ....
Mogwai, Mr. Beast (2006) D+
Ah, so the guys named after the creatures from "Gremlins" have located the volume knobs on their amps ... and ah, so they've discovered they want to 'sing' once or twice and have a Japanese man speak at length for "I Chose Horses." The banality is crushing me.
Moloko, Do You Like My Tight Sweater? (1995) D
I wonder if the duo that is Moloko ever went back to re-listen to this album a decade later and cringed like I did when they listened to it, the same way we look back on our high school yearbook photos with disgust. Trust me: this album is one juvenile mess.
Morphine, Cure for Pain (1993) C
As a genuine alternative to run-of-the-mill 'rock' music, I can see how they accumulated a cult audience, but for me it amounts to the following: crooning vocals okay, jazz-influenced style odd but passable, dopey lyrics irritating. I'll take the mandolin-and-whispers beauty of "In Spite of Me" - you can have the rest.
Morrissey, Ringleader of the Tormentors (2006) A-
A splendid follow-up to the very good "You Are the Quarry" album which has just the right balance of hostility, wit and self-depreciation. Name checks both Pasolini and Visconti in the very telling "You Have Killed Me," shows the emo kids what real desperation is on "Life Is a Pigsty," gets Morricone to add the strings to "Dear God Please Help Me" and is at his most flippant on "To Me You Are a Work of Art." Complex, enigmatic and still ready to (intelligently) slap around the U.S.A.: Bless You, Moz, whoever you are/were/will be.
Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Black Star (1998) B+
Best tag-team in hip-hop? I can't think of anyone better, and this is one confident and composed collaboration. Their individual work is sufficient - and I even like Mos as Ford Prefect in the otherwise dreadful "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" - but there's a balance here that works. (Oh, and don't forget about Hi-Tek in the background.)
Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle (1991) A
There weren't that many albums made in 1991 that sound as fresh and exciting today - My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" and Nirvana's "Nevermind" are two that come to mind - but this belongs right up there with them, thanks largely to the efforts of frontman Mike Patton and producer John Zorn. Those two names alone, for those familiar with their (respective) work, should send shivers down the spine: this is one truly massive assault on the ears and mind, an endlessly creative cacophony of genres with sounds from video games ("RBI Baseball!" "Altered Beast!"), movies (Blue Velvet!), educational videos, porn videos and real-life (bowel movements, a father yelling at his son) blended in with the musical medley. It's juvenile, frantic and - frankly - brilliant, though not to all tastes. This was also one of my first encounters with the avant-garde, as I was given a copy of the tape by a crush in 8th grade. I've sort-of forgotten the girl, but this is always in my car.
Muse, Black Holes and Revelations (2006) F
Sweet Molly McGee is this some odious shit. It's like this chump who wants to be Thom Yorke hired The Charlatans UK and wrote some instantly forgettable hook-heavy electropop drivel. If this had won the Turner Prize you can kiss that award's (already fragile) credibility away (the Arctic Monkeys deserved it - sorry gang).
The National, Alligator (2005) B
Sorry, but this isn't on the scale of something like Broken Social Scene's "You Forgot It In People" - the middle sags too much - but the bookends are fantastic: "Secret Meeting," "Karen," "Abel" and "Mr. November" are four exquisite songs.
Nico, Desertshore (1970) C
It's okay if just Nico drones but the music doesn't, or if the music drones and Nico doesn't, but both Nico and the music droning? I stopped going to church on Sundays for a reason.
N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton (1988) A
Like it or not, this album, an expression of pure malevolent glee, is actually excellent music. The first three tracks start things off memorably - you are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge - and from there it goes through misanthropy, misogyny and self-loathing. The end result is both frightening but entrancing, akin to the unsettling joy one gets from watching a slasher film and (in a very dark way) rooting for the villain.
120 Days, 120 Days (2006) C+
Highly touted initial electronic effort from four boys from Norway - the praise isn't wholly undeserved, but a few of the track lengths are a tad unwieldy and tend to lose their impact. Spacey, mechanical and reminiscent of some synth stuff from the '80s - it just needed an editor (but not Editors).
OOIOO, Taiga (2006) C-
Not exactly "music to the ears" - it's more like a lot of dabbling with different instruments and sounds for a couple of minutes before turning off the recording device. I like the tracks with the girls chanting, personally ("Uma" and "Umo"), while the purely instrumental tracks are only so-so.
Beth Orton, Comfort of Strangers (2006) C-
Uses the famous line from "A Streetcar Named Desire," but the passion's a little lacking: Orton only sets up for the good stuff with the familiar but pretty "Safe in Your Arms" and "Shopping Trolley." Jim O'Rourke produced, but maybe Orton's too straightforward for his taste - maybe William Orbit should come back (?).
Outkast, Idlewild (2006) B
I can't say how this works with the accompanying film (of the same name), but as a work in itself, this is intriguing stuff, overlong but featuring the same free-spirited aesthetic we've come to expect from the duo. The ubiquitous Snoop makes an appearance, "N2U" is saucy and "PJ & Rooster" evokes the Cole Porter era.
Oxford Collapse, Remember the Night Parties (2006) B-
Most impressive group live in concert - I was fortunate to see them in Philly - but that kind of dynamicism is a little lacking in the record itself (usually, I find myself saying just the opposite). The talent's there in buckets - you just need to listen to "Please Visit Your National Parks" and "Lady Lawyers" to figure that out.
Jimmy Page, No Introductions Necessary (1968) B-
Who knew the Zeppelin guitarist and "greatest thief of American black music" (Homer's words, not mine) really wanted to be Jerry Lee Lewis?
Phoenix, It's Never Been Like That (2006) B+
I thought being French meant you never had to sing in English, but here it turns out even the French want to sound like the proud BritPop-ers and New York's finest post-punk fellows. First listen didn't do much, but like so many other people, I'm discovering that this is an album that grows on you (last year's equivalent: the Kings of Leon album). The truly phenomenal "Napoleon Says" gets my personal vote for best track of the year: get those damn clothes off.
The Pink Spiders, Teenage Graffiti (2006) B-
I like the quote from the band in the August Rolling Stone where they said they don't want their (essentially 18-25-year-old) audience to think, just feel good. I can see that - this is power-pop for the masses, light on thought, heavy on hooks, shallow but aware of it. A guilty pleasure, for me at least - they're a lot more tolerable than other teen-fodder (Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic! At the Disco and so on).
Pixies, Trompe le Monde (1991) B
When you strip away Frank Black's voice and perverse subject matter and even Kim Deal's backing vocals, what remains is good old fashioned rock and roll. Every song indicates that they're having fun, and that's uplifting - no, there aren't addictive singles on this, but by this point it was about spirit, not money, not fame.
P.O.S., Audition (2006) B
There's a touch of woe-is-me in this, but P.O.S. is smart enough to spread out the criticism - like on "P.O.S. Is Ruining My Life" - and musically talented enough to mix guitars in with the beats (and you know how much I love hip-hop plus guitars - reminds me of my grade school days of listening to "Bring the Noise" by Anthrax and Public Enemy over and over). Less dark and experimental than Dalek but significantly smarter than mainstream rap, I can only hope he finds a large audience for this. And while I'm thinking of it: I, too, want a woman with toes like Uma Thurman's.
Sam Prekop, Who's Your New Professor (2005) C-
Soft pop that misses a lot often than it hits (I like the serene "Two Dedications"), but the Shins-esque 70's-era elevator grooves are distasteful. Could have used a little more diversity.
Pretty Girls Make Graves, Élan Vital (2006) D+
Not quite as intolerable as "The Last Romance," but that's like saying someone punching you in the arm is less painful than someone kicking you in the balls. I'm also guessing the title of the album - based on Bergson's theory of the 'life force' - is ironic, considering the high level of monotony on display.
Pulp, His 'n' Hers (1994) A-
Cocker knows how to toy with the audience, all right (the cooing at the end of "Acrylic Afternoons" is delightfully embellished); he also knows how to dress, to posture, to pretend to be high/drunk and to let you in on the joke (or is the joke that there is no joke?). Oh, and the other, quieter members of the band help hold him on their shoulders. Can't be a Jagger without a Richards and a Jones and a Watts, etc.
Pulp, Different Class (1995) B-
Generally regarded as their strongest moment (it won them the Mercury Prize), but as expected I can't necessarily agree with that sentiment: I'd rather take the fun of "His 'n' Hers," the desperation of "This Is Hardcore" and the lush "We Love Life" over it. Don't get me wrong, though, because it's still a good record with a number of decent tracks - "Common People" is about slumming it, "Disco 2000" has some great guitar work and "I Spy" is appropriately sleazy (which shouldn't be a surprise for Jarvis Cocker fans).
The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers (2006) D
A raconteur is a storyteller, but this album conveys nothing of textual significance: the riffs are borrowed from long-forgotten 70's relics and the song subject matter ("You're making me hungry / But what's really funny / It's not sunny any-more...") had to have been the garbage Jack White didn't feel was right for the White Stripes. Or maybe Meg just needed a well-deserved nap...?
The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love (2006) C-
Wish I could say I liked this solely on the title track - which is one of the best singles of the year (if only for the delivery of the lines "'Cuz everybody's got a little piece of someone they hide / it's okay, it's the way we destruct until the day that we die") - but so much of this sounds like so many other bands ("First Gear" is like Peaches, "The Devil" like 70's disco, "Callin Me" is a blatant U2 ripoff, and so on) I wonder where the Rapture themselves fit in.
Lou Reed and John Cale, Songs for Drella (1990) C
Two of our finest musicians get together to write a joint album about Andy Warhol and this is what they come up with? It's almost like they didn't really 'know' him (assuming there was someone there 'to know'), took clips of his biography and writings and quickly put together these largely uninspired numbers (I do like Cale's "A Dream," though).
The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (1968) A-
What I like about the Stones is that I've always believed Jagger felt what he sang about - despite the fame and glory - and that Richards played guitar like his life actually depended on it. "Sympathy for the Devil" could very well be the greatest first track in the history of rock & roll - "Sympathy" not being just a rock song, but Rock Itself - and "Street Fightin Man" is fun; oh yeah, everything in between is impressive too.
The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971) B+
Regarded by some as their masterpiece, but I haven't heard the other full albums to really judge. I've always known the Stones to be 'bluesy,' but it's a bit more than I'd like - I have trouble accepting this group ever really had it that bad (according to Robert Frank's "Cocksucker Blues," being the Stones means sitting around and playing with cameras or cards).
The Roots, Game Theory (2006) B-
With regards to Track 5 - and I'm not trying to pick on these guys - um ... true, it's not all in the music, but the music does have a part in it. Otherwise, it seems as if The Roots decided it was time to make a Talib Kweli album (Talib = "serious") - not a bad guy to emulate, and a decent effort.
The Russian Futurists, Our Thickness (2005) C-
Cheesy keyboard-driven background melodies accent the sometimes banal, sometimes whimsical lyrics - I've heard Momus and this ain't Momus.
Scritti Politti, White Bread, Black Beer (2006) D-
Some kind of horrible mixture of the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - the soft synthesizers and fey whispering seem better suited for another era ... no, strike that, another planet. I liked them a little better when they were singing about deconstructionism and hegemony.
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) B
The title track still does nothing for me - maybe it's Garfunkel's delivery, maybe it's the song itself - but the rest took me by surprise. This duo was emo before we even had a name for it, and I'll make an exception in saying it works for them and not for these modern 20-year-olds who claim to have experienced a world of hurt. P.S. and A.G. actually convince me they've been through it all and made it through all the wiser - "Baby Driver" and "Bye Bye Love" add some spark so the album doesn't pull a Virginia Woolf and drown itself.
Frank Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours (1955) A
Thank God for Ava tearing Frank's heart apart, because without that crazy bitch, we're never have this timeless masterpiece. And when I play this album (or watch "Chungking Express"), it's like cracking the Fire Alarm box open: stay away from me, I need time to myself.
Slayer, Reign in Blood (1986) A-
Is it politically incorrect? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes. Is it loud? Hostile? Unforgettable? One of my favorite albums of all time? Yes. Tom Araya seemed to think the Apocalypse was near back in the Reagan-dominated 80's, but it looks like we were pretty safe then - now ... eh ... not so much (hence the awesome fury of "God Hates Us All," released in Sept. 2001).
Slayer, Christ Illusion (2006) C
Doesn't sound like it has the same intensity as past Slayer releases, nor the same fire: he's yelling, but it's less effective. The much-talked-about "Jihad" is unmistakably the album's centerpiece, and it's the fact that the song is situated in a gray area when so much of America is either black or white that gives it that edge. It must be hard to keep it going after twenty years of anti-everything - at what point do you just sit back and crack open your Pabst and channel surf waiting for the grandkids to visit?
The Slits, Cut (1979) B
Not your 'typical' punk - though frenetic in pieces, I find it has more of a laid-back vibe, almost like you'd find them playing in a cabana on a beach for a bunch of late-night partygoers. That is, until lead Ari Up starts taunting someone, and a fight breaks out. Their irreverent cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" needs to be heard.
Snow Patrol, Eyes Open (2006) D+
What, is every song about someone opening their eyes, or darkness or about the need to see things clearly? Bad poetry, patrollers of snow, is not very endearing.
Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped (2006) C+
I'm the wrong person to give a definitive answer to whether or not this is "good" - I haven't heard much of their discography, and what I did hear didn't have me begging for more (I think the exact phrase floating in my head after it finished was, "Uh ... okay"). "Pink Steam" is like a jam band tune, "Reena" is the closest to a single I can hear on this and the moodiness of "Or" ends it on a fair note, but otherwise I don't think this is the album to convert non-believers. [See comments on their live performance towards the bottom of the page.]
Sons & Daughters, The Repulsion Box (2005) B
Messy, out-of-control guitar work compliments the heavy Scottish accent of lead singer Adele Bethel - think of a version of Camera Obscura more influenced by The Clash and Los Angeles' X. I first became aware of them through the single "Taste the Last Girl" which I didn't care much for, but the album's a pleasant surprise.
Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis (1969) A-
While she took on soul - and did a landmark job at it - I believe Dusty could have very well fronted a rock band, done opera, folk, etc. etc. and been great at all of them. She could have been a gospel singer. She could have whispered into a tape recorder and sold her makeshift cassettes on Carnaby Street. What you can't convince people is that to sound this good, you've got to be born with it. That's DNA, not practice.
The Streets, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (2006) D
To be fair, I was never sold on this guy to begin with, and now he's ranting about (a.) what a mess he is and (b.) how hard it is to be famous. Famous and rich and a mess? Couldn't get with a starlet or do a line of coke in public? Never found God early on in life? Poor, poor British slag.
Stereolab, Switched On (1992) C+
Compilation of some earlier singles and EPs into a single album, only there's not much 'there' (although Sadler's voice makes for a nice hook on "High Expectations") - the band wouldn't start to hit their stride until a few years later.
Stereolab, Fab Four Suture (2006) D-
There's a very good reason why most bands break up after making three or four albums: because the longer they stay together, the more likely they are to put together infuriatingly dull albums such as this one.
Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005) C+
Smug and bloated, it fits nicely in the intolerable The Shins/Rilo Kiley/Belle & Sebastian realm of cutesiness without depth (and no, name checking people and places from the state of Illinois doesn't make this the musical equivalent of "Ulysses"). Further, I'm convinced my Grandmother can kick this guy's ass up and down Michigan Avenue.
Joss Stone, The Soul Sessions (2003) D+
Joss has the voice, but as a teenager - and knowing a little about teenagers - I can't buy her declarations on most of these songs, particularly "Dirty Man." I'm betting the closest she ever came to a "dirty man" was her Phys. Ed. teacher. Experience counts, sister.
Joss Stone, Mind, Body and Soul (2004) D+
Same deal as "The Soul Sessions" disc - expressive delivery, but she's singing what 'her people' tell her to sing. It's a glorified recital, in other words. If needed bland, whitewashed teenagers doing glorified recitals, I'd join the masses and tune in to "American Idol."
The Stooges, Fun House (1970) B
Here's something: I first listened to this two days ago (Saturday April 22, 2006) when I was in a bright and chipper mood, happy to have slept in and had a nice breakfast ... and strongly disliked this album. Now, two days later, when I'm ready to Kiss Ass/Take Names and itching to try this again, it clicked: the lengthy jam session "Dirt," "1970" and "Fun House" are still too long and a little lazy, but the anger of Iggy comes through anyway, and when I'm angry, I want to listen to someone equally as angry. I still prefer the first album and "Raw Power," but this will do in a pinch.
The Stooges, Raw Power (1973) A
So noisy my speakers get close to blowing out, but believe me, this is something you wanna listen to loud. Lives up to its title, and has many of Pop and James Williamson's best songs - "Search and Destroy" would get covered by countless others, the sleazy "Penetration" cuts right to the chase and I can somehow envision Iggy jumping around covered in food, sweat and blood to "Death Trip." This is landmark.
The Strokes, First Impressions of Earth (2006) C
I don't mean to sound like the Armond White of music criticism, but I don't know what reviewers are going on about in saying that "the band is trying to grow musically." Huh? Aside from "Ask Me Anything" or maybe "15 Minutes," these could all be "Room on Fire" B-sides. Also, Julian, if you have nothing else to say, why pick up the mic at all? Oh, right: the girls.
The Subways, Young for Eternity (2005) C+
Lighthearted Britpop banality: they're decent musicians and can put a tune together, but this album's not going to win any awards for its originality or its lyrics. The great majority of teenagers aren't Rimbaud, and frankly, we should all be okay with that.
Suicide, Suicide (1977) D
Count me in the very small group that considers this repetitious and mostly meaningless droning. I give it credit for providing the influence on so many other bands I actually like, but the very thought of having to listen to the bloated and preposterous "Frankie Teardrop" again would cause me to murder the CD.
Sunn O))) and Boris, Altar (2006) C+
I'm torn, really: part of me is saying 'sweet, it sounds like creeping death,' while another part is saying 'who gives a damn, it's just some rumbling and I'll probably forget about it tomorrow.'
Tapes 'n Tapes, The Loon (2005) B-
My first exposure to them was a concert in Philly, and I hadn't heard this album yet and didn't think much of their garbled set ... but it turns out the production work on their debut LP is top-notch, and they actually have a distinctive style. Chalk up another Nice Find to the Internet kids who rallied around this.
Them Featuring Van Morrison, The Story of Them (1977; vinyl) B
Nine track LP isn't nearly as thorough as the 1987 release (which had almost everything the band ever released), but it gives a good sense of Morrison's 'early' work. Their take on Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" is amazing.
Tool, 10,000 Days (2006) D
They've gained a strong following making abstract run-on songs and keeping a low profile, but if you ask me, I just don't want to listen to roundabout progressive rock - I much prefer two of their old opening acts, Fantomas and Meshuggah.
Tortoise, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996) B
"Djed," the magnificent opening track, spans 20 minutes and features countless changes in tone, and if I had to describe this vocal-less album for friends, I'd say it was like jazz for hipsters from the suburbs (not to make it sound like a bad thing, naturally). The remixes of "Djed" - especially the one by UNKLE - are worth tracking down. For the record: I think this has one of the best titles of any album in history (it comes from, of all people, the Jehovah's Witnesses).
Tsuji Ayano, Balanco (2002) B-
Bouncy little J-Pop record - she could be reading off the labels on soup cans and I'd still listen to her. And to be honest, I can't guarantee that she isn't reading off the labels on soup cans. I swore I heard "chicken broth" in there, somewhere.
Trashcan Sinatras, Weightlifting (2004) D
It's like Badly Drawn Boy gets crossed with 70's classic rock, and the end product - with its fey lyrics, pity-me vibe and whining guitars - is truly irksome.
TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (2006) B+
Originally, my personal complaint with them was that their EPs were amazing and their first LP was a disaster, but they got it with their sophomore LP: they recruited David Bowie for the pensive "Province," show their delicate side on "Tonight" and turn up the distortion for "Wolf Like Me." The layered voices go right along with the layered instruments; static has rarely been so addictive.
The Twilight Singers, Blackberry Belle (2003) B
I appreciate how "Esta Noche" is built around horns and a repeating sample of a phone, I savor the dirty Dulli energy of "Teenage Wristband" ("I'm gonna stay up all night") and I like the intimacy of "Number Nine." Not the Whigs, of course, but a fraction of Whigs is better than none at all.
The Twilight Singers, Powder Burns (2006) C
Wait ... I thought Dulli had a problem with sex, not drugs (or is sex the drug?). No matter, this is serviceable, I suppose, but too watered-down for the ex-Whigs frontman ("I'm Ready" is a poor man's Girls Against Boys imitation), but I was aided through the uneasy experience of listening to this by the recently released bulletin that The Afghan Whigs are kinda/sorta reuniting in some capacity.
The Twilight Singers, A Stitch in Time [EP] (2006) D
Try as I might, the only track I actually 'hear' Dulli on is "The Lure Would Prove Too Much" - otherwise, this sounds like too many other hands built it. Thankfully, it's only an EP.
Underworld, Second Toughest in the Infants (1996) C
Ten years later and I'm not so sure if Underworld's music holds up - though to be fair, I probably wouldn't have liked this tedious disc in the mid-90's, either (I feel the same way about Orbital, The Orb and most purveyors of ponderous techno). "Beaucoup Fish" gets my vote as their best album and "Born Slippy" as their best single.
Underworld, Everything, Everything (Live) (2000) B-
Oh, how that Karl Hyde likes repeat himself like an autistic child ... but at least he and his boys played the crowd pleasers, most of which happen to be from "Beaucoup Fish" ("Cups," "Push Upstairs," "King of Snake") and picked selectively from their discography. If I were to see them live, I'd demand a chair and a beer to sip, but there you go....
Gene Vincent, Bluejean Bop! / Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps (1957) A-
Compilation album that squeezes together Vincent's first two LPs onto one CD ... and though it features some of his lesser-known material (no "Be Bop A Lula," alas, but you've heard that already) almost all of this is surprisingly spunky and addictive. I can't say what life was like in the 50's, but it's good to know that between Vincent and Elvis, there was at least some good music for the kids to shake to.
Voxtrot, Raised by Wolves [EP] (2005) C+
Voxtrot, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives [EP] (2006) C+
Good feelings abound in both EPs by this outfit, which is earning strong word-of-mouth ... but doesn't quite have the 'punch' or lasting appeal I generally hope for in bands. These two are adequate starting points, and I will patiently wait for their next move.
Scott Walker, Scott (1967) C
Embellished in every way: Walker's voice is over-the-top, but so are the backing instruments, with the elaborate orchestral sound of violins and trumpets and every other thing Walker can think to stuff in there. The only shock is that it took over twenty years for him to sing for a James Bond film (1999) - can't you picture the big sound of "Mathilde" playing for 007esque females in silhouette?
Scott Walker, Scott 2 (1968) C+
Same criticism of "Scott" applies: there's the gaudy/lavish "Wait Until Dark" and instead of starting with "Mathilde," it's "Jackie." Still, there's a noticeable attempt to change gears from the first "Scott" album, a transition that would become more pronounced in "Scott 3."
Scott Walker, Scott 3 (1969) B-
The crooner turns down the melodies and becomes more introspective - "Copenhagen" and "Sons Of" are both gorgeous, and the acoustic minimalism of "30 Century Man" sounds like nothing recorded by Walker prior to this record. Tapping Brel for inspiration is a good thing.
Scott Walker, Scott 4 (1969) A-
Holy shit: tributes to both Ingmar Bergman ("The Seventh Seal") and Joseph Stalin ("The Old Man's Back Again") on the same record as the beautiful, enveloping "Boy Child" and sarcastic "Hero of the War?" I'd say this is Walker's best album by far: he's toned down both the music and his impressive vocal ability and added a hint of country ("Rhymes of Goodbye" in particular). Documentarian Stephen Kijak - who made a film about Walker - wondered why "Scott 4" is never mentioned as one of the best 100 albums of all time, and after listening to it a couple of times, I find myself wondering the same exact thing.
Scott Walker, The Drift (2006) B+
Nick Currie gets a medal for his blog entry on this, comparing it to a horror film in which haunting sounds 'jump' out at you. Visceral, creepy and unforgiving, this is without a doubt the strangest album of the year, one that's closer to sound art crossed with opera (and mixed by Autechre) than Jacques Brel (who was an early inspiration). Its perpetual misery is a bit of a turn-off, but you can never fault the man for following the crowd.
M. Ward, Post-War (2006) B
Matt W.'s vision of America after Iraq: the concept, in print, sounds heady and boorish, but the shuffling alt-country vibe and clever songwriting make it a dream to listen to. Rating based on strictly one spin; I expect it to go up after revisits.
The Walkmen, A Hundred Miles Off (2006) C-
I have a nagging suspicion they have a guitar pedal labeled "Shimmer" and a Book of Hooks that dip into for every album. Then there's the 'singing' ... and the louder he goes, the worse it gets.
We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor (2005) B+
Hook-heavy pop from a trio of jokers - their web site is very dry but very funny - and if there was any justice in this crazy world, this is what would be playing on MTV2 on a regular basis (because their videos are directed by Akiva from The Lonely Island).
We Are Scientists, Crap Attack (2006) B
Decidedly not 'crap': they make it funny ("Ram It Home"), they cover Art Brut ("I just want to find a drug that works"), they cover Sigur Rós (in Icelandic, no less!), they cover themselves ("Call Backs Under the Sea," "The Great Escape Under the Sea"), they sing in German ("Sie Hat Was Vermisst"), they take on a classic ("Be My Baby") ... they can do anything except convince me they're scientists.
Kanye West, Late Registration (2005) B
What sets Kanye apart from a lot of similar artists is how he tries to actually say something meaningful with his music (which shouldn't be that big of a deal but somehow is), how he's not trying to 'invent' new words and show off his jewelry, how he actually believes he can make a difference with just an album. It's not as strong as his debut ("College Dropout") and his song-construction abilities depend a lot on his taking popular songs, cutting them apart and looping them (Shirley Bassey, Curtis Mayfield, Jamie Foxx singing Ray Charles all get chopped up) but you have to give him credit for speaking his mind no matter who likes it - the statement he made during the Katrina Telethon about George Bush not liking black people was just ... cool. And he never apologized, thank God.
Wolfmother, Wolfmother (2005) D
Led ... Zeppelin ... Is ... Back? Not on your life (and I don't even like Zeppelin). Every once in a while the public goes for a retro band which makes no sense, because the original is so heavily played on the radio (and worse, Wolfmother sound like a bad cover band who decided to try new material; the lead bellows like Plant, but it's nothing worth getting worked up over). If you've heard "Woman" - or the remix by the Avalanches - you've heard the only good thing on here.
Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life (1976) B
If I go way out on a limb and say this is good but not excellent, and more self-indulgent and tiring than I believe a 'masterpiece' should be, will you still respect me in the morning? Didn't think so....
X-Ray Spex, Germ Free Adolescents (1978) C+
More than twenty minutes of this and I want to jump out my bedroom window, but it works in small doses. The use of horns sounds like Flipper; the vocal stylings of Ms. Poly Styrene - a female Johnny Rotten - had to have a certain impact on the girls from Sleater-Kinney. Influence and be influenced, I guess.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones (2006) C-
They probably figured they couldn't top "Fever to Tell," so they'd go off in a different direction with some safe, radio-friendly material. But in backing away from any potential accusation of copying themselves, not developing as artists, etc. (all the negative comments that critics like to pull out), here they made an album that lesser bands could staple and tape together, losing the aggressive wall of noise that made their debut LP such a smash. "Gold Lion" capitalizes on Karen O.'s voice, but where's the rest of the 'bang?' It's more like a whimper, or a dull pop.
Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (1997) B
A lot of this is so noisy yet miraculously balanced that you could easy imagine a lesser band starting with the same approach and screwing it up, but that's where the experience of the Hoboken troupe comes into play. It's a little self-indulgent (the 10-minute "Spec Bebop" should have been cut), but I guess we all get like that with age.
Thom Yorke, The Eraser (2006) B
Will no doubt come under heavy fire from Radiohead fans and critics - I can already hear the "sounds like 'Kid A'" griping - and I'm not going to say it sounds radically different than Radiohead, but what's there is quirky and atmospheric, which is also what I thought of Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack to "Bodysong."
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free (1967) B-
Early Zappa that isn't bad by any means (frantic, fragmented and silly, as you'd expect from FZ and the Mothers), just lacking the social criticism and intelligent politicizing that I value in later albums.
Live Acts Caught, or: Why Yes, I Do Leave My House At Times
March 22, 2006: Animal Collective with The Nix Noltes, The Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia, PA [* Half the crowd was into it, half was completely perplexed. I found it to be repetitive at times (the pre-recorded loops became annoying after a while) and not as intricate as the record(s), though the peaking audio levels may have had something to do with it.]
March 23, 2006: The Go! Team with Love Is All and caUSE cO-Motion, The Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia, PA [* Want a blurb? "We went to a riot and The Go! Team broke out."]
March 26, 2006: Arctic Monkeys with The Spinto Band, The Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia, PA [* These U.K. kids have amazing timing and are considerably better live than on record. Believe the hype.]
June 7, 2006: Tapes 'n Tapes with Cold War Kids and Figurines, The First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA [* T'nT sounded "muddy" (my quote during the show) and the Cold War Kids showed boundless energy (and sweat) but were unsure where they were headed musically. Figurines, of all bands, actually surprised me with their composed set (and yet I had trouble warming up to their newest album).]
June 13, 2006: Sonic Youth with Tall Firs, CBGB, New York City [* If Sonic Youth is not on the list of 50 Bands You Need To See Live Before You Kick It, there's been a gross miscalculation: I'd say their live performances act as the 'key' to understanding their 'style,' because in person they're all that more impressive musically (their lyrics function like they did for My Bloody Valentine: as a side dish). Plus, saying I saw SY at the now-closed CBGB is kinda historic for a music snob.]
October 20, 2006: Art Brut with Annuals and The Spinto Band, The Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia, PA [* Not sure what Annuals were doing, quite sure what The Spinto Band was doing (moving a lot without moving me at all), liked what Art Brut was doing (sarcasm by the bucketful). Eddie Argos looked like an ad executive who summoned the courage to get on-stage and entertain his friends.]
December 10, 2006: We Are Scientists with Oxford Collapse and The Grates, The Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia, PA [* The Oxford Collapse was a vortex of sound (you get sucked in). We Are Scientists played their hits (I bought a T-shirt). The Grates are from Australia.]
Singles of the Year: Annuals: "Sway," Arctic Monkeys: "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," Be Your Own Pet: "Adventure," The Black Angels: "Black Grease," Black Nasty: "Hi-5," Cold War Kids: "We Used to Vacation," Bob Dylan: "Spirit on the Water," Cansei de Ser Sexy: "Patins," Gnarls Barkley: "Crazy," I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness: "Lights," Irving: "Jen, Nothing Matters to Me," Jesus H Christ and the Hornsmen of the Apocalypse: "Connecticut's for Fucking," Johnny Boy: "Fifteen Minutes," Junior Boys: "In the Morning," The Killers: "Read My Mind," LCD Soundsystem: "45:33," Metric: "Monster Hospital (MSTRKRFT Remix)," Morrissey: "The Father Who Must Be Killed," Nellie McKay: "There You Are in Me," Nino Moschella: "Are You for Real?," Beth Orton: "Shopping Trolley," Oxford Collapse: "Please Visit Your National Parks," Phoenix: "Napoleon Says," The Pink Spiders: "Modern Swinger," The Rapture: "Pieces of the People We Love," P.O.S. (Featuring Slug): "Bleeding Hearts Club (Mpls Chapter)," Say Hi To Your Mom: "Snowcones and Puppies," Slayer: "Jihad," T.I.: "Why You Wanna," TV on the Radio (with David Bowie): "Province," M. Ward: "Requiem"