2007 Music Reviews
!!!, Myth Takes (2007) B-
The awesome one-two punch of "Sweet Life" and "Yadnus" overpowers almost everything else on this - they have the pulsating, you-must-move-to-this groove the band is so noted for (and display so well in concert).
Air, Pocket Symphony (2007) F
Sure, they can recruit Jarvis from Pulp, the guy from Divine Comedy, master musicians from Okinawa ... hell, they can resurrect John Lennon to do their songwriting, and they still aren't going to make another album as good as "Moon Safari." I just don't see it happening: not with the incredibly boring "Mayfair Song," "Redhead Girl" (is that a Berlin sample?!), "Night Sight" and "Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping." What happened to the randy guys who made a song with the lyrics: "I'm a high school lover / and you're my favorite flavor?"
Woody Allen, Standup Comic (1978) [Comedy]
What's there to say? It's Woody Freaking Allen - he has always had impeccable wit and timing. I've read some people bicker about whether this is the best possible representation of his work - and yes, as 'pieces' of separate performances it is a little disappointing - but I'll take whatever vintage material I can get by him.
Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam (2007) A-
Based on my limited experience of seeing Animal Collective perform live, I can only say I think they're better on record where they can control all those little bloops and bleeps and tiny sounds (I had trouble hearing the vocals as they seemed to hammer on the same notes over and over at the Starlight Ballroom). This is another triumphant disc, beginning with "Peacebone," which sounds like a digital swarm of locusts that eventually comes together to sound like a kind of avant-garde dancing march. I still recommend those headphones....
Annuals, Be He Me (2006) C-
Got to see them live in Philly and they were all right - lots of energy, but the music didn't stick with me. I was assured that the album was a "drastic improvement," but it turns out that's not the case: in person it's just a lot louder with more antics and jumping around. If the entire record had at least half the experimental breeze of the constantly shifting "Sway," this would have completely knocked me senseless.
Antibalas, Security (2007) C
I was into it right at the beginning, but then the interest seeped out of me: they aren't compact like Dub Trio or have grooves like !!!. And personally, if I'm still not dancing in my room by the mid-point, it's not for me.
Apartment, The Dreamer Evasive (2007) C
There's something so desperate about this that's alienating, like they were so focused on pop hooks that they forgot about genuine songwriting or taking chances or being a band that has any kind of distinctive qualities. They may be dreaming and pining, but I think they're just faking it all the way through.
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (2007) C
Does this have anything to do with the John Kennedy Toole novel? Or even the Terence Davies film? Somehow the melodrama I (and pretty much everyone else) loved in "Funeral" doesn't fit so well here - now it's just showing off, and it doesn't have the captivating hooks or introspective lyrics of that album (it's not surprising that the best song on here is probably "No Cars Go," which is from their first EP). Not awful, but expectations were probably unrealistically high for this release.
Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) B-
Doesn't have the singles that were on the first LP, but this is arguably more cohesive; they're both pretty good, but nothing outstanding. Although I'm not a concert elitist, I think they're significantly more impressive live than on any disc or TV show.
Art Brut, It's a Bit Complicated (2007) B-
Eddie's still doing the talking-to-you-like-a-mate (as if we're at the pub and he's so excited about his own stories he can barely get them out), but whereas their first album made you feel like you were listening to a band that can't believe (a.) they're a band and (b.) actually making an album, their newfound fame has them in a precarious position. I found myself singing parts to "Bang Bang Rock and Roll" when there was no music on in the room; this lacks the out-of-nowhere catchiness. Still observant, if a little hard to get into - if their third album is like this, I'll be checking out.
Battles, Mirrored (2007) C-
Should it surprise anyone that a Psychology/Journalism/English guy can't stand anything with the word "math" attached to it? Or that this person cannot stand bland, blatantly obvious patterns in each of the songs?
Beirut, The Flying Club Cup (2007) B-
Zach Condon doesn't have the same out-of-the-box "what the hell is this!?" effect this second time around but that doesn't mean his music is any less compelling - the melodrama can be a bit much, but that's expected.
Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha (2007) C-
Monotonous when it isn't melodramatic and vice versa - when Bird finally decides for melodramatic monotony, like his last track, "Yawny at the Apocalypse," and concludes on bird noises (a pun!), he really overplays his hand.
The Bird & the Bee, The Bird & the Bee (2007) B-
Didn't care much for Inara George's solo work - too banal - but now she's teamed up with Greg Kurstin and I, for one, like the duo's aesthetic: George's child-like (almost dreamy) delivery fits nicely over Kurstin's 70's dream pop meets the waltz instrumentals. The one-two-punch of "Fucking Boyfriend" and "I'm a Broken Heart" really stings.
Black Dice, Load Blown (2007) B+
African music ... d-e-c-o-n-s-t-r-u-c-t-e-d! "Broken Ear Record" found the Brooklyn kids in a rut; now they're back to the tribal music that made "Creature Comforts" such an incredible disc.
Black Kids, Wizard of Ahhhs [EP] (2007) B-
Holy shit! The Go! Team and The Cure have joined forces! ... Yet they're not English, they're American (and not all of them are, in fact, black kids!). Also, someone clue me in: what's with all the EPs this year? It's like everyone figured out collectively that throwing together an LP is just too hard and time-consuming - better to try the 'sampler approach' ....
Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dandelion Gum (2007) D
Robotic monotony with the dubious inclusion of bad synthetized vocals and equally dumb beats. I prefer the humming and beeping of my household appliances, esp. my microwave, whose noises lets me know my green tea is hot and ready to drink.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Baby 81 (2007) D-
Stop for a second. Isn't this the band that wanted to bring noise rock back? Isn't this the band that openly credited Jesus and Mary Chain as their major influence? Where, exactly, is the noise? Or the drive? "Love Burns" was a catchy and addictive single, but none of their albums or other 'singles' have been able to sustain the impact of that one track. Deadly dull.
James Blackshaw, The Cloud of Unknowing (2007) D
Achieves the occasional moment of beauty with its layered guitars and chimes, only to be disturbed by dischord and alienating repetition.
Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City (2007) B
While "Silent Alarm" was relatively straightforward post-punk, this is a more moody and discerning sophomore effort, and one mostly concerned with ennui (tip off: the first track references Bret Easton Ellis), despair and regret. Those expecting the chugging guitars and speed playing may be turned off, but you can't keep the same tone forever - like its predecessor, it's still political, but also a lot more personal.
Blonde Redhead, 23 (2007) C-
There are traces of My Bloody Valentine in the title track and in various places throughout the album, but getting around Kazu Makino's voice and the jarring song structures is still a potent obstacle.
Blondie, Parallel Lines (1978) A
A pop masterpiece. Debbie Harry lets you know from the beginning she wants you to call her and that she's only going to wait so long, before revealing later that she wants you to commit, she wants you to perform and, in the end, she wants you to leave and stay away. The men behind her on the instruments back up her demands.
The Blood Brothers, Crimes (2004) B
Came to this after "Young Machetes," which is probably the more accessible disc of the two. The interplay between both singers takes some getting used to, but it's really the band's trademark, making both the title track and the crushing "Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck" the gems they are. If the music didn't rock this hard, the emo-ness of it would be the real crime - better to get mad and even than mope about it.
Boris with Merzbow, Sun Baked Snow Cave (2005) C
Not exactly an 'album' so much as one 60 minute track that begins nearly acoustically before Merzbow turns up the static - it returns, by the end, to its original minimal form. Fine as an experiment, but I'd be lying if I told you I'd ever listen to it again.
Boris with Merzbow, Walrus/Groon [EP] (2007) C+
Two-track quickie EP: "Walrus" is a distorted but faithful cover of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," while "Groon" is lots of Merzbow playing with the static button. It wouldn't have killed them to put at least one or two more tracks on here, but I'll take what I can get.
Bowerbirds, Hymns for a Dark Horse (2007) B
They sound like their fellow Raleigh cohorts the Rosebuds (for a second I thought it was the Rosebuds) but the songs are quite touching and the disc is perfect for a meditative Saturday afternoon. This is one of the most endearing (and low-key) discs I've had the pleasure of listening to this year, and I hope the positive reviews it's been getting build them a sizeable fan base.
British Sea Power, Krankenhaus? [EP] (2007) B
This has been the year of some seriously good EPs, and here one of my favorite bands - who also happen to be deadly smart and delightfully cryptic - throw their own 5-song combo into the mix. Why these gents don't have a bigger following is probably due to the smartness and cryptic-ness.
Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew, Spirit If... (2007) C+
So now this massive group is giving each of its close-to-two-dozen members a chance to write his/her own album and the rest perform it? Am I getting this story straight? It seems like none of those nineteen people stepped forward to trim a lot of the fat and indulgence and crackly vocals off this disc. Lastly, memo to Mr. Drew: No one is too beautiful to fuck. No one.
The Brunettes, Structure and Cosmetics (2007) C-
Entirely too fey for my taste, and whether or not Jonathan Bree's trying to emulate Beck's singing is debatable.
Burial, Untrue (2007) B+
Dance music with an ominous undercurrent, a little like Massive Attack recorded in an abandoned asylum and on a fistful of downers. Not much is known about the artist, but the music is transcendent and haunting - curiously, it's also very approachable.
Cansei de Ser Sexy, Cansei de Ser Sexy (2006) B-
It's really half a very good disc. The first five tracks are outstanding, a dance-pop fusion that's like Peaches-meets-The Slits (the girly-swirly guy-baiting of "Patins," the directness of "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above"), only for the last five tracks to mire in average-ness. Still, that first part of the album is quite a kick, and it's one of the sleeper hits of '06.
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Safe as Milk (1967) B+
Don Van Vliet at his most accessible - and for some people, his only tolerable 'mode' - yet I'm so programmed by the "Trout Mask Replica" dissonance I find myself wondering why the songs are coherent and synced up. After a few listens, I'm bouncing right along with him.
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970) B-
Beefheart proved he can play a "normal" pop song ("Call on Me," "Tropical Hot Dog Night," and so forth), and proved with this (and "Trout Mask Replica") that he can make an "abnormal" album ... even an "anti-album," if that's fair. As I get older, I find myself growing "into" Beefheart even though the younger version of me had problems with him - I'd almost argue that the more you know about music, the more you're able to figure out Van Vliet (you have to understand the form before you can understand deconstructing that very same form). Even more incredible than the actual music is the Van Vliet-directed TV commercial for the release (it should be on YouTube) which was apparently banned for being "incoherent." This may not be true, but I want to believe it.
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978) A-
Beefheart's silliness is refined to perfection, and his irreverence comes across as genuine: he's an original, and like Zappa, the technical mastery of the music sneaks behind the bugfuck flair of the presentation. Or, if you just want to get to brass taxes, he's playing the music to bring the young girls to meet the monster at night. Awe seems a fitting response.
Caribou, Andorra (2007) C+
Not quite as entrancing as "The Milk of Human Kindness" - Knaith's music gets less interesting the less interested he is in making "songs" and more when he's playing with this effect or trying that sound byte out. In other words, it's become too refined and there's too much vocal work ... maybe all that thesis writing has him thinking in formulas. Deserves another listen, but not any time soon.
Charalambides, Likeness (2007) F
I'm being completely honest here: do they think people want to listen to songs that are ten minutes long and consist of sloppy guitar-work and that off-key 'singing'/'chanting.' I can listen to almost anything, and this is so bad I had to turn it off and delete it immediately. Horrible.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Some Loud Thunder (2007) B
Those venomously opposed to the debut album will find nothing to change their minds for this one; I find part of it to be laudable, part to be totally disposable - tracks one through four set you up for something big, only for five through ten to send it careening off a cliff (anyone that made a debut album as fantastic as these fellows have to know "Satan Said Dance" and "Goodbye to the Mother and the Cove" are really dumb). It does, however, have the courtesy to end on "Five Easy Pieces," a luscious soundscape that combines harmonica, guitar, tambourine and Alec Ounsworth in an echo chamber.
Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (2006) B+
I haven't listened to much Ornette in a while - a gross oversight on my part - and Ornette hasn't done much in a while (recording wise), and now he's got a new disc and I completely forgot how frenetic, spontaneous and dizzying his music is. I don't know how old he is, nor do I care to know - the fact that he's still packing them in in some smoke-filled, poorly-lit club (in Europe or elsewhere) makes me feel good inside. One day, I'd like to see him play.
CocoRosie, The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn (2007) F
Indigestible, like chewing on gravel and chunks of asphalt. Throwing together everything that makes noise (babies cooing, violins, Bjork), regardless of whether or not they sound good combined doesn't necessarily make for quality songwriting. I can listen to John Cage and Merzbow ... and I had to turn this off.
Leonard Cohen, New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974) A-
There was a thread I was reading on an discussion board about who exactly is the 'most depressing artist/band out there' because the person who started the thread wanted some sad music to go with his mood. Many, many people mentioned Cohen. No big surprise, there, but I don't find this particular album to be that sad - Cohen's probably a pessimist, but he's also blessed with insightful wordplay, a piercing voice and the wisdom that no matter how bad it's been, it can get infinitely worse.
Comeback Kid, Broadcasting... (2007) F
So this is a little of what the kids are calling "hardcore punk" these days ... and what a shock, it's laughable trash. I get a kick out of how the lyrics are screamed at the top of the lungs (like I'm listening to an aneurysm) - am I supposed to identify with this mock anger and these juvenile thoughts? Is actually singing too much of a challenge? Wait, are these guys actually ... actually ... Canadian ...?
The Cool Kids, Totally Flossed Out [EP] (2007) B-
Retro hip-hop should remind some of the time before Dre and maybe before NWA - with everyone else trying to be so edgy and talking about new ways to degrade women, why not talk about sneakers or why your Mom's such a nag? Goes well with Spank Rock's equally ironic "Bangers & Cash."
Dälek, Abandoned Language (2007) D+
Most songs sound the same and, incidentally, just like their last two albums - droning, grumbling vocals, sound loops - until they go completely atmospheric for something truly terrible like apparent David Lynch-homage track "Lynch" (mostly formless noise). When they were using William S. Burroughs samples and asking "What the fuck happened?" over highly-amplified guitars I was liking where they were going, but now I'm wondering what happened to them.
Datarock, Datarock Datarock (2005/2007 re-issue) B-
First listen: "This album is so stupid." Second listen: "This album is soooo stupid! Yeah!" (That's a huge difference.)
Deathspell Omega, Kénôse [EP] (2005) B
I'd be lying if I said I knew what they were saying, but I can certainly 'feel' what they're getting at - of all these new metal acts that are getting underground press, this band is like throbbing intensity, rarely letting up. I'll be searching for one of their full-length albums shortly.
Deerhoof, Friend Opportunity (2007) D+
An acquired taste I never acquired the taste for - and I've heard most of their albums. I think it's the potent double threat of Engrish on top of disjointed, irritating melodies. If I have to listen to J-Pop and its variants, I just go with Kahimi Karie; if I want J-noise, Boredoms or Boris are fine too.
Deerhunter, Cryptograms (2007) B+
Fuzzy meld of guitars and electronics into a sometimes spooky ("Red Ink"), sometimes dreamy ("Spring Hall Convert") and other times aggressive (the title track) album. So appropriate, too, that they named this disarming concoction "Cryptograms" - it's an experimental puzzle that reportedly took years to assemble. Word-of-mouth will undoubtedly aid this caustic and unorthodox outfit - sometimes, we need to thank God for the Internet.
Dinosaur Jr., Beyond (2007) C
It may have been years since their last release, but Dinosaur Jr. are back to their old form, be that a good or bad thing. I'm divided really: half of me doesn't hear much progression and finds the songs repetitive (Mascis' solos tend to lean towards the excessive) and interchangeable, while the other half supports the band's moxie and refusal to bend to the times. I wasn't listening to indie rock much - if at all - in the early 90's, so I'd be interested in knowing how long-time fans of the band will react to this (yes, in the early 90's it was a lot of death metal, hard rock and hardcore rap ... youth and anger, you know how it is, etc.).
Dntel, Dumb Luck (2007) C-
Ultimately, the same deal as Tamborello's last album: static-y electronics behind fractured vocals (without Ben Gibbard, he's too robotic; without Tamborello, Gibbard's too mopey). The surplus of contributors (Grizzly Bear, Jenny Lewis, the ubiquitous and dreadful Conor Oberst) prevents cohesion.
Dog Day, Night Group (2007) C
Another one of those derivative albums you listen to and swear is by some other band - I thought I was playing the Decemberists when I was playing it. Make a game of it! Who do you think they sound exactly like? Take a guess, it's impossible to be wrong.
Editors, An End Has a Start (2007) C
A rather un-exceptional sequel to the over-rated "The Back Room," with its best moments being lifted either from that album or Interpol (again) - even its best track, "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors" has the same flittering guitar sound as "Bullets."
Electrelane, No Shouts, No Calls (2007) C
Oh my, someone decided to make a Stereolab album that isn't Stereolab! And like Stereolab's output in the 21st Century, it's lacking in depth.
Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone (2007) C
Some of this instrumental rock is lovely and all, but for the most part it's background fodder, woefully unimaginative and curiously unmoving. Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor start off with the same premise but manage to make music that's alternatively entrancing and disturbing.
Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds (2006) C-
Pilfers the worst qualities of Antony & the Johnsons, Xiu Xiu and Andrew Bird (indulgent and random), yet there is potential here - the violin work can, at times, be quite gorgeous, and his vocals sound like a just-as-anguished Jamie Stewart. The stupidity of the title is off-set by the reference to Square-Enix's mostly great video game series.
Feist, The Reminder (2007) C-
Maybe the issue is that Ms. Leslie knows she has an unbelievable voice, because it's almost as if things stop there: as if she believes her voice can carry it all. She's a valuable peripheral for other bands, so it's probably the material itself and its lack of dynamicism. "Sea Lion Woman," for one example, is truly dumb.
Lupe Fiasco, The Cool (2007) C+
Here goes Lupe, trying to be socially conscious like Talib and Kanye. Why is it then that his best track is actually about being famous and enjoying the wealth (the exceptional "Superstar" with Chris Martin-esque Matthew Santos)? What's cool is being able to afford to stay at the George V in Paris. What's not cool is any reference to Inspector Gadget.
The Field, From Here We Go Sublime (2007) A-
This critical darling is indeed a very impressive trance album - take the title track, for example, where Swedish producer Axel Willner takes The Flamingos track "I Only Have Eyes For You" and deconstructs it into this amazing glitchy, dreamy, hypnotic closer. Some people are acting like no one's ever made music like this before, but it must be a case of many people forgetting about (or not remembering ... damn drugs) the mid-to-late 90's - you know: The Orb, Orbital, Photek (to name three). Willner started there, and mastered his own approach, which is more refined and more minimal. And, to be honest, it's pretty great.
Field Music, Tones of Town (2007) B-
I like the stops-and-starts, I like the pianos and string sections, I like how it keeps from being too much like The Shins or Badly Drawn Boy. They wear the "Indie Pop" badge right out there in the open which does put me off a little, but I'm not at the grouchy stage yet where I can't appreciate structurally sound music.
Figurines, When the Deer Wore Blue (2007) C
Not bad, though if my memory serves me correctly, they were more impressive in concert than they were on their last record (I got to see them last year in Philly), and now that I've gone through this one once, I'm not blown away. It's not that they don't have the ability, but there's a lack of passion or urgency or even personal involvement, and that emotional flatness has a part in their mediocrity.
The Frank and Walters, A Renewed Interest in Happiness (2006) D-
Did anyone proofread the lyrics sheets to this dreck? It's like someone dipped into old Goo Goo Dolls discs and tried their hand at power pop for the masses.
Frog Eyes, The Future Is Inter-Disciplinary or Not at All [EP] (2006) D-
Carey Mercer does have one of the most unusual voices in music, but it's lost in the fuzzy gobbledygook of this tossed-off and pointless EP.
Fujiya & Miyagi, Transparent Things (2006) B
Low-key dance record in the same musical vein as Kruder & Dorfmeister, and the Thievery Corporation but with a touch of Momus, the logorrhea of Underworld and a dash of sass. I think it's a fun and catchy record and one to revisit from time to time: I already have it in my stack of CDs to go for walks or jog to.
Gang of Four, Entertainment! (1979) A
Absolutely, positively ingenious. The guitars and vocals are grating and hostile, but so is the (radical) political agenda, which covers everything from personal relationships (the brilliant "Natural's Not in It") to war ("Guns Before Butter") to Marxist theory in general (what to do for pleasure?). In most bands I'd find this kind of soapbox peddling to be a bit of a put on, but I don't believe these guys were putting anyone on. They were real. And this heaven gives me a migraine, too.
The Germs, (MIA): The Complete Anthology (1993) B-
Darby Crash either couldn't sing or didn't want to (though his chanting "I want out now" on "We Must Bleed" is creepy), they couldn't play their instruments, they didn't have rhythm, they couldn't write a decent song and their recording equipment didn't work. They didn't care. Not caring is punk. (Feelings vary per listener.)
Glass Candy, Beat Box (2007) B-
Girl/boy electronic duo follow in the footsteps of so many others - he makes funky, "ironic" beats, while she can't sing to save her life. Believe it or not, this is quite charming. I do love the Coldplay sample in "Computer Love" and the nasally, schmaltzy "Candy Castle" is addictive.
José González, In Our Nature (2007) C-
The best track I heard from González was his acoustic cover of The Knife's "Heartbeats" and here he tries his hand at Massive Attack's "Teardrop" (sorry, José, I'll stick with Liz Fraser) - the rest is about (to quote him) bringing out "the primitive aspects of human beings." What, like drinking and cavorting? Like cheating on your income taxes? Or like being proficient if undistinguished (like my undergrad collegiate career)?
The Good, the Bad and the Queen, The Good, the Bad and the Queen (2007) D
Damon Albarn sure likes his side projects, but they really aren't as good as Blur. As for this little endeavor - a band 'technically' without a name - I can only say it's altogether lackluster with even Danger Mouse struggling to put at least one good track together.
The Go! Team, Proof of Youth (2007) C
This is the second album this year in which a track that has something to do with Chuck D ("Flashlight Fight") is the best one on the entire disc (Pharoahe Monch's superior "Desire" being the other). Otherwise, this isn't a far step from their debut album, even concluding on an instrumental track (!).
Happy Mondays, Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches (1990) B
I have no idea how many pills and thrills and stomach pains they had while making this - presumably a lot - and I have no idea whether they were just exceptional musicians made better by drugs or mediocre musicians made significantly better by drugs or whether they needed the drugs at all. I do know that this is good dance music. Goodbye, Madchester - your hedonism left behind some treasures.
The Harlem Shakes, Burning Birthdays [EP] (2007) B
"Sickos" was the track that put this band on my own radar a year or two ago (oh those music blogs!), and here's the glossier EP with a few more gems to add to the list, like "Nineteen" and "Red Right Hands."
PJ Harvey, White Chalk (2007) D+
Did Polly Jean lose her voice overnight or is she trying to do a Nico album?
Mitch Hedberg, Mitch All Together (2003) [Comedy]
It wasn't that long ago that I was first acquainted with Mitch's routine during Letterman's show - he looked like a shy, perceptive but doped-up high school kid twisting reality around to reveal the oddity of everyday customs and activities - he was like the stoner who could muster up enough oxygen to make your lunch table laugh. His whimsical view of the world was harmless and fun, but it may have been this forever-young way of thinking and living that led him to keep on with the drugs (younger types being indestructible and all that), which of course took him from us too soon.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold as Love (1967) A-
Simply gorgeous feel-good (by any means possible!) album from Hendrix, not as revered as his other two major releases but just as accomplished - the title track, "Bold as Love," is soaring and optimistic, "Little Wing" is a staple and "If 6 Was 9" is a personal favorite (there we go again with those double entendres ... but I don't mind).
Bill Hicks, Relentless (1992) [Comedy]
Bill Hicks, Rant in E-Minor (1997) [Comedy]
I know that it's generally frowned upon to say that someone was 'saved' by his/her own art - too much of a lean on Freud, perhaps - but I can't help but think that for Hicks, getting up on stage was his way of keeping it together, of creating some kind of outlet for what I can only interpret as being an intense and unshakeable sadness and disgust for society at large. His recordings - like those of his predecessor, Lenny Bruce - are not just vital but mandatory, hilarious yet tragic, cutting but empathetic: he wasn't a real nihilist, because a real nihilist wouldn't have even bothered to talk it over (or maybe he was a nihilist who realized he needed the paycheck). He was brave, incisive (he made a comment about how he had 23 hours in the day to work on his debating skills, and that was the only thing he was good at), relentless and, as an American who was distinctly American - though he never made much of it - decidedly one of ours.
The Hives, The Black and White Album (2007) D-
Don't you hate it when one-album bands keep it going on and on despite having so obviously exhausted their creativity? These Swedes were dead the day after "Tyrannosaurus Hives" came out and won't be making another classic like "Find Another Girl" any time soon.
Holy Fuck, Holy Fuck [EP] (2007) C-
"Lovely Allen" is a nicely thought out and addictive opening track, but the rest of this 6-song EP doesn't have the same level of beauty or originality, playing out like standard - if glitchy - dance tracks.
The Horrors, Strange House (2007) C-
The "Sheena Is a Parasite" music video - directed by the inimitable Chris Cunningham - is proof that dazzling visuals and a brief, noisy track with a catchy hook can build up a band's reputation ... trouble is, the rest of the album is either stale or just plain lazy, wandering into familiar territory in an already flooded - and super-competitive - post-punk genre.
Hüsker Dü, Everything Falls Apart (1983) C
They race through twelve songs in under twenty minutes, make mistakes but plug on and turn up the guitars so loud you hear a lot of static. Sometimes I'm game for this, sometimes I'm just not, and I can be choosey when so many punk bands did the same thing. (Apologies for heresy.)
Interpol, Our Love to Admire (2007) C+
I'm afraid the lights aren't so bright this time around, as the Interpol shtick of shimmering guitars and vocal monotony has officially reached its logical conclusion - I noticed a slip with "Antics" but predicted a recovery, and now that they've failed to recover I'm prepared to write them off. New York might care, but I don't.
Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures (1979) A-
Dark and desperate early album by the legendary British outfit (who didn't get around to do much recording) - you can hear their influence in so many bands over the years that it goes to show it's not always quantity but quality that matters. It's quite chilling and alienating, so certainly not a disc you'd want to go through daily ... that is, unless you felt like your days were numbered, a la Ian Curtis.
Joy Division, Closer (1980) B
Unlike "Unknown Pleasures," this album strikes me as being so unapologetically dark and despairing that there really is no way 'in' - I find the droll delivery and throbbing mechanical beats keep one more at a distance than that first album or their other recordings. I admire it, in a way, but have a hard time "liking it" - it's quite hard to like listening to a suicide note (though actually, the entire Joy Division oeuvre can be interpreted as a suicide note).
Justice, † (2007) C-
This is one of those "one-song" albums (like last year's Gnarls Barkley's disc), with that miracle track-in-question being the Michael Jackson/Jackson 5-inspired "D.A.N.C.E." which harks back to the days when the actual King of Pop made good records instead of headlines. Almost all the other tracks belong in the dust pile of Kid606-esque slicing/dicing and/or generic Friday night bump-and-grind sessions which, to be truthful, have been done by so many others so much better.
Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly, Angry Mob (2007) C-
Should I be surprised that I think the most poetic track on this is the one-minute, thirty-second long "Boxing Champ," while the other twelve struggle so hard to recreate the frighteningly efficient "Employment?" Is there anything to be made out of the fact that the last track is called "Retirement?" Getting out of the racket this soon boys?
Kings of Leon, Because of the Times (2007) B
Whew, they didn't crumble after "Aha Shake Heartbreak," although I'm not confident I like the very conscientious effort by the band to sound more 'mature' ... hell, they kick off their album with a song about fatherhood and commitment. I'm all for growing up but not necessarily getting old; gotta keep those spurs on, if you know what I'm saying.
The Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) B+
Feel-good then-failure, now-classic with hippie intentions - it's dainty and blissful and in its own unpretentious way earned its reputation as one of the most notable records from the 60's. The la-las won't satisfy every passing mood - and can be especially trying on a dark day - but then again, Slayer or Deicide won't fit on a glorious Spring day. Not sure what to make of "God save little shops, China cups and virginity" ... why do any of that?
Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future (2007) C+
Takes all of the tracks off the "Xan Valleys" EP and throws on a few others - the others are still not as good as "Gravity's Rainbow" or "Atlantis to Interzone." Much floor-stomping and glow-stick waving and making music for people to take drugs to, but this is more exuberance than craft.
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (2007) A-
"Get Innocuous" is an interesting early hiccup ... before the band I know and love brings out the sarcasm ("North American Scum") and the dancing ("All My Friends") and the Depeche Mode-ing ("Sound of Silver") and the strangely touching ballad to end it ("New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"). Last year they dazzled with the 45 minute track for Nike - 'always take the money' I try to advise - and now they've avoided the sophomore slump.
Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007) C+
Holy shit, Jens has found a way to blend Sinatra, Nellie McKay and Scott Walker together! Yet, he's unable to extricate the worst elements of himself from this: the abundant 'quirky' instruments (hey everyone, "Into Eternity" sounds like an old-tyme-y ballad!), the nasal delivery and the constantly morphing sound, like shifts from polka to bluegrass to dance to whatever else he feels like at the moment.
Les Savy Fav, Let's Stay Friends (2007) D+
I keep reading about how 'eccentric' these fellows are but it must be from their interviews and live performances and less so from the music itself, which I've always taken as being 'safe,' like they're afraid to sound even a little different from the pack. At this point there are so many bands that described as 'post-punk' it just becomes a big heap of same-sounding copycats.
The Locust, New Erections (2007) D+
Here's something I've always wondered about these screamo-type bands: how quickly do their lead singers lose their voices? Is there permanent damage? Can they do things to help their vocal chords? (I recall seeing a similar local band in concert, and the lead was drinking honey in-between 'songs'.)
The Magic Whispers, Carousels & Music Boxes (2007) D
From the Belle & Sebastian school of twee, here come these fellows, with their not-so-unique blend of dry humor and pop bounciness. Trouble is, the lyrics lack any kind of intelligence and the more-suited-for-elevators ditties make the venture a less-than-pleasant experience. Dumb upbeat music, meet (sometimes) downhearted listener: keep your wine spritzers away from my Johnny Walker.
Manic Street Preachers, The Holy Bible (1994) B-
Include me in the group that likes "Everything Must Go" better. I never found this album at all "sinister" or that disturbing - oh, sure, the lyrics to "4st 7lb" are horrifying (and the Richey James mystery makes it all the more unnerving) - mostly because the music itself is so fast-moving and the guitars so enervated: it's a case of the sound drowning out the (highly politicized) message. "Everything Must Go" is more of a balanced attack, with the energy of "Kevin Carter" and "A Design for Life" really winning me over.
Matt and Kim, Matt and Kim (2006) C
Kim plays the same beat on almost every song! Matt's keyboard sounds the same on almost every song! If there was ever a time for idiotic music to break through, that time is now.
Curtis Mayfield, Superfly (1972) B+
Timeless, funky and iconic: one of the few times that a soundtrack to a movie is more important than the movie itself (also see: "Shaft").
Nellie McKay, Obligatory Villagers (2007) B-
She's like Sarah Silverman: how can this pretty girl with pearly whites and retro clothes be talking about rape and degradation? Is it ironic? Yes. Do I generally hate irony? Sure. Will I marry this girl one day? I'm already on one knee: we can read the paper with disdain every morning (while she refuses to make me breakfast), we can watch TCM on Friday nights, we can drink 18-year-old scotch while listening to old Bill Evans records. The offer's there, Nellie. The offer's there. Just never let me hear you sing "Zombie" again. Ever.
Menomena, Friend and Foe (2007) C+
Funny how some of the reviews I've been reading about this usually use the word "experimental" ... um, no, this isn't experimental. It's listener-friendly, actually, in a precocious kind-of way, though nothing landmark, extraordinary or moving: it's several guys who like to tinker around with their sound (also see: Battles).
Merzbow, Pulse Demon (1996) Rating not applicable
Masami Akita's a love-him-or-hate-him guy: you either get that noise is art or you hate it and say it's garbage. I lean towards the former, but recognize that listening to 60 minutes of crushing sonic insanity straight through is punishing and doesn't fit all moods (I find it helps when I'm feeling especially low). If John Cage's four minutes of silence is music, so are four minutes of Merzbow.
M.I.A., Kala (2007) C+
As much as I don't like her personally, this is a raucous, rarely dull disc - yes, some of the effects and instruments she uses sound hopelessly tacky ("Down River") and her politics are still banal, but I'm getting to the point where I can ignore her voice and groove on the daft production work. I mean, isn't that what you're supposed to do with women? Ignore what they say and just watch them move? (Okay, non-serious misogynistic aside over.)
The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (1984) B+
The Minutemen, 3-Way Tie (for Last) (1985) B
The Minutemen, Ballad Result (1986) C+
The Minutemen and Black Flag, Minuteflag [EP] (1986) D
The Minutemen, Post-Mersh Vol. 1 (1987) C+
The Minutemen, Post-Mersh Vol. 2 (1987) C+
The Minutemen, Post-Mersh Vol. 3 (1989) C+
The Minutemen, Introducing the Minutemen (1998) B-
I consider myself an adventurous music fan, willing to listen to most anything, so I was a little sad it took the movies to introduce me to The Minutemen via a sweet little documentary called "We Jam Econo" (this isn't to necessarily put movies down, but I mean I even heard Jandek's stuff a while before I watched "Jandek on Corwood"). I don't really like the idea of writing an album of, say, thirty tracks running less than two minutes each - there are so many 'gear changes' I get lost as to where the music is going - but in small doses The Minutemen are very effective - whoever compared their songs to poem fragments was onto something. The best of all is "Double Nickels on the Dime," which allows for each member of the three piece to have his own written set of songs, which shows just how far chemistry went in making them so memorable. Countless kudos to Scott W. Black for copies of these albums.
Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) C+
Disappointing, but I expected this slight screw-up after the majesty (and popularity) of their previous album. The addition of Johnny Marr helps to some extent (you can hear him on "Little Hotel" for example), but the album derails as it goes on (after sliding through the first three excellent tracks).
múm, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy (2007) D
Creaky, droll, atmospheric, and I was forgetting about it at the same time it was playing.
Naked City, Torture Garden (1989) B-
John Zorn plays his sax like a man possessed while Yamatsuka Eye screams incomprehensibly (though the songs morph so quickly this is a rather simplistic explanation); this goes on for over forty tracks that range in length between 15 seconds and a minute long. Yeah. It's strictly for those who are aware of Zorn's tendency towards the ... offbeat, and can find this quasi "cartoon" music at least a little amusing (Carl Stalling's a blatant influence).
Kate Nash, Made of Bricks (2007) C+
There's energy to burn here, but it's a little unchecked - Nash's flippant tone is both the album's strength and chief weakness, as she's not sure when to turn it off. She's like Lily Allen - if you like the one you'll probably by proxy find the other enjoyable.
The National, Boxer (2007) C-
"Alligator" was a damn fine album, but I don't recall lead 'singer' Matt Berninger's excessively droll delivery having much of a negative impact on it the way it does here - maybe it's because "Alligator" never allowed itself to become this self-pitying and downtrodden. Because what they managed to do is make another emo album, and we have too frickin' many of those as is.
The National Lights, The Dead Will Walk, Dear (2007) D
Woe-is-everything acoustic jumble - I normally like it for a band to let me know they have a pulse every once in a while (I never nod off during Dylan) and I'm confident the album title refers to the Zombie-fied state of the band itself. Supporters of the equally dull Iron & Wine: dive in.
Neu!, Neu! (1972) B
Psychedelic rock ideally suited for headphone play, as the droning - in a room full of hustle and bustle - may cause focus to drift (you'll most likely come to at the start of the jarring "Negativland"). It's a solid disc overall, though I don't care for the creaky mumblings on "Liebe Honig."
New Young Pony Club, Fantastic Playroom (2007) B+
A stunning dance club debut: I loved the song "Ice Cream," but didn't think they could replicate the effectiveness of that catchy song for a full LP. I'm pleased to say I'm wrong, and I'm also pleased to say this is one of the most sexual albums I've heard in forever, and considering the sexiness of the band's female members, that's simply delicious.
1990s, Cookies (2007) C+
"See You at the Lights" and "Enjoy Myself" are fun but the album starts stronger than it finishes - also, I can't shake the soundalike similarity to The Clash (listen to "Should I Stay or Should I Go" before any track). I hear they're like a wild fire in concert, and while the record suggests a good sense of humor, I'm only mildly into this.
Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007) C-
An improvement over "Satanic Panic in the Attic," but that isn't saying much - you still get dumb gems like, "Eva, I'm sorry but you will never have me / To me you're just some faggy girl / And I need a lover with soul power / And you ain't got no soul power." Barnes' album titles are accurate indicators of the level of pretentiousness at play, and the deliberate kookiness is dumb.
Oh No, Dr. No's Oxperiment (2007) C
More of a grab bag of sounds than a cohesive album, Oh No throws out 28 (!) tracks, most ranging in between one to two minutes long, from American hip-hop to Indian music to rock to everything else. Don't like what you're hearing? Give it a few seconds.
Panda Bear, Person Pitch (2007) C
Panda's voice is a lot like Brian Wilson's, and this album rides a stronger emotional wave than some of the Animal Collective material, but sometimes there's only so much echoing and reverb you can take for a twelve minute track. Sometimes it's so focused on being experimental, it disrupts its own flow.
Candie Payne, I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (2007) C
Sonic throwback to Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield and Peggy Lee with Ms. Payne's seductive voice riding the waves of big beats and tambourines. But it takes more than a dose of postmodernism to keep an album afloat, and Ms. Payne's songwriting skills are inferior to her vocal abilities (the songs consist of a few lines repeated ad nauseam).
Pelican, City of Echoes (2007) D
Instrumental blahs - "Hey! We know about chord progression!" - which makes me wonder which of their mothers would stop in the garage between takes to offer cookies and Sunny Delight to the other band members. "Oh thanks, Mrs. X., we sure are thirsty playing these monotonous songs. Sweeeet! Snack time!"
Pere Ubu, The Modern Life (1978) C-
I like the idea of music that's all over the place, and Dave Thomas has one of the most unique voices in music, but nothing in this sticks with me aside from the shrieking "Life Stinks."
Pharoahe Monch, Desire (2007) B-
I don't generally listen to that much hip-hop since so much of it sounds the same - this disc by NY-based Pharoahe Monch is a nice find, however, as Monch is gifted at word-play and often very funny. The part that nags at me is how the most memorable track on here is a Public Enemy cover ("Welcome to the Terrordrome"), with the rest of the material being decent if not that memorable.
Wally Pleasant, Songs About Stuff (1992) B-
Early forerunner to the work of Stephen Lynch and Adam Green - clean cut, jokey songs about the usual gamut: loony girls, stupid hippies, bad haircuts and the shittiness of a certain city in Michigan.
Polysics, KARATE HOUSE (2007) D+
A more restrained version of the Boredoms, but when they start tweaking their voices with synthesizers so they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks, I have to skip ahead.
The Ponys, Turn the Lights Out (2007) C-
Hmmm ... fellow Matador-label mates Interpol come out with a fantastic album in "Turn On the Bright Lights," and here these uncreative indie dopes want to turn them off. One band started the moody party, one ended it. Thanks for nothing.
Public Image Ltd. Second Edition (1980) C
So repetitive (especially the longer tracks like "Albatross" and "Pop Tones") you might want to skip ahead and try to get to the better, more direct parts of the album. Sure, Lydon v. 2.0 is more interested in musical ability than Lydon v. 1.0, but with v. 1.0, the fact that he wanted you to suffer because of his insults is easier to take than suffering for his 'arty' intentions.
Public Image Ltd. Album / Cassette / Compact Disc (1986) B-
It's mostly Lydon with some guest performers, but Lydon's vision makes it a prerty strong album, plus it has one of the absolute best tracks of the 80's on it: the potent, oft-used-in-movies "Rise," about - of all unlikely topics - racism. Who knew Johnny Rotten had it in him to show a little compassion? I could be wrong / I could be right.
Puscifer, "V" Is for Vagina (2007) D-
Is Maynard James Keenan doing his take on Rob Zombie? Because this sounds so much like his growling/industrial sledge ... only Zombie's so much more clever about it.
Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007) A
Incredible. Not only do they create one of the edgiest schemes to distribute this '07 release - letting the audience decide what the music is worth - they've made one of the best albums of the year for, depending on what 'you' choose to pay them, as little amount of money as possible (essayists should have a field day using this stunt to gauge how society views the "value" of art ... buy me a couple of beers and I probably won't shut up about it). In the history of music - which I'm not nearly as well-versed in as I should be - I doubt there have been that many bands that have had the kind of flexibility and creative freedom as Radiohead has, or been as consistently successful. As far as the sound is concerned, they aren't back to "The Bends" yet (my friends John and Will predict a turnaround one of these days), but they've changed their sound from "Kid A" to something more majestic ("Reckoner") but still unsettling ("Nude"). And they let Jonny G. play more guitars. And they're still making masterpieces.
The Raincoats, The Raincoats (1979) C
Nasally, atonal girls sing over screechy violins and the occasional blast of guitar. Their mission: to prove that punk grrls can make music every bit as obnoxious as the punk boys can. And they did, by God they did.
The Rakes, Capture/Release (2005) B-
One of the better - if less well-known - post-punk bands out there; the songs suggest active intelligence at work, even if they're probably a smidge too reserved to make it exceptional.
Dizzie Rascal, Maths + English (2007) D
Mr. Rascal would like you to know that you should suck his dick, that he's the king, that there are fakers on the street, that he's got nice clothes and that bitches are nothin'. It's a good thing he told me about those things, because otherwise I would have never known any of that.
Jay Reatard, Blood Visions (2006) B-
Mr. Reatard - if I may call him that - has so much Black Flag on the brain he dreams about the Adverts and the Germs pissing on each other. Some punk stalwarts may balk at the hooks and pop-influences - it's listenable, in other words - but I say run with it.
Refused, The Shape of Punk to Come (1998) D-
If this is what punk is going to shape up to be, I'll stick with those that came before these guys with their violins and sound samples and electronic gadgetry and their put-on "anger." The Sex Pistols and The Ramones and X and The Adverts didn't go to art school, listen to death metal 'ironically' or have their parents pay for their shiny new instruments - the woke up in alleys and could barely pull off a handful of chords.
Max Richter, Songs From Before (2006) B-
Periodically gorgeous, though very similar to "The Blue Notebooks." Seeing him and a four-piece string section play this kind of stuff in a chilly old church can't be beat, though.
The Rosebuds, Night of the Furies (2007) C+
The oddest thing about this latest Rosebuds release is the retro dance influence ... either I haven't listened to their work in a while, but this sounds much less guitar-heavy (think a modern twist on Depeche Mode). That said, it's a semi-decent disc (a step down, if you must, from their last LP), with "Get Up Get Out" and "When the Lights Went Dim" being two of the best moments.
Roxy Music, Country Life (1974) C
Bryan Ferry's quivering, pompous voice takes a lot of getting used to; the music is decent but a little too busy - horns with pianos and guitars all muddled together. This does, without a doubt, have one of the best covers of all time.
Ulrich Schnauss, Goodbye (2007) D
A chintzy, unremarkable, immediately forgettable electronic blend - Schnauss decides to turn on the noise for "Medusa," and by then it just seems like he's getting desperate. The title track sounds like a poor Air imitation (and by that I mean "Moon Safari"-era, not present day Air).
Shitdisco, Kingdom of Fear (2007) D
Yes, the band name is comically redundant and yes, the title is shared with a Hunter Thompson book and yes, there is a reference to the 72 virgins certain suicide bombers will get after death (a nice promise, I've always said, but where do they get the virgins from?), but despite the forced joviality this is a waste of time and devoid of originality.
Sigur Rós, Hvarf-Heim (2007) C+
They're a little young to be doing compilation albums, if you ask me (but they're also young enough to continue to be this pretentious). The "Heim" disc is redundant - "Starálfur" was good the first time I heard it and it's good this time, too. The "Hvarf" disc consists of previously unreleased B-sides (and another version of "Von") that all but the most hardcore fan can safely ignore.
Slayer, South of Heaven (1988) C+
Something's missing in this early Slayer effort - I think following all the fury of "Reign in Blood" had to come the downswing and a breather. Still contains two Slayer staples, the excellent title track - which contains some of my favorite Slayer lyrics, namely "Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters / Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers" - and the very good "Mandatory Suicide" (though I prefer the live version included on "Decade of Aggression").
Slayer, Seasons in the Abyss (1990) B
Ideologically ugly, but that's a given when it comes to Slayer - they're fascinated with the macabre, they're trying to sell records and they're a hit with the disenfranchised (and those that like thrash metal). Also, you need a balance for all that soft pop shit they pump through your radio sometimes, right? The bookends, "War Ensemble" and "Seasons in the Abyss" (one of my favorite songs regardless of genre), are stunning.
Slayer, Undisputed Attitude (1996) C-
Slayer covering some obscure punk tracks sounds clever in theory because they have plenty in common (politics and anger), but as musicians they're too refined and the tracks are too smoothly put together: it's not a disaster, but more a novelty. Should have been an EP.
Patti Smith, Horses (1975) B+
John Cale kept it simple and clean, Patti kept it off-kilter and passionate and the song meanings depend more or less on the person listening to them - those with a taste for sentence-structuring out of Burroughs (you know, that whole cut-up thing) will find many rewards in her fractured poetry.
The Smiths, Meat Is Murder (1985) C
I don't consider "How Soon Is Now" as an official part of this album, so what remains is some of the most mediocre music The Smiths ever made in one convenient place with two notable exceptions: "I Want the One I Can't Have" and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore."
The Softlightes, Say No! to Being Cool, Say Yes to Being Happy (2007) D
Tolerable Postal Service rehash until it gets to "The Microwave Song" with its chorus of "I am just a microwave" and really disintegrates (they follow that up with a bland reprise and then some song about eating baked goods). This is not happy or cool, this is moronic. I'm saying no to it right now.
Spank Rock, YoYoYoYoYo (2006) B
Raunchy lyrics over cheesy beats - it's irreverent, caustic and basically a party album. Live, they create quite the commotion - I managed to catch them the same night I saw M.I.A. and Diplo and got the crowd right into it. Right off the bat this year ('07), they released the tasteless and hilarious "Lindsay Lohan's Revenge" about the photos of Ms. Lohan's exposed crotch all over the tabloids and the mixture of arousal and revolt the candid images instill in some. Frankly, I'd expect nothing less than a Philly-based gang of jokers. Killadelph, reprazent.
Spank Rock and Benny Blanco, Bangers & Cash [EP] (2007) C+
It depends on how seriously you want to take this: it's five tracks of pure misogyny, and sometimes hilarious, like a tongue-in-cheek remix of 2 Live Crew. I'm not saying it's great music or anything, but take a look at the track names: "Shake That," "B-O-O-T-A-Y," "Loose," "Pu$$y" and finally, "Bitch!" Judge for yourself.
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) C-
It's only so-so. More like Spoon B-sides, and even the one or two pretty decent tracks on this ("Don't Make Me a Target" and "The Underdog") would have been lesser tracks on "Gimme Fiction."
Bruce Springsteen, Magic (2007) C
The gloomy "Devils and Dust" earned Mr. Springsteen a lot of criticism (unjustly, I think), so this is his return to the safety of his old early-90's material. It's so pitifully familiar and safe, so Bruce fans should love it.
Stars, Do You Trust Your Friends? (2007) D
To answer that question: you probably shouldn't. The only stand-out on this is The Most Serene Republic's breathy take on "Ageless Beauty," while others like Final Fantasy and Jason Collett can't make much more of Stars' songs than Stars did themselves. Because really, it's not like "Set Yourself on Fire" was all that and a bag of chips to begin with....
Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War (2007) C-
Rather conventional - and frankly flat - pop that sounds like it's trying too hard to be likeable and deep and smart, but Amy Millan's voice is not exactly the ideal one to wake up to in the morning (or, for that matter, Torquil Campbell's). Did Dan Bejar have anything to do with "Barricade?"
Stars of the Lid, Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline (2007) C-
The "drone" I get, but should every track "drone" in the same way as the track before it and after it? Just seems like a succession of highs and lows and silence in between - after two hours, it was more a matter of being bored....
The Stooges, The Weirdness (2007) D+
They should have stayed broken up. The music is as simple and the lyrics are as directed as they were in the early Stooges albums, but something is missing: the youth of it all, which would have better allowed for such hostile rantings as "My idea of fun / is killing everyone." Now, after hearing Iggy's nuanced solo work and catching him in interviews - he's far wiser and becalmed in interviews than his maniac on-stage performances of yore suggest - it seems an unwise move to step back and try to repeat the early three albums (which were wonderful and timeless in their own way).
The Subjects, With the Ease, Grace, Precision, and Cleverness of Human Beings (2007) B+
What can I say - I've gone from being a fan to almost getting the band killed by a group of raucous lacrosse players to convincing two blonde girls to get into their rented, out-of-state van. They've told me personally they like to party. In fact, they've shouted it to several unsuspecting people. So as a thank you, I've dedicated myself to trying to spread the word about them and this auspicious debut LP as a sort-of apology for leaving the group stranded in a local dive bar (sorry, girlfriends and bedtimes, everyone should understand). Now, as for a critique of the album itself, I really like it, but I just wish they didn't lose Jimmy's solo in the re-think of "Hounds of War" (take a listen to the EP version and this version and decide for yourself what you prefer).
Richard Swift, Dressed Up for the Letdown (2007) C
Lots of potential here, but Swift often gets caught up in his own echolalia and seems to usurp his own momentum by not balancing the album out. He says he wants to be a better man, so maybe we need to give him the time to do just that.
Tegan and Sara, The Con (2007) C
"So Jealous" made everyone rethink these chirpy, androgynous young ladies - even Jack White was covering them at one point - but this isn't a step forward, but more a lateral move or even a half a skip backwards. If that album was a private high school, this is community college.
That Fucking Tank, The Day of Death by Bono Adrenalin Shock (2006) D
Braindead jam rock that should appeal to a handful of stoners and maybe the two members of the band themselves ... and even those two I'm not sure about.
The Tuss, Confederation Trough [EP] (2007) B
The Tuss, Rushup Edge (2007) B
Richard James' "secret project" is hardly a secret - hell, even I can hear his greasy fingers pushing those damn buttons. "Alspacka" on the "Confederation Trough" EP is a little like the "Analogue Bubblebath" material while "Death Fuck" on "Rushup Edge" is like a playful outtake from the "Donkey Rhubarb" disc. Everything this guy makes is, if not 'good,' certainly worth a listen for the adventurous.
The Twilight Sad, Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters (2007) C+
Not bad - I get the overall Interpol-influence (guitars set to shimmer, lyrics on cryptic repeat), but did all nine songs have to be mostly the same?
UNKLE, Nights Temper [EP] (2007) D+
It's never been the same since DJ Shadow left, frankly: there's some excellent guitar work on "Chemistry," but the rest is familiar territory.
UNKLE, War Stories (2007) D+
What difference does it make how many contributors you can round up if they can't help you solidify an album? Songs like "Chemistry" and "Keys to the Kingdom" are movie soundtrack ready - just drag and drop!
Jean-Claude Vannier, L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches (1972) C
He worked with Gainsbourg on "Histoire de Melody Nelson," so he's got street cred, but this surreal amalgam of styles and sounds (abrasive followed by soft, standard rock following classical) ... it's weird without being good. Like Lynch on an off-day.
The Veils, The Runaway Found (2004) B-
Confident debut album by Finn Andrews and his (original) backing band - it received pretty good reviews on its release, and justifiably so: it's got its fair share of relatively upbeat moments and pensive tracks ("Vicious Traditions").
The Veils, Nux Vomica (2006) B-
Hardly a deep re-examination of indie rock, though the quivering voice of Finn Andrews and the tight hooks of songs like "Calliope!" and "Advice for Young Mothers to Be" provide tracks to re-listen to once droll material like "House Where We All Live" have long since left the memory. According to the sporadically dubious Wikipedia, some Japanese kids killed themselves when the original incarnation of the band fell apart. Those Japanese kids'll off themselves for any damn reason, I swear.
Caetano Veloso, Cê (2006) B
I know I've been checking in with Veloso over the past couple of years to hear what he's been up to, and every time I return to him I'm surprised at just how gorgeous his music is. Even more surprising is when he shatters his normally calm world for the electric guitar work of the aptly titled "Rocks" (or the psychedelic "Waly Salomão" - it's so unlike what I've come to expect from Mr. Veloso I had to check the filename twice. There are slips throughout (the irritating "Por quê?" for one), but the rest is so rewarding they're easy to overlook.
The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat (1968) B+
That "Sister Ray" can actually withstand its nearly twenty minute length is a testament to how incredible this band really was, but if you'll forgive me, John Cale, I have to skip past your short story/song hybrid - neat idea, but I don't think it works (it's more art than music).
VHS or Beta, Bring on the Comets (2007) D+
At first I believed the name of the band to be just one of those 'clever things we thought up one night,' but as it turns out, these guys have a hard-on for the 80's and incredibly cheesy synthesizers and cooing out of Wham and Ah-ha. In the '80s I was listening to Guns N' Roses.
The Virgins, The Virgins [EP] (2007) B+
The French Kicks may be one of the most underrated bands in music, because their style of post-punk is reverberating everywhere - take for example this stylish outfit, with enough jangle in their pop to make shoegazers pick their heads up and shift in place (aside from the Kicks, you can also hear The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys in there). "Rich Girls," with its falsetto coos and catchy guitar riffs is one of the best songs of the year.
Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars (2007) C
I can't get into Wainwright's whining voice and gaudy background music (gah! trumpets!), but I like his sarcasm and I like his style. In other words, I value Wainwright more as an actor and personality than as a musician. I want him on TV making fun of people.
Scott Walker, Scott Walker Sings Songs From His TV Series (1969) B-
Never heard of this 'TV series' of Scott's (and naturally never saw anything from it), have no idea where these tracks come from (or if they're covers), but it's way more pop-friendly than the politically-minded "Scott 4" or even his darker later work. I guess I appreciate the kitsch-value of this, and in my head I can picture Walker sitting on a fake fence on a fake set wearing a fake cowboy hat crooning these tunes out. Probably not the desired effect, but that's another story....
Kanye West, Graduation (2007) B
Metrosexual Kanye only works with the best: he borrows clippets of one of Daft Punk's catchiest songs for "Stronger," he borrows Mos Def for "Drunk and Hot Girls" and then borrows two noted white guys (John Mayer and Chris Martin) to add some diversity. Metrosexual Kanye only wears the best: Louis Vuitton, Comme des Garçons, Hermès. I don't sense a 'drop-off' in quality from the last album - he knows his hooks, he knows what makes a good album and unlike some of his peers, he knows how to put enough P.C. stuff in there to keep the liberal record nerds happy.
The White Stripes, Icky Thump (2007) C-
I don't say this often about too many people, but as of right now (June 2007) I am thoroughly sick of Jack White. He's offered pretty much everything he has to offer, his albums are derivative and in the media he's everywhere - in movies, in other bands, in magazines. I don't begrudge him the publicity, I just don't think anything he's done since "Elephant" is new or exciting to warrant the endless attention, and now with this album he and partner Meg are trying to back pedal to the older days (with a tinge of country and bluegrass), and it's too much. Take some time off. Take a long holiday. Please, Jack. Give us time to breathe.
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (2007) B
I'm working on my third spin through this - it's not "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" but I'm confident Tweedy & Co. will never pull that off again. He spends most of the disc talking about how everything's going to hell before settling at the last minute (the lovely "On and On and On") that, you know what, things might work out after all. It's not like his insecurities and indecisiveness hinder the rest of the desk, however: "Impossible Germany," the title track and "What Light" are superb.
Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2007) C
Real-life lush/lout crafts one of the summer hits of '07 - about, of all things, a lush/lout - and turns on her "blackness" for some soul mimicry. Trouble is, Diana Ross can drink her under the table and Aretha wouldn't sit next to her at the bar. A parlor trick, really.
Wire, Pink Flag (1977) B
Famous punks race through twenty-plus thoughtful cuts in under forty minutes - keeping in mind that I have a slight aversion to excessively brief tracks, I really like this: there is an brain behind the music and the energy is abundant.
Wire, 154 (1979) B
Just two years passed between this and "Pink Flag," and Wire sounds substantially different - more atmospheric, for one, as they shifted closer to Suicide and synthpop. Two favorites: "The 15th" and "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W."
Wolves in the Throne Room, Two Hunters (2007) D
I'll grant that you can't do much with "doom metal" than alternate between vocal growling and instrumental rumbling (with the sporadic shift to the quiet before reverting back to loud), but I was tired of this by the end of the third track.
Stevie Wonder, Innervisions (1973) B+
Oft-covered album has many fans and is frequently life-affirming, but like Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life," it stands as a record that I like but don't love. I hear it, it's amazing, I can't imagine saying anything truly negative about it, but I'm not going to listen to it again for a long time. Sometimes with albums (and movies and books), that just happens.
Woods, At Rear House (2007) D-
Oh boy, my favorite combo: intentionally de-tuned guitars joined up with vocals that sound like a bunch of high school kids experimenting with helium. I imagine the two members of this band are the kind of guys who ask for permission to sleep on your floor 'just for the night' and then wind up taking over your kitchen and spilling their bong water all over your couch.
The Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams (2007) B-
There are one too many ballads on this, and the Wu seems to be showing signs of aging (kids, wives, mortgages) and they most likely do run a consulting firm on the side ("you've got to diversify your bonds"), but they still ain't nothin' to fuck with.
X, Los Angeles (1980) B
Widely considered "punk," this actually manages to combine punk with early rock and roll (with hints of rockabilly, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and so on) into an unpretentious fun whole. As an ode to L.A., it's genuine - the love for the city goes right alongside the loathing.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is [EP] (2007) B
... and so they've returned to the basics. I know I personally heard some of these tracks either live or via fan-recorded mp3 just before the "Fever to Tell" days (I still have a cool if noisy copy of "10 x 10" somewhere on my hard drive). Considering the lackluster reception to "Show Your Bones," the closer the band can get to earlier form the better.
The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle (1968) C
Nothing astounding, really - if you've heard "This Will Be Our Year" and "Time of the Season" you've probably heard the two best things on here. Of all the Beatles impersonations I've heard - and I've heard many - this is one of the more mediocre attempts.
Live Acts Caught, or: Why Yes, I Do Leave My House At Times
April 12, 2007: Junior Boys with San Serac, The First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA [* A nice downbeat show for a Thursday night. I liked the Junior Boys album, and their 80's Vangelis-meets-00's-Postal Service vibe (coupled with half whispered lyrics) works live.]
June 1, 2007: Datarock with Yeasayer, Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia, PA [* Datarock actually played their instruments - which surprised me - plus they had their red jumpsuits and sunglasses on. More often than not it veered into performance art (drinking shots of whiskey and smoking pot on stage, playing the theme to "Dirty Dancing," posing mid-song for pictures), and that's all right by me. The less said about Yeasayer the better.]
July 7, 2007: Fujiya and Miyagi with Project Jenny/Project Ken, Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia, PA [* The Fujiya and Miyagi aesthetic is arguably more suited for a lounge than a place for rock concerts but it's infectious music nonetheless - their set was clean and efficient.]
July 21, 2007: The Ponys with Jay Reatard, The Bowery Ballroom, New York City [* Missed the first act because of misdirection and subway f-ups (rotten F train was out of commission) but was able to catch Reatard blow through about thirteen songs in twenty-five minutes (in a word: bombastic) while The Ponys played about four or five pretty damn good songs and a couple mediocre ones (the interplay between the guitars is impressive even though the songwriting falters).]
July 24, 2007: Rachael Yamagata with Devin Greenwood, Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia, PA [* Deeply disappointing. This could be for one of two reasons: either (1.) Yamagata was treating these consecutive Philly shows at Johnny Brenda's as screw-around sessions and purposely not taking them very seriously (meaning, she's disregarding her audience's interest in both skill and craft) or (2.) the time spent touring and smoking and drinking alcohol have lead to a decline in her play and especially her voice. The best moments were when she played two of the singles off "Happenstance," but even then the timing's off; if she was just goofing around on-stage, I'm not sure I shouldn't be a bit insulted. Also, lose the electric guitar. Also, lose the acoustic guitar.]
August 31, 2007: Battles with Deerhunter, South Street Seaport, New York City [* Deerhunter's style of music - droning, creepy - got lost a tad in the NYC air (they're a closed venue type of band) but you might argue they're better and more hypnotic live than on disc (I'll try to catch them in Philly eventually); Battles - an art-y jam band - strike me as the kind of tech guys who get keyed up when a new piece of equipment arrives in the mail. I wasn't too keen on "Mirrored," either.]
October 16, 2007: British Sea Power with Stardeath & White Dwarfs, Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia, PA [* The Stardeath act cleared the room with their plumes of smokes and dull riffs (to quote one occupant, "It's 17th century London!") before BSP, one of my favorite bands, took the stage and played virtually every song they knew (except "Like a Honeycomb," what the hell guys) in a solid performance before leading to their own strobe light with fog finale, which had me squeezing my eyes shut and most of the audience disoriented. Yeah, it's probably a Big Fuck You to the crowd, but this is coming from a band who cover their amps with signal flags, wear tree parts on stage and have been known to use a stuffed owl to beat a drum. I continue to be a fan.]
November 2, 2007: Be Your Own Pet, The Mercury Lounge, New York City [* Singer Jemina and guitarist Jonah head-butt each other like bison, bassist Nathan insults the venue (I think it's because they wouldn't let in his friends or serve him booze even though he's well under 21), they "play" their songs but none of their instruments are tuned, Jemina spits on stage and pushes herself into the audience, Jemina eventually collapses on the floor and doesn't move, drummer John cleans up his kit ('oh, she does that all the time') and then everyone leaves. I remarked in the overcrowded men's lav afterwards that I thought it was a meta-joke, like she's mocking people like Courtney Love (because honestly, there's nothing like discussing postmodernism in a bathroom the size of a closet). I was also thinking to myself, during the show, what I would say to eager-eyed H.S. students who wanted to start their own punk band. "Mr. L., can we thrash around and insult the crowd and make music faux-dangerous and ugly again?" Geez, I dunno kids....]
November 28, 2007: Max Richter w/Chamber Ensemble and video art by Matt Hulse along with Cepia and Assaff Weisman, The Good-Shepherd Faith Church, New York City [* Richter's first performance in the States was a delight, and the string ensemble and video art (not to mention the surroundings ... a creaky, dusty old church) added to the ambience.]
Singles of the Year: !!!: "Yadnus," Animal Collective: "Fireworks," The Bird and the Bee: "Fucking Boyfriend," Black Kids: "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You," Bloc Party: "I Still Remember," British Sea Power: "Atom (Edit)," Broken Social Scene: "Gang Bang Suicide," Burial: "Archangel," Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: "Five Easy Pieces," Deerhunter: "Cryptograms," Editors: "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors," Lupe Fiasco Featuring Matthew Santos: "Superstar," The Field: "Over the Ice," Glass Candy: "Candy Castle," The Harlem Shakes: "19," The Horrors: "Sheena Is a Parasite," Interpol: "Pioneers to the Falls," Justice: "D.A.N.C.E.," Kings of Leon: "Knocked Up," Klaxons: "Gravity's Rainbow," LCD Soundsystem: "Someone Great," Modest Mouse: "March Into the Sea," New Young Pony Club: "Ice Cream," 1990s: "See You at the Lights," The Ponys: "Double Vision," Radiohead: "Reckoner," Sigur Rós: "Samskeyti," Spank Rock: "Lindsay Lohan's Revenge," The Subjects: "I Could Never Tune," Richard Swift: "Dressed Up for the Letdown," The Virgins: "Rich Girls," Wilco: "On and On and On," Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Rockers to Swallow"