Friday, October 29, 2010

Stuff I Listened To Last Week – 24 Oct 2010

Every time I listen to a record, I leave it next to the stereo. On Monday, before I go back to work, I re-file them all. Below are the contents of this week's pile.

Ozzy OsbourneNo Rest For the Wicked
This is his first one with Zakk Wylde, his best guitarist since Randy Rhoads. It's not a great album overall, but it opens with "Miracle Man", one of my favourite Ozzy songs. Also one of my favourite public feud dis-tracks, a nyah-nyah at long-time Ozzy naysayer Jimmy Swaggart after the preacher-man got busted with a prostitute. Sick talk-box work by Wylde here.

Bowery Electric

The Flaming LipsEmbryonic

The Third Eye FoundationYou Guys Kill Me
I'm not sure if I should really be filing this guy's stuff with Flying Saucer Attack, because I'm not sure he was really a full-fledged member. They were always pretty vague about their membership.

The cover, by the way, is hysterical. It's a medieval-looking portrait of Jesus. Read the album title again. Get it?

The Grateful DeadAnthem Of the Sun
I listened to this one repeatedly last week, and it's awesome. Maybe my favourite thing the Dead ever did, and I've listened to a lot of those hallowed boots. This one has a reputation as being one of the ones Deadheads don't really like, because it's early, dark psychedelia, before the band became good-timey hippie jam rock. Maybe that's why I love it.

Robert PollardNot In My Airforce
This album holds up so well, and almost justifies Pollard's arrogant belief that he and he alone was the Voices, and everyone else in the band was just along for his ride. I'd rank this right alongside the big three.

On the other hand... I'm still really looking forward to the classic lineup reunion tour, because the drop-off in quality of GBV albums after he fired them all is palpable.

Howard JonesHuman's Lib
The wife's copy; I had it on cassette. One of the first tapes I owned. I can remember him "performing" "Pearl In the Shell" on Top Of the Pops when he played the lone snare drum at the beginning.

I think Jones is underrated and unjustly lumped in with other one-hit synth-Brits from his era. Talented songwriter, played all the instruments on his records, had at least a half-dozen hits over two albums, definitely more than just one. In fact, I think if you were to argue that he's just a one hit wonder, you'd have a hard time nailing down which one is supposed to be his one hit.

Janelle MonáeThe Archandroid: Suites II & III
This one's worth buying for the liner notes alone, which explain that Monáe is a time-traveler who escaped from a future mental hospital. No kidding. OK, the music's awesome too.

Pink FloydThe Final Cut
Both Kurt Loder and Chris Ott think this might be the band's best album. Might be the only thing they agree on. Definitely the most overlooked of their prime.

RadioheadKid A
Definitely their Zooropa. That's a complement.

The Residents Present the Third Reich 'n Roll, Fingerprince
I think it means something that the Residents, Negativland and Kid 606 all come from San Francisco, I just can't figure out what. Third Reich is definitely the spiritual precursor to all things Girl Talk/2 Many DJs, and I mean that in both a good and bad way. If you love mash-up culture, you'll love it, or at least be morbidly fascinated by it. If you hate that shit, you'll probably hate Third Reich. Nothing wrong with that. It's not for everyone. I love that shit, and I think this album is genius. If you asked me to rank my favourite albums of the 1970s, this one probably makes the top ten these days.

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet BandLive Bullet
This is probably Seger's biggest selling album, and it contains none of his hits. Oddly enough, this one was the big breakout that made him a star, after which he recorded classics like Night Moves and Stranger In This Town. That's how you did it in the 70s: made your reputation as a live act, then built on that with record sales. In a way, this album is akin to Frampton Comes Alive, except that it's awesome. Have you listened to Comes Alive lately? Doesn't really hold up. Live Bullet does.

SmogRed Apple Falls
I was never a huge Smog fan, but I have like three or four of his albums. This one's nice and quiet, good for putting the girls to bed. I don't think they'd be so into the earlier ones, but those are the ones I really like. Can you read a bedtime story to your kids while listening to "Prince Alone In the Studio" or "Your Wedding"?

SparksBig Beat
As much as I love this band, I can't hum you a single song off this album, and I just listened to it last week. It's not bad, just kind of forgettable. Maybe that's worse than being bad.

Bruce SpringsteenDarkness On the Edge Of Town
So the big retrospective box set commemorating the release of this album is set to come out this month or something. Just in time for the holidays, I guess. I always thought of this as lesser Bruce, maybe his first not-so-great album, but popular opinion seems to face very much in the opposite direction.

The basic story is that Bruce hooked up with Jon Landau (Mr. "I have seen the future of rock..." himself) and decided to break with his old manager. Legal shenanigans ensued and Bruce didn't release a new album for three years. When he re-emerged, Darkness was the new Bruce: shorter songs, more fully realised working class hero persona.

I used to leave the inner sleeves on my records turned up, so they had to be slid out in order to access the record. At one point, I came around to the idea of inserting them sideways, so the record can be slid out without the sleeve coming out. If a record on the Shelf has the sleeve turned up, it means I haven't listened to it in a long time. Darkness is one such record. I think I bought it, listened to it a couple times and dismissed it. So obviously it's due at the very least for a reappraisal.

It's definitely better than I remember, a strong record, but I still can't help but think of it as a negative turning point, the album where Bruce became "BROOOCE!", a parody of himself. The songwriting just seems so less ambitious that that on E Street Shuffle.

And so after several listens this week, I still reach the conclusion that it doesn't touch the first three. I understand he wrote something like seventy songs in order to whittle it down to these ten, and the box set will have demos of all those other songs. Yes, I'm intrigued, but if dreck like "Candy's Room" and "Factory" made the final cut, are the outtakes really gonna be that good?

Of course I'm gonna find out. It's Bruce. I'm a sucker.

Stevie WonderSongs In the Key Of Life
My copy is really worn out and I'm super bummed about that. It still has a $10 price tag on it, and when am I gonna find another copy that cheap with the booklet and the seven-inch?

Neil YoungYoung Man's Fancy
Bootleg of a solo live show frok 1971. Utterly amazing. This record's so good I can't even write about it. This post is going up late because it took me forever to tackle that Springsteen record, but this one I'm not even gonna try. Neil was fucking untouchable in this era.

Zola JesusValusia EP
What the fuck are you waiting for? Yes, it's that good!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stuff I Listened To Last Week – 17 Oct 2010

Every time I listen to a record, I leave it next to the stereo. On Monday, before I go back to work, I re-file them all. Below are the contents of this week's pile.

The death of Kurt Cobain hit me pretty hard because it happened when I was still a teenager. But I think in hindsight the rock suicide that bums me out the most to this day is Richie Lee. I don't know anything about the guy, but it just seems so random.

Also, why isn't Mark Lightcap still making music? Most underrated guitarist ever that I can think of offhand right now.

Tim BuckleyHappy Sad

John ColtraneA Love Supreme
Can't beat those first few notes. As iconic an opening as "London Calling".

Bob DylanNashville Skyline

FailureFantastic Planet
I call bullshit on this one.

In a blog post on the Voice's website a few weeks ago, some writer listed ten alternative bands from the 90s that still haven't reunited, and included these guys. The name rang a bell, but I couldn't remember ever hearing their music. Apparently they were a space rock band.

So I looked up this album, reputed to be their masterpiece, and lo and behold, it was reissued on vinyl about six months ago. So I ordered it sight unseen.

A quick note in advance to any of this band's defenders who might be tempted to post a spirited flurry of you-don't-get-it-mans in the comment section: I did listen to it more than once. And it still stinks.

Who decided that this music is space rock? I've actually read that description in more than one place, and you have to be kidding me. There are a couple of points on the album when they just turn on all their guitar pedals for about a minute between songs, but otherwise this is just third-rate post-Nirvana also-ran grunge. Right down to the asinine non-sequiteur titles like "Sergeant Politeness" (so 90s, right?). And it blows. And they're from LA and sound like it.

I don't even think I would have liked this band when I was in college, and I fell for a lot of alt-rock crap back then. But even in those days I could tell that Dig stunk.

So fine, I got fooled by the hype. It happens. It's not gonna stop me from buying albums without hearing them first, that's just too much fun. I will not, however, be buying any further Failure LPs. And if anybody wants this one it's in like-new condition, only been played a few times.

Carole KingTapestry
The wife's stepmother was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually own a couple albums that she (a) has heard of and (b) likes.

Joanna NewsomHave One On Me
Still trying. I think I need to sit and listen to it start to finish with the lyric sheet.

She gave an interview to somebody a while back where she shit-talked a bunch of more mainstream acts. It was unexpected and pretty funny. She called Lady Gaga "Arty Spice", which I thought was a pretty good line.

Will OldhamJoya, Bonnie 'Prince' BillyI See a Darkness
I never realised how much I used to listen to it, but my copy of Darkness is worn out almost to the point of being unlistenable. I might need to get another copy for the sake of the title track alone.

Also, I file all of his albums under Oldham, despite the fact that I think Joya is the only one he's released under that name. Should they be under P? B? Separate? Definitely not separate.

Sigur Ròs()

SpiritualizedLet It Come Down
I may have mentioned this before, but I think this one is really J Spaceman's masterpiece. I know most people will say Ladies and Gentlemen, and certainly that's a fantastic album, but I think this one as has more assured songwriting and more confident arrangements. Really, there's not a low point anywhere on this record.

Neil YoungHarvest

Zola JesusThe Spoils, Valusia, LA Vampires Meets Zola Jesus
Yes, the new EP is in fact every bit as awesome as you thought I was going to say it is. She is just unstoppable right now. I think the next full-length blows up. Seriously.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stuff I Listened To Last Week – 10 Oct 2010

Every time I listen to a record, I leave it next to the stereo. On Monday, before I go back to work, I re-file them all. Below are the contents of this week's pile.

Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
Had a house guest who was raving about a Talib Kweli show she saw recently. I was psyched to pull this one out. She was psyched I had it. Ah ,the Shelf.


David BowieAladdin Sane

BroadcastWork and Non Work
This was the one I bought based upon their initial media hype. Better than I remember. The rock crit shorthand on them at the time was Stereolab melodies with Portishead beats, which still doesn't jibe. The beats just aren't there, at least on this record. As for the Stereolab part...

My initial assessment was that this was a band that was doomed to be labeled Stereolab knockoffs simply because not enough people had heard Pram to realise that they're actually Pram knockoffs. I understand now that this is kind of unfair, as they don't display the same Theremin fetishism that marks Pram's signature sound. Still, this stuff doesn't knock me out.

Tim BuckleyBlue Afternoon
Even on his lesser efforts this guy can slay angels with that voice.

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman

The Flaming LipsIn a Priest Driven Ambulance

Land Of the LoopsBundle Of Joy
So I'm changing my daughter the other day and I notice she's wearing a onesie that says "bundle of joy" on it. And I think, "Y'know, I've got a record called that." So I listened to it. Fun little album. More Stereolab influence, if you're into that. With the beats to match this time.

Led Zeppelin II

The Nitty Gritty Dirt BandWill the Circle Be Unbroken
Interesting to note that this album had, at the time, an analagous cultural effect to that of the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. It briefly brought bluegrass music into the mainstream by highlighting some of its brightest lights, who promptly receded back into the shadows as soon as the hype died away.

Still, the band were respectful enough that they downplayed their own name on the album packaging, simply listing themselves alongside the Nashville luminaries they had invited as guest performers. This was a big deal at the time, as plenty of California country-rock acts were getting back to their alleged "roots" in the wake of the success of the Byrds Sweetheart Of the Rodeo album. These guys went and found the originators and dragged them into the harsh light of the mainstream. They waved politely, played a few numbers, and retreated.

PrinceControversy, Around the World In a Day, Lovesexy
I threw on Around the other day when we had company over for dinner. D–, it turns out is a big Prince fan, and when I asked if anyone had any requests for the stereo as the Wife served up dessert, he asked whether I had a few other items from the deep catalogue. Naturally, I was more than happy to oblige.

R.E.M.Out Of Time
This one came up primarily because "Losing My Religion" was featured on Glee last week. Not one of R.E.M.'s better records, in my opinion, but I don't want to get to into that now because I'd like to do a full review of their career á la my Neil Young series on of these days.

Meet the Residents, Duck Stab/Buster & Glen
Yes, I read a Residents biography this week. The Ian Shirley one, which is the only one of which I'm aware of the existence. A bit thin, primarily because he doesn't speak to any of the actual notoriously anonymous Residents themselves, but I think he unwittingly unmasks them anyways. I mean, come on, their sound engineer? That has to be one one of them right?

The Rolling StonesSticky Fingers
Still my favourite Stones LP, primarily because of Jagger's vocal melodies. "Sway" and "Dead Flowers" are particularly unstoppable. Seriously, this guy could have been in Big Star.

Sigur RosMeđ suđ i eyrum viđ spilum endalaust, JónsiGo
I just got the Jónsi album last week, and it made me want to reëvaluate the last Sigur Ros LP. Both are excellent. I think I dismissed the Sigur Ros one based on the single, which is different from their previous stuff, and I respect that blahblahblah, but not as good. Upon further review, most of the tracks hew to the signature sound. I hate to sound like one of those I-like-their-old-stuff-better blowhards, but that's really what they do best.

The Jónsi record, on the other hand, is where he does a terrific job of taking the band's signature sound and pushing it in interesting new directions. Is his solo work the better bet for the future here? I hope not. I like bands.

MorrisseyVauxhall and I
The argument over best lyricist of all time is one of the few closed debates: it's Dylan, like it or not. The argument over second best is wide open. Stephin Merritt and I would like to nominate Morrissey.

You are well within your rights to hate Morrissey. I used to dislike his solo work, but excused my love of the Smiths based on the terrific guitar work of Johnny Marr. No sense kidding myself anymore: Morrissey is a genius. And I really think that, Dylan excepted, he's the greatest rock lyricist of all time.

I hadn't really considered him that way until Merritt referred to him as such in a New York Times piece around the time that Mozza's comeback album came out a few years ago. Merritt called him out for setting his undeniable lyrics against a backdrop of hackneyed, unimaginative music.

Here, Merritt and I disagree. I think that Morrissey has always been conscious of avoiding trends in popular music in the service of making his music sound timeless. Think about it: of all their contemporaries, the Smiths sound the least like an 80s band.

But the praise holds up: Morrissey is an absolutely brilliant lyricist. The key, which I didn't understand for so many years, is this: it's supposed to be funny.

I could go on, and on of these days I will.

Spacemen 3Sound Of Confusion, The Perfect Perscription
I've been waiting so long for these to get reissued. Taang! was supposed to put them out last March but it never happened. So apparently Fire stepped up and filled a massive void on the Shelf.

StereolabTransient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements
A hard-fought eBay find inspired by Doug Wolk's essay in this book.

Iggy and the StoogesRaw Power
I pulled this one out because the Spacemen cover "Little Doll" on their first one, which the Wife recognised while I was playing it. Of course, she recognised it as a Sisters of Mercy song, but that happens a lot, or used to before I began setting her straight. That song's not even on here, by the way, but it's the only Stooges record I have, so I figured I'd play it anyway.

Swell MapsSweep the Desert
Inarguably the greatest shitty band of all time. I mean, all of their music is mildly crappy, but it's all joyous enough that it ranges from acceptable to awesome. As a result, they have a ton of cheapo outtake comps, and they're all pretty good. This is one of them.

Neil Young & the BluenotesThis Note's For You
Holds up remarkably well. I mean, this album has no business being even halfway good, and it's excellent.

I came to a sad realisation when I saw these guys a few weeks ago at the Knit in Brooklyn: I'm over doom. I'm just over it. I've heard enough slow power chords and growled vocals for now. I said this to P— when we were hanging out outside between bands. To get me going nowadays, a metal band needs to either really sing (which is why Crack the Skye is my favourite metal record of the last five years at least) or boogie, like the west coast stoner rock bands of about ten years ago. Nebula, where art thou? Then these guys came on and played doom with a funky drummer. That's all it takes. I bought their record, and I like it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stuff I Listened To Last Week – 3 Oct 2010

Every time I listen to a record, I leave it next to the stereo. On Monday, before I go back to work, I re-file them all. Below are the contents of this week's pile.

Bad BrainsI Against I

ClinicInternal Wrangler
Japan's a weird place to go record shopping. It's also an awesome place, with a seemingly bottomless selection, but I'm talking about price here. Most stuff is comparably priced to the US used market, some a little more, some a little less. But if you look through the bargain bin at any shop (and they all have one), you come across stuff that's way undervalued for no clear reason.

I found the first two Clinic records for the equivalent of about $3 each. I actually found their first three, but I didn't buy the third. Why? No idea. I guess Clinic just never caught on over there. Maybe they never toured the far east (Far East?).

The DecemberistsThe Hazards Of Love
Not sure why I'm not head-over-heels for this one. I think Meloy's a terrific songwriter, and I love the conceit of the album-length story, the songs flowing together, etc. I just think the individual songs aren't his finest work. Sometimes it seems like the lyrics are being forced into measures and melody lines where they don't quite fit, which I suspect may be the result of trying to make the story hang together. Still, solid enough to hold up to multiple listens, just not enough to keep me yearning for more every time.

Bob DylanBringing It All Back Home
I realise that it's total filler, but "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" is one of my all-time favourite Dylan tracks. Great performance by the band, and some of the punchlines in the lyrics never get old. I think it just shows that in this period Dylan was so on-fire as a writer that even his tossed off afterthoughts are brilliant.

FugaziThe Argument
I was never wild about Fugazi in their heyday, and I regret that now. I never saw tham live, and they probably top my bummer list of acts I actually could have seen (unlike, say, Hendrix). Them or the Grateful Dead.

Guns N' RosesUse Your Illusion I
At our fantasy football draft a few weeks back we listened to Dr. Dre's The Chronic in its entirety for, for me anyway, the first time in many years. The music holds up remarkably well, but what really struck me was the appalling misogyny of the lyrics. I really don't think hip-hop is nearly as bad now, as a whole, as it was twenty years ago in that regard. One would expect something like that to grow steadily worse, but it hasn't. Sure, most of my favourite hip-hop albums of the past few years have their token explicit sex rhyme, but it's not nearly as bad as "Bitches Ain't Shit". Even the Ying Yang Twins' (admittedly awesome) "Wait" was shocking when it came out precisely because we don't hear lyrics that explicit as often as we used to. And I don't think that track would have cause nearly as much of a stir had it come out ten years earlier; it would merely have been one of many.

I felt the same way listening to "Back Off Bitch" which, it bears mentioning, is musically excellent, with top-notch lead guitar work. But the lyrics are just awful, in a way that, again, you just don't hear these days. Of course, metal's evolved even further from this point that hip-hop, mostly because no one's written a metal song about women in the past ten years, let alone recorded one with coherent vocals.

My point is that I don't think this is just a matter of me getting older, or having daughters. I think lyrics like this are more shocking nowadays because we don't hear as much of them anymore. And not to sound like a prude, but good riddance. Of course, younger-me would tell now-me to relax and not take it so seriously, but fuck him, what did he know anyway?

Makes great bedtime music for the girls, but only when Mommy's not around to complain about it.

Henry KaiserThose Who Know History Are Doomed To Repeat It
Not only did Henry Kaiser record a Grateful Dead cover that takes up one whole side of a record, he also got SST to release said record. Not all that surprising if you're familiar with some of the more "deep catalog" items in the SST annals, but pretty weird if you just know it as Black Flag's label.

Kaiser may have the most interesting where-are-they-now story out of any 80s American indie musician. He's a SCUBA diver doing scientific research in Antarctica. Or was as of a few years ago, when he (barely) appeared in Werner Herzog's Encounters At the End Of the World. And scored it to boot.

Love & RocketsSeventh Dream Of a Teenage Heaven

Mercury RevSnowflake Midnight/Strange Attractor

The MisfitsWalk Among Us
The girls weren't as taken with this one as I expected them to be. They seemed a little agitated. Maybe in a few years they'll be more susceptible to the charms of the young Glenn Danzig.

By the way, if you haven't read "Henry + Glenn Forever" yet, go buy a copy before Danzig sues it out of print.

Out HudLet Us Never Speak Of It Again

Rage Against the MachineRenegades
I was never into these guys in their heyday, but I bought this one on a whim when it came out after hearing the lead single and kind of liking it. It's their covers album, and was released shortly after they broke up. I hadn't listened to it in a while, and it's not much different than I remember: great song selection, inconsistent execution. Still, enough high points to make it worth a listen every few years or so.

RoyksoppMelody A.M.
The first time I listened to this I was surprised to hear a commercial jingle on side four. The GEICO ad where the caveman is on one of those moving walkways in an airport.

UnderworldOblivion With Bells
Meh. They weren't very good before Karl Emerson joined, they weren't very good after he left. Ah, but those glory years...

The Velvet Underground & Nico
Do I have the bolding right in the title? Is this a self-titled album by a band called "the Velvet Underground & Nico" or is it an album of that title by a band just called "the Velvet Underground"?

The Who Sell Out/A Quick One (Happy Jack)
Said it before, I'll say it again: love those cheapo reissues. Just give me the music, I don't care about the packaging.

By the way, I turned on B—, who's a big 'Oo fan, to Patra Haden's full-length a capella cover version of Sell Out a few weeks back. He's into it. You should be too.