Counting Crows: August And Everything After

This was an odd one to come back to for a re-review.  I loved this when it came out my freshman year in college, and I’ve been able to rely on it ever since.  Every time I’d come back to it I’d be able to dive right into it again and soak it all in.  I’ve always appreciated the sound, songcraft, and, most of all, the structure of the songs, which always seemed to contain some amazing bridge or at least a B verse that brought a completely different feel and color to the song.  It all added up to a rich experience.  Every time.  Until now.

I still like it quite a bit, but I found myself getting way more annoyed by Adam Duritz’s whiny singing and rolling my eyes at the overwrought self-pity than I ever imagined I could before.  Whereas before my favorite songs were “Raining In Baltimore” and then probably “Round Here” and “Omaha,” now I can hear why “Mr. Jones” was the big hit and I’ve decided the two best songs are the previously-overlooked-by-me “Rain King” and the album-closing “A Murder Of One.”

I’m not sure if the album hit its expiration date or I changed, but it’s probably a combination of the two.  I can still listen to this and enjoy it from start to finish, which is saying quite a bit, but it’s just that now I think I’ll rarely choose to do so.

Rating:
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Open: all

Song Notes:

  1. Round Here – Previously a song I loved so much, now I think it’s just too whiny and slow for me to keep it.  I do like it quite a bit, though.
  2. Omaha –
  3. Mr. Jones – As I’ve started to like the album less this one has revealed more to me why it was such a hit.
  4. Perfect Blue Buildings – Another one that seems to whiny/slow for me now.
  5. Anna Begins – These lyrics about “the moments when I’m shuddering” really get at how I felt about/around girls for much of my life.  Just completely powerless and overcome, helpless.  I kinda mourn that part of me, or at least being able to feel empathy with those feelings.  But I’m pretty sure I’m happier now.
  6. Time And Time Again – At his whiniest here.  Like the lyrics.  Like the big build, but I don’t think I can keep this now.
  7. Rain King – This may be becoming one of my faves on the disc.
  8. Sullivan Street –
  9. Ghost Train – “How do you do?”
  10. Raining In Baltimore – I think this used to be one of my favorites, and now I really don’t like the start.  I think I start to enjoy it later, but….  Man, this is driving me nuts now, I may drop it to ditch even.
  11. A Murder Of One – This may now be my fave album on the disc.

The Bad Plus: The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus: They’re not for walking around.  That’s the phrase that kept coming into my head as I tried to figure out which songs would get nudged into like and which ones into keep while I listened to their self-titled debut album.  Some were easy: I knew I’d want to keep their great cover of Abba’s “Knowing Me Knowing You,” but thought “Blue Moon” was a little too cute with its sped-up and tempo-shifting head.  But there were tougher ones, and that was due in large part, not necessarily to the quality of the song but more often to the fact that if I keep something on my phone I have this view that I’m going to be listening to it on shuffle in noisy environments while walking around the city.  And some of these tunes, particularly in the latter half, just don’t work in that environment.

It is jazz, after all.  The Bad Plus play so much in the rock idiom, with their choices of cover songs (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” gets the de rigeur treatment here, to mixed results), their arrangements, and the sound they choose to press.  But it’s still a jazz trio.  There’s nothing more here than bass, piano, and drums, and there’s only so much dynamic compression can do to make jazz sound more familiar to ears raised on 80’s and 90’s rock.

But I love these guys.  I love their approach, and I love their execution.  Sometimes it takes a little longer to get, like with this album, but sometimes I grab it right away, as I did with For All I Care.  But when I do get it I always like it, and they stand up to repeat listens far better than just about anything else in my collection.  So there’s a reward for the initial work here, even if it is a work that’s hard to gain community joy from.  This is not as good as For All I Care in terms of accessibility or execution, but it’s very good, bordering on great, and boldly lays out what The Bad Plus is about, making an auspicious statement about the rest of their career.

So the album worked its way up from three clowns to four from the initial listens to review time.  But how did I resolve those like vs. keep battles?  I stopped fighting the battles.  SinceI’m listening to a lot more music on my Windows Phone 7 phone now, I’m going to go with their rating system: full heart, open heart, and broken heart.  (I have a to-do to get those icons at the bottom of this post, but the descriptions will work for now.)  Those will basically map to mix, keep and like, and ditch, respectively, but they also match how I think about songs more anyway.  The like/keep distinction was a bit false given that it seems I’ll always have to make tradeoffs about what music I want to keep with me on the go anyway.  And it pains me to penalize songs as good as The Bad Plus’ just because it can’t rock louder than a bus stop.

Rating:
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Full: “1972 Bronze Medalist”
Open: everything else

Song Notes:

  1. Knowing Me Knowing You – Great.  Could have been mix if it didn’t start off so meanderingly, but I love this.
  2. Blue Moon – At the start this seems like an experiment that didn’t work.  Tempted to ditch this.
  3. 1972 Bronze Medalist – jagged rhythm.  One of the three best tracks on here.  This is jazz that rocks.  It’s like Coltrane blowing his lungs out on the piano.  Just fantastic.
  4. The Breakout – jagged rhythm at top, then kind of a slow ballady thing.  goes back and forth.  A little bit immature the way it goes back and forth, but that’s my only real complaint.  Love the drum work.  Almost keep.
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Probably the worst one on here.  Was this still novel at this time to do a version of this?  2001.  Nope.  This gets better when it gets further afield from the bland “here we are now” and the “hello hello” riffs.
  6. Labyrinth – Starts off very slow.  A nice piano line, but there’s not too much here.
  7. Scurry – uninspired drum solo.  Leaning like here as well.
  8. Love Is The Answer – love the start.  great piano line.  Leaning like, I think, as it kind of gets bogged down in bass solo land in the middle.  But it’s a pretty good bass solo, and I really like the colors and textures of this piece.  Totally dig this.  I’m always encouraged when bands seem to know what their best songs are, and the placement of this and “Knowing Me Knowing You” indicates that The Bad Plus got it for this record.  The bassist’s best song.

Melvins: The Bulls & The Bees

I had no idea this was a thing, but apparently Scion has a whole kind of media…thing…going on.  It took me a while to get this, as far as I have, so I’m going to step through it a little more slowly.  Scion, the car company that Ira Glass dispassionately bills as being for “today’s connected youth” on This American Life, cares so much about this particular brand strategy, that they have Scion Audio Visual where you can download free music unavailable elsewhere, watch videos, …screw it, I don’t even really know what you can do there.  But one of the things you can do there is get Melvins’ new five song EP, The Bulls & The Bees, for free, and that’s the only way you can get it.

So this is basically exactly what you would expect a free Melvins EP released in 2012 by a car company to be.  It’s pretty awesome, with tons of sludgy riffs, but also feels somewhat uninspired and quickly tossed off, like it probably contains the rejects from their upcoming full-length release.  The band also seems to feel free to experiment in ways they haven’t before.  Not in ways they haven’t felt free to experiment before, because there’s basically no experimentation that would turn these guys off, but just in ways they haven’t actually experimented before.  For the most part, the collection is more rock/song-oriented than their early releases, as they’ve been wont to do recently.  However, the middle features sustained industrial sounds, mystically chanted vocals, and either strings of synths that sound like strings.

All of which is very good, but little of which feels like it lives up to the quality Melvins have set.  That’s a high bar, to be sure; it just feels like these are maybe still a bit in the demo stage, with some craft left to be applied to the songwriting before they’re truly ready to have Melvins’ name stamped on them.

Rating:
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Keep:
“The War On Wisdom,” “We Are Doomed”
Like:
“Friends Before Larry,” “A Really Long Wait, “National Hamster”

  1. The War On Wisdom – Starts with some bad sound but then comes in huge.  You’d think I’d get tired of this style, but man do they rock it so hard.  I think this may be the best one here.  Certainly the most immediately striking.
  2. We Are Doomed – Slower.  Doomier.  Nice soaring guitar over sludge doom base.
  3. Friends Before Larry – Spacey.  Sounds like there are even keys in there.  Metallic sounds that build into a pretty heavy riff for the first few minutes that then fades back into distorted, high, faint vocals and miscellaneous new sound effects.  Gets tiresome over the last half-minute or so.
  4. A Really Long Wait – Could be like Meddle-era Pink Floyd.  There are strings here, I think.  A violin and cello, or else that’s a synth.  No drums except for a building cymbal effect.  No traditionally played guitar though there do seem to be some feedback effects.  Vocals are slow, relatively high, though not falsetto, kind of like a spooky monk chant.  Very non-Melvins.  Very experimental for them, and given their propensity to experiment, that’s saying a lot.  These last three songs have all blended together…which my phone did gapless playback.
  5. National Hamster – This is good.

Seaweed: Despised

Despised is the debut album from Tacoma punk rockers Seaweed.  Released in 1991 on Sub Pop, the band would inevitably be lumped in with grunge, which is, in fact, how I came to be familiar with them.  And actually that categorization isn’t too far off: it’s 10 tracks and 28 minutes of melodic punk with some downtuned guitars on a couple of tracks.  The band had little in common with Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, or Pearl Jam, but it’s not far at all to Green River or Mudhoney, or even a garagier Nirvana.  Furthermore, the band produced the album with Jack Endino, who also did Nirvana, Gruntruck, Skin Yard, Babes In Toyland, Tad, Green River, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Mark Lanegan, Love Battery, Gas Huffer, Kerbdog, Malfunkshun, and Zen Guerilla.

This is how I like my punk.  Short, sweet, with great melodies.  These melodies aren’t as all-out catchy as those by Green Day or even Ramones, but lead singer Aaron Stauffer has a flat, strained voice that he makes the most of, finding unique paths through the band’s tight-as-hell musical pounding, itself driven primarily by the awesome Bob Bulgrien on drums.  The muscular, tight sound shares enough with hardcore punk of the 80’s and 90’s that I can’t help but imagine Stauffer as a skinhead.  (I actually did see Seaweed at SP20 and remember the singer (assuming that’s Stauffer) as a big, muscular guy with a full head of hair.)  But it’s also quite warm, with the lyrics taking a more personal bent than political, humanizing the band amid their pec-flexing sound.

Now comes the time for me to write about individual songs, but I’ve already taken longer to write this review than the actual album is.  So let me start to wrap it up by saying “One Out Of Four” (where the band shines at what it does best: tight, hard-hitting beats to end a bit of a delay in a way that almost borrows from the metal of the time) is probably the best song on here, though it’s got competition in “Stale.”

There’s a load of performance and recording talent in this group.  And the songwriting’s pretty good, though that’s the aspect that keeps this disc from four full clowns.  The album fades in quality quite a bit over the second half, and it’s a bit monochromatic, playing into preconceived notions of what a hardcore punk band is about.  They’re different enough in their style to be very good, but not quite different enough to be great.  At least at the point of their debut.

Rating:
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Keep: “Selfish,” “One Out Of Four,” “Rethink,” “Stale,” “Sit In Glass,” “Installing,” “Inside”
Like: “Bought It,” “Patchwork,” “Lovegut”

Appendix 1: Song Notes

  1. Selfish –
  2. One Out Of Four –
  3. Rethink –
  4. Stale – “I’m becoming what I once despised”
  5. Bought It –
  6. Sit In Glass – This kinda sounds like one from Weak.  Well, there’s one part that’s like “Squint” (I think).
  7. Installing – One of the ones that sounds like it may have a dropped D tuning.
  8. Patchwork –
  9. Inside –
  10. Lovegut –