The Beatles: Please Please Me

First album for these chaps.  Catchy pop, some of it great, most of it quite good.  Solid songwriting.  Lousy sound keeps the better songs from being full-hearted, but maybe we’ll forgiven them since it’s 1963.

I hope they release “There’s A Place” as a single.  It’s easily the best track on the album, despite suffering from some sound peaking issues.

I’d like to see these guys grow up, especially lyrically.  They’re quite a hit with the tweenie girl crowd now, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all their lyrics evoke an anachronistic imagery of boy expressing secret, but incredibly tame, feelings of affection for the female listener.  I have no insight into the mind of a twelve-year-old girl, but I imagine her swooning over the thought of sipping a cherry Coke with one of these long hairs (probably Paul) while they make eyes at each other; she tilts her head flirtatiously to the side, and maybe they even, gasp, hold hands.  Don’t tell Daddy.

A couple of notes from 2012:

  • This came out in 1963.  The Dr. Pepper album came out in 1967 and Abbey Road was 1969.  That is an insanely fast career arc that’s unfathomable in today’s music industry.
  • The Beatles always seemed so much older than my time, but Abbey Road came out only five years before I was born.  And now that I have kids of my own and can think about five years before they were born, the band seems like much more of a contemporary event.
  • Of all the classic albums I’ve reviewed, this is the most difficult to try to review with fresh ears.  I have no idea of this is 3, 3.5, or 4 clowns.  Or if it’s even one of those.  But I find myself singing along though not really craving to listen to it, so that sounds like 3.5 clowns.

Rating:
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–  “Twist And Shout”
– [everything else]
Filed Between: Beastie Boys (Ill Communication) and The Beatles’ Help!

Track Listing and Notes:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There –
  2. Misery –
  3. Anna (Go To Him) – That last bit about setting her free if she gives back her ring is distasteful.  At least now it is.  It just seems unnecessary.  Even back in the day, what was that line for?  John.
  4. Chains – Meh. Almost broken.  Easily the worst track on the album.  Mostly inoffensive, mildly annoying, mainly just blah.
  5. Boys – Almost full.
  6. Ask Me Why – Another song that mentions misery.
  7. Please Please Me –
  8. Love Me Do –
  9. P.S. I Love You –
  10. Baby It’s You – John.
  11. Do You Want To Know A Secret – George I think.
  12. A Taste Of Honey –
  13. There’s A Place – This is probably my fave song on here, but the sound is ass.  Love the rhythms.
  14. Twist And Shout – Always fun.

Brad: Welcome To Discovery Park

Here’s another Brad album I was completely wrong about at first.  Or is that at second?

On my first listen to this, back when it came out, I really loved it.  But repeated listens changed my mind…I hated it.  I remember thinking it was too easy, too obvious by which I guess my idiot 27-year-old self thought it was too good on first listen or something.

I can’t be quite sure of what idiot criteria I applied when deciding I hated this, but I think a lot of it had to do with the same-key, same-tempo stuff.  It’s kind of a collection of songs that stays, with a few exceptions, in the same place. The songs are mostly slowly moving vehicles for guitarist Stone Gossard and Shawn Smith to do their magic over.  The exceptions are a couple of rockers in “Drop It Down” and “Revolution” and a couple of rich, atmospheric mood pieces like “All Is One” and “Arrakis” that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a 1993 album out of Seattle.

So at 13 songs, then, you’ve got nine that cover quite a bit of the same ground, but when the songs are this good, who cares?  This is amazing, and I think I may like it even better than Interiors.

Rating:
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– “Revolution,” “La, La, La,” “Yes, You Are”
– [everything else]
Filed Between: Brad’s Interiors and Billy Bragg & Wilco (Mermaid Avenue)

Track Listing and Notes:

  1. Brothers And Sisters –
  2. Shinin’ –
  3. Drop It Down –
  4. Never Let Each Other Down –
  5. If You Could Make It Good –
  6. Revolution –
  7. Takin’ It Easy –
  8. Sheepish –
  9. All Is One –
  10. Couch T-Bone – the “ba ba ba baaa baaaa baaaaa” song
  11. La, La, La – “It’s so cold and lonely/And I just need some sun”.  Very T-Rex riff.
  12. Yes, You Are –
  13. Arrakis –

Counting Crows: Mr. Jones

The only reason to own this single is if you’re one of those people who buy singles.  I don’t know who those people are, but I imagine they really like the way radio plays the same hits over and over and actually want an even more limited selection so they go spend $7.00 for the hardware version of a song so they can do it the way they want.  I’m certainly not one of these people.  So why do I own this?  I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure it was due to a complex set of arbitrary and interacting rules.  Rules that probably were rescinded as soon as I bought this.

This has three tracks.  Two, “Mr. Jones” and “Raining In Baltimore,” are from the album August And Everything After.  The third is an acoustic (i.e., vocals and a single guitar) version of “Mr. Jones.”  It’s actually like the version of that song that would have fit better with the rest of the album, whereas the one you know eschewed morose and brooding for rowdy and jangly, I’m assuming, so it could get some airplay.  I seem to be unable to have a preference for one or the other.

Rating:
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– [all]

The Bad Plus: These Are The Vistas

As near as I can tell, this was the album where The Bad Plus started getting noticed.  Their follow-up to their self-titled debut, it’s a much more polished, impactful release then its predecessor.  Where The Bad Plus could, at times, get lost in some heavy jazz referencing, this one is much more easy and fun to swallow.

This was good enough that it almost got 4.5 clowns, but the first side carries some significant flaws:

  • “Keep Your Bugs Off Your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass” goes on too long at the end.  It should end about three or four times before it actually does and the solo bass droning on with the head really leaves a bad taste in my mouth after what’s an otherwise very good piece.
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is even worse here than the version on The Bad Plus.  It’s easily the lowest point of the album and I really want to believe that when the band themselves revisits this album they’re unhappy with the choice to redo it here.
  • The beginning of “1972 Bronze Medalist” is a bit too overbearing and dominates what turns into a great song.

Aside from those points, all bunched up together on the first side, this album is amazing.  “Big Eater” is the perfect introduction to the band but also grows with you as you spend time with it.  “Everywhere You Turn” and “Silence Is The Question” are both song-long builds whose rating belies their reward; they just won’t fit on mixes with their slow, quiet starts.  Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” gets the good cover treatment they can do so well for anything except “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  The top of the top highlights are either the beautiful head in “Flim” or the climax of “Silence Is The Question,” which, in contrast to what I wrote for their debut, is great walking around music, where happiness rains down from the piano first as a mist that gently soaks into your heart, opening it up, and eventually turns into a downpour of happy drops pelting your heart relentlessly, forcing giddy, eyes-closed smiles facing the sky.

Rating:
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“Big Eater,” “Flim”

– “Keep Your Bugs Off Your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass,” “Everywhere You Turn,” “1972 Bronze Medalist,” “Guilty,” “Boo-Wah,” “Heart Of Glass,” “Silence Is The Question”

– “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Song Notes:

  1. Big Eater – Very good.  There are better songs on here (thought not many), but this gets full where those don’t because its compressed, consistent, mid-range sound make it the most likely to fit on one of my mixes.
  2. Keep Your Bugs Off Your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass – Also good.  Very slow and quiet in parts.  Very bass heavy.  A bit on the annoying side.  Goes on way too long. Should end way before it does.
  3. Smells Like Teen Spirit – I think I liked the previous version better, and I wasn’t crazy hot on that.
  4. Everywhere You Turn – Very good, but probably too slow, sparse, and quiet at the start for mixing.
  5. 1972 Bronze Medalist – A different version than the one on The Bad Plus.  I think I like that version better…this one’s a bit too harsh.
  6. Guilty – Some of bass solo is bogged-down noodly stuff, but as it transitions to the piano solo this track is awesome.
  7. Boo-Wah – I really love this song, but the opening riff, not so much.
  8. Flim – A sweet little melody in the piano.
  9. Heart Of Glass –
  10. Silence Is The Question – Recalls In A Silent Way in both title and sound.  Which I’m guessing isn’t a coincidence.  Heart it so much, but probs can’t mix.

Woodpecker!: Thanks Anyway

I think I’ve managed to drive away enough of my readership so that the three or four people who are reading this, with the possible exception of one, all know the background of Woodpecker! and me.  Woodpecker!’s lead singer, Josh Steinbauer, and I were in the same graduating class at our arts high school.  He’s a good friend and I have been a big fan of his bands since I first saw him perform with Loin Groove.

Fast forward 14 years to Fourth of July 2007 and Josh e-mails me Woodpecker!’s F-hole.  I go so apes**t over the thing that I break my longstanding rule to not review the work of friends, leaving it just shy of five [clowns] due to imperfect sound.  Over the past five years I’ve repeatedly come back to that album and been re-wowed by it, at least once even being so moved to write to Josh again to profess my love for it.

Which brings us to Memorial Day 2012 when Josh sends me Woodpecker!’s latest, Thanks Anyway, a very different album.  I’ve been processing it for the last six weeks, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it was appropriate to break my rule for F-hole but not for Thanks Anyway.  So I won’t be reviewing this album, though I will be describing it.

The title, a sarcastic remark dripping with bitterness borne from impotence, and the cover art of middle-aged hands reaching up for rescue, which is nowhere to be seen, from drowning in the ocean set the tone of this album immediately.  Thanks Anyway is a 33-minute long sigh.  There are moments of acceptance (“If You See Something,” “GH1 With A 20mm Pancake Lens And Whatever Else We Lost That Day”) and even a positive-light song (“Matt & Ben”), but through it all is a theme of exhaustion, both satisfied and dis-, wrought from diligently working through our inexorable journey through time.

It’s an honest, unflinching, though not altogether negative, look into the thirty-something experience.  There’s identification and appreciation of what’s good, but also a yearning for what was, both in the recent and distant pasts.  And it feels like not even a yearning for the good times as described, but almost for the inability to know and understand what was good then or what is good now.  In “Old Photos Of Coney Island In The Queens Museum V. Coney Island This Afternoon,” Josh, amid being perplexed about those who came before him, asks for understanding and forgiveness from future Joshes:

Did the modern age get fixed in post
Is the way we proceed dignified if it’s so cheap
So is the heart of a scene in the past
That has lasted (that’s still stands
In front of your eyes)
If everything dies?

“Married To The Movies” captures another dichotomy and stubbornly holds it up for you to wrestle with, refusing to tip its hand.  The lyrics are a celebration, albeit a subdued one, about a relationship that fits, even if in a way not celebrated by our cultural media.  (“You sit next to me every night of the week/And we chew our way through another movie/…/It just hasn’t come up where I could pull you from a pool of piranhas/But I would.”)  However, the music, even the melodic line, belies the levity and acceptance of the lyrics, as if to taunt a self-delusion.

In addition to the larger discussions of God, faith, death (both of loved ones and strangers), Woodpecker! still gives us several songs in the vein of F-hole.  At least four seem to be explicitly about the dissolution of particular relationships, and this album replaces “Mankato” with “Matt & Ben” as the song inspired by Josh’s childhood.

And it’s that latter song that brings me back ’round to why I’m not reviewing this album.  A song for the unsung, “Matt & Ben” is a sentiment I could have written for a few of my friends, including Josh himself.  It’s always been a powerful, mysterious experience to me that these friends have made some of the best art I’ve experienced in my life.  I’m not talking like top half or awesome-considering-the-circumstances, I mean legitimately holding sway as my ultimate favorites for years–decades–at a time.  Matt Marka and Ben were that to Josh, so here’s their shout out.  The theme of the album pervades with the palpable, dull disappointment of half-fulfilled dreams, but Josh pulls up out of it at the end, his head coming up above the surface to shout to us, “Let the CD-R releases stacked on our shelves/Remind ourselves that we make music for our friends.”  And so, to me, this CD isn’t so much a CD, it’s a reminder.

Filed Between: F-hole and Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Tang Forever)