Hum: You’d Prefer An Astronaut

youdpreferanastronautWhen I first encountered this album I dismissed it out of hand. It had a silly name and the cover art of an off-center zebra against a green background did not appeal to my hard rock sensibilities. But I’ve become less rigorous in judging musical books by their cover in the meantime, and over the years I kept hearing just how revered and loved this album was.  There were times when I felt that not only was I the only person who never heard this album, but I was the only one who didn’t also love it as one of the greatest albums of the 90’s.

So it’s against that backdrop of sky-high expectations that I finally come to spend some time with this disc and end up mostly, but not completely, disappointed. I’m actually surprised it’s so revered; a slacker mishmash of the tropes of early- and mid-90’s instrumentation, it comes off as a meek, monotone version of Bush. That sounds harsh, as Bush could do with some more meekness, but my point is that, apart from some nice compositional structure on most songs and some well-written sections of songs throughout the album, the band isn’t so far away from everything else that was being done at the time.

So, in retrospect, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s so well-loved because it’s pretty much right in the zeitgeist for the time, with its loud-soft verse/choruses and crunchy-glow guitar sound a la Smashing Pumpkins.  I guess I was expecting more given that it had a narrow but deep appeal, a description I would apply to many of my favorite artists.

So while it’s not too much highbrow that caused this to go over most people’s heads, it’s pretty quickly apparent why this band didn’t garner tons of fans. The singing style is weak, monotone, off-key, back in the mix, with constant Eeyore-like moping. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it’s not for me (at least at this point in my life), and it’s not a style that has a broad appeal. Things start to make a little more sense, too, when you search around for lovers of this album on the Internet and you come to find that it’s mostly loved by males who bonded with it in high school, I’m sure while despairing about their place in the world and (mostly) girls. I’d probably like it a lot more had I heard it in some of those dark moments of self-doubt as well.

I’m coming to this right after Deep Six and one very striking aspect of it is that the sound, despite coming out a decade later, is worse. It’s like it’s compressed for the loudness wars, with little dynamic variability, while also being more quiet, muffled, lo-fi.

It’s a decent album, shining in some parts, but too much mopiness makes it a bit of a drag, especially for a really tough slog in the middle and then for the last song. It’s definitely a let down from the hype that had been built up around it. I tried to keep the disappointment aspect out of the final rating, but I may have overcompensated by a half-clown.

Rating:
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– “The Pod”
– “Little Dipper,” “Stars,” “I’d Like Your Hair Long,” “I Hate It Too”
– “Suicide Machine,” “The Very Old Man,” “Why I Like The Robins,” “Songs Of Farewell And Departure”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Various Artists: Deep Six

deepsixOriginally released in 1986, this compilation album was a hallowed, storied holy grail of a record I thought I’d never hear as a kid turning on to the Seattle scene in the early 90’s. This legendary disc was always mentioned in hushed tones. Just check out the line-up:

  • Green River – Probably the single greatest seminal band to come out of the Seattle scene. Featuring Mark Arm and Steve Turner, later of Mudhoney, and Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, later of Mother Love Bone and then Pearl Jam. “10,000 Things” leads off this album, but the best song on the disc is the penultimate “Your Own Best Friend,” which would have been a full heart if they hadn’t gotten into cackling and spoken word weirdness at the end.
  • Malfunkshun – Lead singer Andrew Wood would join up with Gossard and Ament in Mother Love Bone. Guitarist Kevin Wood is still rocking around in Seattle in bands like From The North and All Hail The Crown. Drummer Regan Hagar would go on to rock in Brad, Satchel, and From The North. Malfunkshun was quite a bit different from Mother Love Bone. These guys were very sloppy, but in a determined way. A live version of “With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)” would appear on the band’s posthumous Return To Olympus and “Stars-N-You” is nutballs, basically a couple minutes of the band coming off the rails, in a good way.
  • Melvins – I don’t need to say anything more about Melvins except that they’re still kicking ass more than 25 years later. “Grinding Process” would appear on their Six Songs album, also released in 1986. “Scared” almost has an arena rock feel and includes xylophone (or glockenspiel or something?) and vocal yipping. Very fun. “She Waits” and “Blessing The Operation” are the band at their most simultaneously abrasive and progressive.
  • Skin Yard – Featuring Jack Endino, who would produce a ton of great albums, including ones by Tad, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Seaweed, and Nirvana. Both of the tracks here are slow throbs (one is even called “Throb”). Endino’s comments here.
  • Soundgarden – Need no introduction, but I’ll take the time to point out here that these guys seemed to be created fully-formed. Aside from Chris Cornell’s voice, which would evolve into the operatic feature it was, the band was making its best music early on. Two of these songs would be re-recorded for later releases and the other, “Heretic,” is one of the rawest things the band would ever do.
  • U-Men – The senior members of this contingent. In hindsight, I always revered this band for their inclusion here, not for ever having heard them. I still don’t think I’ve heard any of their songs besides the lone track here. Which is is good, screamy, fun rocking with a Reverend Horton Heat hillbilly demon feel to it.

This is pretty far off from what the Seattle sound would become. But it’s clearly that sound coming together. Younger, rawer, more garage-y, I love it as much as the later stuff, plus it’s an awesome historical document. You can nitpick the sound, performances, etc. as unprofessional all day, but to me it fits in perfectly with what would happen over the next decade.

Rating:
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– “Scared” (Melvins), “All Your Lies” (Soundgarden)
– “10,000 Things” (Green River), “Blessing The Operation” (Melvins), “With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)” (Malfunkshun), “Throb” (Skin Yard), “Heretic” (Soundgarden), “Tears To Forget” (Soundgarden), “Stars-N-You” (Malfunkshun), “Grinding Process” (Melvins), “The Birds” (Skin Yard), “She Waits” (Melvins), “Your Own Best Friend” (Green River), “They” (U-Men)
Filed Between: Deep Purple (Purpendicular) and Def Leppard (On Through The Night)

2012 Clownies

Album Of The Year – Give by The Bad Plus
Pretty easy. It was the only five clown CD I reviewed last year. And when I saw that that was the case, I kind of thought, yeah, that album was amazing.

Artist Of The Year – Brad
This could have been a number of artists I went after a lot this year: BR5-49, The Beatles, Tori Amos, The Bad Plus. But I reviewed all five of Brad’s albums, including one that came out last year, and they had two 4.5-clown records and two four-clown ratings as well.

Song Of The Year – “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles
Contenders were Seaweed’s “Chalk The Cracks” and “The Day Brings” by Brad, but good god, “Helter Skelter.”

Eleven: Eleven

elevenAlain Johannes, in an interview on Dig Me Out, talked about how their producer on Awake In A Dream didn’t capture how heavy they sounded. This is much heavier, and much better. There’s a ton more low end, a paucity of high end, and a crunchiness to everything that was missing from its more glossy predecessor. Johannes and co-vocalist Natasha Schneider are completely in sync.

If there’s any place where this album falls short, it’s in melodies…kind of. The melodies are all superb, but due to the heavy, deep sound and the fact that the vocals are way back in the mix, the melodies don’t jump out and carry a song. I’m pretty sure that’s intended, but  after just a few listens it’s the aspect that sticks with you the most and makes the album a bit of something you have to work at.

Truth be told I’m kind of stretching to justify a rating of only 4.5 clowns…because it just feels like a 4.5 clown album. Well, I feel like it’s 4.5 in the first half and then a full five over the course of the second half.

Rating:
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– “Ava Tar,” “Slinky,” “Heavy”
– “Crash Today,” “Reach Out,” “Towers,” “Hieronymus,” “Let Down (Left Out, Laughed At),” “Yes, Alright, “Runaway”
Filed Between: Awake In A Dream and Eleventh Dream Day (Beet)

The Fat Clown Mixes Of 2012

Hey, and now we’re on to this year. Or last year. You know what I mean. The big story with these mixes is that 2012 was the first year that a really significant portion of my listening was done on streaming apps like Rhapsody or Xbox Music. So I was actually significantly hampered when it came to putting my favorite songs on the mixes. I think these are still really good, but there were some really good songs I wanted to include that I couldn’t. At least not without shelling out more money.

Volume C:

  1. Especially Me – Low
  2. Buttercup – Brad
  3. Lost In My Mind – The Head And The Heart
  4. The Day Brings – Brad
  5. Rest – Parts & Labor
  6. And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation – The Bad Plus
  7. Twist And Shout – The Beatles
  8. Ritual Union – Little Dragon
  9. Those Three Words – Brad
  10. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
  11. Angels Of The Silences – Counting Crows
  12. Any Time At All – The Beatles
  13. Seven Nights To Rock – BR5-49
  14. Money (That’s What I Want) – The Beatles
  15. Repulsion – Quasi
  16. Standing In The Way Of Control – Gossip
  17. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney
  18. New Tools – Seaweed
  19. New Radio – Bikini Kill
  20. Yes, You Are – Brad

Volume K:

  1. Buttercup – Brad
  2. Lost In My Mind – The Head And The Heart
  3. The Day Brings – Brad
  4. Rest – Parts & Labor
  5. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
  6. Lift – Brad
  7. Dirty Blonde – The Bad Plus
  8. And Your Bird Can Sing – The Beatles
  9. Not Dying Today – Tori Amos
  10. Please Mister Postman – The Beatles
  11. Go – Indigo Girls
  12. Little Ramona – BR5-49
  13. Money (That’s What I Want) – The Beatles
  14. Repulsion – Quasi
  15. Angels Of The Silences – Counting Crows
  16. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney
  17. Standing In The Way Of Control – Gossip
  18. New Tools – Seaweed
  19. New Radio – Bikini Kill
  20. La, La, La – Brad

Volume S:

  1. Especially Me – Low
  2. Buttercup – Brad
  3. Lost In My Mind – The Head And The Heart
  4. The Day Brings – Brad
  5. Ritual Union – Little Dragon
  6. Those Three Words – Brad
  7. Rest – Parts & Labor
  8. Seven Nights To Rock – BR5-49
  9. Twist And Should – The Beatles
  10. And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation – The Bad Plus
  11. 18 Wheels And A Crowbar – BR5-49
  12. Money (That’s What I Want) – The Beatles
  13. Repulsion – Quasi
  14. Angels Of The Silences – Counting Crows
  15. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney
  16. Standing In The Way Of Control – Gossip
  17. New Tools – Seaweed
  18. New Radio – Bikini Kill
  19. Not Enough – J Mascis
  20. Yes, You Are – Brad

2011 Clownies

Yes, 2011, because I’m behind. And if you don’t mind, Ima half-ass this because otherwise it ain’t ever getting done.

Album Of The Year – There’s No 666 In Outer Space by Hella
I reviewed no five clown albums in 2011 and a handful of 4.5 clown albums. Looking over that list the one I remember liking the most was Hella’s.

Artist Of The Year – Imani Coppla
I thought I was going to go with Rick Springfield, because I reviewed so much of his stuff in 2011, but then I realized it was mostly the crap stuff. I also considered Mike Patton who, between his solo stuff and Tomahawk, had two four-clowns discs and one that was 3.5 clowns. But the artists I walk away from most excited about in 2011 was Imani Coppola. Pretty surprised, looking back, that that disc wasn’t 4.5 clowns.

Song Of The Year – “Theme From Mission Magic” by Rick Springfield
It was the Best Song Ever.

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

magicalmysterytourMagical Mystery Tour is often not considered one of The Beatles’ proper albums because, in the UK, it was released as a six-song EP. However, in the U.S. they tacked on the A-sides and B-sides of three non-album singles. (You get a total of 11 tracks, then, because “I Am The Walrus” was the B-side of “Hello, Goodbye” and a part of the soundtrack.) But, hey, we fought the Revolution for two reasons, right? To have as many and as many kinds of guns as we want and to be able to redefine the discographies of British musicians. So in my book this is The Beatles’ ninth album.

It plays like a really good album, too. Consider that up until now, there have only been two albums by the band that haven’t had a single broken heart: Please Please Me and A Hard Day’s Night. Here they pull it off again. With a fantastic six songs to make up the soundtrack, they fulfill their normal quota of great songs, and then add the vetted strength of five more tracks released individually. If you were putting these 11 tracks together intended as one LP, you wouldn’t order them such that there was so much strength on the back end, but the result is pretty sweet: 36.5 minutes of highly enjoyable music. In my opinion, it’s their best record to this point in their career.

So there are a ton of hits on here that you know and love. And a few that you’ve never heard of. “Flying” is an instrumental sounds-like-an-interlude. It obviously wasn’t meant to stand on its own, but it’s a beautiful little piece at a moderately slow pace most prominently featuring a mellotron and some “la la la la la”s. Then there’s “Blue Jay Way,” an experimental, trippy John piece that expertly weaves in and out of a few different themes, all of them fantastic. Would have been a full heart but for the too-long, repetitive end to the song. Finally, “Your Mother Should Know,” a bit of a throwback piece for Paul as the lyrics, composition, and instrumentation all meld contemporary pop with a stripped-down big band feel from a few decades prior.

If I have any complaint, it’s that the sound is a bit weak in places. But it was 45 years ago, so even though putting these up against loudness war combatants probably won’t happen on a mix, I can’t punish this record.

The Beatles didn’t want to package these songs this way in the U.S., but, even though the six tracks of the soundtrack alone would have done very well, I think we have to chalk this up as a win for the record company.  A great collection of songs showing the band at the height of their powers.

Rating:
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– “Magical Mystery Tour,” “The Fool On The Hill,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Baby, You’re A Rich Man”
– “Flying,” “Blue Jay Way,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “I Am The Walrus,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need Is Love”
Filed Between: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles
Song Notes: After the jump
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