Brad/Satchel: Brad Vs Satchel

bradvssatchelWhen Brad and Satchel started, they shared two members: singer Shawn Smith and drummer Regan Hagar. By the time this album was recorded (1997 for Satchel’s songs and 2001 for Brad’s), Brad guitarist Stone Gossard had produced Satchel’s The Family and both bands had replaced their respective bassists with Mike Berg. Furthermore, I don’t see a guitarist credited on the Satchel contributions. I think there might not even be guitar on them; I think Smith may have filled up enough space with keys that it’s not immediately obvious that these tracks are guitar-less. All of which is to say that for these tracks, Satchel is essentially just Brad minus Stone Gossard. So while it’s a split album, that’s a bit of a technicality: it’s kinda just one band.

Which isn’t to say it feels like a cohesive album. On the contrary, “[t]hese recordings are at various stages of completion,” the liner notes say, and it’s obvious that they’ve been released from demo purgatory simply by being released. But, as I’ve said before, a lot of Brad’s songs feel like demos anyway due to their lack of in-song dynamics and tendency to hang out with a comfortable groove for a couple of minutes at the end of a song. So the fact that that’s the case for all of the songs here is hardly noteworthy.

But what you’ve got here is pretty much what you’d expect given that description. They’re all good songs, or at least song ideas (“Summertime Song” would probably even reach that level with different production), many of them just feel like they’re sitting there waiting to be put into a prettier package, maybe patch one song’s chorus with a new verse, or add an intro here or a bridge there.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen, almost entirely on the slower, lighter end of these bands’ spectra (rocker “Roll Over” is the stark exception there). A lot of these could have been much better, but I know sometimes songs just don’t want to be completed, and with this collection, I’m glad they got released as is.

Rating:
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– “Takin’ It Back” (Satchel), “Roll Over” (Brad), “Whose Side Are You On” (Brad), “Playground” (Brad)
– “Looking Forward” (Satchel), “Peace & Quiet” (Satchel), “I Don’t Know If…You’ll” (Brad), “3 O’Clock” (Brad), “Awake” (Brad), “I Must Confess” (Brad)
– “Summertime Song” (Brad)
Filed Between: Brad (Welcome To Discovery Park) and Billy Bragg & Wilco (Mermaid Avenue)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Even If And Especially When

Even If And Especially WhenGood songs, bad sound (all caveats about my current equipment apply, as always), and a bit of the same tempo/same key problem add up to a pretty good album–one that doesn’t bother me, has some songs I really like, but I don’t really want to listen to.

Clairvoyance got a better review, but these two albums are really similar in a lot of ways. It’s a mixed bag of songs with a few rising above the crowd. (“Cold Rain” is probably the best thing they’ve done until this point, though “Other Days And Different Planets” gives it a run for its money.) There’s lousy sound. Mark Lanegan’s still looking for what his voice would be. On the other hand, drummer Mark Pickerel is much improved and Gary Lee Conner isn’t standing out as much, in part due to the muddiness of the sound. And they’re not so strongly reminiscent of The Doors as they were on this album’s predecessor.

The bad sound is of a bizarre sort. There’s a garden variety thinness that’s of the time, but there’s also this aberrant sound plague all over the place. Both “Transfiguration” and “The Pathway” feature instruments completely and suddenly dropping out. “Back Together” has one amazingly loud cymbal crash in the right channel amidst a hundred more normalized others throughout the song.

“Aberrant” can also describe one of my favorite moments on the disc. In “In The Forest,” Lanegan sings “…like a cat, say meooooow,” and the meow is high, sustained, and, well, it’s like a meow. It’s a lovely and completely unexpected twist that never fails to make me meow when I hear it. I think my office mate thinks I’m becoming a cat.

I remember these songs sounding better when I heard half of them on the SST Anthology where I first encountered them. I’m not sure if they got remastered for that release or not, but it would have been unusual for SST in 1991 to do something like that, especially at that time. Anyway, this album is fine, just calling out for a remaster.

Rating:
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– “Straight Out To Any Place,” “Cold Rain,” “Other Days And Different Planets,” “In The Forest”
– “Transfiguration,” “World Painted,” “Don’t Look Down,” “Girl Behind The Mask,” “Flying,” “The Pathway,” “You Know Where It’s At,” “Back Together”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Torche: Harmonicraft

I’m gonna write the word “epic” in this review more times than I’ve ever done in a review. Because that’s how epic this album is: so epic. How epic? So epic that it has not one, not two, but three epic closers to epic off all of the epic. By the time “Solitary Traveler” hits, you’ve already listened to ten epic tracks and the slower, deliberate pace and the ringing chords makes you think, “Aw yeah, here we go, grand finale.” But then as soon as it finishes they launch into the faster, instrumental title track and you’re all, “Aw yeah, send us out on a faster pace. Attaboy.” And then they do it again. “Looking On” out-epics “Solitary Traveler” with its massive sound, slow pace, and its deliberately delayed backbeat. And you’re all, “Yeah, m-er f-ers, this is how you play it.” And the chords end, ringing out into silence, and you’re satisfied. And then, after a few seconds of glorious silence capping off an epicest end to an epic album, they do it. yet. again, picking up the pace and screaming out to a close with a kind of hidden track that isn’t so long after the main song ends that it’s annoying but instead is like the most epic, extravagant, and yet not bloated awesomeness to end all awesomeness.

So yeah, this is basically the love child of Queens Of The Stone Age and Electric Wizard. I haven’t heard a stoner metal album this good since Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone. And seriously, why aren’t there more stoner metal bands? It’s objectively the best album and apex of human sonic achievement.

I really wanted this to be a five-clowner, but I think it falls just a little short of being everything it’s massiveness suggests it should be. The sound is massive, but it is lacking a little…something. Not sure what it is. We may be reaching the limits of my audio equipment on that front, but still, I want bigger. Then there’s basically just the two tempi, fast and slow. The songs are a little bit samey in terms of, say, their timbre and key, and I feel like the guitar and vocals carry everything, with the bass and drums serving as adequate support but not quite bringing the same level of weight to things.

Rating:
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– “Letting Go,” “Kicking,” “Walk It Off,” “Reverse Inverted,” “In Pieces,” “Snakes Are Charmed,” “Sky Trials,” “Skin Moth,” “Solitary Traveler,” “Harmonicraft,” “Looking On,”
– “Kiss Me Dudely,” “Roaming”
Filed Between: Tora Tora (Selections from Wild America promotional single) and Tourniquet (Microscopic View Of A Telescopic Realm)
Song Notes: After the jump
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ISIS: Holy Tears

holytearsI’m one of the most gung-ho CD people I know, and I have a really hard time justifying this CD’s existence. And while it’s got its quality issues, I don’t think that’s the primary reason I don’t like it.

As a single, it’s three tracks. The first track, “Holy Tears,” is from the mediocre (okay, bad)  In The Absence Of Truth, and while it did get a keep rating there, due to some good parts, it’s really not a good song on the whole. With way too many slow, boring parts it hardly qualifies as a “single.” Then you’ve got a Melvins/Lustmord remix of “Not In Rivers/But In Drops,” which is pretty good, but again the source material is a bit meh. Then there’s “Holy Tears” again, live, and sounding awful.

Oh, but wait. It costs $9.97 on Amazon.com.  I guess it comes with a video I’d never watch even if I did have the CD. So there’s a song from the album, a pretty good remix, and a s**t live version of the first song. All for $10.

Gee, why is physical media dying? Appropriate that it’s ISIS at their most bloated, too.  Good riddance to you and the petroleum product you rode in on.

Rating:
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– “Holy Tears,” “”Not In Rivers, But In Drops (Remix by Melvins/Lustmord)”
– “Holy Tears (Live)”

Los Lobos: By The Light Of The Moon

los_lobos_lightFSuch a beautifully sweet album. Picks up right from where their prior release left off. The first song, again, tells the tale of the Mexican-American immigrant experience. Gone is the hope that accompanied the parting of “A Matter Of Time” and we’re left with the heartbreak of the life as it is now. Gunshots, kidnappings, death, and loneliness, the last a theme revisited heavily in “The Hardest Time.”

But, just like How Will The Wolf Survive?, there’s plenty of fun party music here. “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee)” is the best of these. Most of the rockers, like “My Baby’s Gone,” “River Of Fools,” “All I Wanted To Do Was Dance,” have some kind of loss going on in their lyrics to nicely complement the lilting vocal quality over the course of the album that pulls at the heartstrings.

The Mexican musical influence is less here than it was on their debut, with only “Prenda Del Alma” really owning it. It’s, from what I can tell, a sorrowful song, but you can definitely imagine this playing in a Mexican restaurant (my demographic) or, I suppose, at a party full of Mexican-American immigrants (not my demo).

Anyway, just an awesome, awesome album.

Rating: Clowns for copying only, no rating implied
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– “One Time One Night,” “Is This All There Is?,” “All I Wanted To Do Was Dance,” “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee),” “Hardest Time,” “My Baby’s Gone,” “River Of Fools,” “Mess We’re In,” “Tears Of God”
– “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” “Prenda del Alma”
Filed Between: Los Lobos’ How Will The Wolf Survive? and La Pistola Y El Corazón
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Clairvoyance

Screaming Trees’ first full-length album, their only release on Velvetone, was destined for a three-clown review, but it benefits from my busy schedule. I couldn’t find the time to sit down and hammer out the review so just kept listening to it and a lot more of the songs became a lot more fun to listen to.

So let’s start with my initial assessment, which really hasn’t changed. This is a solid disc with no bad songs on it. A couple of songs, “The Turning,” which was also on Other Worlds, and “Standing On The Edge,” rise above the crowd, but for the most part it’s an even listen throughout. It suffers from muffled, thin sound (though, to be fair, I’m listening on a new device (Lumia 920), and I’m pretty unhappy with its sound in general) and what I feel is poor drumming from original drummer Mark Pickerel. The band feels very rushed and the tempi are uneven. There’s no groove that they can settle in to.

Mark Lanegan’s voice has gotten rougher since Other Worlds, but he still hasn’t settled into what it will be. It feels like he’s experimenting with what he wants to do with it. Guitarist Gary Lee Conner has the clearest vision of what he wants to do, as well as the best chops, though those two things tend to go hand in hand. Even before I warmed up to the rest of the album I enjoyed his melodies and appreciated them being so forward in the mix.

The band as a whole still hasn’t found their later style yet, either. Again, their strengths lie in writing good melodies, but you don’t really get any sense of where it’s going to end up. On this album I heard a very strong influence of The Doors, something I’ve never heard on their other stuff (though I have a feeling I will from here on out). Lanegan definitely goes Jim Morrison in a few places, in particular on “Standing On The Edge” and the Doors-esque titled “Strange Out Here,” and the way they use the keys to kick off “You Tell Me All These Things” is reminiscent of “Light My Fire.”

So what changed to earn this album another half-clown? Just letting it run, spending more time with it, I started to differentiate the songs in the middle part of the album. And when the melodies weren’t there to carry a song, I started to appreciate that they were rocking pretty hard. And once I picked out Pickerel as the weak link in my experience, I was able to focus on what the Conner brothers were able to pull off in spite of his performance.

I’m not sure this album or Other Worlds would have been enough to grab my attention on their own, but getting to them via the band’s later stuff has been an enjoyable experience.

Rating:

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– “Orange Airplane,” “Standing On The Edge,” “Lonely Girl,” “The Turning,” “Clairvoyance”
– “You Tell Me All These Things,” “Forever,” “Seeing And Believing,” “I See Stars,” “Strange Out Here”
Song Notes: After the jump
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