Los Lobos: The Neighborhood

Los Lobos went for a very bluesy album on The Neighborhood. For the most part I think they bring a lot of innovation to a genre that, by definition, does not lend itself to innovation. A few times the tracks drift off into mediocrity, but there’s more awesome than yawn here. A few great songs, a bunch of good ones, but tough to listen to in one sitting due to its tendency to underwhelm at points.

– “I Walk Alone,” “Angel Dance,” “Deep Dark Hole,” “Georgia Slop,” “I Can’t Understand,” “Be Still”
– “Down On The Riverbed,” “Emily,” “Little John Of God,” “The Giving Tree,” “Take My Hand,” “Jenny’s Got A Pony”
– “The Neighborhood”
Filed Between: Los Lobos’ La Pistola Y El Corazón and Kiko
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Uncle Anesthesia

This is what a major label debut is supposed to sound like. So much bigger and grown up, but not watered down and toothless. It’s a band coming through the indie ranks breaking out at just the right time, soul intact, fully-formed and unique; Continue reading

Anthrax: Fistful Of Metal

I don’t want to like this album as much as I do. Just look at that circa 1984 beaut of an album cover up there. That’s a studded-chain-covered fist punching its way out of a guy’s mouth, taking the teeth along for the ride. Maybe a bodyless head, given how there’s what looks like another hand holding up the head by its hair? Who thinks this is awesome? I guess somebody who hasn’t lived through it and seen it taken to its natural extreme with this Brujeria album cover. (Mental note: File the inappropriate-for-kids CDs away somewhere, starting with that one.)

Anyway, back to the album. So let’s get what I don’t like out of the way first. And it’s completely obvious, just like the album cover. And it’s just like the album cover. I mean, if you were going to do a parody of 80’s thrash metal, it would sound a lot like this album. This is the only album the band did with vocalist Neil Turbin, and he is one screamy, high-pitched singer. It’s like Ronnie James Dio sped up. And really, with the exception of some clunky (“I’m Eighteen”) and cliched (almost everything else) lyrics, that’s it…it’s really hard to get past that cover and the vocalist.

But, being raised on 80’s metal, I think I have a bit more stamina for this kind of thing than most, so, with a little effort,  I can get past it. It was encouragement that Anthrax would go on to have a great career starting with their next lead singer, Joey Belladonna, who was still pretty screamy and high-pitched.

So after pushing my way through it a few times, I started to hear the great songs. And there are some monster riffs on here. I was introduced to “Deathrider” and “Metal Thrashing Mad” on The Greater Of Two Evils, so I knew there was at least some merit here. I did not expect, however, that I would be giving 80% of the album full hearts. This ends up just being solidly good thrash that basically served as a template for the genre for the next several years. Well, I don’t really know if it did, but it certainly could have. I mean 1984 (January no less)…that’s way before I was aware of this genre being any kind of a thing. I bet that just about every thrash band from the 80’s and 90’s knew this album by heart.

– “Deathrider,” “Metal Thrashing Mad,” “Panic,” “Subjugator,” “Soldiers Of Metal,” “Death From Above,” “Anthrax,” “Howling Furies”
– “I’m Eighteen,” “Across The River”
Song Notes: After the jump
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ISIS: Not In Rivers, But In Drops

Another ISIS single from the In The Absence Of Truth album. Just three tracks, covering the same two songs that were the source of the “Holy Tears” single. It’s basically the inverse of that single: album track, other song remixed, title track live.

“Not In Rivers, But In Drops” is about as good a song as “Holy Tears,” maybe a little bit better.

The remix of “Holy Tears” contains a ridiculously long part where very little happens except for a keyboard drone and a guitar part that plays nothing but single tied whole-notes. There’s also an ending consisting of another ridiculously long drone. Good enough source material to earn an open heart, but the boring section is pretty inexcusable.

And the live track is like all of their other live stuff: sung off key with bad sound.

– “Not In Rivers, But In Drops”
–  “Holy Tears (Remix)”
– “Not In Rivers, But In Drops (Live)”

Mugison: Mugiboogie

I just don’t know what to make of Mugiboogie. Or Mugison for that matter. His first two albums were rated 1.5 and four [clowns] respectively over at the old joint. This album, released a couple of years later, is more like the former but, I think, even more all over the map, where you have no idea what kind of a vibe you should be in. He transitions abruptly from death metal to punk to lo-fi acoustic guitar. His vocals can be guttural, screamy, or sweetly crooning. There is absolutely no cohesion to this disc.

That’s a huge flaw, but honestly, it’s kind of its only one. I feel like this should be at least two albums, if not three, with the styles separated across them. There are times when I’m listening where I want to absolutely love it…for a wide variety of reasons because this is such a whiplash of stylistic diversity. However, when it comes time to listen to it, I dread it. I know I’ll be constantly adjusting the volume from the screamers (aside: This is how you do the loudness wars. If you want to record too hot and make it a part of your sound, please go see Mugison to do it right for you. If you don’t want it as part of your sound, don’t do it.) to the acoustic tracks that always seem to start off with muttering or an aborted start on guitar.

The stretch from tracks nine through 11 is the toughest. “Two Thumb Sucking Son Of A Boyo,” the album’s worst track, starts off with a horrible scream that masks what turns into a pretty cool song. This is followed by one of the album’s two best songs, “The Great Unrest” (the other being the, I think, ode to phone sex, “Jesus Is A Good Name To Moan”), a sweeping, majestically orchestrated work of beauty. And then right when he’s got you swept up in that wave, he drops you into the lowest-fidelity track on the album, “My Love I Love.” And if all that wasn’t disturbing enough, consider the juxtaposition of beautiful, sweetly sung music and the lyrics on “Deep Breathing”: “My mom is making sounds/Like she’s about to die,” which kind of set the tone for the entire track.

It’s a challenging-as-hell album that’s more challenging than it should be. I don’t really want to listen to it, at least not the way I listen to most music in my life right now, but if I just happen to be in the perfect mood, I can really get into the awesome experiments with instrumentation, production, rhythm…it’s really cool how what at first seems completely out of whack ends up coming together into really awesome music.

– “The Pathetic Anthem,” “Jesus Is A Good Name To Moan,” “I’m Alright,” “The Great Unrest,” “Sweetest Melody”
– “Mugiboogie,” “To The Bone,” “George Harrison,” “Deep Breathing,” “The Animal,” “Two Thumb Sucking Son Of A Boyo,” “My Love I Love”
Filed Between: Mugison’s Little Trip and Murphy’s Law (Dedicated)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Something About Today

This EP is Screaming Trees’ major label debut (and kind of the debut of Mark Lanegan’s voice as it would come to be known). The EP served as a bit of a preview for their Uncle Anesthesia album. I’ve had this since I don’t know when, and I only just realized right now that only two of these four songs (the best two, “Uncle Anesthesia” and “Ocean Of Confusion”) actually appeared on that album. I thought it was a strict subset.

Anyway, the story of this is pretty simple. It’s some good songs mixed with inexcusably bad, muffled sound. The sound thing can be mitigated partially by turning the volume up, which exposes a lot more. But to listen at a reasonable volume is to be frustrated by the veil behind which the music is hidden. It’s like the musical equivalent of talking to a low-talker. I say inexcusably because this was 1990, a golden era of good-sounding rock. And it’s got the excellent Terry Date listed as co-producer (along with Soundgarden’s lead singer Chris Cornell and Screaming Trees themselves), lending even more bafflement to this issue.

A couple of really good songs, though, and “Something About Today (Numb Inversion Version)” is a cool look into what the band could do when it wanted to stretch outside of the standard guits and drums rock genre. If not for the sound problems, I would probably give this a full four clowns.

– “Uncle Anesthesia,” “Ocean Of Confusion”
– “Who Lies In Darkness,” “Something About Today (Numb Inversion Version)”
Filed Between: Screaming Trees’ Buzz Factory and Uncle Anesthesia
Song Notes: After the jump
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Alice In Chains: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

“Alice In Chains Continues” is the story here. I couldn’t write the review of Black Gives Way To Blue without spending much of that time talking about the death of lead singer Layne Staley and comparing his work to that of his replacement, William DuVall. Now, on the follow-up, that fades into the background as this new incarnation just seems obvious.

A lot of the obviousness of this continuation has to do with, as on Black Gives Way To Blue, they’re not breaking new ground here. This is pretty standard drop-D tuning distorted guitar and vocals and too-long songs about broken people in depressing situations. But who cares? The songs are at least different than their old stuff and it’s not like they were derivative in the first place. It’s just like getting more Alice In Chains. Nobody else is writing music like this anymore, so if you’re sitting around listening to Facelift and Dirt and thinking, “I really want more of this kind of music, even if it’s not as mind-blowingly good as these albums,” then I invite you to join up with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. (In case you were wondering, yes, the title of the album is a political reference; the title track is an anti-fundamentalist-Christian tune.)

The album’s first track, “Hollow,” is also its first single. I was really down on this song when it was released a month or so ago, in part because it was just so standardly like their old stuff. I don’t hate it anymore, but the problems with it are endemic in the first half of the album. Typically when an album bunches up its best songs, it does so in the first half. Here, though, it’s the second half that shines. Of the 12 songs, the second full-hearted one is track seven, “Low Ceiling,” at which point an awesome stretch of four consecutive full hearts rocks it hard.

There are quotes from Dirt and Jar Of Flies, but the songs do end up going in different directions, in refreshing and encouraging ways. Guitarist and main songwriter Jerry Cantrell may be working from the same toolbox he always has, but he is building new things. There are more misses than there were back in the glory days, but the hits make it worthwhile.

Black Gives Way To Blue also garnered a 3.5-clown rating, and this album is at least a little bit better than that one, especially due to that awesome stretch from “Low Ceiling” and “Phantom Limb.” (The prior album probably had the same great to okay mix of songs, just not bunched together like they are here.) And there’s nothing on Black Gives Way To Blue that’s as good as this album’s “Breath On A Window,” which stands with any Alice In Chains song. If they’d cut out “Voices” and “Lab Monkey” and cut down on the length of some of the other songs, it could have been four clowns. Welcome back, Alice In Chains.

– “Pretty Done,” “Low Ceiling,” “Breath On A Window,” “Scalpel,” “Phantom Limb”
– “Hollow,” “Stone,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” “Lab Monkey,” “Hung On A Hook,” “Choke”
– “Voices”
Song Notes: After the jump
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