Monster Magnet: Spine Of God

What sucks most about this album is that it’s so much like their later, excellent albums. It’s made up of heavy, fuzzed-out guitars and mythical space drug lyrics, but instead it comes off as a caricature of stoner rock. It’s kind of the reverse of GVSB where all the same stuff was present as later albums, but this time it’s the later stuff that’s superior.

The main problem is that they forgot to write good hooks. It’s like they had an idea about how to update Hawkwind for the 90’s, and so they modernized Hawkwind’s sound, but neglected to do so with music anybody would want to listen to.

There are other major sins, too. There’s the ridiculous, sophomoric worship of marijuana in the lyrics and the lighter and bong sound effects that make it sound like Spinal Tap does stoner metal. It sounds awful. And they’ve got a number of epic tracks that are there only because 70’s-style stoner rock has to have some song lengths around eight minutes or more, not because the songs warrant that kind of repetition.

The best thing I can say about this album is that “Sin’s A Good Man’s Brother” would be quite good if the sound quality weren’t awful.

Monster Magnet would end up being a progenitor of stoner metal and write some excellent albums. But this early release contains only the faintest hint of what’s to come. If this had been the first thing of theirs I’d heard, I don’t know if I would have given them another chance. It’s awful.

– “Pill Shovel,” “Medicine,” “Black Mastermind,” Snake Dance,” “Sin’s A Good Man’s Brother”
– “Nod Scene,” “Zodiac Lung,” “Spine Of God,” “Ozium,” “Ozium (Demo)”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Girls Against Boys: Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby

Now I get it. I was brutal when I reviewed House Of GVSB and Disco Six Six Six some years ago. But now that I’ve listened to this album, released a few years earlier in the band’s discography, I understand what they were trying to do on those recordings. This one is much better, to be sure, but it’s also helped me appreciate those later releases at least a little bit more.

You’ve got all the same elements here as the other stuff I reviewed: namely a bit of a laid-back post-hardcore DC vibe going, along with a gruff, laid-back vocal. But it just works better. The material’s better and the energy’s higher. Even on the very slow “Get Down,” there’s a smoldering intensity there that makes the song infinitely more interesting than even the best of House Of GVSB or Disco Six Six Six.

It’s rare that my opinion of a band can change so dramatically. Thanks, GVSB, for writing some good stuff before your bad stuff. I not only get it now, I love it. It’s sad to see this one go.

– “Let Me Come Back,” “Get Down,” “Bullet Proof Cupid,” “7 Seas”
– “In Like Flynn,” “Go Be Delighted,” “Rockets Are Red,” “Satin Down,” “Learned It,” “Billy’s One Stop,” “Bughouse”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Los Lobos: Colossal Head

Shit, this run through the Los Lobos catalog has been depressing, as I haven’t liked any of the last three albums, this one inclusive, as much as I remember liking them. Certainly not the last two, which I remember loving, and now make me feel a little bit dirty. On the plus side, By The Light Of The Moon came back with a much higher rating than expected, and La Pistola Y El Córazon exceeded expectations as well.

Here’s where Ima land with this, the last of my re-reviews for Los Lobos: It’s still really good, just not as good as I remember it being. And, to be more precise, the sich is that it’s got this really cool laid back vibe with a Morphine-style saxophone and some really tricky, Latin-rooted (I think) rhythms that are also heavily R&B/funk-influenced and academic as well. So they groove but they’re a bit awkward and heady in their groove. (It’s a bit like Steely Dan in that way.) So it all works really well if you’re focused on the music…if the music is the event. But if you’re trying to get work done, then you just end up wondering, “Wait, has this seemingly simple but actually lurching groove been going on for the last 20 minutes? How come I’m five songs on?”

All of which is to say it’s an awesome album. Just give it it’s proper due.

– “Revolution,” “Mas Y Mas,” “Maricela”
– “Everybody Loves A Train,” “Can’t Stand The Rain,” “Life Is Good,” “Little Japan,” “Manny’s Bones,” “Colossal Head,” “This Bird’s Gonna Fly,” “Buddy Ebsen Loves The Night Time”

Filed Between: Los Lobos’s Kiko and Lovage (Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Mazzy Star: She Hangs Brightly

She Hangs Brightly is like baseball: boring, but good. Not to be mistaken for the album’s follow-up, So Tonight That I Might See, which was very boring and terrible.

You get a lot of same-tempo, same-key here, and even on their first album they were really mining all the reverb they put on vocalist Hope Sandoval’s voice. But a few things save this one. First, it rarely gets awful. Most of “I’m Sailing'” and parts of “She Hangs Brightly,” “Taste Of Blood,” and “Ghost Highway” are as bad as it gets. Second, Sandoval’s lyrics are great. Third, there are a few stand-out moments on the album. Pretty much all of “Ride It On” and “Give You My Lovin’,” along with the bizzonkers chords pulled out in the middle of an otherwise sleepy “Before I Sleep.”

So it’s a pretty one-dimensional album, but it’s light enough and manageable enough that, especially if you’re in the mood for drone-y, quiet, electronified folky stuff, it works pretty well. Don’t try to make it more than it is, but there’s at least a place in the world for this album. Truth be told, I’ll kind of be sad to see it go after I post this. A bit tougher to let this go than most three-clown discs.

– “Ride It On,” “Give You My Lovin’,” “Before I Sleep”
– “Halah,” “Blue Flower,” “She Hangs Brightly,” “Be My Angel,” “Taste Of Blood,” “Ghost Highway,” “Free”
– “I’m Sailin'”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Toad The Wet Sprocket: Dulcinea

You know, people are always saying the opposite of love isn’t hate it’s apathy. Which is stupid. ‘Cuz they’re like on different scales. Love<->hate, engaged<->apathetic. It just happens that both love and hate put you at engaged, so it’s only half true that apathetic is the opposite of love. Anyway, the problem is that when something is so boring and pablum-y that I should be apathetic, that causes me to hate it. I hate that I’m so apathetic about something. It’s not that it’s annoying, it’s that it’s so fricking inoffensive that makes it offensive.

Toad The Wet Sprocket is a band I’ve been familiar with pretty much by name only. I, of course, had heard these singles, and had heard of the band, but I’d never connected those particular songs to this band. Turns out I hate Toad The Wet Sprocket.

One thing that’s a bit odd, too, is that there were only four singles off of this album according to Wikipedia. But I was familiar with a lot more than that. I guess it must have been that I was hearing this in the dorms all the time.

God what was it with 1994 to 1995? Where did this non-edge movement come from? Between this band, Hootie And The Blowfish, Counting Crows, and the contemporary incarnation of Goo Goo Dolls, you’ve got some of the most sad sack, boring “rock” ever written. It’s just like louder versions of The Carpenters or Sonny And Cher. Were people so tired of the angst of grunge that they just didn’t even care what entered their ears as long as it was inoffensive? There are so many ways music could have really revolted against grunge as it entered the mid-90’s, but it chose to take this stupid passive-aggressive approach, picking the lint out of its belly button in the corner and feeling sorry for itself. Which is, I guess, better than the other main response: nü-metal.

But here’s what’s awesome about this album. It sound absolutely gorgeous. Twenty years ago and it sounds fabulous. Why does so much much better music coming out now sound like ass when we’d essentially perfected digital music production in the early 90’s? Also the two penultimate songs are awesome and don’t sound like any of the other Gin Blossoms-esque rest of the album. The last song also has some merits and the guitar song of the opener is fantastic. So those items save the album’s rating from being a complete disaster.

Also I love the band’s name.

– “Inside,” “Begin”
– “Reincarnation Song”
– “Fly From Heaven,” “Woodburning,” “Something’s Always Wrong,” “Stupid,” “Crowing,” “Listen,” “Windmills,” “Nanci,” “Fall Down”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Steve Reich: You Are (Variations)

This shouldn’t be so awesome. It’s minimalism. An ostinato instrumental (primarily piano here) laying a musical foundation that changes ever so slightly with each variation. Layered on top is a small chorus doing the same thing with, in this case, short set texts from religious and philosophical texts.

That’s basically it. “Minimalism” is the name given to the genre, and it’s not hard to grasp conceptually, and it is immediately accessible upon each listen. This genre should have been over and done well before the roughly four decades of work that have been put into it. On the contrary, it stands, with leading luminaries that you may have even heard of like Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, and Steve Reich, as the late-20th Century form of art music. With its hypnotic drones, this is the natural musical reflection of the Industrial Revolution that showed up on the heels of all the wonderful but inaccessible attempts to industrialize the music-making itself.

The first four tracks on the album are the movements of You Are (Variations) (which always makes me think of the Pearl Jam song of the same (unvariationed) name. The disc rounds out with Cello Counterpoint, which here is a soloist playing along with a recording of an octet of other cellos. In the liner notes, Reich says that he stopped writing for entire orchestras because he didn’t need that much to convey his statements, and that’s so wonderfully demonstrated here where he fully plumbs the depths of a single instrument to bring up realms of beauty and wonder.

I’ve been listening to this for weeks now, trying to figure out how I was going to write about it. I still haven’t figured it out, so I’m just going to let what’s been said above stand. I don’t have an expertise in minimalism or even Steve Reich. In fact, the main reason I picked this up in that guy’s garage for one dollar was because I had no Reich. So now I do and I’m really happy with this CD. I don’t think I need to say any more than that anyway.

– “You Are Wherever Your Thoughts Are,” “Cello Counterpoint”
– “Shiviti Hashem L’negdi (I place the eternal before me),” “Explanations Come To An End Somewhere,” “Ehmore M’aht, V’ahsay Harbay (Say little and do much)”
Filed Between: Reel Big Fish (“Everything Sucks/Unity/241” promotional cassette) and Brian Reitzell (30 Days Of Night Soundtrack)