MadLove: White With Foam

Boy this sounds like The Book Of Knots. I spent a lot of time trying to find some way to link this to The Book Of Knots. I couldn’t. I think the main similarity is in the tonalities and the female vocalist. Who is not very good…she has a hard time singing on key. At first I thought that was an artistic choice, and maybe it is, but it came to bug me more and more as I listened to it. I think the album lost a full clown during the review period.

It’s still a pretty good listen. I bet it’s the most straight-forward thing Trevor Dunn (Trio Convulsant, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas) has ever done. There are plenty of twists and turns, especially harmonically and rhythmically. But it’s also accessible, darkly-tinged verse-chorus-verse guitar/bass/drums/vocals/sometimesKeys(?) rock. It’s like a goth-prog kinda thing, like a less weighty Type O Negative or a stripped down Rush. (“The Mute Number” has strong “YYZ” influences, especially at the beginning.) Also Björk-y in several places.

To tell you the truth, I’m getting a bit sick of this one, and so I’m kind of cranking out a review before it gets too old. Her voice just works against my enjoyment, and the album is better served by close listening than background. Not many bad songs, it just gets tiresome.

Rating:
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– “Rats With Wings,” “Dirty,” “As Sad As It Was Beautiful,” “All The Nerve Endings”
– “Thread,” “Absence & Noise,” “In Love (In Theory),” “Broke,” “Left With Nothing,” “Knowing,” “Art Of Denial,” “The Mute Number”
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Monster Magnet: Superjudge

And then Monster Magnet hit their stride. This is like a completely different band than the one we last saw a couple years prior doing 25 Tab and Spine Of God. I mean, from two 1.5-clown releases to 4.5 clowns? What happened?

Aw, who cares? Don’t think about it too much. Don’t spend any time wondering why the stand-out lyrics (e.g., “but I could fuck an angel,” “my dick just got a million times bigger”) don’t clunk here where they did on prior releases. Don’t imagine what kind of deal they made with the devil to completely reinvent Will Dixon’s ominous call-out of infidelity, “Evil (Is Going On),” while also remaining completely true to the song’s soul.

Instead, just sit back and enjoy the awesome fuzzed-out riffage of new guitarist Ed Mundell. It can be kind of hard to differentiate the songs or to think of each song as a cohesive whole. If instead, you just get on the ride for 53 minutes of excellently-produced stoner guitar, you’ll find, aside from things getting a little too slow, sparse, and repetitive in “Cage Around The Sun,” nothing to criticize.

Rating:
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– “Cyclops Revolution,” “Twin Earth,” “Superjudge,” “Elephant Bell,” “Dinosaur Vacume,” “Evil (Is Going On),” “Stadium,” “Face Down,” “Brainstorm,” “Black Balloon”
– “Cage Around The Sun”
Filed Between: Thelonious Monk (The Composer) and Monster Magnet’s Dopes To Infinity
Song Notes: After the jump
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Seattle Presents Volume Two, Live Concerts At City Hall

seattlepresentsThis barely even deserves to exist as a CD. It’s only as a physical relic of the showcasing of Seattle’s musical diversity in a series of concerts at City Hall. Which is only to say I’m not going to review it as a holistic thing. Let’s get to the songs.

  1. Warriors (Traffic Jam Remix) – Gabriel Teodros – Major suck on two fronts. I hate socially conscious rap. Nobody. Is. Listening. And this is inartful…it’s so sensitive ponytail man, just fucking pandering. And god those fucking inhales. Breathe much? This is unlistenable. Probably the worst thing I’ve heard this year if not this decade.
  2. Otro Buchipluma – Miho & Diego Duo – The best track on the album. Like marimba and flute, though I’m pretty sure the “flute” is some kind of non-Western instrument. Nice melody, cool rhythms, upbeat. Of all the artists on here, this is the one I really want to hear more from.
  3. Chip On My Shoulder – Christy McWilson – Straightforward roots country-rock. Very nice guitarpersonship. Nice groove. Sounds like an insult, but it’s not, to say this is very competent and workpersonlike. Might only be an open heart in the context of a full album, but I’ll make it full here to help me remember I dug it.
  4. Toxic Shellfish In The Sun – Two Loons For Tea – This singer’s really into herself as evidenced by her vocal style (is somebody torturing a cat?) and her unsuccessful-attempts-at-deadpan-funny banter. Guitar and vocalist, slow, blues-jazz kinda thing. Not interesting or good.
  5. Raga Bhairavi – Farmaish – I don’t know a lot about Indian classical music, but let’s just say that out of the handful of ragas I have in my collection, this one’s about at the bottom of the pile when I’m looking to pull one out for a listen.
  6. I’m From – Melissa Noelle Green & Sharp Skills – A rap that owes a lot to beat poetry. Pretty good. Except for that ridiculous line about Lay’s potato chips.
  7. Lament At Changemen Palace – Wu Ziying – Soloist on guqin, a Chinese stringed instrument. The song I’m least qualified to review here. I like it. Eastern tones on a solo stringed instrument, so reminiscent of the Indian raga in that sense, but this is much shorter. the worst part of it is the melody that sounds like he’s going into “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
  8. Do The Capitol – Visqueen – Alt-pop kinda thing that Seattle’s best known for. Horrible lyrics: “When you find the one you love/You’ll take out insurance to make them stay”. But I like the punky energy with a fun groove. Full-hearting for same reason I full-hearted Christy McWilson.
  9. Open Up Your Ears – Michael Partington – It’s like an attempt at a Danny Gatton or Rodrigo y Gabriela kinda thing. Okay, but kinda just not-well-executed guitar wizardry. Not really a thread of a song here. Also not helped by his banter which sounds like the most boring man in the world ever.

Rating:
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– “Otro Buchipluma” (Miho & Diego Duo), “Chip On My Shoulder” (Christy McWilson), “Do The Capitol” (Visqueen)
– “Raga Bhairavi” (Farmaish), “I’m From” (Melissa Noelle Green & Sharp Skills), “Lament At Changemen Palace” (Wu Ziying)
– “Warriors (Traffic Jam Remix)” (Gabriel Teodros), “Toxic Shellfish In The Sun” (Two Loons For Tea), “Open Up Your Ears” (Michael Partington)
Filed Between: Seattle Presents Volume One and Seaweed (Weak)

Holy Barbarians: Cream

As soon as he started singing I recognized Ian Astbury immediately. It took me about 80 seconds to place the voice as his. And really, this is just The Cult without Billy Duffy. Or at least it’s where I felt The Cult was going on their self-titled release two years prior.

This album isn’t quite as painful as that one. For one, they’re not trying as hard. They’re not any better, it’s just that the band is a little more comfortable with their diminished abilities at this point. They don’t try to do too much, and so don’t fail so often.

I can mostly listen to this album from start to finish without getting too upset. All the songs are accessible, and they’re even kind of differentiated from one another, which is a feat considering that they’re not all that interesting. How do you write ten different uninteresting songs?

But if I listen closely to this album, then I start to get ticked. For one, it’s just harder to listen to a boring song for several minutes if it’s not just in the background. Second, and more prominently, these lyrics are shit. Just plain fucking shit. Check out the notes for “Opium,” “You Are There,” and “Magick Christian” below the jump for more details.

When former rock stars start to suck, it would be nice if we could just put them out to pasture. I mean, there’s no way this record gets made if somebody without a “proven track record” (to borrow from idiot baseball front office people who make the same mistake) wasn’t fronting it. And it’s fine that he wants to make music that’s ranging from mediocre-to-bad…it’s just too bad that we all have to pay attention to it. Listening to this album didn’t make my life any worse, but it’s certainly not any better for the experience.

Rating:
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– “Brother Fights,” “Dolly Bird,” “Blind,” “She,” “Bodhisattva”
– “Cream,” “Opium,” “Space Junkie,” “You Are There,” “Magick Christian”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Dismemberment Plan: Emergency & I

In what’s becoming a running theme on this blog, I’d always conflated these guys with Dillinger Escape Plan. Both bands have “Plan” in their name and the D words imply violence. But they’re really different. These guys are like a mix between emo and math rock, which I guess just means they’re math rock, huh?

Actually if this reminds me of anything, it’s like the perfect cross between Shudder To Think’s last two albums: Pony Express Record and 50,000 B.C. There are guitar lines that suddenly veer in unexpected directions, squealy guitars slammed into your earholes (e.g., “What Do You Want Me To Say?”), and a disaffected vocal line that can sing very well but chooses a more stylized delivery more often than not (parts of “What Do You Want Me To Say?” really get me on the similarities.)

This separates itself from Shudder To Think primary in the heavy use of keys and electronics. Heavily layered updated versions of synthetic sounds from the 80’s are, aside from the lyrics, the prominent feature of this album. “You Are Invited” even uses a drum machine for about its first half.

The lyrics are also quite stylized, but run a pretty wide gamut. There’s the banal (“The garbage goes out on a Thursday now”), the affirmational (“You are invited/By anyone to do anything/You are so needed/By everyone to do everything”), and the dystopial (nuclear holocaust in “8 1/2 Minutes”).

Anyway, I love it. This is what Dandy Warhols are trying to be. It’s got some of that cutesiness, but the these guys are talented enough that the cutesiness never overshadows the songs or the performances. The first half of the album is weakened by the songs often not being completely crafted despite having some really cool parts. Things really get turned up an extra notch on the second half, where the really awesome stuff lies. “Gyroscope” is a contender for song of the year. If the first half were more like the second half, this would easily be 4.5 clowns.

Rating:
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– “You Are Invited,” Gyroscope,” “8 1/2 Minutes”
– “A Life Of Possibilities,” “Memory Machine,” “What Do You Want Me To Say?,” “Spider In The Snow,” “The Jitters,” “I Love A Magician,” “The City,” “Girl O’Clock,” “Back And Forth”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Monster Magnet: 25 Tab

If you disliked Spine Of God, you’ll hate 25 Tab.

The best part of this album is the cover art, easily the best use of their mascot. 25 Tab is definitely a step backward for Monster Magnet from their prior release, Spine Of God. Which kind of makes sense, since it was actually recorded first.

Another thing that’s obvious is why the initial release only saw the light of day in Germany. It’s really just plain bad. Not to mention ridiculously indulgent…oh, the indulgence. The original EP had three tracks, the first of which is 32 minutes and the second of which is 12.5 minutes. And none of them have any business being that long.

“Tab…25,” the crazy-ass long opener, is sound effects and guitar over the same rhythm for its entirety. It can be kind of interesting guitar if turned up loud enough, but it’s pretty much worthless. “Longhair,” the next long track, has its moments in, say, its first and last thirds, but definitely gets way too bogged down in the middle. Based on its abrupt transitions, it should have been broken up into multiple tracks, some of which might actually be good. The EP is rounded out by the four minutes or so of “Lord 13” which is basically just working out some ideas that would appear elsewhere in their discography (“Black Balloon,” “Blow It Off”): uptempo acoustic guitar strum that implies tension, but this one never pays off and instead just falls apart after a few minutes. Finally, this re-release has a horrible sounding live version of “Spine Of God” tacked on to the end.

25 Tab sounds awful and the songwriting is non-existent; it should have been relegated to an existence as experimental studio time or destroyed Not even for completists…I mean, have some compassion for the completists.

Rating:
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– “Longhair”
– “Tab…25,” “Lord 13,” “Spine Of God (Live)”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Los Lobos: This Time

Okay, now that I’m listening to a new (to me) album of Los Lobos’, I think I have finally got them figured out, or at least where they were in the late 90’s figured out. First, they’re great. That was in doubt for a while there, as little that I listened to really hit me in a visceral way the way I remember it. Second, they’re really, really cerebral. I knew they were progressive, but it’s only just hitting me how much they are screwing with convention thought this part of their oeuvre. Third, they are really good at making it seem like they’re not as cerebral and more visceral than they are. This is where I was getting hung up. I had remembered their catalog really appealing to me, and I remember their early work being viscerally appealing, and I remembered a lot of the grooves and hooks just by looking at the names, so I just kind of thought that they were a very raw band. But coming back to them I was finding that maybe the grooves weren’t quite as deep or fluid as I thought and maybe I was enjoying them more with my head than my heart than I remembered. And I think that’s true. But it’s also just fine. I was just out of sorts because I couldn’t put them in a box.

Here’s an example. “High Places” actually does feature a real slick groove in the rhythm section and the guitar, but then the vocals are double-tracked in a way where the second track falls behind the beat. So you’ve simultaneously got this very in-the-pocket thing going on while you’re being kept off balance by the vocals. (It doesn’t hurt the effect that the lyrics are about falling, being down, etc.) Or there’s “This Time,” which has a real laid back vibe, but leaves the kick of the backbeat until the third beat. How does that even happen?

I think a part of the problem I’d been having with this approach was that it just seemed to be getting a little too close to Steely Dan-ness. But I think the band avoids that by keeping things reined in. The songs are short, so you’re not, for example, getting an admonishment to Rikki burned into your brain. The album’s short, so your brain gets just the right amount of academic tease and doesn’t get fatigued by the end.

They take an interesting turn with their Spanish-language tracks on this album with “La Playa.” In high school, a friend and I were constantly frustrated with how incompetent our classmates were at learning French. Every year it seemed they got no better, only able to remember the very first sentence we learned, “On va à la plage.” Which is why these lyrics strike my funny bone: “Vamos a la playa/…/Mucho fun.”

I’d say this album is just a little bit better than its predecessor, Colossal Head. It seems shorter and better planned. For example, it’s nice that they start off with the low key song to pull you in, rather than kind of bringing things way down in the middle of the album (see “Little Japan” from the earlier album). But really it’s Colossal Head part two. The two are of a piece. You could take the songs from the two albums and mix them up and never really lose a cohesive feel. And the rating, then, is the same, too. A very good, solid disc that I love listening to, just a little too academic to work myself up into a frenzy over.

Rating:
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– “This Time,” “Viking,” “High Places”
– “Oh Yeah,” “Cumbia Raza,” “Run Away With You,” “Corazon,” “Some Say, Some Do,” “Turn Around,” “La Playa,” “Why We Wish”
Song Notes: After the jump
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