Ministry: The Land Of Rape And Honey

ministry3Memory is such a funny thing. My memory of my relationship with this album is multi-layered. Going back to the first layer, I remember liking this a lot in high school. Or at least, I remember remembering that from the middle layer, at which point I remember thinking this didn’t hold up. But screw that, this is great. The only explanation I can give for thinking that maybe this wasn’t as good as I remembered was maybe I was focusing on the middle- to early-back-half of the album, where it does lose some steam. But that’s far from the full story here.

This is basically the first iteration of Ministry as they would be in their most successful incarnation. Drum machines are still prevalent, but there is a lot more guitar, it’s very up front in the mix, it’s distorted, and it’s fast and often played unconventionally. They wouldn’t break through until 1992, with refinements on this formula, and they were pretty out there even then, so these guys are way ahead of their time with this album in 1988.

Another big difference between this and their previous albums (and, by the way, I probably went too easy on Twitch after re-visiting how good this is) is that this has much less emphasis on VCV song structure. Here it’s pasted together riffs and sample-heavy soundscapes with an emphasis on sound design. It sounds as disturbing as the cover art. Speaking of which, I have no idea what it is and I’m still disturbed by it.

As I said before, there’s a gradual drop-off after you get past the first four songs of pure awesomeness. It never gets bad, though the plodding of “Flashback” comes close, but it gets less focused and more indulgent. All of the tracks sound better loud, when it’s at a volume where you can hear how the song is changing underneath; too quiet and it gets too repetitive. Thankfully, they pull it back for the last track, though, “Abortive,” which is very glitchy, much less heavy, and even has some jazzy elements to it. On a different day this might get 4.5 clowns.

Rating:
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Mix:”Deity,” “Abortive”
– “Stigmata,” “The Missing,” “Golden Dawn,” “I Prefer”
– “Destruction,” “Hizbollah,” “The Land Of Rape And Honey,” “You Know Who You Are,” “Flashback”
Filed Between: Mini Mansions (Mini Mansions) and Ministry’s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: Gretchen Goes To Nebraska

Gretchen Goes To NebraskaAnother great record from King’s X. This is the only one of their first six I hadn’t heard before, and even then I recognized some of the songs. I am not sure how many times I saw them in concert, but it must have been quite a few because “Over My Head” was very familiar. And, yeah, I know it was a single, but I don’t think that’s the reason…I think I just picked it up live.

The strongest and the weakest part of this album is guitarist Jerry Gaskill. Strongest in that his chunky, full guitar riffs are about 70% of the awesomeness of the songs themselves. Weakest because there’s a guitar solo on most songs (if not all of them), and that’s just not his strong suit. I know guitar solos were de rigeur in 1989, but it’s not like the band was afraid to go against convention in other areas. The songs could have benefited from a bridge or something in that spot, but as it is those solos are pretty much all momentum-suckers. The exception is “Send A Message,” an uptempo rocker that doesn’t slow down for the solo. Not a coincidence that’s the only track I’ve got listed as a mix CD candidate.

In the end, this boils down to mostly awesome guitar-playing and song-writing from start to finish, with some momentum-sucking parts and songs thrown in that don’t ruin the overall awesomeness.

Rating:
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Mix: “Send A Message”
– “Out Of The Silent Planet,” “Over My Head,” “Summerland,” “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something,” “I’ll Never Be The Same,” “Mission,” “Fall On Me”
– “The Difference (In The Garden Of St. Anne’s-On-The-Hill),” “Pleiades”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Something For Kate: Elsewhere For 8 Minutes

51A0ZQS90XLThis is a grower, but its genetics will only let it grow on you so much. It’s got short parents.

Something For Kate is an Australia three-piece that I would have thought was a D.C.-area four-piece. They’re a bit of a post-punk/grunge combo. The post-punk comes from the guitarist, who’s got a strident, alarm-like quality but also a real gift for combining chunky riffs with nice melodies in the same song. The grunge quality comes from the flat yarling of the vocalist, who is kind of a cross between Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Sunny Day Real Estate’s Jeremy Enigk, and is also the same person as the guitarist.

There are some really good songs on here, but very few good tracks as the good songs almost invariably have crappy parts added to them in what can only be described as vicious self-sabotage. Somebody needs to tell Paul Dempsey that, hey, you’re awesome on guitar, but you really need to let somebody else get out in front and do the singing. Also you need to stop with so much meandering. You can completely get rid of a few songs here. Half of the remainder need to have their most boring 20% cut, and from the other songs you can probably cull the bad parts out and have enough left over for one or two good songs.

At their best I get Burning Airlines. At their worst I get Counting Crows, and the bad Counting Crows at that. Still, I find more to like it with just about every listen, so it may be a matter of it just being one that takes longer to get into. I think it’s height-inhibited, though.

Rating:
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– “Pinstripe,” “Captain (Million Miles An Hour),” “Prick,” “Glass Timing,” “Working Against Me”
– “Anarchitect,” “Roll Credit,” “Like Bankrobbers,” “The Last Minute”
– “Paintbrushes,” “Soundczech,” “Strategy”
Song Notes: After the jump

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2013 Clownies

Remember, these are the best that I listened to and reviewed, not that were released in 2013. Eligible candidates run from The [Sister-In-Law] Christmas Coalition to Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams.

Album Of The Year – The Silent Majority by Life, Sex & Death
Did you know I gave Magical Mystery Tour five clowns? I didn’t remember that, either. A re-review of Satchel’s The Family also came in at five clowns, but I remember liking that less than I remember liking it back in the day, if you follow. The Silent Majority, another re-review, was the highlight of the year.

Artist Of The Year – Screaming Trees
Could have been Los Lobos, too, as I basically reviewed both bands’ excellent discographies over the course of the year.

Song Of The Year – “Julie Paradise” by Screaming Trees
Nothing jumped out from reviewing the mixes, so I’m going off of memory and calling it the final track on Screaming Trees’ Sweet Oblivion. Two categories for the boys from Ellensburg, nice job.

SHEL: SHEL

shelKind of a modern take on Irish folk here. Instrumentation is violin, keyboards, mandolin, and drums, with a djembe specifically called out in the liner notes. They kinda remind me of Rasputina in instrumentation, harmonic structure, vocal style, and effect on me, though I guess that last one just kind of follows from the others.

Just realizing as I write this the name is SHEL and that’s for the band members, the Holbrook sisters: Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza. And they were home-schooled in Colorado, which, along with the fact that these four sisters were born within five years of each other, kind of answers the questions I kind of had about whether the lyrics were religious.

These women are wicked talented; the performances and baroque instrumentation are flawless. But the songs leave me cold. Too much in a key that doesn’t suit me? Too much time outside vocal ranges I like? (E.g., the falsetto yodeling in the cutesie “The Wise Old Owl” drive me nuts because female falsetto.) I don’t know.

I guess here’s where I come down. This sounds like a crazy-talented crew groomed for this kind of thing all of their life. They’ve done everything right and by the book, and from a reductionist point of view everything’s there…even the production is wonderful and I’m always complaining about that. But they just forgot the passion. There’s energy in the songs, some liveliness, but it still seems to lack a spark. Like “The Man Who Was The Circus” spends too much time tiptoeing around the song, trading the melody off between instruments, and just being so delicate with itself when what it needs to just let loose and be the damned song.

The album starts off with a slog of four songs that I don’t care if I never hear again. The odd-numbered of those annoy me and the even-numbered bore me. (Actually the first track does both.) Finally “Lost At Sea,” a re-imagining of an Irish sea shanty, if there is such a thing, breaks through to attain a level of at least not being awful, but then it’s off on a shorter but worse slog. The aforementioned “The Wise Old Owl” leads into the nauseating “Vinyl Memories” with its horrid lyrics (“My mind is just a turntable”) and its too-cute sound effect of a finished record at the end.

And then Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle Of Evermore.” On mandolin. By sisters. How can you hear that and not think of Heart’s version from the Singles soundtrack? And this is basically that, but with all the passion sucked out. So … why?

Things pick up at the end. The next four tracks are all pretty good. They might even be very good, but by this point I’m totally tuned out. Way to bury the lede, guys…two full-hearted songs is nothing to sneeze at, but they’re almost undiscoverable.

Then they close it all out with “The Latest And Greatest Blueberry Rubberband” which sounds just like you think it would coming from four home-schooled sisters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this singleton boy just finds their inside joke unrelateable. I bet single thirty-something chicks with no brothers love listening to this album while on Pinterest.

With this amount of talent, I hope they keep plugging away and hit on some kind of magic inspiration, find that missing ingredient, and add some fire and life to their music. Maybe develop a heroin habit? Rebel against the temple? Cuz I’ll want to hear that. This, though, … yawn.

Rating:
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– “On My Way,” “When The Dragon Came Down”
– “Lost At Sea,” “The Battle Of Evermore,” “Stained,” “Tuscany”
– “Paint My Life,” “Like Minded Fool,” “Freckles,” “The Man Who Was The Circus,” “The Wise Old Owl,” “Vinyl Memories,” “The Latest And Greatest Blueberry Rubberband”
Filed Between: The [Sister-In-Law] Christmas Coalition and Richard Shindell (Somewhere Near Paterson)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Fat Clown’s Best Albums Of 2013

I only reviewed three 2013 albums in 2013 itself, but have reviewed four more since 2014 began. So I’m going to bend my normal rules and include those here, where I present the seven best albums of 2013.

1.5 Clowns

7. Pearl Jam – Lighting Bolt
Pearl Jam’s worst album, hands down.

2 Clowns
6. The Airborne Toxic Event – Such Hot Blood
My how the mighty have fallen, as most of these songs are complete snoozers.

5. Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
A mixed bag of bleeps and bloops. So close and yet so far from being a very good album.

3.5 Clowns
4. Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
I remember liking this four clowns worth. I must have reviewed during a critical phase. Anyway, Alice In Chains has still got it, and there are a few excellent tracks here.

4 Clowns
3. Reign Of Fury – World Detonation
As long as we’re going to revisit pop of the 1980’s under the guise of hipster alternative, let’s bring back mid-80’s thrash as well.

2. Lucius – Wildewoman
Would have benefited from better production, but out of the current crop of Brooklyn hipster music, this has some of the best songs. Both of these four clown reviews were gifts from KEN.

4.5 Clowns
1. Polyrhytmics – Libra Stripes
Surprising no one, my new favorite band, the funksters from Seattle, Polyrhythmics, takes home the best album of 2013.

The Fat Clown Mixes Of 2013

Ho gawd, yes, 2013. Still. I keep getting worse and worse at this timeliness thing, huh?

All right, here we go, the two mixes I put together for my sisters-in-law this year (I think I managed to get it to them by MLK day, for the record) and the one I made for everybody else.

The People’s Mix:

  1. Heart Attack – Low Vs Diamond
  2. The Return Of… – Satchel
  3. In Pieces – Torche
  4. I Got Loaded – Los Lobos
  5. Plastic – Spiderbait
  6. Gold Guns Girls – Metric
  7. Pig Brag Crack – Sax Ruins
  8. Let Me Come Back – Girls Against Boys
  9. Is This Music? – Teenage Fanclub
  10. Merry Go Round – Buffalo Tom
  11. Run A Mile – BR549
  12. Tarbelly And Featherfoot – Lou Reed
  13. Ladyboy’s Night At The Cultural Relativism Saloon – Farmers Market
  14. Don’t Darlene – Rocket From The Crypt
  15. School’s For Fools – Life, Sex & Death
  16. Gyroscope – Dismemberment Plan
  17. This Moment – Matthew Sweet
  18. Breath On A Window – Alice In Chains
  19. Blow ‘Em Off – Monster Magnet
  20. No One Knows – Screaming Trees

Volume K:

  1. Heart Attack – Low Vs Diamond
  2. Timeless – The Airborne Toxic Event
  3. I Got Loaded – Los Lobos
  4. Inside – Toad The Wet Sprocket
  5. Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley
  6. Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles
  7. Pet Rock – Teenage Fanclub
  8. Plastic – Spiderbait
  9. 7 Seas – Girls Against Boys
  10. State Of Love And Trust – Pearl Jam
  11. Don’t Darlene – Rocket From The Crypt
  12. Gyroscope – Dismemberment Plan
  13. Blow ‘Em Off – Monster Magnet
  14. Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
  15. This Moment – Matthew Sweet
  16. The Ice & The Storm – My Brightest Diamond
  17. For So Long – Satchel

Volume S:

  1. Rock & Roll Music – The Beatles
  2. Heavy – Eleven
  3. Reverse Inverted – Torche
  4. Black Balloon – Monster Magnet
  5. Come On, Let’s Go – Los Lobos
  6. Fuckin’ Shit Ass – Life, Sex & Death
  7. You Are Invited – Dismemberment Plan
  8. What You Do To Me – Teenage Fanclub
  9. Frying Pan – Evan Dando
  10. Before I Sleep – Mazzy Star
  11. Takin’ It Back – Satchel
  12. Would? – Alice In Chains
  13. Don’t Forget Sister – Low Vs Diamond
  14. Main Road – Lucinda Williams
  15. 18 And Life – Skid Row
  16. Get Down – Girls Against Boys
  17. Inside A Boy – My Brightest Diamond
  18. Butterfly – Screaming Trees