Whiskeytown: Faithless Street [Reissued Version]

faithlessstreetIt’s important to note that this is the 1998 reissue and not the 1995 original. Important because, at 21 tracks and 67 minutes, this is as bloated as you would expect a reissue to be, even one for a relatively unknown album such as this one. Important because this is now the only version you can get on both Spotify and Xbox Music. In fact, it seems to be the only one listed at allmusic. Important because it sounds awful, at least on both Spotify and Xbox Music, and I even tried “Extreme” (seriously) quality on Spotify. The sound on almost every song is dominated by crackly, peaking static at every crescendo. And that ends up being the most salient quality of the album.

Once you get past that, the next step is to get past the fact that it’s 21 songs and 67 minutes and good god it doesn’t need to be anywhere close to that long. Get past the sound and the songs that have no business being included here, and you’re left with an album that, well, it still has a ceiling of like 3.5 clowns. But, hell, that’s better than I’m gonna give it.

There are a few gems and several more songs that have good parts. But the band’s a little too twangy; they’re pretty judicious with the violin but it still gets overbearing, as is its wont in a setting like this. Their attempts at 70’s Springsteen glory and broken dreams are fine but nevertheless just make you want to go listen to Springsteen’s superior versions.

In the end, maybe the length of this ends up serving it pretty well. Not because I want to listen to the whole thing, or really even that many songs on it, but more because it lets the good moments peppered throughout the album pile up to a point where I’m inclined to say that, you know, maybe with better sound I’d even be able to say I liked this.

– “Drank Like A River,” “Revenge”
– “Midway Park,” “What May Seen Like Love,” “If He Can’t Have You,” “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” “Desperate Ain’t Lonely,” “Hard Luck Story,” “Top Dollar,” “Lo Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel,” “Empty Baseball Park,” “16 Days,” “Yesterday’s News,” “Factory Girl”
– “Too Drunk To Dream,” “Tennessee Square,” “Faithless Street,” “Mining Town,” “Black Arrow, Bleeding Heart,” “Matrimony,” “Here’s To The Rest Of The World”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Self: Subliminal Plastic Motives

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007} CSLook up “three clowns” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Self’s 1995 debut album, Subliminal Plastic Motives. This is completely true.

The disc starts off very promising, with probably its second best song, “Borateen,” a fairly heavy rocker that eschews nonsense and lays out its chorus and verses with a tasty guitar tone. From there, “Sophomore Jinx,” about exactly what you think it would be about, goes in a different direction with some funky synth sounds and a flange guitar effect and some cool start/stop quirks that muck with the time signature. Not quite as much of a grabber as the lead track, but still pretty good.

And then after that things immediately plummet into a mess of doggerel, whiny melodic hooks, and lead member Matt Mahaffey generally just trying to show you how well-versed he is in so many styles. “Stewardess” and “So Low” are probably the two worst songs here, and they occupy the third and fourth slots. After that it’s pretty hit or miss for the rest of the disc. At one moment you’re grooving to the Soul Coughings-esque stylings of “Big Important Nothing” or banging your head to “Missed The Friction,” but the next you’re shaking your head at the band’s over-literalness (“Marathon Shirt” is about a t-shirt from a marathon and its owner) and insistence on breaking up a good song halfway in order to introduce a completely unrelated, and often worse, idea. “Missed The Friction” is a totally missed opportunity for a mix candidate.

Most of these songs could have been bumped up or down a notch if they’d happen to emphasize their best or worst parts, respectively. It’s a frustrating listen because it’s wonderful at points but never seems to be able to live up to its talent. It’s like the prototypical five-tools player who has flashes of brilliance on a given play, but can never seem to put together a solid game.

– “Borateen,” “Missed The Friction,” “Superstar”
– “Sophomore Jinx,” “Marathon Shirt,” “Cannon,” “Mother Nature’s Fault,” “Big Important Nothing,” “Lost My Senses”
– “Stewardess,” “So Low,” “Lucid Anne”
Song Notes: After the jump
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The Rentals: Return Of The Rentals

returnoftherentals“Friends Of P.,” the hit single from this, the debut album by The Rentals, a band fronted by Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, is the only song you can’t get as part of your subscription content to Xbox Music and Spotify. Which is kind of a big middle finger, but I can kind of understand it since the rest of the album sucks and who the hell would pay for it? On the other hand, I can’t imagine “Friends Of P.” being good enough to save this album from its levels of pure suckage.

The keyboard sounds are deliciously retro, due to the band’s featuring of a Moog. However, unlike The Cars, a Moog-heavy band this band is compared to a lot, The Rentals forgot to write any songs. All but one of the nine tracks that is included on here are either boring or annoying, sometimes both. The annoying is almost always due to the insistence on them including a female vocalist who is maddeningly off-key.

The full heart is generous. This is crap.

– “Please Let That Be You”
– “The Love I’m Searching For,” “Waiting,” “My Summer Girl,” “Sweetness And Tenderness”
– “Move On,” “Brilliant Boy,” “Naive,” “These Days”
Not included – “Friends Of P.”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sloan: Twice Removed

twiceremovedI believe this is the album that put Sloan on the map, though I could be wrong about that. I believe I had this because I was enamored with their song on the DGC Rarities, Vol. 1 compilation. I remember liking this a lot more, too. I still like it, but I think the reason I remember liking it a bunch is because it’s not metal and it’s not grunge but it does have some really good hooks and so may have been one of the first examples of me moving out of heavier stuff into accepting stuff that was just flat out catchy.

Anyhoo, this is still awfully good, though at this point I might prefer its predecessor, Smeared. The songs are more fleshed out as songs here, the lyrics aren’t nearly as mopey sad sack as they were on the first album, and there are still plenty of catchy riffs…I just…I don’t know…something was just a little more muscular about the instrumentation on their debut? The full hearts on that album were more powerful than the full hearts here? I’m just remembering that album more positively than it really was?

Who knows. I do know that one thing in particular I’m experiencing worse this time around is “Pen Pals,” which is a wonderfully hooky, perfectly crafted pop song. But, whereas the charming, broken English lyrics was a part of what I’ve always loved about it, now I can only hear it as the band mocking the lyrics. I think I might have known at the time that the lyrics were pulled from fan letters to Kurt Cobain, but I always just assumed the band thought they were as lovely as I do. Now I can only see the band sitting around reading fan mail to a dead man and laughing at foreign teenagers.

On the other hand, I don’t really have a problem giving this four clowns. Well, maybe a little problem, but still, Smeared came in a half-clown lower than that, so maybe this album is better. I think they do a great job of moving from uptempo jangles like “Pen Pal” and “Worried Now” and downtempo plaintive tracks like “Loosens.”

Take the best half of songs from that album and from this and you’ve got easily a 4.5-clown album. So still an auspicious start for a band that would go on to release ten full albums with an eleventh scheduled out next month. Not band for four guys straight outta Halifax, eh?

Mix: “Snowsuit Sound”
– “Pen Pals,” “Coax Me,” “Loosens,” “Worried Now,” “Shame Shame,” “Deeper Than Beauty,” “I Can Feel It”
– “I Hate My Generation,” “Bells On”
– “People Of The Sky,” “Before I Do”
Filed Between: Sleater-Kinney (Call The Doctor) and A Small Circle Of Friends (a Germs tribute)
Song Notes: After the jump
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Tindersticks: Tindersticks (First Album)

tindersticksfirstalbumI can’t completely remember how I knew about this album, but I’ve long associated IT with The Auteurs’ Now I’m A Cowboy. Again, I’m not sure exactly why. They were both British with kind of brush-stroke album covers? I feel like they may have both been promoted CDs at the record store where I worked in the summer of 1995. But this came out in 1993, so that doesn’t make a ton of sense, either.

Anyway, the most prominent feature of this album is that it’s the band’s debut album and it’s a double album. They may have been able to get the whole thing on one CD since it clocks in at 77 minutes, but I know it was two vinyl albums. We are at peak album/CD culture at this point in time. (Side note: tried to explain to my four-year-old what an album was two days ago. Tough.)

Anyhoo, I see on Wikipedia that the band is described as chamber pop, and that makes sense, but I would emphasize chamber more than pop, and even modern chamber more like Kronos Quartet than Mozart. Everything is closely mic’d and the singer is mixed way up front in the mix, making the most of his Nick Cave-esque vocal range (i.e., not much of one, though it is a beautifully husky voice). You get the feeling throughout the album that there’s a low talking mumbler whispering in your ear for over an hour.

It works beautifully, though. There are plenty of wonderful melodies and the orchestration…you could teach a master course on this, the way an atonal trumpet takes “Tyed” from being a nice song to being something special, or the way slight little touches of distorted guitar or a pure xylophone (or some kind of tuned percussion) sound adds just the right je ne sais quoi to a piece that would otherwise be a little too same-key, same-tempo as the others around it.

This maybe didn’t need to be a double album…there’s a stretch in the middle where I start to fade. But I’ve never heard another band quite like this, and their contribution goes beyond being unique to being enjoyable on both a visceral and cerebral level.

Mix: “City Sickness,” “Drunk Tank”
– “Tyed,” “Whiskey And Water,” “Blood,” “Marbles,” “Milky Teeth,” “Piano Song,” “A Sweet Sweet Man Part 3,” “The Not Knowing
– “Nectar,” “A Sweet Sweet Man Part 1,” “Patchwork,” “Walt Blues, “A Sweet Sweet Man Part 2,” “Jism,” “Tye-Die,” “Raindrops,” “Her,” “Paco De Renaldo’s Dream”
– “Tea Stain”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Sloan: Smeared

smearedSloan’s debut album starts with the assertion that “underwhelmed” is not a word. Maybe it wasn’t in 1992, when this was released in their home country of Canada, but it is now. So, you know, that’s a little grating. But it doesn’t even compare to the ridiculously too-cute-but-not delivery of the line and the near five minutes of grammar peeving, solipsism, and annoying deliveries that follow as the song continues.

So the band starts off the album with their two worst songs, but “Underwhelmed” does have some good guitar riffs and the rest of the album improves pretty dramatically after this awful start. In fact, the best song on the album, “I Am The Cancer” is third (squee).

This album is fighting itself, which isn’t surprising for a rookie effort. It’s got great production, great guitar sound, and often some really hooky power-pop riffs propelled by great, shuffly rhythms. But, “I Am The Cancer” aside, the compositional chops to turn those riffs into well-contained songs aren’t there yet, and the lyrics are way too sad sack mopey boy who can’t get laid (see my comments on “Take It In” below). And when I think you’ve gone too far in that direction, you’ve really got a problem. But then the stretch from “Sugartune” through “Two Seater” is pretty incredible in that each song brings either some awesome riff, some tension-releasing fast, tight rock, and/or some brilliant lyrics.

Again, the fact that this is a bit not-quite-all over the map seems appropriate for a debut . Turn it up loud and get lost in the guitar sound, and you can bump this up a half-clown to 3.5.

Mix: “I Am The Cancer”
– “Median Strip,” “500 Up,” “Sugartune,” “Lemonzinger,” “Two Seater,” “What’s There To Decide?”
– “Raspberry,” “Take It In,” “Marcus Said,” “Left Of Centre”
– “Underwhelmed”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sleater-Kinney: All Hands On The Bad One

allhandsonthebadoneAll right, this is a nice recovery. Sleater-Kinney’s back with some enthusiasm on their fifth album after a disappointing fourth. I’d say something like “This is the way riot grrls should grow up” but that sounds sexist and/or dismissive of riot grrls, and I don’t want to do that. Suffice it to say I don’t think the pure rage of their first album can be effective for too long, but here they are five years later handling many of the same issues from a broader, less personal perspective lyrically and with more variation in tempi and song construction musically.

My biggest complaint on The Hot Rock was that their slower songs were boring, but here when they slow things down it works. “The Ballad Of A Ladyman” is the perfect palate preparation for the blistering punk that would follow it, and “Milkshake N’ Honey” is a beautiful, French-laden take on, I think, a male rocker who checks out of life with a groupie in Paris only to be dumped by her.

The faster tracks are all good, too. “You’re No Rock N’ Roll Fun” is the best, and I was happy to see it was the single from the album, because it always makes me happy when bands know what their best songs are. It’s a dancey-romp full of gang vocals and driving quarter-note stomp drums.

My only complaint here is that they lean on one meme a little too heavily, and that’s starting off a song with a tinny, lone guitar riff whose stumbly, insistent 16th-notes feel like a 15-year-old boy trying to figure out how to fuck. It’s a minor complaint, though. They may not be the most technically proficient musicians, but this is punk, and they make the most out of what they’ve got.

Mix: “You’re No Rock N’ Roll Fun”
– “The Ballad Of A Ladyman,” “Youth Decay,” “#1 Must Have,” “Was It A Lie?,” “Male Model,” “Leave You Behind,” “Milkshake N’ Honey,” “The Swimmer”
– “Ironclad,” “All Hands On The Bad One,” “The Professional,” “Pompeii”
Song Notes: After the jump
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