Medicine: Shot Forth Self Living

shotforthselflivingI feel like if you’re gonna do the My Bloody Valentine, waves of noise guitar, shoegaze thing, you not only have to be able to do the waves of noise thing right but you also have to have some compelling songs within and around those parts. Medicine does the crazy noisy thing really well, but their songs are only halfway to awesome, clocking in more around the “fine” point.

The really interesting thing about this record is that Medicine gets the part right that I think is more unusual to get right. It’s easy to be noisy, but it’s hard to be really interestingly musical while you’re at it. Medicine, though, is second to none in that category. It’s just that for the rest of it, they can’t quite seem to decide who they are. Part of this is the dual lead singer thing, and so you just can’t get a sense of what the band’s thrust is. I have to imagine there are multiple songwriters and possibly even the second guitarist getting a little too much say in parts as well.

I’m confident that the first and last tracks on the album are very likeable. “Miss Drugstore,” though, I’m less sure of …I think I may have just been trying to call out one of the better tracks in a sea of mediocrity.

It’s a debut album, and the band clearly has some good instincts about sound and plenty of skill. As such, it ends up being more promising then disappointing. Probably not something I’ll come back to a lot, but I’d be curious to hear how the rest of their discography shakes out.

Like: “One More,” “Miss Drugstore,” “Christmas Song”
Meh: “Aruca,” “Defective,” “A Short Happy Life,” “5ive,” “Sweet Explosion,” “Queen Of Tension”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sleater-Kinney: One Beat

onebeatThis is kind of a critical point in the Sleater-Kinney discography, because it’s going to go a long way towards establishing which album was the aberration. Option 1 is that The Hot Rock is the wayward, transitional aberration and that they’d found a new style by the time they got to All Hands On The Bad One. Option 2 is that, no, in fact the band just does plain suck after their masterpiece Dig Me Out and All Hands On The Bad One was the blind, shitty squirrel finding a nut.

I’m happy to report we’re very much in the option 1 camp here as the band continues with their, as I inartfully put it in my last review of one of their albums, mature punk thing. Nine of the 12 tracks get a like rating, and the band’s left behind the personal angst themes of past albums, moving on to more worldly content. The terrorist attacks of 2011 are addressed on “Far Away” (told from a West Coast perspective, so it reaches me, as I was in Portland for the attacks). In “Combat Rock,” they perfectly capture how the Right used the chanting of “Support Our Troops” to make any anti-war message seem anti-troop, and this is particularly notable since this was released in August 2002, nine months before the start of the Iraq War and a time when it was very hard to speak out against the Bush Administration and any action they might take in the region.

In the last review I said they lean on one technique too much, and they do that here, though the technique is different: here it’s yelpy vocals that swallow themselves at the end of each syllable. “Oh!,” “Combat Rock,” and “O2” are the worst violators here, but the mixed-too-high caterwaul of the background vocals in “Sympathy” are notably bad, too.

Best songs might be “Far Away,” “The Remainder,” or “Light Rail Coyote,” but no matter, it’s a solid, precise delivery, pretty much start to finish.

Like: “Far Away,” “Oh!,” “The Remainder,” “Light Rail Coyote,” “Step Aside,” “Combat Rock,” “O2,” “Funeral Song,” “Sympathy”
Meh: “One Beat,” “Prisstina,” “Hollywood Ending”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sonic Youth: Sonic Youth

sonicyouthWell this makes three albums in a row that have been debuts where the band basically came out of the womb sounding like their much more mature selves. The main difference between Sonic Youth’s first release and that of Melvins and Led Zeppelin is that this one isn’t very good.

Which is to be expected. I mean, I don’t know what kind of deal Sonic Youth made with the devil in order to let their noodly, noisy experiments elevate so high above the sum of their parts, but they clearly hadn’t made that deal yet in 1982. Everything’s there: the reverbed-out repetitive guitar, the rudimentary bass line, Kim Gordon’s breathy vocals delivering abstruse lyrics. It’s just not magic yet.

I can get through this without getting too bored or upset with the quality. Still, it’s more of a historical document than an enjoyable listen.

This, of course, has been re-released with an ancient concert tacked on to it. Screw that, I’m reviewing the original five songs EP.

Meh: “I Dreamed I Dream,” “She Is Not Alone,” “I Don’t Want To Push It,” “The Good And The Bad”
Hate: “The Burning Spear”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin [Deluxe Edition]

ledzeppelinSpeaking of bands emerging fully-formed on their first album, this is another quite impressive debut album (though of course guitarist Jimmy Page had been building to this with his time in The Yardbirds). Despite the strength of their entire catalog, the band would have a tendency on later albums to bend over backwards to show you their influences or versatlity or, of course, over-indulge in wankiness. Neither of those are completely absent here, but it is held much more in check and ends up being a pretty straight-forward document of what the young band wanted their sound to be.

About that sound. It’s become de rigeur for the last 20 years when discussing Led Zeppelin to note they ripped off a bunch of black, U.S. blues artists. Fair enough, but let’s not go overboard with saddling Zep with the systematic disempowering of an entire race of people across an ocean. And even if they did exploit a system tilted to their advantage, they still brought a significant amount of electrical thump to a genre to bring it to the masses.

Anyway, earlier this year the band re-released their first three albums because that seems to be the only thing the record industry knows how to do anymore. That’s the version I’ve got. I’m not incorporating the second disc, a 1969 concert from Paris recorded nine months after this album’s release and 12 days before the release of its follow-up, into the album’s rating because I just don’t want to. But I will say a little bit about it. It sucks. The sound is bad, and “over-indulgent” is a generous term for what includes a 15-minute version of “Dazed And Confused” and a nine(!) minute yawn-fest of “Black Mountain Side.” Just because the recording of it exists doesn’t mean you should be selling it. That said, they manage to keep things together fairly tightly for the first three tracks, including a nice version of “Heartbreaker” from II right before they blow everything with that awful everything-that-was-wrong-with-70’s-rock-in-1969 version of “Dazed And Confused.”

It’s hard enough to remember the good of Led Zeppelin nowadays. Please let me just keep the original version of their debut album in my memory as is and don’t spoil it. I know you like to ruin everything, music industry, but if you could just leave the good stuff alone every once in a while, I’d appreciate it.

Mix: “Good Times Bad Times,” “Communication Breakdown”
Love: “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
Like: “You Shook Me,” “Dazed And Confused,” “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” “Black Mountain Side,” “How Many More Times,” “Heartbreaker (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69)”
Meh: “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” “Good Times Bad Times/Communication Breakdown (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69),” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69)”
Hate: “Dazed And Confused (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69),” “Moby Dick (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69),” “White Summer/Black Mountain (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69),” “You Shook Me (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69),” “How Many More Times (Live At The Olympia, Paris, 10/10/69)”
Filed Between: Laundry (Blacktongue) and Led Zeppelin’s III
Song Notes: After the jump

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Melvins: 26 Songs

26songsMelvins launched their recording career in 1986 with the aptly-titled Six Songs on C/Z records. Five years later, they re-recorded (or re-mastered or something) those six songs, added one song to the end of each side and re-released it on vinyl as Eight Songs. At the same time they also added two more songs to the end and released that collection as 10 Songs on CD. These were all small releases that would barely see the light of day after that (I do have a cassette version of their next album, Gluey Porch Treatments, with Six Songs tacked on to the end), until 2003 when Ipecac would release the aforementioned 16 tracks, along with ten other odds-and-ends as this 70-minute beast entitled 26 songs.

What’s most amazing about this release is how fully-formed Melvins emerged from nothing into the sludgemasters they would still be five years later on Bullhead. They’ve evolved, of course, over the nearly 30 years since this seminal release, but their early sound is fully intact and delivered with the confidence of adolescent males who are assured of the force of what they have to say.

What really impresses me about the young ‘uns here is their ability to stay so firmly grounded in their abilities. They’re already quite proficient players and understand song structure, but they kind of invent their own sludgy genre by, often, forcing this deliberate rhythm on you with a harmonic progression that doesn’t seem to follow a pattern and, therefore, lights up what might otherwise be something plodding into a delightfully interesting jackhammer of an experience.

The Six Songs songs suffer from some sonic problems, but for the most part the album sounds better than a lot of what’s put out today, which is especially poignant given how Melvins traffic in distortion and muddy lower frequencies. I could also do without the last 14 minutes or so, dialogue of the boys recorded with a character (who thinks he’s some kind of superhero?) named Hugh, but hell, I’m also not going to let that spoil the wonder of this document. Thank God for Melvins.

Love: “Grinding Process,” “Show Off Your Red Hands,” “At A Crawl (Six Songs version),” “Set Me Straight”
Like: “Easy As It Was,” “Now A Limo,” “#2 Pencil,” “At A Crawl,” “Disinvite,” “Snake Appeal,” “Over From Underground,” “Cray Fish,” “Easy As It Was (Six Songs version)”, “Now A Limo” (Six Songs version),” “Grinding Process (Six Songs version),” “Disinvite (Six Songs version),” “Snake Appeal (Six Songs version),” “Show Off Your Red Hands (v2),” “#2 Pencil (v2),” “Grinding Process (v3),” “At A Crawl (v3),” “Breakfast On The Sly”
Meh: “Snake Appeal (v2),” “Operation Blessing”
Hate: Ever Since My Accident/’Hugh'”
Filed Between: Melvins’ Hostile Ambient Takeover and Trick And Riddle Book from Neither Here Nor There
Song Notes: After the jump

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Mercyful Fate: The Best Of Mercyful Fate

thebestofmercyfulfateThis is a lot like The Best Of King Diamond that I just reviewed. King Diamond is the lead singer of Mercyful Fate. The material here is all from before King Diamond did the solo career thing. This is better. Mostly because there’s less falsetto. But I also think the guitar work is less screechy, more crunchy. Wow, half of the songs garner a “like” rating.

Not much more to say. Travel below the fold if you want to read about lyrics about “master vaginas” and calling nuns “cunts.”

Like: “Doomed By The Living Dead,” “A Corpse Without Soul,” “Evil,” “Desecration Of Souls,” “Come To The Sabbath,” “Burning The Cross,” “Return Of The Vampire”
Meh: “Nuns Have No Fun,” “Curse Of The Pharaohs (BBC Radio 1 Session),” “Into The Coven,” “Black Funeral,” “Satan’s Fall,” “A Dangerous Meeting,” “Gypsy”
Song Notes: After the jump
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