Buffalo Tom: Big Red Letter Day

bigredletterdayHootie And The Blowfish. Counting Crows. Later-era Goo Goo Dolls. Later-era Soul Asylum. Del Amitri. The Rembrandts. These are the feel-good country-tinged rock acts I’ve got listed in my notes as being who Buffalo Tom reminds me of on their 1993 release, Big Red Letter Day. So then the question arises: Was this derivative of everything else of its time, or vice-versa?

I don’t know. Probably the latter. But anway…

Another reason this smacks so fiercely of 1993 is that it sounds like it could have come off of No Alternative or Sweet Relief or some huge compilation album like that. And, as it turns out, after writing that I checked, and Buffalo Tom did appear on both of those albums. Furthermore, in both cases, their songs received a “mix” rating from me. Huynh.

And, you know, I think that helps illustrate another aspect of this album. I really like the first few songs off this album…whether I listen to it on shuffle or straight through, I usually really dig the first few tracks. But even though it’s only 41 minutes long, by about six or seven tracks I’m usually kind feeling like, yeah, I got it guys. You’re like a less-edgy Sugar.

So, yeah, this album is pretty good and super comfortable. I felt like I knew every song off of it. I had some friends in college really into Buffalo Tom, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I don’t think it can explain that sensation over the course of a full album. No, this is really well written, really tightly performed, and produced really slick. But it’s definitely not timeless: that slick production puts it so firmly in 1993 that I can’t hear it and not feel like I’m in a Wash. U. dorm.

Really Like: “I’m Allowed,” “Tree House,” “Anything That Way”
Like: “Sodajerk,” “Would Not Be Denied,” “Latest Monkey,” “Dry Land,” “Torch Singer,” “Late At Night,” “Suppose”
Dislike: “My Responsibility”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading


Sleater-Kinney: The Woods

thewoodsIn my last two reviews of Sleater-Kinney albums I said that they relied on one technique too much. I won’t say “too much” for this album, but they have found a couple of sonic signatures that set this album, what was to be their last before their reunion a decade later this year, apart from the rest of the discography. First, you have vocals that are howly, straining against the oppression of the other sonic signature, that of an incredible amount of distortion due to being recorded way too high in the red. In fact, this latter element is so strong I had to check out a couple of different versions just to make sure that, yep, that’s the way they wanted people to hear it.

It works when done sparsely, and kind of fits on the 11-minute “Let’s Call It Love,” which not only is an 11-minute Sleater-Kinney song, which, wtf, but also features lengthy, indulgent guitar “solos” full of distortion and feedback. It’s a long way from their riot grrrl beginnings to this kind of a composition. It’s a fitting way for them to putatively close their career, kind of a big FU to reviewers like me who continue to use the phrase “riot grrrl” in reviews of the band’s later albums, as if to say “Whatever, dude, listen, we can do the opposite of riot grrrl just as well but with even more attitude.”

Lyrically, they seem to be trying to explain their decision to disband on “Rollercoaster,” and also attack alternate routes to retirement in “Entertain,” a tirade against reality TV. “Jumpers” fits in with their older stuff, and seems to be about somebody jumping off the Golden Gate.

The story of The Woods is the sound, the ridiculous levels of peaking distortion on pretty much every song. It’s a mind-boggling decision because, other than “Let’s Call It Love” and maybe “Night Light” (to which the prior track transitions perfectly as they were played in one take), it just makes great songs merely good and good songs something I don’t want to listen to. I like these songs. But I don’t like the way they were recorded.

Love: “Let’s Call It Love”
Really Like: “Steep Air,” “Night Light”
Like: “The Fox,” “Wilderness,” “What’s Mine Is Yours,” “Jumpers,” “Entertain,” “Rollercoaster”
Hate: “Modern Girl”
Filed Between: Sleater-Kinney’s Call The Doctor and Sloan (Twice Removed)
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Alice In Chains: Facelift

faceliftI’m probably the only person ever who thinks this is Alice In Chains’ best album, but there you have it. I love Dirt, which was their giant blow-up success, but there’s a bit of a Superunknown syndrome going on there. Their crowning glory is their 1990 debut.

The thing about Dirt is that it’s kind of the ultimate grunge album. It’s called Dirt, first of all. Then it’s just dark song after dark song about drugs, evil, drugs, darkness, heroin, death and drugs. I mean, they went for a theme and nailed it. But it’s 57 minutes and 13 tracks long and includes song titles like “Rain When I Die,” “Hate To Feel,” “Angry Chair,” and “Down In A Hole.” I mean, even at the sexually-frustrated age of 17 I was a little full up on anger and bitterness by the end of that.

But we’re here to talk about Facelift. At least I am. I don’t know what the hell you’re doing here.

Seriously, though, Facelift is a much more balanced album. It’s still hella dark, with song titles like “We Die Young,” “Man In The Box,” “Sea Of Sorrow,” and “Love, Hate, Love.” But by the time you get to side two things lighten up a bit. Not a ton, but just enough to give you a different taste of another side of the band…a side we’d never see again. There’s a groove, a shuffle to the back side that they execute perfectly (go listen to “Put You Down”), but, and this is purely conjecture, Ima guess they and their management saw the way the winds were blowing after this album came out (which was a full year before Nevermind, for context) and thought, yeah, let’s emphasize that dark thing we do so well.

There are some amazing songs on Dirt I’d never want to do without, but if I want to listen to Alice In Chains electrified (because Sap‘s such an entirely different mood), I usually pull out Facelift, probably the first, and still one of the best, grunge albums. And Jesus, I didn’t even get into Jerry Cantrell’s solos, so wonderfully musical and unlike any other guitarist. Just perfect.

Mix: “We Die Young,” “Love, Hate, Love,” “It Ain’t Like That,” “Put You Down,” “Real Thing”
Love: “Man In The Box,” “Sea Of Sorrow,” “Bleed The Freak,” “I Can’t Remember,” “Sunshine,” “Confusion”
Really Like: “I Know Somethin (Bout You)”
Filed Between: The Airborne Toxic Event (All At Once) and Alice In Chains’ Sap
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Aerosmith: Greatest Hits

aerosmithgreatesthitsI just don’t know what to make of Aerosmith. This is something I documented thoroughly back when I reviewed, and was meh’d by, what are considered the band’s two greatest albums: Toys In The Attic and Rocks, both of which are represented here. And, of course the band has been all kinds of crap ever since Get A Grip, but this…I just can’t get over how so very close to perfect this album is. And I don’t even like greatest hits albums as a general rule. I mean, the worst song is their cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” and that’s basically an Aerosmith song penned by The Beatles.

One way to get to the bottom of this mystery would be to go study Aerosmith’s entire 1970’s catalog. That might turn out to be enjoyable. But I’m not really willing to take that risk. I might be willing to give Draw The Line a chance given how much I like the song of the same name and “Kings And Queens.” Maybe the self-titled debut because “Dream On.” But no further! Life is too short.

So, lacking that comprehensive review, I’m just going to surmise that over the course of five albums they created ten songs that were all really good and went well together and kind of stumbled in a cocaine-induced haze onto this album.

This is a wonderful 37-minute collection that makes you want to go listen to more Aerosmith. In 2004 they released a 68-minute version that probably makes you want to pull out all your pubes in madness, but I’m not gonna try.

Mix: “Dream On,” “Walk This Way”
Love: “Draw The Line,” “Kings And Queens”
Really Like: “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”
Like: “Same Old Song And Dance,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Last Child,” “Back In The Saddle,’ “Come Together”
Filed Between: Aerosmith’s Rocks and Permanent Vacation
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Flipper: American Grafishy

americangrafishyMy first reaction upon listening to this was, “This is the band Melvins is so into?” I guess this is kind of the second reincarnation of the band after vocalist and bassist Will Shatter (as far as I can tell that’s his completely awesome real name) died of a drug overdose (I think that might be the subject of “Full Speed Ahead”), so maybe that explains it, but now I can totally see how Melvins would be into these guys. I’m not quite sure why they’d revere them, but fine, Melvins liking these guys isn’t anywhere near unusual.
They just don’t sound all that much like Melvins. They’re a very sloppy punk with somewhat catchy tunes and vocals that, well, let’s just say “sung” is a bit of a generous term. More often than not, the singer changes pitch by shouting louder. There’s also an off-key aspect of his vocals, but in a way that I like, kind of like Chuck Mosley of Faith No More or some U.M.A. songs (remember those guys? awesome).
The sloppiness is also a bit noisy, but not in a super abrasive way. You’ve just got heavily distorted bass and heavily distorted guitar playing very different riffs while being mixed about equally kind of in time with less-than-precise drumming. It’s great, just really loose, which is, of course, what I think they were going for.
Anyway, there you go. Flipper. American Grafishy doesn’t have a single track that I love, but I really like half of it and the other half doesn’t have a bad track on it, either. Four clowns.

Really Like: “We’re Not Crazy,” “Fucked Up Once Again,” “Exist Or Else,” “It Pays To Know,” “Full Speed Ahead”
Like: “Someday,” “Flipper Twist,” “May The Truth Be Known,” “Distant Illusion,” “Telephone”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Led Zeppelin: II [Deluxe Edition]

iiWow, even better than their first album. In fact, through the first seven tracks, you’re basically looking at a five-clown album. The orgasmy moans in “Whole Lotta Love” take the steam out of what would otherwise be one of their best songs, but I can overlook that minute or two when you take the first seven tracks as a whole.

And then it all falls apart as they move into “Moby Dick.” This track is revered, and I don’t understand why. It’s essentially a drum solo, albeit one with an awesome guitar-and-bass-accompanied intro and outro, and there’s nothing worse in rock and roll than the masturbatory, amusical drum solo. It’s like they’d kept in their indulgent tendencies so well for the first seven tracks that they had to go full on and put on a fucking drum solo. Jesus. And then they finish things off with the anti-climactic blues cover of “Bring It On Home,” which starts off really sleepy before going into something good but entirely forgettable.

Seems they weren’t too crazy about “Bring It On Home” either, since it’s one of only two tracks (“The Lemon Song”) from the main album that didn’t make the companion disc. This time around the second disc is much more welcome than that ridiculous concert they put on the end of their first album. Here you get six of the album’s nine tracks as either “Rough Mix With Vocal,” which I generally like as hotter-mixed, less polished versions, or “Backing Track,” which, Jesus, you charged me for the backing track? So I can start to build my karaoke collection? And one of those was “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman),” which Robert Plant carries in the instrumental pauses anyway?

And then the companion disc finishes up with “Moby Dick” but trimmed down just to the intro/outro, which is all you’d ever want in the first place, so that’s pretty awesome; and then only the backing track to a previously unheard song called “La La,” which, why do we just get the backing track of something we’d never heard before?

Still, God, those first seven tracks, and in particular, what sequencing. As if they weren’t killing it enough with the first four songs, then they go “Heartbreaker,” “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman),” and “Ramble On,” one of the best three-track stretches in music. Just make sure you snap out of your stoned haze and lift the needle off the record before “Moby Dick” gets done with its intro.

Mix: “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)”
Love: “What Is And What Should Never Be,” “Heartbreaker,” “Ramble On”
Really Like: “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song,” “Thank You,” “What Is And What Should Never Be (Rough Mix With Vocal),” “Ramble On (Rough Mix With Vocal),” “Moby Dick (Intro/Outro Rough Mix)”
Like: “Bring It On Home,” “Thank You (Backing Track),” “Heartbreaker (Rough Mix With Vocal),” “La La (Backing Track)”
Meh: “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)”
Dislike: “Whole Lotta Love (Rough Mix With Vocal)”
Hate: “Moby Dick”
Filed Between: Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin and III
Song Notes: After the jump

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The Beatles: 1962-1966

PrintHey, did you know The Beatles were awesome? Yeah, they were. You should listen to them.

Seriously, though, this double album, originally released in 1973, is probably the best example of how awesome they were. Because it covers the first half of their career, which, while well regarded, still kind of takes a back seat to the Dr. Pepper album and what came after. But holy balls, when you take their best stuff from that period of six albums and many more non-album singles and B-sides, you’re blonw away at just how awesome the worse half of their career was.

And not only that, this collection does it without “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist And Shout”. Those omissions are inexplicable and basically unforgivable if the intent was to introduce a new generation of fans to The Beatles, especially considering that clunkers like “And I Love Her” and “Michelle,” not to mention the makes-me-want-to-hit-people “Girl,” possibly the only song of The Beatles that I hate, made the cut.

This album’s companion, 1976-1970,  is better, more solid, and got a five [clown] rating, but you want this one more because it’s got a ton of great non-album tracks like “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “Day Tripper.” The fact that those last two shared both sides of a single and neither made an album is mind-boggling given how freakballs amazing they are. The Beatles definitely swung and missed a few times, but they still would pack a 45 with two brilliant songs.

Who writes this many awesome songs? Nobody. Nobody except The Beatles.

Mix: “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Ticket To Ride,” “Yesterday,” “Help!,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Drive My Car,” “Paperback Writer”
“I Feel Fine,” “Eleanor Rigby”
Really Like:
“Please Please Me,” “Eight Days A Week,” “Day Tripper”
Like: “Love Me Do,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You,” “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” “Nowhere Man,” “In My Life,” “Yellow Submarine”
Meh: “And I Love Her,” “Michelle”
Hate: “Girl”
Filed Between: The Beatles’ Let It Be and 1967-1970
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading