Torche: Restarter

restarterI just re-read my review of Torche’s 2012 release, Harmonicraft. It was basically as I remembered it: almost five clowns and pretty much awesome top to bottom. What I didn’t remember is why I held back that last half-clown. In addition to the sound not being quite big enough, which garners a quizzical glance from me now, I mentioned that the tracks were a bit samey and there were only two types of songs: fast and slow.

But that last part explains a lot about Restarter, its follow-up, because the sameiness here makes Harmonicraft look like The White Album. And, while there are still only two tempi, fast and slow, the difference between the two is much smaller.

I think what really kills this album is the production. With every song produced exactly the same, with fuzzed out rhythm guitars, bass, and drums dominating, and the lead guitar and vocals way back in the mix, it prevents you from picking up on the lyrics or melodies that would differentiate one onslaught of fuzzy booms from another. So over the album’s 38 minutes, there’s just not enough to grab on to to mark your position in the album.

I mean, I like 10 of the 12 songs here, and one of the ones I don’t like is one of the two bonus tracks from the deluxe version. So taken individually, these songs are good. But they don’t get far beyond that quality, and they’re an awful lot like each other.

The one new thing they do here that I like is that they spend some time kind of pummeling you with repeated, abrasive, amelodic frequencies. I’m thinking of the brutal end to “Annihilation Affair,” the air raid open to “No Servants,” and the triumphant end to (non-deluxe) album closer, “Restarter.” Adding that kind of treat on to what they’d built with Harmonicraft would have been a wonderful, if incremental, step forward. This production is a bold statement, but it’s very limiting.

Finally, four of the ten songs from the non-deluxe album start with “B”. So there’s that.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Blasted,” “Restarter”
Like: “Annihilation Affair,” “Bishop In Arms, “Minions,” “Loose Men,” “Undone,” “No Servants,” “Believe It,” “Harmonslaught”
Meh:
“Barrier Hammer,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Mantasy”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth: Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth

brothersofthesonicclothTo say I was highly anticipating the debut, self-titled album by Tad Doyle’s Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth would be a bit of an understatement. I was a huge Tad fan, and when I heard that he was creating a doom metal band, I was pretty stoked. Then, I unfortunately missed their set at Sub Pop’s 20th Anniversary in 2008 because I couldn’t get from Marymoor Park to whatever that downtown club was (man I can’t believe I’ve only been gone six months) fast enough. Doyle had said they were working on the album prior to that show, but five years later, they did another set at Sub Pop’s 25th Anniversary, which I did see, and there was still no album out. Finally, this year, the band released it.

And to say I’m underwhelmed would be…well, it would actually be a pretty accurate statement. I dig it, I just…you know, it’s not as aggressive as Tad, and if I want doom metal this won’t be the first thing I reach for. Plus, the sound is not great. It’s very compressed, and yet it’s still not very loud. It’s like you fought the loudness wars and lost and now you’re not even left with the positives of that loss. I don’t know, for a guy who runs his own studio, I expected better.

So, it’s pretty good but pretty standard, doom sludge metal with kinda mediocre sound and a lead singer who doesn’t quite have that doom voice. And finally, I can’t review the thing properly because they did that thing where they hold one song back from the streaming services, which I think is supposed to entice me to buy the whole thing. But it just ends up ticking me off.

I mean, I get it. And I’m totally in favor of musicians getting paid, but as a consumer and music fan, I don’t want to get caught in the middle of this war between the artists and the streaming services. Just work it out amongst yourselves and let me have my music, please. You can even raise my subscription fee because I feel it would be worth it. Just don’t become like the cable companies and make me pay too much for channels I don’t want. Cuz then I’ll abandon you like I abandoned them.

So, anyway, better sound could have netted the album a four-clown rating, and, since there are only six tracks without it, the missing song very well could swing this to an even three- or four-clown rating. As it is, though, I enjoy listening to this quite a bit, especially “Lava” and “I Am,” so I’m leaning 3.5 clowns.

Oh, and another thing, out of the seven total tracks on the album, the final two are listed as bonus tracks, so, I don’t know. It just seems like maybe more than one song per year of R&D would be good, and also then make them super awesome instead of merely really good. And also make them available. I still love you, Mr. Doyle.

Really Like: “Lava,” “I Am”
Like: “Empires Of Dust,” “Unnamed,” “The Immutable Path”
Meh: “Outro”
Unrateable: “La Mano Poderosa”

Animal Chin: The Ins & Outs Of Terrorism!

theinsandoutsofterrorism

I went to high school with vocalist/guitarist Jamie Woolford, and another high school friend, Josh Steinbauer, gets writing credit, so no review, just the song notes and song ratings.

  1. Seven – ska influence
  2. Heir To The X-Fortune – hardcore. fast.
  3. Have You Seen Him? – instrumental
  4. Time-Out – probably the Animal Chin song
  5. The Top Contender – almost reggae in parts
  6. Not Like You

Mix: “Have You Seen Him?,” “Time-Out”
Really Like: “Heir To The X-Fortune,” “The Top Contender,” “Not Like You”
Like: “Seven”
Filed Between: Tori Amos (Abnormally Attracted To Sin) and Animal Chin’s All The Kids Agree

Sleater-Kinney: Live At Lollapalooza, August 4, 2006

liveatlollaSo, I was originally gonna start this review off with a comment like, “I’m not sure why this exists,” and we’ll get into that, but given that the image above states that its for Blues Traveler on August 6th, two days after this performance by Sleater-Kinney, I think that answers my question. I mean, I found images for other bands like Editors and deadboy & The Elephantmen, too, but not one for Sleater-Kinney. So I think it’s safe to assume that this exists simply because Sleater-Kinney performed at this festival and they made some kind of digital release for many if not all of the bands there.

And here I thought it might be some document of the band’s “last” show (before their recent reunion). That was what I thought it must be (and heck it might be) because it’s the only thing that would give it enough specialness to warrant even a digital-only release of such a mediocre recording. It’s fine, it just seems like it could be any show (and it probably was). It’s three songs, two from the band’s final (before their hiatus) album The Woods, which wasn’t that great, and a final one from their masterpiece Dig Me Out.

The performances are fine, and the song ratings fall in line with what you’d expect from their album ratings, just kind of slid down the scale based on, you know, being live songs. But the MC really brings things down. On his intro to “The Fox,” he calls the band “these girls,” describes their shows as “nothing but a party,” and asks the crowd to “twist and shout and work it on out.” It’s so ridiculously tone deaf as to what I think of Sleater-Kinney (I mean, “girls,” for crying out loud). He comes on to do a nearly-as-bad outro for the band, but good God who is this doofus and why couldn’t we have eliminated him from the recording if not the entire concert? When I went to Lollapaloozas back when it was a touring thing, I don’t remember there being a giant douche of an MC on the stage.

Anyway, this is forgettable, just a document of an average show with excellent source material and some douchey MC.

Rating:
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Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

Led Zeppelin: III [Deluxe Edition]

ledzeppeliniiiWhereas my review of Led Zeppelin’s debut album specified it only got its 4.5 clowns if you don’t consider the awful bonus disc, here I’m stipulating that this review definitely considers the bonus disc. I’ve actually had the original (CD) version since high school, but I’ve never reviewed it and, since I was going through Led Zeppelin’s albums anyway, I thought I’d check out the bonus disc of last year’s deluxe edition while I’m at it. (On a bit of a side note, there are a few cases where I have like what’s considered the worst album of a great band on CD because it was a few bucks cheaper than the others (it usually had a The Nice Price sticker on it), and why not start there? The other one I can think of off the top of my head is U2’s October, which, like this album, I think is unfairly maligned.)

Yeah, so, I don’t know why this album isn’t as well regarded as much of the rest of the band’s catalog. I mean, part of it is that the rest of their catalog is so good. But heck, I like this more than what’s generally considered their best: IV. (And in fact I have to go all contrarian and say that IV is the worst of their first four.) The obvious reason this wouldn’t be as appreciated is because it doesn’t have as much sledgehammer, ploddy heaviness on it, especially after you get past first side opener and closer “Immigrant Song” and “Out On The Tiles,” respectively. The rest of the album spends its time between bouncy, upbeat numbers (“Celebration Day,” “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”) and slow blues burners (“Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Tangerine”). But, hell, they’re all pretty good, with the notable exception of the weird final “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper,” making this the second album in a row the band couldn’t figure out how to end. What’s with that? Just pick one of the great ones and put it there.

Anyhoo, about that bonus disc. It’s a lot like that of II, where it’s like alternate mixes and mixes without the vocal (again, wtf?), and they’re generally hotter. Here, though, some of the alternate mixes come out with a higher rating than the original versions. The alternate mix of “Celebration Day” gets mixed, both versions of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” get the same rating because they bring different strengths to the table, as do the versions of “Gallows Pole,” whose alternate version sounds great in headphones where the bass is very prominent.

So, fine, I will admit that this is maybe the album that, in the first four, is kinda doin’ it’s own thing with so little heaviness. But, still, the non-heavy stuff is stuff they’ve got all over Led Zeppelin and throughout IV, too. And when they are heavy it’s “Immigrant Song” and “Out On The Tiles,” for cryin’ out loud, two of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs. It’s basically an album any band would love to have in its discography, but when it’s surrounded by Led Zeppelin’s discography it doesn’t look so awesome, I guess.

Rating:
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Mix: “Out On The Tiles,” “Celebration Day (Alternate Mix)”
Love: “Immigrant Song,” “Celebration Day”
Really Like: “Friends,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Gallows Pole,” “Tangerine,” “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You (Rough Mix),” “Bathroom Sound (Track – No Vocal),” “Gallows Pole (Rough Mix),” “Jennings Farm Blues (Rough Mix)”
Like: “That’s The Way,” “The Immigrant Song (Alternate Mix),” “That’s The Way (Rough Mix),” “Key To The Highway/Trouble In Mind”
Meh: “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper,” “Friends (Track – No Vocal)”
Filed Between: Led Zeppelin’s II and IV
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Tori Amos: Under The Pink

underthepinkTwo years after Tori Amos’ debut album, Little Earthquakes, she released her second, Under The Pink. Stylistically it’s very similar to its predecessor, and I tend to think of these two as a pair. But part of that is the fact that the next album, Boys For Pele was such a radical departure (and I still think its the outlier in her discography in many ways), because this is quite a strong step away from Little Earthquakes.

After she eases you in with the very familiar and excellent “Pretty Good Year,” she’s off to the races. “God” is synth- and scrapy-guitar-heavy and a much more interesting take on patriarchy than I found on her previous effort. “The Waitress” is a dark, internal monologue dealing with how women hate on each other, and “Icicle” is about masturbating on Easter while your father’s Baptist congregation et al is downstairs. You know, that old saw. And “Space Dog” almost wraps things up (and probably should have) with even more synths than “God”; it would have fit well on To Venus And Back.

These departures are distributed nicely throughout the album, which is also made up of piano/vocal/string arrangements that help bring fans along from the previous album. The closest thing to a bad song is album closer, “Hey, Anastasia,” and that song’s excellent if you’ve got the time to let its nine-and-a-half minutes open up to you. A few clunks here and there, never for a whole song, but really, this is basically the perfect sophomore album, exactly how you want your favorite artist to execute.

Rating:
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Mix: “Pretty Good Year,” “God,” “Space Dog”
Really Like: “Past The Mission,” “Cornflake Girl”
Like: “Bells For Her,” “Baker Baker,” “The Wrong Band,” “The Waitress,” “Icicle,” “Cloud On My Tongue,” “Yes, Anastasia”
Filed Between: Tori Amos Silent All These Years bootleg from San Juan Capistrano, September 4-5, 1992 and the Cornflake Girl single
Song Notes: After the jump
Continue reading

All: Percolater

percolaterDid you know All released nine albums? Nine! Of course you didn’t. You probably have never heard of All. You might have heard of the band that preceded them, The Descendents, but probably only from seeing their T-shirts.

descendentstshirtAnyway, nine albums from a band you’ve never heard of. Wow. I figured they had, like, four. This is the only one I have. But it’s awesome and why don’t I have more?

So here’s the deal with this album. It totally reminds me of Green Day from their pre-Dookie days where they were super freaking catchy but for some reason apparently nobody likes super catchy guitar songs in 1992? Like, what gives? What do you have to do besides be objectively awesome?

But the thing that sets these guys apart from Green Day is that there’s no consistency to the album. Apparently all four guys wrote songs for the record, and it shows. After starting with the almost hardcore rhythms of “Charligan” that would basically turn off almost everybody who would enjoy the rest of the album, they go really strong for six tracks or so before faltering. They kind of get a little wobbly after that with the cynical rejection of pop culture (such an easy target, guys), “Empty,” and then on to the kind of jokey “Mo. 63,” about the band’s relocation to Brookfield, Missouri (seriously). Then they nail it with “Egg Timer,” a crazy amazing song made even more amazing by the son-to-father lyrics. And then things just totally fall apart with a song that’s basically a guy tuning his guitar and running through some Guitar Center riffs (never ever ever go from the best song on your album into the worst song), then a jokey Spinal Tap song (“Hotplate”) and then a taunt at one of their roadies, the band trying to keep him awake. Finally they finish with the very good “Breathe,” but really, “Egg Timer” is the better way to end this thing and the final four songs just feel like weird bonus tracks on the European version.

A note about “Hotplate,” though. It’s jokey, making fun of 80’s heavy metal, but it achieves the rare combination of being really funny and cheesy but also kind of awesome.

Finally, I hate the phrase, “[musician X] is a God,” but good Lord after listening to Bill Stevenson just kill it on this album (try “Wonder” or “Birds” on for size), I’m beginning to rethink my objections to that template. He’s a ridiculous talent and I can’t believe you haven’t heard of him. How dare you.

Rating:
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Mix: “Wonder,” “Minute,” “Egg Timer”
Love:
“Birds”
Really Like:
“Nothin’,” “Dot”
Like:
“Nobody’s,” “Mo. 63,” “Hotplate,” “Breathe”
Meh:
“Empty,” “Hey Bug”
Dislike:
“Charligan,” “Gungear (Mix)”
Filed Between: Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah (Lake Shore Drive) and AP.100.CD, an Alternative Press “The First 100 Issues” compilation CD
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading