Built To Spill: Untethered Moon

untetheredmoonI’m hardly a Built To Spill expert, but I did review some of their canonical albums over at one of the old joints. I also sampled 2009’s There Is No Enemy, in preparation for a concert that year. Untethered Moon, released unusually recently for a Fat Clown review, is very much in line with that last release. They’ve eschewed the esoterica that simultaneously elevated There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and Perfect From Now On and made them frustrating in favor of focusing on songs that emphasize melody, conventional structure, and Doug Martsch’s guitar playing, tone, and production.

Built To Spill still has a lot of cool stuff to say along those lines. Not quite an album’s worth, though, as a few songs and parts of songs clunk pretty hard. But the high points, oh boy. The album is front loaded with its two best songs, and the track that is by far the best, “All Our Songs,” an ode to falling in love with a record (specifically a Built To Spill record?) and listening to it over and over, leads things off. Throw away “C.R.E.B.” and the remaining seven songs all fall into a space between “yeah I dig that” and “this seems okay but unfinished” (inclusive).

It’s a nice, compact little record, clocking in under 46 minutes. And, as such, you don’t mind that there are a few errant tracks here and there. If Built To Spill could put out a record this good every couple of years, they’d be as relevant as ever. When it takes six years for them to put this together, though, you start to realize the lightning is striking less often. Don’t get me wrong: nothing should get in the way of a band being able to make a song like “All Our Songs” available at any time. But maybe we could have let them do a six-song EP that left us wanting more.

Mix: “All Our Songs”
Really Like: “Living Zoo”
Like: “Some Other Song,” “Another Day,” “So,” “When I’m Blind”
Meh: “On The Way,” “Never Be The Same,” “Horizon To Cliff”
Dislike: “C.R.E.B.”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading


Sleater-Kinney: No Cities To Love

nocitiestoloveGiven that Sleater-Kinney’s catalog has a couple of hiccups in it, including their most recent album, and given that that most recent album was nine years prior and in the interim Carrie Brownstein has basically become Carrie Brownstein, Inc., it would be understandable to come into No Cities To Love with low expectations. Thankfully, it only takes one listen to dispel that pessimism and you can spend your remaining listens unabashedly enjoying it.

Not content to rehash old styles, nor leave their bread and butter behind in search of a new sound, Sleater-Kinney here is succinct, packing a powerful punch, harnessing their anger and disappointment with the issues into a “yes we can” whirlwind, appropriate for the first Obama-era release of a band that hung it up early in Bush’s second term.

The very good Side One, headlined by the dustdevil opener “Price Tag” and “Surface Envy” is a warm up the the back half of the record, where the band has concentrated its best songs. The best song on the album, the anthemic “No Anthems,” leads it off, and the last three tracks wrap up the album with a strength and acceleration that leaves you wanting more, the way a great album should. Even “Gimme Love” might be higher than Like if it weren’t surrounded by such awesomeness.

The guitar work has matured intellectually but hasn’t lost a bit of energy, and the vocals are as strong as they ever were (listen to her give it all to get over the band in “Surface Envy”) but what used to be a shotgun wail is now a focused laser beam. This is exactly where you would have wanted S-K, and hell, all of the riot grrl movement, to end up. The self-pity and unbridled rage that worked so well as a youth movement learning to speak for itself is now finely honed, losing none of its power but gaining so much more in precision.

4.5 clowns is tempting, and maybe it would have been there with one more Mix CD Candidate or if “A New Wave” nad been scratched. Still, a high four clowns with very little to complain about, this is a very worthy addition to the already great, if slightly uneven, S-K catalog.

Mix: “No Anthems,” “Hey Darling”
Really Like: “Price Tag,” “Surface Envy,” “Bury Your Friends,” “Fade”
Like: “Fangless,” “No Cities To Love,” “Gimme Love”
Meh: “A New Wave”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Anthrax: Armed And Dangerous

armedanddangerousThis EP first came out in 1985, the year after Anthrax’s first album, Fistful Of Metal. It was the first release to feature Joey Belladonna, who would be the band’s lead singer through its most successful years, on vocals. As such, it serves kind of as a reboot for the band, a chance to set themselves on a new course without all the pressure of an entirely new album full of new material while also working a new singer into the mix.

And new material is surely in short supply here. The five tracks on the original 1985 release really only have one song you can’t get elsewhere in some form or another. There are two re-recordings of songs from the first album (“Metal Thrashing Mad” and “Panic”), this time with Belladonna singing. (They’re listed as “live” tracks, but I think that means they were played live in the studio instead of being tracked individually.) There’s also a preview of “Armed And Dangerous,” which would appear on Spreading The Disease with a different mix, a faithful, but slightly faster and metal-er cover of Sex Pistol’s “God Save The Queen,” and finally, “Raise Hell,” which is the only track that I think is here and only here. And even then Fistful‘s lead singer, Neil Turbin, still has writing credits.

In 1992 the expanded re-release included both sides of the band’s first single…the original versions, with Turbin on vocals. The tracks are “Soldiers Of Metal” and “Howling Furies,” both of which were re-recorded for Fistful Of Metal.

That’s a really long way of saying there are seven tracks here, only one of which is a song that appears here and only here, and that’s the worst song of them all. Everything’s somewhere between good and really good, it just feels like the band is kind of running in place. Still, if this is what the band needed to do to make sure Spreading The Disease, which would come out later this same year, would be as good as it was, this fine but wanting release was more than worth it.

Really Like: “Soldiers Of Metal”
“Armed And Dangerous,” “Raise Hell,” “God Save The Queen,” “Metal Thrashing Mad (Live),” “Panic (Live),” “Howling Furies”

Prong: Songs From The Black Hole

songsfromtheblackholeI had no idea Prong was still putting out albums, but this album of cover songs caught my eye recently and I thought I’d give it a shot. The trio that I remember putting out punk- and hardcore-influenced metal albums in the early- and mid-90’s here brings together ten punk and hardcore (plus Neil Young) songs by ten different artists under one roof.

The artists are a diverse group, running from Hüsker Dü to Fugazi to Killing Joke to…well, Neil Young. The execution is great. The production and sound are fantastic, if a bit too compressed, and new drummer Art Cruz steals the show with his technical wizardry. The problem with the disc, though, is the concept. They’re halfway there, with this selection of diverse and excellent songs that inspired them. (In this golden age of streaming I was able to check out all the songs, none of which I was familiar with before now, by constructing a playlist of the originals.) However, by running them all through the Prong machine, they lose their variation and come out sounding like Prong songs, losing their original soul.

Furthermore, not much is added to the songs; there isn’t much in the way of interpretation beyond adding some muscle, intensity, and Tommy Victor’s growl. The already-too-long “Cortez The Killer,” from one of Neil Young’s most controversial albums, here becomes a seven minute exercise in “how many times can you hear this stanza at full volume?” Any one of the other tracks would have been great tacked on to a Prong originals album, but in this package it’s just too much same same.

Really Like: “Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely”
Like: “Vision Thing,” “Goofy’s Concern,” “Seeing Red”
Meh: “Doomsday,” “The Bars,” “Give Me The Cure,” “Banned In DC”
Dislike: “Kids Of The Black Hole,” “Cortez The Killer”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading