Led Zeppelin: Houses Of The Holy [Deluxe Edition]

housesoftheholyAnother release by Led Zeppelin, another amazing platter of songs, most of which you already know because they’re canon. Ho-hum.

Seriously, though, how did these guys keep it going? I mean how do you follow up IV? Well, you keep a little bit of your old formula of some bluesy, wizardy stuff (“Over The Hills And Far Away,” “D’yer Mak’er”) and rockers (“The Ocean”), mix in some more atmospheric stuff (“The Song Remains The Same”), really slow it down for a couple of slow burners (“Rain Song,” “No Quarter”), and then stretch yourself into some of the dance-y stuff that was gaining traction at the time, all while not losing any of your integrity (“Dancing Days,” “The Crunge”). And there you go, an almost perfect album to put up right next to your previous album, which was perfect.

Honestly, it’s really impressive how well they branch out here while maintaining a lot of that Led Zeppelin sound. “Dancing Days” is probably my fave song on the album, and it grooves so hard. “The Crunge” is, well, no pun intended, but that last bit where Plant is singing about finding the bridge, that makes me cringe every time. But before they get into that weird James Brown mockery, they do a really good job with a funk song. If they could have just reined it in a bit in that last minute, this would be a five clown disc.

I don’t think any band has ever put out five consecutive albums as good as these, much less as a band’s first five albums. And yes, I’m including The Beatles in there. I mean, The Beatles’ fifth-best album is probably better than Led Zeppelin’s (III), and yeah, I’d probably take Abbey Road over IV or II at the top of the scale, but Led Zeppelin outweigh The Beatles so much in ranks two through four that I probably have to give it to them.

Rating:
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Mix: “Dancing Days”
Love:
“No Quarter”
Really Like:
“The Song Remains The Same,” “The Rain Song,” “Over The Hills And Far Away”
Like:
“D’yer Mak’er,” “The Ocean,” “The Song Remains The Same (Guitar Overdub Reference Mix),” “Over The Hills And Far Away (Guitar Mix Backing Track),” “Dancing Days (Rough Mix With Vocal),” “No Quarter (Rough Mix With JPJ Keyboard Overdubs – No Vocal)”
Meh: “The Crunge,” “The Rain Song (Mix Minus Piano),” “The Crunge (Rough Mix – Keys Up),” “The Ocean (Working Mix)”
Filed Between: Led Zeppelin’s IV and Presence
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Murray Attaway: In Thrall

inthrallOn “Living In Another Time,” Murray Attaway alludes to being born five centuries too late. That may be a stretch, but based on the pictures in the liner notes and the songs, he is a man a bit out of time looking for a genre. It’s a shame that the music industry can’t figure out how to deal with talented songwriters who don’t fit neatly into any category, but Attaway seems to be a victim of that shortcoming.

This is Attaway’s only solo album, and I have it only because its third song, “Allegory,” was featured on the awesome compilation DGC Rarities, Vol. 1. Like a cross between Rick Springfield and R.E.M., Attaway writes smart, sharp lyrics that lead you through his complex, lush arrangements that branch out from guit/bass/drums into keys and strings. The songs feature catchy melodies but also enough depth that, even after having listened to this dozens of times, I keep hearing more and deepening my appreciation for it.

I can hardly find fault with anything. There are moments in “Under Jets” and “Fall So Far,” among others, where the timbres he’s chosen or the melody he lays on top of a harmony doesn’t work quite right in the way it’s introduced, but even in those cases it works to create a very nice variety of sounds and structures that make an already lovely album a real treat to get through from beginning to end.

It’s probably good enough for a 4.5-clown rating, but there’s something about my love for this that is more academically pleasurable than viscerally exciting, and I tend to reserve anything higher than four full clowns for that kind of heart-grabbing lust. Still, I keep coming back to this semi-frequently over the past two decades and enjoy it each time.

Rating:
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Mix: “No Tears Tonight”
Love: “Home”
Really Like: “Allegory,” “Living In Another Time,” “The Evensong,” “My Book”
Like:
“Under Jets,” “Angels In The Trees,” “Fall So Far,” “August Rain,” “Walpurgis Night”
Filed Between: [I don’t know, my CDs are all packed up for our move]
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Saigon Kick: The Lizard

thelizardThis marks the second time I’ve tried to like this album. The first time was in college, pre-blog, when I had a girlfriend who really liked it. Now I’m trying because Dig Me Out is reviewing it, so I wanted to make extra sure that, yep, this is really a pile of atrocious crap that, containing 16 execrable tracks, and seems much, much longer than its 53 minutes.

A sophomore album released in 1992, these guys couldn’t figure out if they wanted to be a glam band like Extreme or ride the grunge wave. The result just sounds opportunistic while at the same time indecisive; formulaic and poorly-executed. It’s like every possible choice they could have made was the wrong one. I mean, if you’re going to be this stupid and glossy, then at least be fun. If I’m going to listen to music this bubble gum, I want to hear about boning babes with big tits, not odes to commitment and paper-thin pseudo socially-conscious nonsense.

And the 16 tracks just seem like the same four-song cycle four times. It’s like each four-song chunk has to have one ballad (that sounds the same as the other three), one fast, somewhat punky song that they can use to boost their rock bona fides, one socially conscious bit with what passed for experimental guitar in 1992, and then just pick from those three categories for the fourth song.

No, I can find absolutely nothing redeeming about this album. Sure, there are even a few tracks that don’t bother me, but there isn’t anything at all that’s good. The closest they get is “Body Bags,” but then that’s just a complete rip off from Skid Row’s Slave To The Grind. The world is a worse place for the existence of this record.

Rating:
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Meh: “All Alright,” “Sleep,” “Miss Jones”
Dislike: “Hostile Youth,” “God Of 42nd Street,” “Peppermint Tribe,” “The Lizard,” “Body Bags,” “World Goes Round,” “Chanel”
Hate:
“Cruelty,” “Feel The Same Way,” “Freedom,” “My Dog,” “Love Is On The Way,” “All I Want”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

METZ: II

metziiToronto’s METZ are one intimidating blast of deafening, distorted, mid-range frequencies. Yeah, there’s some bass there, but mostly it’s splashy cymbals, a white noise guitar, and the nodule-inducing screams of some kind of nihilistic statement like “you let me down,” “spit you out,” or “nervous system.”

At ten tracks, one of which is only 34 seconds long (“Zzyzx”), this album can’t be much more than 30 minutes long, if that. And yet, it’s an excellent gauge of your mood to find out just where you start to fatigue in a listen. If I’m really in the mood for this kind of intensity, I can make it to track eight or so, and if I’m having a more mellow day I might meet my match at the start of track five.

I like just about every song on here, and it’s really nice to hear bands still making music with loud, distorted guitars. However, beyond being a nihilistic punk statement turned up to 11, there’s not much more to say about it.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Spit You Out,” “I.O.U.”
Like: “Acetate,” “The Swimmer,” “Landfill,” “Nervous System,” “Wait In Line,” “Kicking A Can Of Worms”
Meh: “Zzyzx,” “Eyes Peeled”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Mumford & Sons: Wilder Mind

wildermindHas it really been six years since Mumford & Sons’ first album? They seen like a much more recent act to me, here on their third album.

Something’s always seemed a bit off to me about these guys. They appeal immediately, but something seems a little too…polished or processed or something. Kind of like a Hootie & The Blowfish or Counting Crows phenomenon. It felt like appropriated bluegrass chewed up Momma Bird style for British and Northern-U.S. consumption. That vibe continues here; I really like this album, but I feel a little dirty for doing so.

I’m not the first critic to point out that the big difference between this album and its predecessors is that this one is less fiddle-heavy, less acoustic, more electric. I think there are even drum machines in a couple of tracks, like “Tompkins Square Park” and “Wilder Mind.” As a result, the album is more open, there’s more space, as they’re content to let the sustain on these instruments hold out a little more. There’s less of a jackrabbit, virtuosic, fill-every-second vibe.

There isn’t a bad track here. The disc opens with “Tompkins Square Park,” which is basically like the perfect Mumford & Sons song, with a gorgeous intro, lovely verses, and a build into a powerfully emotional chorus. “Only Love” takes that kind of formula to the next level, which is to say a touch over the top. It’s fantastic, but it’s impossible to listen to and not see it as the background to the sad break-up and/or get-back-together scenes in a Jennifer Aniston rom com, with a montage of sad sack lonely go-about-your-day shots like leaning your head against the subway window, walking around a corner, or brushing your teeth, all while looking wistfully into the distance. In fact, if it doesn’t end up as the background to some scene like that I will be amazed. I never see images when I listen to music, so when I get them that strongly and specifically I have to assume it was basically written for that.

The album’s basically flawless, which is kind of my main criterion for a five clown album. But with a couple of weaker tracks, relatively speaking, like “Just Smoke” and “Monster,” I’d maybe usually slap a strong 4.5 clowns on it and feel good about that. But, again, there’s just something that’s a little too … clean about this. I really like it, but I feel kind of like a soccer mom who buys a CD every three years for doing so. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a long way from my self-image.

I don’t know, maybe there is something wrong with it, and that’s why I’m lowering its rating (to a still very very good four clowns, though). Who knows? But this is where I am in August of 2015.

Rating:
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Mix: “Tompkins Square Park”
Really Like: “The Wolf,” “Ditmas,” “Only Love,” “Hot Gates”
Like: “Believe,” “Wilder Mind,” “Just Smoke,” “Monster,” “Snake Eyes,” “Broad-Shouldered Beasts,” “Cold Arms”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Rose Windows: Rose Windows

rosewindowsWow, I just noticed how much more awesome that album cover looks at 500 x 500 pixels instead of whatever little thumbnail shows on my phone when I play it. Yeah, we’ve lost something in the move to streaming-only. But seriously, bands shouldn’t make album covers that look like that anymore. They figured it out moving from vinyl to CD, but can’t seem to make the jump further.

I downloaded this album accidentally. There was all this hype on Sub Pop’s Twitter feed and then I think I mixed them up with somebody else that I thought I liked on Sub Pop. Then when I listened to it and hated it I tried to figure out where I’d heard of them before, and it was from that Sub Pop Soundcloud playlist and man was I harsh on that song.

But because I hate myself, I trudged through, needing to finish what I started. And I’m kinda glad I did because it really ended up growing on me to the point of liking it. You kinda get everything they say on the album in the first four songs. After that there are five tracks that range from pretty good to meh, but don’t break any new ground (except the cricket/cicada sounds used in “Aurora Avenue” are pretty awesome). The worst is how they end with two tracks that are both legitimately fine sleepy-eyed album closers, spesh “Hirami,” but to have two of them there is awful.

The band’s unique sound comes from having a flautist and a keyboardist (along with what you’d expect), but that just ends up feeling like bullshit Millenial communism. The best aspects of the band come between the interaction between lead guitarist Chris Cheveyo and vocalist Rabia Shaheen Qazi, particularly on “Blind.”

But communism never works, and the band broke up almost immediately after this album came out, and they canceled their tour with hardly any explanation. Fine, hippies, fine.

Rating:
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Mix: “Glory, Glory,” “Blind”
Like: “Blind,” “Strip Mall Babylon,” “Come Get Us Again,” “The Old Crow,” “Aurora Avenue”
Meh: “A Pleasure To Burn,” “Hirami”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading