Motörhead – Bad Magic

badmagic

So no foolin’, I really have been in the process of reviewing this album since it came out in August, and it really is taking its turn in the queue. This isn’t like when I reviewed Ornette Coleman because he died, here I’m reviewing Motörhead despite Lemmy’s very recent passing.

However, this is like Ornette Coleman in that I’m reviewing an artist I was only barely familiar with. Beyond “Ace Of Spades,” I’d never really given Motörhead much of a chance, and I don’t think I can name a single song by Hawkwind, the band Lemmy was in prior to Motörhead. And, given my affection for “Ace Of Spades,” why I never dug deeper is hard to say. It’s probably a combination of MTV only ever playing “Ace Of Spades” since, well, Motörhead wasn’t very pretty and it was the 80’s and them just never rising up high enough on my radar to dig until this summer.

I think I might have been a bit turned off by their unabashed embrace of metal, exemplified above with the umlaut in their name. I mean, I am a child of the early 90’s, when anything sincere and everything metal was all uncool, so a sincere embrace of what, at the time, was an overplayed aesthetic, lumped them into a camp I spent a lot of time distancing myself from.

But I think the intervening decades have taught us that, while that aesthetic got worn out by kitsch, the true believers have stoked the embers of what made the aesthetic awesome in the first place and, you know, it still kicks ass.

And kick ass with a straightforward 80’s punk-metal album is what Motörhead does on this record. What’s most amazing about this slab of energetic rock is not just that it sounds like it was made by metal wizards 50 years younger than they are (Lemmy’s tired but still awesome growling voice excepted), but that Lemmy was literally fucking dying when he made it. Based on the reports of how extensive his cancer was when they found it on Saturday, it had clearly been spreading into his bones and brain for a while. In an era where auto-tune and mopey millenial hipsters dominate what’s cool in music a 69-year-old who’s too fucking rock and roll to know he’s on his deathbed released one of the best albums of the year.

It’s been interesting to hear all the praise for Lemmy and his career this week because (i) when this album was released most of the reviews were “Meh, it’s just Motörhead doing their template thing” (I missed that Stereogum’s Worst to First ranking had it at their fourth-best album(!)), and (ii) it made like nobody’s year-end best of lists.

I get it, kind of. I’ve even been tempted to bump this up a half-clown the last few days. But, despite me growing more fond of the record over the last few days (which I mostly attribute to an increase in the listens I gave it since its time was coming), this has been on the path to a four-clown review basically since I started listening to it. From the opening thrash of “Victory Or Die” to the bluesy solo of “Fire Storm Hotel” (the guitar seems to be more prominent here than obituaries of bassist Lemmy indicate are typical of the band’s sound), the band is absolutely fierce. From the dark, brooding evil of “The Devil,” “”Evil Eye,” and an awesome cover of “Sympathy For The Devil” to the alien apocalypse of “Choking On Your Screams” to the reflective look at life and death of “Till The End,” Lemmy ended his career as a true successor to Johnny Cash’s reborn godfather Man In Black archetype. It’s fitting for two flawed men possessed by the spirit and the power of rock and roll from their earliest days right up until the day they died.

R.I.P. Lemmy. You gave more in your last six months than most give in their career. Thanks for leaving it all in the studio and on the stage for us. The Jack’s on me if we ever meet.

Rating:
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Mix: “Shoot Out All Of Your Lights,” “Sympathy For The Devil”
Love: “The Devil”
Really Like:
 “Thunder And Lightning,” “Fire Storm Hotel,” “Till The End”
Like: “Victory Or Die,” “Electricity,” “Evil Eye”,” “Teach Them How To Bleed,” “Tell Me Who To Kill,” “Choking On Your Screams,” “When The Sky Comes Looking For You”
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

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Fear Factory: Genexus

genexus

Turns out Fear Factory’s still putting out albums. I hadn’t really paid attention to them since 1995’s Demanufacture, which I remember liking quite a bit. So here they are with basically the same album: dystopic future with technology run amok, obliterating the human in the world, and drum machine blast beats.

So, no, Fear Factory is not really breaking new ground 20 years after their most popular album. But often I review albums of bands not breaking new ground with a well-who-cares-when-its-this-good attitude. This album doesn’t quite fall into that category. Fear Factory’s formula is still a winning one, as this album is quite enjoyable. However, you’ve basically heard it all before and are really only listening for the good half of the album.

You can see below the half of the album that I legitimately like (versus the half that I’m merely okay with). I think what separates the better tracks is that the sung choruses, as distinguished from the barked/shouted verses, transcend the cacophony of the relentless music underlying everything. Those underlying instruments are the most formulaic part of the album (well, apart from the lyrics, I suppose): ridiculously compressed guitars and drum sounds at an incredibly fast pace. I’ve also realized with age that, no, that’s not an awesome drummer they have; that’s humanly impossible drumming executed by a drum machine. It sounds cool, but, you know, what I think bothers most people about drum machines is that they’re just so obviously in your face “Hey I’m a drum machine!,” and so you kind of end up discounting the music even if it sounds awesome. Interestingly, the ridiculously short Wikipedia entry on this album indicates that they used a real drummer on the album. And you can hear it, they did. The real drummer is there augmenting the machine in parts, and that’s kind of cool. Though I don’t know if I would have noticed it if I hadn’t read about it.

I should say that I was initially reviewing the Deluxe Edition of this album, which has two bonus tracks, but I had to stop because I just couldn’t take those last two tracks. So the rating below reflects the ten-track standard edition. (Honestly, in this age of streaming, what does a Deluxe Edition even mean? Why do bands do that?) I like it, and “Regenerate” could definitely appear on a best of 2015 metal playlist at least as some kind of token representation whatever we named the genre that Fear Factory spawned. But I didn’t need to know this album.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Protomech,” “Regenerate”
Like: 
“Autonomous Combat System,” “Soul Hacker,” “Battle For Utopia”
Meh: “Anodized,” “Dielectric,” “Genexus,” “Church Of Execution,” “Expiration Date”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Foals: What Went Down

whatwentdown

I was first introduced to Foals in 2008, at SP20, Sub Pop’s 20th Anniversary concert, when they were performing off their debut album, Antidotes. I’ve always kind of mixed them up with a couple other bands I was introduced to at those concerts, too. One is The Helio Sequence, who also released an album this summer that I reviewed. That makes sense, since they’re both kind of moody electronic bands. The other band is No Age, but only because I think the cover art for Antidotes looks like what No Age sounded like at that concert.

Anyhoo, Foals is on Warner Bros. now and this is their fourth album. Unfortunately, while the band is pretty good at starting off their songs with a good hook and some cool sounds, they can very rarely turn it into a legitimately good song. The album is 48 minutes long, and they really have about enough material to fill half of that.

It’s fine, and if I had a friend who was all like “Hey man on Saturday do you want to go see Foals for like $20?” I’d be like “Yeah let’s go” and I’d probably have a good time. But I don’t see a whole lot of reasons to spend much more time on these guys, at least not with this release. Honestly, I have two songs with notes below, and that’s basically my detailed review.

Next!

Rating:
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Like: “What Went Down,” “Mountain At My Gates,” “Albatross,” “Snake Oil,” “Night Swimmers,” “London Thunder”
Meh: “Birch Tree,” “Give It All,” “Lonely Hunter,” “A Knife In The Ocean”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Strange Wilds: Subjective Concepts

subjectiveconcepts

Being a trio from Olympia, on Sub Pop, and sounding an awful lot like Nirvana’s dirgier songs is pretty much a guarantee that your album is going to find me and that I’m going to give it a few spins. Furthermore, if your songs all have hints of hooks in them but don’t really develop into anything more than a collection of riffs over their four minutes, being all of those things I mentioned at the top is pretty much guaranteed that I’m going to listen to your album 20 times trying to love the damned thing.

Strange Wilds is billed as sounding a lot like Bleach-era Nirvana, but I think there’s plenty of Nevermind and In Utero in here, too. Some of the songs sounded so similar to parts of Nirvana songs that I did a quick run through the Nirvana catalog doing some comparisons looking for the direct musical quotes, but couldn’t find them. It is possible they tapped into something in the air or water (or heroin) down in Olympia and were able to channel some unwritten or possibly discarded Nirvana riffs from throughout the years.

That possibility hung before me, a child of the 90’s, like a beacon of hope that maybe, just maybe, what with Alice In Chains’ successful resurrection, Soundgarden at least attempting one, and Pearl Jam’s penultimate album being quite good, grunge could have a true second coming (and not that second wave of grunge crap led by Bush, et al.) with the veterans and the rookies locked arm in arm, guitar in guitar, battling against and vanquishing moody hipster Brooklyn iPad shit.

Unfortunately, that beacon is, at best, a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Beyond the muddy production (which is a good thing here) and those riffs that seem ripped from my high school years, these guys shouldn’t really be compared to Nirvana at all. Apart from a few throwaways on Incesticide, these tracks don’t compare to Nirvana songs. There’s more of an exhausting noise merchant vibe going on here than one of pop songcraft.

Still, I can’t write these guys off completely. This is only a debut album, and maybe if they tour the country and get a little more optimism in their life than Olympia can offer they’ll develop some more song-crafty sensibilities, which I’m willing to admit might be more of a late-breaking skill. I’ll almost certainly give their second album a try, too. So I guess being a trio from Olympia, on Sub Pop, and sounding a lot like Nirvana is enough to get me to listen to at least two of your albums.

Rating:
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Meh: “Pronoia,” “Starved For,” “Autothysis,” “Don’t Have To,” “Oneirophobe,” “Disdain,” “Pareidolia,” “Terrible,” “Lost And Found,” “Outercourse”
Dislike: “Egophilia”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

The Chemical Brothers: Born In The Echoes

bornintheechoesHey, The Chemical Brothers are still releasing records. Or, maybe, since this is their first album in five  years it should be Hey, The Chemical Brothers are releasing records again. I haven’t listened to an album by these guys in 20 years, which was when their debut album came out. And as far as I can tell, things are pretty much the same, and that’s a good thing.

Born In The Echoes is 52 minutes of well-crafted dance/electronica/whatever. I hate talking about dance-y genres, because some people get super serious about it, sometimes restricting genres to specific BPMs. I think The Chemical Brothers can play in those too-serious circles, but they also have great crossover appeal to people who just want to listen to cool sounds over a cool beat and rock out a little. They’re great at hitting that sweet spot of super accessible but also really sonically interesting.

Not everything about the lack of change the band’s music has seen in the last two decades is positive. There are stretches of Exit Planet Dust that veer off the tracks, and this record has a pretty rough middle stretch as well. “Reflexion” is quite good, but definitely too long and repetitive in parts. It’s preceded by the mediocre “Just Bang” and followed by “Taste Of Honey,” which is only good if you’re in the right mood and doesn’t really fit on the record. (It would have made a good B-side, me thinks.)

But for the first three-and-a-half tracks and then the last two songs, the band is absolutely firing on all cylinders. When I’m in those parts of the album I’m thinking, “Now why didn’t I give this five clowns again?” I’m sorry I’ve spent so much time away from these guys. Don’t make the same mistake.

Rating:
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Mix: “Go,” “Wide Open”
Really Like: “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted,” “Under Neon Lights”
Like: “EML Ritual,” “Reflexion,” “Born In The Echoes,” “Radiate”
Meh: “I’ll See You There,” “Just Bang,” “Taste Of Honey”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Iron And Wine & Ben Bridwell: Sing Into My Mouth

singintomymouthNine Likes, one Really Like, and two Mehs. So why does it only get two clowns? That’s what I can’t quite figure out.

Now, it wasn’t always that I liked ten of these 12 tracks. In fact, in the early stages of listening, I didn’t like anything. I still find the presentation of these cover tracks that Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam did in collaboration with Ben Bridwell from Band Of Horses to be monochromatic and, for the most part, boring. So now, even though I can appreciate them, those features must be speaking to me pretty strongly, because once I finish with this I have no desire to fire it up again.

I’m not familiar with any of these songs in their original form. In fact, I’m only familiar with about half of the artists beyond a name recognition status. The range of artists covered is pretty diverse, from Talking Heads to Bonnie Raitt, from John Cale to Sade. And that’s just in the first five tracks.

They’re all presented in an augmented version of Iron and Wine style instrumentation, with guitar doing the bulk of the work and Beam’s voice leading the way, but with a significant amount of keys and drums, along with what I assume is Bridwell singing backup through much of the album. (Though I’m now hearing Bridwell take the lead on at least one song.) It’s also much more country than what Iron And Wine usually does. Slide guitar is prevalent, and the twang on Bonnie Raitt’s “Anyday Woman” is overdone.

In the end, I just think it’s exhausting. There are moments of reprieve on many of the songs, and that’s what garner them their Like ratings. But it’s too much effort to wade through the layers of instrumentation in these languid songs that themselves sometimes seem to only exist by an immense amount of rapidly fading effort. Maybe it’s that the only good time to listen to these songs is on a quiet weekend morning as you’re gradually waking up, getting your coffee, and checking the news, and I don’t have any of those anymore.Maybe the drums and bass are too loud for these laid back songs, which were never meant to support that kind of weight, at least at these tempi.

Yeah, I think that’s it. I think it’s just overproduced and too saturated of a sound for the way the songs are being performed. There we go. Mystery solved. Still unsatisfying, because I think there’s a four-clown promise here, so this kind of just ends up being a big waste of potential, which, as any high school teacher will tell you, is the biggest tragedy.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Magnolia”
Like:
“This Must Be The Place,” “Done This One Before,” “You Know More Than I Know,” “Bullet Proof Soul,” “No Way Out Of Here,” “Straight And Narrow'” “Am I A Good Man?,” “Ab’s Song,” “Coyote”
Meh: “Anyday Woman,” “God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Mercury Rev: Deserter’s Songs

deserterssongsI know you all have been waiting on pins and needles to find out what the second album is that I was referring to in this Lisa Germano review:

This album is one of two in my current queue, both courtesy of Dig Me Out, where I’m first and foremost struck by the fact that the given artist has an artistic vision that is (i) fully formed, (ii) niche and often off-putting, and (iii) completely unique.

Well here we are with the other: Mercury Rev’s fourth album, Deserter’s Songs. I’m a pretty well-traveled musical listener, and I’ll put the diversity of my collection up against anybody’s, but I’ve never heard anything quite like this.

Lead singer Jonathan Donahue, formerly of The Flaming Lips, sings high-pitched, sing-song melodies over a variety of instrumental accompaniments. There is theremin played as Jimi Hendrix would on “Endlessly” and “Pick Up If You’re There,” a soulful bass line and a powerful Pink Floyd guitar riff that drive “The Funny Bird,” and sound collages on “I Collect Coins” and “The Happy End (The Drunk Room).” Wikipedia also lists flutes, musical saw, and flugelhorns, each as instruments manned by one performer, making this probably my favorite album with flugelhorns, but I don’t know.

And somehow, through all this diversity, it all holds together as a theme. The obvious common element is Donahue’s fragile, wavering voice. But furthermore you’ve got the fact that almost all of these songs sound like they’re the last song on the album or, possibly, the penultimate song with something else coming in afterwards to tie everything up. It’s all, or mostly all, got that feel of exhaustion and post-catharsis cleanliness you get at various points of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

I don’t know if there is any underlying concept here–it sounds as if it was almost a found concept, with the album getting its name after much of the songs were written and/or recorded. But it feels like a concept album. There isn’t a lot that’s really radio friendly here, but when it’s presented as a whole, it’s wonderful.

Rating:
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Mix: “The Funny Bird”
Really Like: “Opus 40,” “Goddess On A Hiway,” “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp”
Like: “Holes,” “Tonite It Shows,” “I Collect Coins,” “Hudson Line”
Meh: “Endlessly,” “The Happy End (The Drunk Room),” “Pick Up If You’re There”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading