Blind Mr. Jones: Tatooine

tatooine

Now this is what I think of when I think of “shoegaze.” That’s a term that gets applied to some really noisy bands, like My Bloody Valentine, but I always felt it applied better to bands like this with a mumbly, low-key singer, you know, just standing there staring at his shoes.

There’s some Britpop in here, too (“Disney World”) and plenty of resemblance to Belle & Sebastian (also “Disney World”) (though it’s worth noting that their first album came out two years after this album).

[Okay, I can’t mention Belle & Sebastian, who I love, without thinking of this clip.]

Anyway, back to Blind Mr. Jones, who would end their career with this, their second album. Consider the ratings of these 10 tracks: seven Likes and three Mehs. That pretty much says it all. Well, it pretty much says it all if you also include my first couple of paragraphs. It’s shoegaze-y and solidly listenable from start to finish. Very enjoyable but rarely transcendent. Which seems appropriate for shoegaze.

Rating:
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Like: “Hey,” “Disney World,” “Viva Fisher,” “Drop For Days,” “Surfer Baby,” “Please Me,” “Mesa”
Meh: “See You Again,” “Big Plane,” “What’s Going On”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Matthew Sweet: Time Capsule: The Best Of Matthew Sweet 90/00

timecapsuleMatthew Sweet actually had two albums before 1991’s breakthrough, Girlfriend. The second of those two came out in 1989, so when he set out to create a greatest hits collection it made sense for him to do it in 2000 and celebrate his great decade. Time Capsule covers the five albums and one EP Sweet released in the 90’s and includes a couple of new tracks. And, even though he’s apparently still releasing new records, this collection has all the songs of his you know.

And what songs those are. The man wrote a perfect pop song in “Girlfriend” and came close to perfection with “Divine Intervention” and “Sick Of Myself.” I think writing a perfect pop song is the kind of thing society should reward by giving you a Caribbean island and supporting you in whatever you want to do for the rest of your life, and to have almost hit the jackpot twice more, well, Sweet’s a pretty gifted songwriter. And that still leaves 15 tracks left to consider in this collection.

And heck, let’s tackle those tracks, going from best-rated to worst…or let’s at least start that way and see how far we get. I mean, there’s no reason to try to pin some narrative on a greatest hits collection, amirite? For the last Really Like, we’ve got “Behind The Smile.” To be honest, I couldn’t hum the song for you right now. [Later: It’s the “I haven’t been a good friend while you’ve been mine” song -Ed.] And then, of the remaining 14 tracks, we have nine Likes, and, well, here’s where we get into the crux of this review. And Ima be honest with you, I’m working this out in real time here. If there was ever an album that screamed 3.5 clowns, it’s this one. Because, due to a great bulk of the record being Like and below it’s not four clowns. And the fact that I can say that definitively means, given my resistance to half-clown ratings, which I try to save only for times when I can’t decide between two full-clown choices, that it should be three clowns. But dammit it seems better than that, and yeah, as an album that represents the peak of Sweet’s career, I’m probably weighing it more heavily toward the great songs collected here.

But there are too many other songs. And Sweet has included too many slow songs and songs that veer away from his power pop perfection sweet spot. He maybe did this to shine light on the fact that he can do country-tinged and ballads in addition to power pop, which I kinda get, but when you’re the best in the game at the best genre ever, then why would you want to point out you can do lesser genres not as well?

So if I’m looking at my rating on this album as a reflection of Sweet’s best songs in his best decade, then, yeah, it’s really hard to leave it at three clowns. But if I look at what it is, a Greatest Hits album, with the inherent lack of cohesion that comes with that, and a collection that, I have to guess, does not actually pull out the 16 best songs available on the six releases represented herein, then I have to say, yeah, this is a solid three clowns.

Rating:
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Mix: “Girlfriend”
Really Like: “Divine Intervention,” “Sick Of Myself,” “Behind The Smile”
Like: “I’ve Been Waiting,” “The Ugly Truth,” “Devil With The Green Eyes,” “Someone To Pull The Trigger,” “We’re The Same,” “Where You Get Love,” “What Matters,” “Ready,” “So Far”
Meh: “You Don’t Love Me,” “Time Capsule,” “Until You Break,” “If Time Permits,” “Hide”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Cop Shot Cop: Release

releaseTom Waits did a show with The Bad Seeds. They added the horns from Morphine and the industrial-ish tendencies of Girls Against Boys. The result was Cop Shoot Cop’s 1994 album Release. I mean, not really, but if you just told me that’s what this album was and then played it for me, I would have no trouble believing you.

As brilliant as that sounds, all of those four artists have a tendency to clunk at times, and while this album is far from a clunker, or even containing a clunker, this album also reflects some of the limitations you’d get by mimicking those artists too closely instead of pulling in only the highlights from each contributor.

Producer Dave Sardy (who, even though I’ve never heard of him, has quite a storied discography) is a couple of decades ahead of his time here as this album sounds much better in earbuds than in over-ear headphones or speakers. The intimacy resulting from being inside your ear makes the gruff vocals, abrasive samples, and growling basses (there are two in this band) much more impactful. From further away you’re left with songs that congeal into a wash of one combined sound and groove early on and sit there…you can’t appreciate the more subtle touches underneath the more prominent milieu.

You can also tell Sardy has done some work scoring films, as he makes the band’s unique instrumentation (did I mention there are two basses and samples aplenty?) work cinematically. The horns in “Last Legs” act as sirens in a movie scene of a heist gone wrong, with first responders quickly closing in on a chaotic scene of confusion. “Swimming In Circles” is a Morphine-heavy dose of spookiness, and “Turning Inside Out,” with its prominent circular saw sample, is either some kind of dystopic industrial wasteland or a scene out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or a combination of the two.

I like this a lot. And I love it when I’m listening with earbuds. But I don’t love earbuds. So for me, I’ve got to find some middle ground. And that’s three-and-a-half clowns.

Rating:
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Mix: “Turning Inside Out”
Really Like:
“Two At A Time,” “Any Day Now,” “Swimming In Circles,” “Suckerpunch”
Like: “Interference,” “Last Legs,” “Slackjaw,” “Lullaby,” “Ambulance Song,” “The Divorce”
Meh: “It Only Hurts When I Breathe,” “Money-Drunk”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Tori Amos: God

god“God” might be Amos’ best-known single from Under The Pink, a statement to this angry, vengeful beast that maybe, you know, maybe he’d be able to chill out a bit if he let women have a bit more rei(g)n.

She keeps after the Judeo-Christian patriarchy with her version of “Home On The Range,” which quickly morphs from a faithful rendition to one that traces the genocidal history of the United States from Plymouth Rock through the Trail Of Tears. The lyrics are powerful (my favorite line is “America, who discovered your ass?”), and the reverb-induced ringing of the piano’s rich harmonies is a mesmerizing listen.

The CD single closes with two instrumental tracks that are listed under the heading Piano Suite and really might as well have been one track. The last three tracks are much quieter than “God,” and if you dutifully turned up your volume for “Home On The Range,” you should enjoy these last two tracks quite a bit. They feel a bit incomplete, but they showcase a nice range of moods as well as a wonderful interplay between what might be two different characters of the right-hand and left-hand.

Rating:
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Mix: “God”
Really Like: “Home On The Range”
Like: “All The Girls Hate Her,” “Over It”
Filed Between: Amos’ Cornflake Girl and the Little Covers bootleg from the Covering ‘Em bootleg series

Chavez: Better Days Will Haunt You

betterdayswillhauntyouFrom the opening minute of their very first single, with a high-pitched dissonant melodic interval in the guitar that makes a 3:00 AM car siren sound appealing, Chavez lets you know they are not going to be an easily digested band. Math rock, angular, dissonant, abrasive…pick your favorite term, Chavez are basically right there in your face with it all. Well, maybe not as fast as what I usually think of as math rock, but everything else, yeah.

I’d never heard of these guys until a few months ago, but apparently they were pretty big during their brief, mid-90’s career. I don’t feel like re-finding the reference, but I swear I read that they sold more than any other Matador artist, which is huge on its own, but especially so for a band I hadn’t heard of.

But those dueling alternate realities, one where Chavez was mega huge and another where there existence hardly registered a blip, converge into this universe where all of their recorded material is out of print and yet survives in a single, two-CD collection released a decade after their last new release was issued. It’s all here, that debut 7-inch, both of their LPs, the two songs from their EP that aren’t also on one of the LP’s, and some outtakes and contributions to compilations. It’s 28 tracks of odd time signatures, quiet-loud distorted guitars and vocals, and abstruse lyrics. It’s great, but if that opening fire alarm makes you think you can’t make it through 28 tracks, my advice is to start with track 14, a wonderful cover of Schoolhouse Rock‘s “Little 12 Toes” and then go on to tracks 15-26, which constitute their 1996 album Ride The Fader, which is easily the crown jewel of their discography.

I generally like everything else here, but Ride The Fader is where everything came together for these guys, where their great riffs became incredible sections and their tracks became honest-to-goodness songs that you want to hear over and over and can’t get out of your head. Some of the tracks would even be rated higher if they hadn’t included non-sequitur sound effects at their beginnings and ends, but, fine, in 1996 bands were still going for that start-to-finish album thing. I get it. And I’m really glad I finally heard of these guys, even if it was 20 years too late.

(Oh, also, Shudder To Think. There are places where they are very reminiscent of that band, though I’m not sure reminiscent is the right word since they were contemporaries.)

Rating:
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Mix: “Little 12 Toes,” “The Guard Attacks”
Love: “You Must Be Stopped”
Really Like: “Repeat The Ending,” “Break Up Your Band,” “The Ghost By The Sea,” “You Faded,” “Top Pocket Man,” “Unreal Is Here,” “New Room,” “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight,” “Memorize This Face,” “Cold Joys,” “Flight 96,” “Ever Overpsyched,” “White Jeans”
Like: “Hack Away The Sides,” “Nailed To The Blank Spot,” “Laugh Track,” “Pentagram Ring,” “Peeled Out Too Late,” “The Flaming Gong,” “Wakeman’s Air,” “Relaxed Fit,” “Tight Around The Jaws,” “Lions”
Meh: “The Nerve,” “Theme From ‘For Russ'”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Tori Amos: Cornflake Girl

cornflakegirls“Cornflake Girl” was Tori Amos’ first single from Under The Pink. For the single, she packaged it a couple of very good tracks and one that was half-baked.

The half-baked song is the third track, “Daisy Dead Petals,” and it’s got potential as a whimsical little romp through the piano fields, but the verses are just biding time until the chorus and the bridge.

“Sister Janet” is Amos going after some of the themes she’d really blow open on Boys For Pele and much of her later work. There are shamans, blades, angels, wizards, and all kinds of esoteric references throughout a moody, harmony-heavy tune where Amos expertly creates a propulsive flow that belies the fact she’s only using her piano and her voice.  I keep going back and forth between Like and Really Like, so I’ll be interested to see what I write below.

The disc closer, “Honey,” is the track from this disc that’s had a very successful life as a fan- and Amos-favorite in her concerts. Western-themed in its lyrics, it also features what sounds like a steel-stringed guitar along with some synth strings and Amos’ piano. It’s sultry and even moodier than “Sister Janet.” I like it quite a bit, but I have to part ways with Amos and the fanbase here and say that if there’s a B-side here that stands above the others, it’s “Sister Janet.” (Though “Honey” has the best lyrics.)

Rating:
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Really Like: “Cornflake Girl,” “Sister Janet”
Like: “Honey”
Meh: “Daisy Dead Petals”
Filed Between: Tori Amos’ Under The Pink and God single

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