Braid: Frame And Canvas


I think for the first time in like forever I can actually distinguish emo when I hear it. I’m not sure I can describe it yet, but as I peer into the next 20 minutes of so of my life I feel like this review is going to be my attempt to articulate the features I heard in this album that made me think, “A-ha! Emo.”

First of all, the lead singer can’t really sing. Or, it might be more accurate to say, for this gentleman at least, that he chooses, often, not to sing, but instead to howl and yip about really specific interpersonal moments that are supposed to make you feel like he’s your good friend because you’re tortured by similar youthful angsty demons.

Holy crap. I just realized…emo is just like grunge, just like six years later. Grunge had yarling about angst, emo’s got the yips about same. Okay, well, now that I’ve got a reference point, that’s the next step: How is emo different from grunge?

Most obviously is the guitar tuning, which in emo is traditional, in opposition to the drop-D of grunge. Lyrically I think grunge focuses a little more on self-loathing whereas emo is more about self-pity. Grunge does a lot of outward loathing, too, and emo’s got a bit of that, but grunge is more upset about the state of the world whereas emo is more concerned with that one girl. Emo tends to be a bit more upbeat when it comes to tempo, whereas grunge, in keeping with that down-tuning, wallows a bit more. In that vein, I’m also hearing on this record more space between the instruments, where grunge tends to be more of a spiked wall of sound.

This similarity of emo to grunge makes sense to me, because one of my shruggy responses when presented with “emo” was to say, “Isn’t all music emotional?” And a huge touchpoint for me on that was the fact that grunge struck a strong emotional chord for me in high school. So, yeah, the music I was into was emotional in pretty much the same way that emo is, just shift the guitar tuning, tempo, and lyrical content and you’ve got the other genre. I get it now.

So that’s kind of my review. This is pretty good. There are a lot of Upper Midwest references throughout. (The band is from Champaign, IL, and from when Netscape was hot, so that’s a thing.) The back half of the album leaves me a bit cold; the Likes and Really Likes on the front half are great songs, but the same on the back half are kind of saved by the guitars: “A Dozen Roses” has a great fingered riff, and “Breathe In” reminds me of the falling over vibe of Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I.

I’m tired of coming up with closing paragraphs, and I don’t think they’ve been that good lately anyway.

Really Like: “Killing A Camera,” “First Day Back,” “A Dozen Roses”
 “The New Nathan Detroits,” “Collect From Clark Kent,” “Breathe In”
Meh: “Never Will Come For Us,” “Milwaukee Sky Rocket,” “Urbana’s Too Dark,” “Consolation Prizefighter,” “Ariel,” “I Keep A Diary”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading


Rick Springfield: Comic Book Heroes


At other joints I’ve reviewed the other three Rick Springfield pre-Working Class Dog (i.e., the “Jessie’s Girl” album) records. This isn’t the five-[clown] masterpiece that was its successor, 1976’s Wait For Night, nor does it contain anything as ball-droppingly amazing as “Theme From Mission Magic” from its predecessor, Mission Magic! However, it’s much closer in quality to those entries than his debut album, Beginnings.

First, I can listen to this from start to finish and, except for a few lyrical clunks (and they’re big clunks), I never feel self-conscious or embarrassed; this is a legitimate pleasure, no guilt involved. Second, there’s plenty here that’s legitimately good, with the top two highlights being the motivational rocker “Why Are You Waiting” and the angry breakup song “The Liar.”

It may be just something that’s accessible to long-time Springfield fans who cut their teeth on his songwriting like me, but it’s a treat to go back to these albums from his pre-star days and hear the same sensibilities for song construction…it’s like going back and finding a toy that was very similar to one of your favorite childhood toys just different in a really cool way.

I foreshadowed this a bit, but the element that keeps this from being a higher review is the lyrics. Like on Beginnings he oddly juxtaposes his youthful pretty-boy look and energy with breathily-delivered cheesy lyrics of people at very different places in life. “The Photograph” tells the tale of an old woman who never married because her beau passed when they were young. In “Misty Water Woman” we get a poor remaking of the old tale of the dude who picks up a ghostly woman and drives her home where she disappears and her now elderly parents tell of how she drowned decades ago. So there’s the lyrics and then there’s just the genuinely weak portion of the album near the end where, from “The Photograph” to “Born Out Of Time” it’s hard to get too excited about anything, especially the very nearly bad “Bad Boy.”

Still, this is quite good. I enjoy it with no irony, and sing along with it all the day long, unable to get its melodies out of my head. As a fan, I want to give it four clowns. As a critic, I lean more towards three. I split the difference.

Mix: “The Liar”
Really Like:
 “Weep No More,” “Why Are You Waiting”
“Comic Book Heroes,” “I’m Your Superman,” “Do You Love Your Children”
Meh: “Believe In Me,” “Misty Water Woman,” “The Photograph,” “Bad Boy,” “Born Out Of Time”
Filed Between: Springfield’s Mission Magic! and Wait For Night
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Deafheaven: New Bermuda


Very good. Great guitars. Incorporates many genres. Bloated. Don’t like the vocals.

There, that’s my review. I’m suffering some review constipation on this one and so I just had to push out that intro paragraph to get started. And now that I’ve written to this point, I can’t think of much more to say to expand on it.

I guess what makes it tough to review are that the tracks are so long (running from 8:23 to 10:17), each comprising a few distinct sections (thus making it hard to get handle on each track), and the vocals are just demonic banshee vocal cord shredding, which doesn’t carry any melody nor make lyrics comprehensible. So even though it’s awfully good, it’s hard to really get excited by it.

It requires close listening to really appreciate, but due to some significantly bloated portions, you have to be very patient with some stretches in order for the close listening to pay off.

In general, I’m very much in favor of this approach where they rhapsodize some diverse segments into a single song. But some of these should have been split up and/or cut.

And then there’s the vocals, which are at that weird scream/vocal cord shredding frequency and never veer from that. That’s hard to just enjoy passively. And he doesn’t sound like a George, yet that’s his name. The guitars can only carry so much. And the rhythm guitar doesn’t need to be so relentless.

But okay there we are. Over and out.

Really Like: “Baby Blue”
“Brought To The Water,” “Luna,” “Gifts For The Earth”
Meh: “Come Back”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

My Dying Bride: Feel The Misery


My Dying Bride’s Feel The Misery starts off with its best stuff. The best track is easily the first, “And My Father Left Forever,” and that song starts with these evocative lyrics:

I would have given more
I tied my children to a dying horse
Stacked up against me
The bodies heaved and stank upon their gore

Delivered at midtempo, which is breakneck compared to My Dying Bride’s typically deliberate but compelling pace, you feel like the band may have outdone themselves even at their own game. Unfortunately, that track is the high point.I don’t want to say things go downhill from there, as I like seven of the eight tracks, none of which are bad, but they do notch down to a lower plateau. Things maintain a pretty high standard into the third track, “A Cold New Curse,” but about two thirds of the way into that song things slow to a crawl that will test even the most high person’s patience.

For a band that traffics in such long, slow music, they do an impressive job of keeping things different and interesting. I can look through the track list and, even if I can’t pick up a melody from the song title, I can recall the mood of most tracks. And of course those moods are nuances of horrifically depressed, but still, those nuances are memorable. I wouldn’t have imagined there was so much space in this mode in which to be creative, but My Dying Bride finds it.

The CD closes with the worst track in the collection, “Within A Sleeping Forest,” as the band finally succumbs to the worst set of indulgences this kind of music can bring and drops a nearly 11-minute forgettable track on us. But between the excellence of the opener and the slog of the closer, there are plenty of nice moments. “A Cold New Curse,” when it’s not itself a slog, is powerful, and the title track is a highlight as well. Instrumentation is varied and the sound is great. Inconsistency, though, is the hardest part about this one.

Mix: “And My Father Left Forever”
Like: “To Shiver In Empty Halls,” “A Cold New Curse,” “Feel The Misery,” “A Thorn Of Misery,” “I Celebrate Your Skin,” “I Almost Loved You”
Meh: “Within A Sleeping Forest”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading


anthology1In 1995 and 1996 The Beatles released a trio of double-CD sets called Anthology. I remember it being an opening of the vaults to grab a bunch of unreleased stuff to package around two songs that had been recorded, forgotten about, and recently discovered. The first of those songs was “Free As A Bird” and starts this collection, while the second, “Real Love,” leads off Anthology 2. That’s not quite right, though. While there are songs here that fit the pattern of being contemporaneously discovered and released here for the first time, the two “new” songs are tracks that John Lennon had been working on at the time of his death and, in 1995, were finished by the three surviving band members into what’s presented here.

Anyway, I’ve had the second and third installments of their Anthology trilogy since their release, in large part because if you bought them right away at Best Buy you got a free disc of interviews, too, and I mean, free CDs! I was never as intrigued by the band’s early stuff as their later stuff, and combined with just not being on the ball for that first free interview disc, this first installment went missing from my collection until now.

All three albums are peppered with speeches and outtakes, making them more historical records than albums, per se. Still, this is by far the most ragged, the one with the most rough edges. That’s to be expected, of course, given that this pulls out recordings going way back to the band’s beginning. There’s the 78 they recorded as The Quarrymen, as well as selections from their recording tests at Decca and Parlophone. On its own, it’s a pretty tough listen. The liner notes, though, combine with the speeches peppered throughout to tell the story of the band’s early beginnings through Beatlemania (a real treat is that first song they played on The Ed Sullivan Show, “All My Loving”) and wrapping up at about the end of their second album, With The Beatles.

There’s some real crap in here, even after you get past some of the awful sound on the early home recordings. It’s no surprise to me that they didn’t get a deal at Decca given that their audition included the execrable “Searching” and “Three Cool Cats.”

However, there are also some gems that I’ve never heard of. The Decca audtion bit closes out with the wonderfully energetic and fun “The Sheik Of Araby” and from the E&M (Parlophone?) audition we get the sultry “Besame Mucho.” Right around the same time come “Like Dreamers Do,” which I can’t stop singing, and “Hello Little Girl.” Later we have “I’ll Get You” and “You Know What To Do.” How many of those did you know? I maybe knew a couple, but now I can’t tell. It reminds me of something a friend used to say that, if you don’t like The Beatles, you just haven’t heard enough of their music. And I think that’s basically true because the band does cover a really wide range of musical styles. But this goes even further to my point that there are styles in the above songs that they just don’t exhibit anywhere else in their catalog, and so, as long as you keep digging, you’ll still find new, good stuff that the band never saw fit to release. And I do think that some of the stuff they released, including some of their biggest hits, are pretty bad. (Among those, ready your pitchforks, are “Love Me Do” (included here in a much slower, worse version that the one you know), “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “All You Need Is Love.”)

In the end, I think Anthology 1, in its 60(!) tracks, does a great job of creating a historical document of The Beatles’ early years, told mostly through studio and live recordings, though the liner notes are pretty essential to getting the story down. I’d love to reward it for that outcome with four full clowns, but it’s just such a hard listen, especially without the liner notes context, that I can’t quite go that high.

Mix: “Besame Mucho,” “You Know What To Do”
Love: “Like Dreamers Do”
Really Like: “The Sheik Of Araby,” “Hello Little Girl,” “I’ll Get You,” “All My Loving,” “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey”
Like: “Free As A Bird,” “My Bonnie,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Cry For A Shadow,” “Speech: Brian Epstein (‘Well the recording test came and went…’),” “How Do You Do It,” “Lend Me Your Comb,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me To You,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Till There Was You,” “Twist And Shout,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Boys,” “I’ll Be Back (Take 3),” “Mr. Moonlight,” “Leave My Kitten Alone”
Meh: “That’ll Be The Day,” “Speech: Paul McCartney (‘Sometimes I’d borrow a tape recorder…’),” “Cayenne,” “Speech: Paul (‘First of all we made a record…’),” “Speech: John (‘Brian was a beautiful guy…’),” “Speech: Brian Epstein: (‘I secured them an audition…’),” “Please Please Me,” “One After 909 (Sequence),” “One After 909,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “She Loves You,” “This Boy,” “Speech: Eric Morecambe And Ernie Wise (‘Boys, what I was thinking…’),” “Moonlight Bay,” “And I Love Her,” “Shout,” “I’ll Be Back (Take 2),” “No Reply,” “Eight Days A Week (Complete)”
Dislike: “In Spite Of All The Danger,” “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” “Three Cool Cats,” “Speech: John (‘We were performers…’),” “You Can’t Do That,” “No Reply (Demo),” “Eight Days A Week (Sequence)”
Hate: “Speech: John Lennon (‘We were four guys…’),” “You’ll Be Mine,” “Searching,” “Love Me Do”
Filed Between: The Beatles’ 1967-1970 and that first interview disc that Best Buy gave away with this which I ended up getting on the secondary market many years ago
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.

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

The Killers: Day & Age

day&ageWhen I’m listening to the first half of this album, which is the half that contains the three Really Likes, I’m all about four clowns. Get into the back half, though, where all the Mehs reside, and I’m super into three clowns. Furthermore, while I’m listening to each half, I manage to convince myself that, no, I can’t give it the rating the other side is asking for. Which makes this a perfect candidate for 3.5 clowns.

Lead singer Brandon Flowers described this as Sam’s Town as seen from Mars, and I don’t think I can do any better than that. The band has kept their Springsteen, Southwest feel that they pushed on Sam’s Town, but instead of a hot, dry, dusty day we’ve got a slicker, cooling, refreshing night with a wider variety of instruments (“I Can’t Stay” has harp and steel drums (both via synth I think) as well as some sax, all done pretty well). Call it Springsteen mixed with Duran Duran.

Nothing blows you out of the water, but for a band that’s pulled out three pretty distinct sounds on their first three albums, it’s impressive how competently they’ve pulled off each of them. There isn’t a one I went bonkers over, but they all provide an enjoyable listen. Adding to that enjoyment is that it’s the same band leading us through these different musical journeys. It’s hard to believe this is the same band that did “Mr. Brightside.”

One unfortunate aspect of this disc is the production. I don’t know if Stuart Price just didn’t get what the band was going for, or if he helped them go for the instrumentation and songwriting but he, or the engineers, couldn’t get the sound right to pull it off. It’s not full enough. The vocals are too far forward in the mix; that usually doesn’t bother me, but when it’s at the expense of the mids and lows in the band, then it does. The lows are too quiet and the mids are indistinguishable, just kind of all awash in each other. It ends up sounding thin and brash at times.

Over at one of the old places I gave Sam’s Town the same rating as this disc, though I remember liking that one quite a bit more. Given my current resistance to half-clowns and my at-that-time love affair with 3.5 [clown] reviews, I think I might give it a full four now. I let my rating stand, I’m just saying, I think Sam’s Town was probably better, though, again, this is quite good.

Really Like: “Losing Touch,” “Human,” “A Dustland Fairytale”
“Spaceman,” “Joy Ride,” “I Can’t Stay,” “Neon Tiger,” “Good Night, Travel Well””
“This Is Your Life,” “The World We Live In”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading