Braid: Frame And Canvas

frameandcanvas

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.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Killing A Camera,” “First Day Back,” “A Dozen Roses”
Like:
 “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

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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

Failure: The Heart Is A Monster

theheartisamonster

It took 19 years, but Failure followed up their beloved space rock album, Fantastic Planet, with what appears to be a direct sequel last year. The aeronautical themes continue on this album, and the titles of the Segue tracks (of which there are six) pick up where they left off in 1996, as the first track on the album is called “Segue 4.”

Happily, the band totally exceeds everything done on their prior release. In fact, this is probably their best record of all, as it ties the rating I gave for their debut Comfort, and beats that of their second release, Magnified. The songs are mostly very good, though with 18 tracks even as many as six segues can’t prevent some near-clunkers from getting in; “Atom City Queen” is the obvious one to cut here, along with a few of the nothing-y segues.

This is a sonic pleasure, as the production and engineering are top-notch. The ambience of the instruments and the deadpan delivery of the stark lyrics masterfully paint a theme of airborne, spacebound desolation. The final non-segue song, “I Can See Houses,” seems to be about a man aboard a crashing plane, accepting his fate, or at least his likely fate.

This is the sound of a mature band, bringing on power not through speed or even heaviness, but through a thorough execution of a clear vision of an antiseptic, lonely, harsh future.

Rating:
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Mix: “Fair Light Era”
Really Like: “Counterfeit Sky,” “Petting The Carpet”
Like: “Hot Traveler,” “A.M. Amnesia,” “Snow Angel,” “Segue 5,” “Mulholland Dr.,” “Segue 6,” “Come Crashing,” “The Focus,” “Otherwhere,” “Segue 8,” “I Can See Houses”
Meh:
“Segue 4,” “Atom City Queen,” “Segue 7,” “Segue 9”
Song Notes:
 After the jump Continue reading

Love Spit Love: Trysome Eatone

trysomeeatone

Hey did you know that this band features Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs? Well if you didn’t, Butler will tell you himself as part of the lyrics on this album. “Believe” features the line “Richard’s not at home,” and on “Friends” you even get his last name included in the lyrics.

Also, if you’re like me, you always thought the best part of The Psychedelic Furs was their name. Even their biggest hit, “Pretty In Pink,” was basically a non-event in the universe I inhabit. It was on the soundtrack, yeah, but I never heard it on the radio or heard anybody humming it. It’s completely forgettable.

And I have no idea why Richard and his brother Tim needed to disband one yawn of a band to start basically the same exact band. The best thing I can say about this album is I can kind of hear what other people would like in it. The production is excellent, providing lots of great timbres and atmosphere and layers and places to get lost in.

But man, then there’s the songs. They’re mostly inoffensive but boring, but then when you add in that goddamned nasally British whine (I guess this is Richard Butler’s britpop album…the timing’s almost right, if late by a year or two) it’s just a giant turn off.

Two clowns might be generous, but I can tell there’s something here that appeals to a lot of other people, a nice variation in just how the boring-ness is achieved, and, like I said, good production.

Rating:
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Like: “More Than Money”
Meh: 
“Long Long Time,” “Believe,” “Friends,” “Fall On Tears,” “Little Fist,” “It Hurts When I Laugh,” “Sweet Thing,” “All God’s Children,” “November 5”
Dislike: “Well Well Well,” “7 Years”
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

PAW: Death To Traitors

deathtotraitorsHave mercy. Make it stop. This is the worst album I’ve listened to in a very long while. I’m probably (mercifully) forgetting something, but I’m thinking the last time I reviewed something this awful was Naked, a gift from J-mez.

Obviously music had already died by 1995. Looking back it’s clear, what with Bush and Collective Soul already paving the way for Third Eye Blind, Three Doors Down, Candlebox, Goo Goo Dolls, and the like. (I may have my timelines a bit wrong, but I’m not going to bother to fact-check. Feel free to do so for me in the comments.) But this is just like a combination of all of that crap, echoing some of it and predating the rest of it. There’s Hootie And The Blowfish style country mixed with yarling that would make Bush and Creed proud. It’s the absolute worst of Midwest frat boys wrapping themselves in grunge stylings.

Every once in a while in this pile of worthlessness, there’s part of a song that I like and I think could have been part of something. And then one of two things happens. The first is that the singer starts singing, which makes me want to break every object within reach. The second thing is that they just up and change the song. It’s like they realized their favorite songs were a little more advanced than verse-chorus-verse by having a bridge in it, but what they’ve done is not create bridges but rather bridges both from and to nowhere…floating masses of space junk completely disconnected from what came before or after it. And somehow they manage to pull this off on every song. I don’t know what producer Clif Norrell was paid, but whatever it was it was way too much.

Even though half of these 14 songs get a Meh rating, that’s generous, and usually based on me hearing just that song in isolation. I’m exhausted by the awfulness of this album and after just a few monotonic songs compressed to leave no room for nuance I want to just write everything off as Hate. If you’re curious, just listen to the worst song, “Badger,” and try not to get nauseous at the lyrics. But you’ve been warned. This should never have been made.

Rating:
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Meh: “No Such Luck,” “Death To Traitors,” “Glue Mouth Kid,” “Max The Silent,” “Sweet Sally Brown,” “Peach,” “Sunflower”
Dislike: “Hope I Die Tonight,” “Swollen,” “Last One,” “Built Low,” “Texas”
Hate: “Seasoned Glove,” “Badger”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Lisa Germano: Excerpts From A Love Circus

excerptsfromalovecircusThis 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.Lisa Germano’s 1996 aptly- and greatly-titled release, Excerpts From A Love Circus, is the kind of thing that could have only seen wide distribution in the anything-goes ’90’s.It features, paradoxically, sparse instrumentation and lush arrangements with personal, expositional lyrics that are often more whispered than sung. There are strings, instruments I’ve never heard, and cats making cat noises for extended periods of time. The songs move ahead slowly and, again paradoxically, determinedly and faltering. It’s like a person wounded by love and life but moving forward putting one foot in front of the other, playing one chord after the other, because that’s all she knows how to do. There’s a song called “Baby On The Plane,” about exactly that and the trauma it causes in the nearby seats complete with screams that sound as if they were sampled from a roller coaster.

And then there’s the cats. There are three tracks with sub-tracks credited to what seems like could be Germano’s three(!) cats. And I’m sorry, but this whole woman singing about fucked up relationships and then giving a significant amount of time to her three (three!) cats, one of whom is named Miamo-Tutti(!)…it really plays into a stereotype and WHY THE HELL DO YOU HAVE THREE CATS?

I believe Germano’s most celebrated album is her 1994 release, Geek The Girl, because I think I’ve heard of that one. This seems like the phrase geek the girl ramped up to 11. I can get into some of this some of the time. But, try as I might, I can’t relate to it. At all. I can’t even relate to the guy(?) she’s singing about because she has three cats and, even beyond my allergies, that’s such a red flashing get-out-of-here light that I can’t even imagine getting to the point that I’m like going to have a relationship with this confessional songwriter. So this whole soap opera drama seems so distant and utterly avoidable that I just can’t even.

But honestly the way she takes these slow, determined, sparse songs and makes them sonic landscapes with what feels like minimal effort but obviously is very well thought out is kinda cool.

Rating:
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Like: “Small Heads,” “We Suck,” “Lovesick,” “Singing To The Birds”
Meh: “Baby On The Plane,” “A Beautiful Schizophrenic/’Where’s Miamo-Tutti?’ by Dorothy,” “Bruises,” “I Love A Snot,” “Forget It, It’s A Mystery,” “Victoria’s Secret/’Just a Bad Dream’ by Miamo-Tutti,” “Messages From Sophia/’There’s More Kitties in the World than Just Miamo-Tutti’ by Lisa and Dorothy,” “Big, Big World”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading