Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mini Music Reviews: August 2009, Pt. II

Marcy Playground - Leaving Wonderland...In a Fit of Rage
Now here's a band I could get behind. As anyone who knew me grad school can testify, I pushed these purported one-hit-wonders on everyone. I still stand by their first three albums, all of which I feel were completely underrated. I recommend their self-titled debut, their sophomore album Shapeshifter, and their 2004 album MP3 to anyone. Band leader John Wozniak has a gift for catchy hooks and I can almost guarantee that songs from all of these albums will get stuck in your head. But something happened between 2004 and 2009. Apparently Woz found Jesus. The new album starts off in standard Marcy Playground territory with songs about sex and drugs, but then around halfway through, at the track called "Irene", things get pretty Christian-y. The rest of the album is composed of sub-par tunes about (I assume) Wozniak's wife and God. I'm not one to dislike someone because they're Christian by any means--I'm certainly not going to stop listening to Sufjan Stevens because he's Christian--but the last half of this album just isn't that great. I'll still recommend the first 5 tracks though, so by all means check out the first 5 tracks. Despite all this, I'm still going to give'em a B-, just for having the cuts to make another album at all after the last two commercial failures.

Eels - Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
And speaking of artists who are declining with age, Mark Oliver Everett's latest "effort" is about is about as interesting as his last couple albums, which is not a good thing. Though 2003's Shootenany had some great tracks, I haven't really liked an Eels album in its entirety since 2002's Souljacker. Maybe I just haven't given this new album enough listens, but I can't think of one exceptional track off the top of my head. Maybe E is just too happy...his best work always seems to come from the times in his life when he's most miserable. I don't know why exactly this album doesn't do it for me. I just doesn't, so I'm giving it a C-. Also, the title is stupid.

We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls
I mentioned in my last post that I seemed to like French female vocalists. Apparently I also like Scottish dudes yelling. These Four Walls is a remarkable debut album. The music begs to be played loudly, preferably out of a car window at night, but whatever works for you. And just try not to play the air drums on some of these anthems. The whole album is pretty much old school anthemic rock (I just checked, and "anthemic" is not strictly a word, except to describe bands and music like this). Give "Quiet Little Voices" a listen below--if you like it, there's 10 other gems in the same vein on the rest of the album. A-

Discovery - LP
And on the other end of the likability spectrum, we have Discovery. This album was basically being sold as a ThePostal Service-type project by Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. Hey, I liked The Postal Service and I like Vampire Weekend, so this had to be a winner, right? Uggh, so wrong. I muscled my way through two listens, and that's all it's getting. I have become much more open-minded about electronic music over the past few years and I've found plenty that I've liked. I found this "music" simply grating. F

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
I'm having the hardest time writing this little review, I suppose because this is such a bizarre little album. I like it, but I can't say precisely why I like it. Listening to it feels like I'm being buried in an avalanche of music--it's pop music in a carnival mirror. Of all the albums I've liked this year so far, this one is probably the least accessible, which is why I hesitate to recommend it. My favorite track on the album is called "Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!", so you know this isn't exactly Top-40 fare. If you like weird stuff, give it a shot. It will either strike a chord, as it did with me, or it won't. B+

Todd Snider - The Excitement Plan
I think I may officially be joining The Cult of Todd. Snider has been around for a good while and I've been peripherally aware of him for a while, but this summer I decided to take the plunge. I got his excellent live album (which I'd heard before), Near Truths and Hotel Rooms, and I picked up this album, his most recent release. Todd Snider is a story teller, and his knack for writing songs that are tragic or funny or tragic and funny puts him in the ranks of some other excellent song writers, such as Randy Newman and Warren Zevon. Many of the songs are deeply personal--this is not a man who's had an easy life. But he can look back and laugh at his experiences, and he encourages us to laugh with him. I like this album from beginning to end. The video below gives us the song from the beginning, a little ditty called "Slim Chance". There are no official videos from this new album, so this is live, which apparently is how you're really supposed to experience Snider's music (I'll see him eventually). Evelyn Is Not Real should recognize the venue here.... And by the way, I give this one a solid A.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mini Music Reviews: August 2009, Pt. I

I figured I better post again, before I get too rusty. I'm so far behind on album reviews, a lot of these came out a while ago. But at least all of them are 2009 (except for one). Here are a fraction of thing things that have made their way into my CD player over the past few months. I'm splitting this up into two posts since things were getting a little wordy...

John Doe & The Sadies - Country Club
I basically picked this up because I really liked the last album by The Sadies, who I supposed fall into the alt-country category. I wasn't familiar with John Doe. They're all competent musicians, but this album of country standards was pretty meh. If I'm going to listen to covers of country songs (not that I'm going to do that very often), I want a new spin on them, and there wasn't much spinning going on here. C-

Passion Pit - MannersBoldI really wanted to love this album. They've gotten more press than nearly any other Boston-based band since I've moved back to the area. Some of my favorite critics had nothing but high praise. But the first listen was rough. I actually contemplated never listening to it again. The whole children's choir thing was doing nothing for me. The Stones got away with that in "You Can't Always Get What You Want", and the gimmick hasn't worked all that well for me since (I'm looking at you, Decemberists). In any case, I did listen again, and I liked it more. It's different, and I can see the kids wanting to dance to it. But I'll never love it. B-

Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

My relationship to Wilco isn't so much love/hate as like/tolerate. The only Wilco album I really loved was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The only album I really disliked was A Ghost is Born (sorry, EINR). Whether or not I've liked their other albums pretty much depends on my mood any given year when they come out. I guess I was in the mood for a Wilco album this year, because I'm enjoying this one. It's not spectacular by any means, but I'm enjoying it more than the relatively tepid Sky Blue Sky. If you like Wilco, it's certainly worth checking out. If you're unfamiliar with them, this is not the place to start. B+

The Accidental - There Were Wolves
This is the aforementioned 2008 album, and it didn't even come out in late 2008. But since it's one of my favorite albums that I've picked up in the last few months, I thought I should mention it. The Accidental is essentially a "supergroup", composed of British musicians from a variety of bands. The only person with whom I was familiar was Sam Genders of Tunng, a band I really like. I supposed this album could be called folky, but that would be doing it an injustice. Though there are certainly folk elements, there's lots of other genres mixed in there. Whatever you want to call it, I just know that relative to the other 20+ albums I've picked up in the last few months, I've been listening to this one quite a bit. The video below doesn't really do the music justice (this is not the album verison of the song), and if you can listen to the title track, start there. Good stuff. A-

Coralie Clement - Toystore
I find albums lots of different ways, but I very rarely pick one up randomly. That's what I did with Toystore. I tend to like French female vocalists, so I thought I'd give it a shot. What I got can only be called Revenge Of the Blog Post. Back in May, when I reviewed Star Trek, I said that the movie had a bit too much Spock in it, which was annoying in much the same way that a band would be annoying if it had a bit too much ukulele. Well guess what the primary instrument on this album is? Maybe the album title should have tipped me off, but who would have thought some hot French chick would be jammin' to a uke for an entire album? The plus side is, I still like ladies singing in French, even though I don't understand a word of it. The ukulele, though distracting at first, grew on me. It's not a great album, but it's by no means terrible. I can't think of any reason to recommend it unless you happen to have the same musical fetish that I do, but I'm going to give it a B anyway.

Carbon Leaf - Nothing Rhymes With Woman
Recently, Carrie Brownstein (formerly of Sleater-Kinney) wrote an insightful post about middle-of-the-road bands on her excellent music blog, Monitor Mix. Carbon Leaf is just such a band. They are neither great nor terrible. They just...are. I have one other album by this relatively prolific band that you have probably never heard of, 2001's Echo Echo. It's a slightly better than decent album, which is why I decided to give the band another try. I have nothing bad to say about this just didn't do much for me. If you're really into Celtic rock (created by an American band), you might want to check it out. C

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Movie We Will All Go Out To See

Not Bad

Since no one seems to be aware of this:

Frank Black and his wife have an album out under the name Grand Duchy. I like it more as I listen to it. It's The Good Queen of Pop meets the Wicked King of Distortion. The album has a very 80's feel, like the bad dreams of the Thompsan Twins.