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Friday, July 11, 2008

Annual Summer Backlog Music Review (Special rant included)


Alejandro Escovedo

Real Animal

***** (Editor’s Pick)

Another masterpiece from Escovedo. While The Boxing Mirror was reflective (which makes sense in that it followed his divorce and very real near death) this is more of an all out Tony Visconti produced, Chuck Prophet co-written record and more connected to both his punk-rock and alt-country roots. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the depth we’re accustomed to from Escovedo; the lyrics are as great if not more complex than on Mirror, the arrangements are also quite layered and deep. Any of these songs would be stand outs on anyone else’s record and at first listen it’s hard to focus on any one over the other. But each has their own personality which grows with each listen. I could go on but I’ll just throw up my hands and say if there’s a wrong note on the album I’ve yet to hear it. This also shows how Escovedo could be the most unappreciated artist in Rock history; the founder of the early punk band The Nuns, who opened for The Sex Pistols; he pioneered “cow punk” in the 80’s, and has since moved to textured singer-songwriting. All of those influences are on display here. As far as the music world goes it’s him and Nick Cave and no one even close. Escovedo was fittingly just signed by Springsteen’s longtime manager. No Depression Magazine named Escovedo the artist of the decade for the ‘90’s. But at this rate, he’ll keep his crown.

Also Recommended by Escovedo:

The Boxing Mirror (2006) * * * * *

Gravity (1992) * * * * *




If you’re an ornithologist who likes Midlake and/or Antony and the Johnsons you’ll probably think this is the greatest album ever made. For everyone else, regardless of what you think, some advice; don’t do what I did and turn the first, seemingly ultra-quiet track up. You’ll blow a speaker or an ear drum. This is an extremely moody album, and may be what Tim Buckley would have sounded like if he were still with us, in its lyrics (at times a bit austere), and in its moody experimentation. Rooks features a howling Wolf Parade like backing vocal, Mexican horns, prog-rock guitar complexity, and an operativ lead vocal. I spent most of my first listen expecting to hear Talk Talk like post-rock progressivism, or classicism, only to be surprised by raw vocals and other structural break downs…which seems to be the MO of the album, to create exquisite and intricate songs and then infuse them with raw often unwieldy emotions. And the whole album is quite diverse: the Interpol inspired “Century Eyes” is followed by “I was a Cloud,” which wouldn’t be at all out of place on a Graham Nash album. This is an extremely dense album and while it is a bit top heavy, it may be one that grows on me further. That said, while I still am not sure what half of it is about specifically, this is the proto-expressionistic Romanticism of Yeats for the indie-era. If you’re not really sure whether to get the album or not buy the title track, it’s a great piece of music for this decade.


Consolers of the Lonely


The first Raconteurs album was good but a bit too much like a Jack White, Brendon Benson, and the Greenhorns album. This is really the first true Raconteurs album, as it seems they’ve found their identity as a band. The album cover really is quite appropriate. The band is quite determined to be a classic rock band, but at the same time one that is playing with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, as well as each other.

It’s also quite interesting that the second track on this album of underground rock superstars , You Don’t Understand me, sounds like a faithful update on a CSNY (the first rock super group) piece. The White Stripes may have brought back the 60’s garage rock bands, but here the group brings a post-modern spin on the Appalachian inspired 70’s rock bands like The Allman Brothers, The Band, and Benson especially brings a post-Beatles British Rock influence, Badfinger especially. Not that you could picture every song played on the Old Grey Whistle Test; Five on Five for instance. So, perhaps the best reference is perhaps THE Detroit rock band MCS.

What makes this even more enjoyable a listen is the classical Weezer-like background where the backing vocals often aren’t more than just disparate conversations. An album of great energy that’s just more than a great jam record.

Albert Hammond Jr.

Como te llama

*** ½

There are some moments in rock history that people will never appreciate unless they were a part of it. I’ll never fully appreciate what it was like when Dylan went Electric, when Otis Redding played Monterey Pop, or when The Stone Roses were the Beatles in the summer of ‘89. But I was around when The Strokes saved Rock in ‘01. You’d have to be around my age to appreciate what they did. After nearly a decade of corporate rock made from the cannibalized remains of Nirvana inspired bands, after Brit-pop self-destructed in its own personality in the middle of the decade, and with corporate hip-hop dominating the charts and airways…with Brittany Spears and her clones, and the bastard sons of The New Kids on the Block on TRL…when MTV played videos only 2 hours a day (Which is two more than it does now) and they were hosted by that poser punk rock kid they pulled out of the Salvation Army…when the only sound alternative was the spacey expressionism of Radiohead or the drugged fueled angst of Spiritualized…The Strokes somehow got onto radio, onto MTV, and made a hit, out of a rough and tumble garage rock song . Albert Hammond Jr’s guitar solo on Last Nite, if tangible should be placed in the rock in roll hall of fame. I remember watching the premiere of the video on MTV and when I heard that solo it was like someone singlehandedly took an axe and tore down the Berlin Wall. Shortly after: The White Stripes and Interpol got national attention. And the rest is history. Seriously, I do not think you have any idea how awful the state of music was from 1998-2000. Ninety-Eight being repeatedly cited as the worst year in rock history (I remember some underground mags claiming that it was dead).

I digress. And take a breath. But like the MC5, the aforementioned Stone Roses, or even The Sex Pistols, the strokes never have been able to make anything like their first album. And their last album, as they went in a new direction, was embarrassing. This is the album that The Strokes should have released instead of whatever that last disc was. It’s groovier and more trimmed, and infused with a little TV on the Radio, yet Hammond Jr.’s voice fits this material with a naturalistic grit that the coolly detached Strokes can’t achieve and he adds just the right touches to give this the depth of feeling that a rock record like this doesn’t always achieve. The weaknesses come when the album sounds like a side-project, which is what it is. But when you’re side project’s better than you’re main project, maybe you should rethink things .

My Brightest Diamond

A Thousand Shark’s Teeth


Think Trip-hop without the trip or the hop. This is a very quiet, yet still quite fragmented post-singer-songwriter album with fragmented, old-school sounds and a great voice the whole way through.

If You’re a Fan you’ll like it

Bon Iver

For Emma Forever Ago

* ** 1/2

The debut album from Justin Vernon, who seems to be involved with every indie band in Wisconsin, is A beautiful album. Vernon spent four months in a remote cabin and this album is the result, and it’s such a product of its place of creation you can practically here the morning frost and creaks in the floorboards. All the songs are basically the same. Not that that’s always a kiss of death, there’ve been bands who have thrived who do that. But it’s the slight differences, the inflections, the imperfections which make this work.

This is a Will Oldham inspired record, though as much as I love Will this is an album you can put on and listen all the way through . And while Oldham’s strength is drawing attention to the recording process itself, Vernon seems to enjoy a phantom-like quality reminiscent of Tarnation, where you might be listening to a ghost-radio station. A promising debut and an instant classic in the lo-fi, or freak-folk (or whatever it is you call Iron and Wine, Will Oldham and his 57 incarnations, and Little Wings) catalogue.


Viva la Vida


Coldplay is a tough band to review. The problem is that they can’t decide if they want to be U2 or Pink Floyd. Their last album drove me nuts, though X and Y was a fitting title; X-axis too sappy, the Y too self important. And a bit of Y appears here; At 45 minutes this release still feels a bit indulgent.

That said this is probably should be Coldplay’s masterpiece. Musically it’s their most challenging, and lyrically Martin’s at his best…or betterest (?) at least. Something just doesn’t seem to always click between the two. It feels too composed and too thought out. Violet Hill is a great example. It should be one of their best songs, but for some reason it just feels emotionless, even with a really great guitar solo. It could be Brian Eno. He may be the greatest producer of his generation, but that may be only in the right hands, in taming bands that would otherwise overflow with anxiety like the near sterile paranoia and addict-riddled guilt of Bowie’s late ‘70’s albums or the post-modern anxiety of The Talking Heads, or the spiritual frustration of U2 at their best. But with a band so polished and presentable as Coldplay, trying to add elements which try to roughen up the sound or fracture it just seem even more artificial.

Also Recommended by Coldplay:

A Rush of Blood ****

Parachutes ***

To survive

Joan as a police Woman


A sort of Indie-urban-blue-eyed-soul record. Or perhaps the inverse of Amy Winehouse. The lyrics are really astonishing adding to a darker feel, and the chances she takes are more than not paid off greatly. Either way this is the sort of record which will for sure get its due played at hip coffee shops and maybe VH1.

Nada Surf



If you’d bet me 13 years ago that Nada Surf would be one of the best pop bands I’d bet all of my pogs against you. Luckily I never was into pogs otherwise I’d have no pogs (ok I need to work on my hypotheticals). This is Nada’s most consistent album to date, and while it doesn’t reach the sheer pop joy of their previous two albums, their lyrics have always dealt with depression, alienation, and malaise and it does have an added level of emotion musically which fits those lyrics.

Also Recommended by Nada Surf:

Let Go ***1/2

Wolf Parade


At Mount Zoomer

A safe sophomore record…actually it’s pretty much their last album with some Spoon influence thrown in. Fine Young Cannibals is a great song, but the rest really leaves a lot more to be desired from a band that seems a lot more adventurous than this album would sugest .

You’re On Your Own

The Silver Jews


It’s sad when a true country album is ghettoized as lo-fi indie rock. The vocals are at times quite powerful, especially on the albums closing track. However, some really obtruse lyrics, and hit and miss humor, misses so much at times it’s hard not to wonder if this is satire. I think I’ll buy a few tunes from itunes, but as an album, this really is a great talent working some issues out.

Judas Priest



So, I'm reviewing Judas Priest now? Well, I just couldn't pass up giving this a listen... you'll see why. This is a striking return to instrumental form for the band, and the atmosphere is terrifically captured. The songs are anything a metal fan would want. Epic and rocking. So what’s wrong? This is a concept album, about Nostradamus, and the lyrics make the whole package together sound like a Spinal Tap effort.

The Offspring * 1/2

Thought I’d give this a listen mostly because I had the (sic)opportunity to. The first three tracks are surprisingly well crafted and show a lot of promise (then again from a band that’s been around for 20 years I guess I mean signs of life). After that the rest of the 9 songs on the album seem to get progressively worse, and hardly listenable.

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