Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Album Review: Dinosaur Jr - Hand It Over

Hand It Over is Dinosaur Jr's seventh album. It came out in 1997, three years after Without A Sound. J Mascis' trademark groan is replaced by an attempt at proper singing on opening track I Don't Think, but thankfully his guitar playing remains in place. That's more than can be said on other tracks. A jangly guitar on Never Bought It is obscured by what appears to be a flute, while I'm Insane is rendered unlistenable by a perky set of horns.
Elsewhere, Can't We Move This has a noisy guitar part and Screaming Trees style melody, while I defy anyone to listen to the entire eight minutes of Alone. The second half of the album picks things up, Sure Not Over You and Mick have a relaxed groove, while I Know Yer Insane (some sort of theme?) sees Mascis try some Johnny Marr-isms on guitar and Gettin' Rough features over-perky banjo.
But I can't imagine this is any Dinosaur Jr fan's favourite album.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Album Review: Sugar - File Under: Easy Listening

Album number three for Bob Mould's Sugar came out in 1994. It's a heavy guitar rush, especially the almost MBV-isms of opening track Gift, but underneath there are some very relaxed, almost poppy melodies. Tracks like Your Favourite Thing and the Replacements-ish Believe What You're Saying are as poppy as anything in the indie-pop canon.
Bassist David Barbe gets to do vocals on the hard-rocking Company Book, and there are plenty of rock anthems here like the almost Heroes-like What You Want It To Be. Panama City Motel borrows some of the chords from Beaster's Come Around, while the acoustic guitars of Can't Help You Anymore echo Copper Blue.
The album finishes with a Neil Young style guitar feast in Explode and Make Up. Oft-overlooked in favour of Copper Blue, this album deserves a listen in its own right.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Album Review: The Lemonheads - Lovey

The Lemonheads fourth album, released in 1990, was their first since the departure of Ben Deily and was also their first on a major label (Atlantic). It's kind of a split personality album, a cross between rocky numbers harking back to their past, and more laid-back material, laying the groundwork for It's A Shame About Ray. 
Of the rockier numbers, L'il Seed has a decent riff, but Ride With Me is probably the strongest of them. The song lurches back and forth on a low chord progression, like a slow, grungy waltz. Stove is faster with some good guitar work.
Half the Time is like a try out for their forthcoming album, having a breezy, country lilt to it. Later, Evan Dando gets to indulge his Gram Parsons fantasies with a cover of Brass Buttons, showcasing the direction the band was to head in. An uneven album, sure, but an interesting one.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Album Review: Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible

The Manic Street Preachers’ third album, released in 1994 was the last to feature guitarist Richie Edwards.  It’s an intense piece of work, many of the tracks emphasizing ugliness and pain.  The band certainly has an axe to grind all over this album.  Second track, Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart, is a very wordy track, singer James Dean Bradfield belting out the lyrics, reaching a climax on the chorus “there ain’t no black in the union jack, there ain’t enough white in the stars and stripes.”
Many of the tracks are very grim indeed, Of Walking Abortion features a murky riff, while Archives of Pain opens arrestingly with a snatch of dialogue of mother of one of serial killer Peter Sutcliffe’s victims from a TV report on his trial, and some fine lead guitar from Bradfield.  4st 7lb leaves little to the imagination with lyrics like “I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view”.
There are more accessible moments.  She Is Suffering belies its title, delivering a descending riff which builds to an anthemic chorus, while Revol and Faster are catchy, call-to-arms style belters.  The uncluttered, almost ballad-y This Is Yesterday stands out from the oppressive nature of many of the tracks, acting like a palate-cleanser ahead of the final tracks.
Singer James Dean Bradfield is in fine voice throughout, none more so than on Die In The Summertime.  They would never release a darker album than this.  Yet buried within are plenty of hooks and melodies for those prepared to look for them.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Album Review: Dinosaur Jr – Without A Sound

Dinosaur Jr’s sixth album released in 1994 opens with the sound of a cork being pulled out of a bottle before opening track Feel The Pain starts.  In common with much of the rest of the material, J Mascis is in laid-back mode, this track drifts along nicely till the chorus, where all of a sudden it’s as if somebody lit a match under it and the track bursts into life.
As much as any of their other albums, this one is about Mascis and his guitar(s).  He is in wistful, dewy-eyed form, I Don’t Think So has the warm, fuzzy glow of the Lemonheads, while the acoustic Outta Hand is practically horizontal.
Elsewhere, Yeah Right and Get Out Of This are like prime slices of 70s riffing, while Grab It is the heaviest thing here, all squalling guitars.  The album is really like pop music played by heavy guitars (especially On The Brink), tracks like Even You and Mind Slow accompany Mascis’ croak with a pleasing early 90s attitude.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Preview: Potentially decent albums of 2013


I’m not going to get carried away for 2013.  There are some moderately decent sounding albums due for release:

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds release their first album in 4 years on February 18th.  They have released the first track from it We No Who U R, and apart from the appalling text speak in the title, it’s an understated beauty of a track.


Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek has transformed into a highly prolific artist.  In the first four months of next year he is scheduled to release 2 albums:  Like Rats is a collection of covers, performed on his nylon acoustic, a bit of everything from Bad Brains to Sonny and Cher, and it’s due out February 18th.  Also due for release is a collaboration with electronic artist The Album Leaf – Perils of the Sea, coming out on April 30th.  It sounds very different from anything Kozelek has done before.

http://www.caldoverderecords.com/likerats/index1.html

 
Mogwai – Les Revenants
Mogwai have done the soundtrack for a French TV series believe it or not, and hopefully it’s in the vein of all their other releases.  It’s due out on February 25th, and judging by the EP which crept out just before Christmas, it’s a fairly muted affair.

 
Low – The Invisible Way
Low’s 11th studio album is due for release on March 18th and seemingly up to 5 out 11 tracks are sung by Mimi Parker, and many of them feature prominent piano.  It’s produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and will probably feature Waiting, a quieter track than of late which they have been playing live.

 
And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures
ASIWYFA return with, inevitably, a bang for album no 3, to be released on March 19th.  First track released from it, Like A Mouse is not like any mouse I’ve ever heard.  The track is a little on the poppy side but we’ll see what the rest of the album brings.
 
http://asiwyfa.bandcamp.com/track/like-a-mouse


Elsewhere, Johnny Marr’s debut solo album The Messenger is due out on February 25th, whereas Morrissey’s memoirs are due for release.  Alice In Chains are to release the follow up to Black Gives Way To Blue in the early part of next year, while Mark Eitzel may self-release an acoustic collection I Am Not A Serious Person.  A Pale Horse Named Death will release their as-yet-untitled second album on May 27th, while Trent Reznor is likely to have the How To Destroy Angels debut full length album ready for release in the early part of 2013.  There was also some mention of a Bill Callahan DVD but not sure where that's at.

Lloyd Cole has generated funding from fans for his forthcoming album, due spring/summer.  He’s recording with some of the players from his 1990 self-titled debut.  He is also looking to release a collaboration with Hans Joachim Roedelius – Selected Studies Volume 1, which will consist of electronic music.  Queens of the Stone Age could have an album as early as March which will feature both Nick Oliveri and Dave Grohl.  Ryan Adams is reportedly producing and drumming on a Lemonheads album featuring Evan Dando plus Ben Deily and Juliana Hatfield.  We may also hear albums from The National and Pearl Jam, while seemingly Kevin Shields will put out a My Bloody Valentine album but I won’t be holding my breath.  Or losing it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Album Review: Depeche Mode – Songs of Faith and Devotion


Depeche Mode waited three years after the enormously successful Violator to follow it up with their eighth album, released in 1993.  It’s probably their hardest-edged album, singer Dave Gahan had grown his hair and was listening to grunge, which possibly influenced the sound.

An engine screech introduces the rollicking I Feel You, Gahan positively bellowing the song.  He is in fine voice across the album, but particularly on this and the gospel-influenced Condemnation.  Depeche Mode were never afraid of toying with religious imagery, and it reached its zenith on this track, and indeed, across the album (Judas).  There are a bunch of dark, melodic songs which work really well such as Walking In My Shoes, Mercy In You and the almost messianic Rush. 

Subtler moments such as the orchestral One Caress (featuring Martin Gore on vocals) and the gently building In Your Room and Higher Love also work extremely well.  With no duds on this album, it’s possibly the band’s finest.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Album Review: Type O Negative – Slow, Deep and Hard

Type O Negative’s debut was released in 1991 and it’s one freaky piece of work.  It’s a lot more speed metal than their later, more goth albums.  There are only seven, albeit lengthy tracks on the album.  Apart from one minute of silence (entitled The Misinterpretation of Silence and Its Disastrous Consequences), the other six tracks are long, multi-part tracks featuring different ‘movements’.  Of the non-bowel variety.  But all the tracks have one thing on their mind: death.  Of another, to be precise.  If there is a more bitter, bloodthirsty, threatening album out there I’ve yet to hear it.
Opening track Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty of Infidelity is a twelve minute epic.  It starts as speed-metal before becoming a slow grind, all female backing vocals before Peter Steele emits a blood-curdling howl over the murkiest, sludgiest riffs imaginable.  After this, it resolves into the bitterest, catchy, driving riff song with an absolutely venomous chorus.  Throw in a church organ later plus Steele bawling “you, you make me hate myself!” and you’ve got yourself a song that’s so over the top it’d have Meat Loaf running for cover.
Some eerie clanking introduces Der Untermensch with band belting out lines such as “you’re a waste of life!”, while horrific drilling noises introduce Xero Tolerance as Steele roars “I’ll kill you tonight!” over pounding riffs, drums and church organ, Steele bellowing promises like “oh you’re dead now…”
Prelude to Agony is another twelve minute track, featuring stentorian vocals, dead slow riffs, drills, clanking bells, eerie chanting and a chopping axe.  Glass Walls of Limbo is more atmospheric, featuring what sounds like the condemned slow-marching towards Hades and some ghoulish chanting.
The album finishes with Gravitational Constant, which is a long but fairly conventional rocker, apart from yet more disturbing chanting.  You have to assume their tongues were in their cheeks while making this.  Otherwise…

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Album Review: The Lemonheads - Lick

By 1989 the Lemonheads were still trying to find their sound.  Their third album, Lick, features mostly heavy rock.  Opener Mallo Cup is a propulsive rocker with a spindly riff, but was probably Evan Dando’s most accomplished song to date.  Almost as strong is the countrified strum A Circle of One which has quite an unusual melody and sees Dando in fine voice.
More typical are Dando’s brief speed rockers Glad I Don’t Know, Come Back D.A. and Ben Deily’s 7 Powers and Anyway which add little to the album really.  The Italo-metal Cazzo Di Ferro is pretty appalling really.
The most well known track on the album sees them take Suzanne Vega’s Luka and rock it up with heavy riffs, and a ‘loose’ treatment of the lyrics, and it works really well.  But the rest of the album is too hit and miss to have any lasting impact.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Least worst 20 albums of 2012


No point in waiting any longer.  I’ve decided to do a top 20 this year of the least worst albums of 2012:

20 Lee Ranaldo – Between the Times and the Tides

19 Paul Buchanan – Mid Air

18 I Like Trains – The Shallows

17 Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas


16 Peter Broderick – www.itstartshear.com


15 Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II


14 Bob Mould – Silver Age


13 The Soulsavers – The Light, The Dead See


12 Seti the First – Melting Cavalry


11 Tindersticks – The Something Rain


10 RM Hubbert – Thirteen Lost & Found

Scotland’s most accomplished guitarist turns in a stellar follow up to First & Last.



9 Dinosaur Jr – I Bet On Sky

J Mascis can still churn out the heavy riffs like nobody else.


8 Sun Kil Moon – Among the Leaves

A Mark Kozelek private joke?  Possibly.  He’s still a damn good guitarist.



7 Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun

Epic comeback album from the Aussie rockers.


6 Dakota Suite – An Almost Silent Life

A more varied release than usual for Dakota Suite…



5 Mark Eitzel – Don’t Be A Stranger

This album sounds like nothing special at first, but it’s quite an addictive collection of songs, from the most enjoyable whiner in music today.


4 Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

In Driftin’ Back this album has one of the tracks of the year and definitely the longest.



3 Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

A strong collection of songs from the uber-serious Lanegan.

 

2 Caught In The Wake Forever – Against A Simple Wooden Cross

Not an easy listen.  But what an album.  Debut album of the year.

 

1 The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

This should have been a wrong move, but the electronic-tinged material is brilliantly cold.  Now if they could just find directions to Ireland…

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Album Review: Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

Laura Marling released her second album in 2010 at the age of 20. It's a fairly sparse sounding album, opening with the banjo-led, folk tune Devil's Spoke, sounding like a backwoods version of Bob Dylan's It's Alright Ma. Made By Maid, which follows has the relaxed charm of Gillian Welch, or even Ryan Adams in his rootsier moments.
 
Much of what follows is in this vein, tracks like Rambling Man (featuring a hint of early Joni Mitchell), Goodbye England and Darkness Descends have minimal accompaniment, a little guitar here, some banjo or cello if needs be. Blackberry Stone has a strong cello part which drives the song along while Hope In The Air and What He Wrote evoke early Leonard Cohen.
 
The songs have a rustic charm, avoiding melodrama very nicely, settling into a groove that could see her sit nicely between Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker and Gillian Welch's Time (the Revelator). In an age dominated by vocal histrionics its refreshing to hear Marling's unaffected, natural singing. Listen, because you can.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Album Review: The Lemonheads - Creator

The Lemonheads' second album came out in 1988. It zips along, 13 tracks in just over half an hour. Ben Deily is very much to the fore, taking more of the lead vocals than Evan Dando. The band has slowed down a bit, despite the presence of Dando's speed rocker Clang Bang Clang. Out is a decent mid tempo rocker, while Deily's Come To The Window has a dippy charm.
They each take an acoustic track, Dando covers Charles Manson's Your Home Is Where Your Happy, while Deily plays sensitive original Postcard. A cover of Kiss track Plaster Caster adds little to the proceedings. So here the band are still some way off discovering their sound.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Album Review: The Lemonheads – Hate Your Friends

The Lemonheads’ debut album, released in 1987 is far away from the early 90s tracks where they made their name.  There’s not the slightest tinge of country about these tracks, there are 13 tracks over 24 minutes of mostly rather generic speed-punk.  Mainman Evan Dando alternates lead vocals with collaborator Ben Deily. 
 
Dando opens the album with the brief Eat It which sets the tone for a bunch of sub two-minute, three chord thrashes.  Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t set them apart.  Deily’s 3-9-4 feels like a cross between the S€x Pistols and very early Screaming Trees, and later he shouts his way through the punk version of Amazing Grace you always knew you needed.
 
The band are slightly more successful when the drop the pace a little, Deily’s Second Chance works in a kind of Jam-like way, but the one true great is the longest track here at three minutes.  Don’t Tell Yourself, with a swaggering riff and a dislocated, sullen vocal from Dando which works really well on a track made to play loudly.
 
It’s an interesting curio for Lemonhead completists (yes there are Lemonheads fans who can find some motivation to collect their releases), but inessential.

Friday, November 23, 2012

EP Review: How To Destroy Angels

2010’s self-titled EP was the first offering from Trent Reznor and Mariqueen Maandig’s new venture, How To Destroy Angels.  It starts with the superb industrial electronica of The Space In Between, which packs an insane amount of brooding tension into three and a half minutes.  It’s one of the finest things Reznor has done in years.
The EP is a bit of a mixed bag of styles.  Normal service resumes with the scratchy Parasite, probably the track most like Nine Inch Nails.  Much more representative are the pulsing, dance-tinged Fur Lined and BBB.  The EP finishes with A Drowning, a fine example of icy electronica with a hint of Shirley Manson about it.
It’s an interesting diversion for Reznor (this is as diverse as he gets!) if a little hit and miss.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – The Slip

After the instrumental diversion of Ghosts I-IV it was back to business as usual on 2008’s The Slip.  After a brief instrumental (999,999), a stomping beat lifted from Pearl Jam’s Last Exit ushers in a standard issue Trent Reznor angsty belter in the shape of 1,000,000. 
After a pair of tracks in a similar vein (Letting You and Discipline), the album gets a lot more interesting on fifth track Echoplex.  A mechanized beat opens the track, on which the music is urgent and insistent, like a darker version of Depeche Mode.
It’s the less typically NIN tracks which succeed here, sparse piano ballad Light In The Sky is possibly the quietest ever NIN track, Reznor’s vocals seldom raising above a whisper.  Corona Radiata is a leisurely seven minute instrumental in the vein of the aforementioned Ghosts, before the pace picks up again with the pacy The Four Of Us Are Dying.
Although it’s a relatively short album (for Nine Inch Nails) at just under 45 minutes, it’s possibly a more enjoyable one than some of their longer efforts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Album Review: Sparklehorse – It’s A Wonderful Life

Sparklehorse’s third album, released in 2001 has a more homogenous feel than previous albums, with fewer of the sudden, jarring noisier tracks.  In fact there is only one track that jars, and it arrives late into the album.  Dog Door features of all people Tom Waits on guest vocals.  The combination of Mark Linkous and Waits should work, on paper anyhow.  In reality it just doesn’t work, coming across as mere pastiche, Waits using an affected falsetto (yes, really) on the track.
But the rest of the album works very well indeed.  The title track sets the tone with Linkous’ creepy, whispered vocals, distant bells and scratchy, muffled instrumentation.  Again this track is a little atypical as the rest of the album is more lush.  Tracks such as Gold Day (which has a ring of Eels about it), the Van Morrison-esque Sea of Teeth, and More Yellow Birds are wonderfully drowsy drift to them.  Darker fare such as Apple Bed (featuring a highly effective backing vocal from Nina Persson of the Cardigans) and piano ballad Eyepennies (featuring PJ Harvey) works equally well.
It’s not all sleepiness, Piano Fire is more uptempo while King of Nails stomps and struts, full of confidence.  Penultimate track Comfort Me returns the album to a ‘normal’, countrified keel.  A wonderful life, indeed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Album Review: Whiskeytown – Strangers' Almanac

Whiskeytown’s second album, released in 1997, aimed to capitalize on the ragged country of Faithless Street.  With Jim Scott as producer, the album comes across as a lot smoother than its predecessor.  It opens with the comparatively muted Inn Town, a slow country waltz, before the VERY country Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight, featuring a guest vocal from Alejandro Escovedo.
The rocking is not completely excised, Yesterday’s News barrels in like a tidied-up Replacements, but the band shine on slower material such as 16 Days, Dancing With The Women At The Bar and Somebody Remembers The Rose.  In those days, singer Ryan Adams wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, and it’s safe to assume that including a slow, soulful ballad entitled Everything I Do was designed to do that.
Turn Around is an interesting departure, a moody guitar strum sharing a melody with The Cure’s Lovesong, and speaking of moody moments the album ends with the gently grieving Not Home Anymore.
The album is a favourite of Whiskeytown/Ryan Adams fans but without the rough edges of its predecessor, doesn’t hit home to the same effect.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Album Review: The Cure – Bloodflowers

The Cure took 4 years to follow up their weakest album Wild Mood Swings.  Here the mood swung towards gloom with 2000’s Bloodflowers.  Billed as the third in a trilogy incorporating 1982’s P0rn0gr@phy and 1989’s Disintegration, it was clear that no Love Cats or In Between Days would be found here.  The band set the bar high by referencing two of their classic albums.
In the main, the album doesn’t disappoint.  There are no real standout tracks.  What we have instead are lengthy, unhurried tracks featuring Robert Smith’s guitar prominently and some bleak lyrics.  It opens with Out of This World, which sets the tone for the album as Smith wearily sings lines like “we always have to go back to real lives” over sighing guitars and some almost chirpy keyboards.
Watching Me Fall is a full-on descent into darkness and despite some fine guitar, is the most overblown moment on the album at eleven minutes, matched only by Smith’s wail against the offset of old age on 39 (“the fire is almost out”).  But the prevailing mood on the album is not darkness, more a sort of wistful gloom over almost interchangeable tracks like Where The Birds Always Sing, Maybe Someday and The Last Day of Summer, all strummed guitars and washes of keyboards.
Doomed romance rears its ugly head in There Is No If… as Smith sings of “remember the first time I told you I love you, it was raining hard”… and “‘if you die’ you said, ‘so do I’ you said” over impossibly pretty guitars.  The Loudest Sound incorporates a trip-hop beat which remarkably doesn’t ruin the song, allowing Robert Smith to contribute some fine guitar lines.
In keeping with Cure tradition, proceedings are brought to a close with the title track, seven and a half minutes of descending guitars as only the Cure can quite pull off as Smith wails “these flowers will never die”.
The album captures an autumnal mood remarkably well, though avoid like the plague if you only like the Cure’s singles.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Album Review: Type O Negative – World Coming Down

1999’s World Coming Down sees Peter Steele and co in more serious mode than usual ie., fewer annoying joke songs, though we do start with the sound of a skipping CD (Skip It) for 11 seconds before first track White Slavery opens with portentous organ before Kenny Hickey’s achingly slow Black Sabbathy riffs drag their way into the song, ushering in Steele’s doomy vocals.  In common with many other tracks here, it’s a slow, anthemic track, taking its time (eight minutes) to unfold.
There are three thematic short interludes here, Sinus, Liver and Lung, featuring heartbeats, heavy breathing, and agonized screams, designed to disturb.  Sticking to the ‘songs’, Everyone I Love Is Dead starts with semi-acoustic chords before Steele yells “goddammit”, ushering in the heavy, sludgy riffs over a delightfully dark melody.
It’s the melodies which are the key as to why this band works so well.  The moody Creepy Green Light is another fine example of this, yet again starting slowly, over a lone bassline this time before the sledgehammer metal riffs enter.  After an abrasive, growling opening, Everything Dies is almost goth power-ballad, while Pyretta Blaze has the poppiest chorus on the album.
A trademark of Type O Negative is the unexpected cover.  This time it’s the turn of the Beatles to get their unique treatment, and here they turn Day Tripper, If I Needed Someone and I Want You (She’s So Heavy) into their trademark black holes.  Day Tripper in particular works surprisingly well.
Type O Negative have slowed right down on this album, only the Beatles medley is beyond crawl pace.  Despite this, the album is saved from dullness by some fine melodies on another strong effort from this band.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Album Review: Sugar – Beaster

Aptly named, 1994’s Beaster is a heavier, gnarly collection than the previous year’s Copper Blue.  It opens with the seemingly throwaway Come Around, the only lyrics feature Bob Mould singing over and over “come around, won’t you come around”.  However a combination of his acoustic and electric guitars drag the track to dizzy heights.
 
The following track Tilted blasts off into orbit as an abrasive Mould-rocker.  He’s very much in Black Sheets of Rain mode (mould) on the bleak-sounding Judas Cradle.  His crazed vocal is all over JC Auto as he bawls “look like Jesus Christ, act like Jesus Christ, I know, I know, I know”, combining with searing guitars.  Feeling Better is ruined by some ill-placed brass, before he signs off with the mellowest thing here, the acoustic Walking Away which features a nice organ.
 
An angrier collection than Copper Blue, for sure, though it doesn’t quite get the pulse racing in the same way.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Album Review: Dinosaur Jr – Where You Been

By 1993, J Mascis had recruited Mike Johnson, and after the somewhat underwhelming Green Mind, Mascis took centre stage to make what was a far more enjoyable album.
 
It opens with the riff-heaven of Out There, a real guitar hero track superior to anything on Green Mind.  Mascis’ vocals are still a real strain as he croaks “I know you’re oouuuttt theerrre” but it’s really about his guitar playing, along with Murph’s fine drumming.  The bouncy, almost funky Start Choppin follows, with more powerful guitar and the introduction of Mascis’ goofy falsetto.
 
Many of the tracks, What Else Is New, Get Me and Drawerings are showcases for J Mascis’ guitar soloing, straying closer and closer into ‘classic rock’ territory.  A couple of mellower moments produce mixed results.  Mascis’ falsetto on Not The Same is too distracting for the track to work.  Later, Goin’ Home is more relaxed, carried by a very pleasant organ.  Punkier moments like On The Way and Hide still have their place also, giving the album a fairly diverse sound.  Not quite an essential Dinosaur Jr album, but a very enjoyable one.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Album Review: Dinosaur Jr - Green Mind

1991's Green Mind was the first post-Lou Barlow album. It starts in a 'business-as-usual' way, rather abruptly with J Mascis riffing away on The Wagon. This track comes across as a little Dino-by-numbers, it's not as strong as their previous openers. However the rest of the album settles into a mellow groove. Tracks like Puke + Cry, Water and the Mellotron-dominated Thumb have a less urgent, more melodic feel than previous albums.
 
Mascis does a Barlow-style, 'sensitive' acoustic number Flying Cloud, and stripped of the electric bombast his voice sounds weedier than ever. It's not all mellow gold, How'd You Pin That One On Me barrels along but leaves little impression, while the choppy guitars on Muck and the title track don't really convince.
 
It was hard to identify what Barlow added to Dinosaur Jr. But on this evidence there's definitely something missing here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Album Review: Bob Mould – Black Sheets of Rain


After the (artistically) successful stripped-down departure of Workbook, in 1990 Bob Mould went back to rocking like a man possessed on Black Sheets of Rain.  This album is for lovers of the heavy guitar onslaught.
The powerful title track sets the tone, an almost eight minute long wall of guitars, coming off like a distorted, rocked up version of The Cure's In Your House (from their Seventeen Seconds days). There are several guitar breaks in this track as Mould sings bleak lyrics: "where will you be in my darkest hour of need? Someone stopped the sun from shining".

The rest of the album struggles to measure up to this track, though the brooding One Good Reason comes close to matching the guitar heaven matched with bad moods of the title track (and it's almost as long), and later Hanging Tree is an a similar vein. Elsewhere It's Too Late is a Westerberg-style rocker, Stop Your Crying invents 'emo' alt-rock, The Last Night is a mellow anthem, and weirdly, Disappointed comes off sounding like one of Grant Hart's Husker Du songs!

As with Workbook this album ends with roaring catharsis, this time in the shape of Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace. It's a decent, but barring one or two tracks, inessential follow up to Workbook.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Album Review: Small Town Boredom – Autumn Might Have Hope

Small Town Boredom is the bandname for Fraser McGowan and Colin Morrison from Scotland.  They deal in a brand of downbeat, gentle melancholia, framed by McGowan’s ‘delicate’ vocals.
The approach is very much lo-fi, and very moody… the titles will give you a clue – Apologies For Apathy, Sympathy For The Drowning, Understanding Blackness.  At 14 tracks there is quite a lot to get through here but there are some strong songs.  The gorgeous picked guitars of For Today I Missed The Dawn Break makes it an early highlight.  The Great Lodging and Sympathy for the Drowning aim hard for the gutter, while other tracks like the accordion-tinged Monday Night H.O.P.E. Group and the gentle duet Elder Park & All That Followed are more reminiscent of miserabilists like Arab Strap or Dakota Suite.
Many of the other tracks are quite brief, featuring barely audible guitar and whispered vocals (Another Coded Message, How I Learned To Love The Waterboys).  The instrumental interludes are more successful, with alluring guitar picking on William Summer’s Blues and On The Crookston Line.
The album could probably do with shades of light here and there to break the relentless misery.  So sad b**t**d music then, in a good way.  It's available via bandcamp: http://tromerecords.bandcamp.com/album/autumn-might-have-hope

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Album Review: Sparklehorse – Good Morning Spider

Mark Linkous’ follow up to the curiously named Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot is a more difficult beast than its predecessor to get into.  Again it’s a multilayered album, but the layers are denser than before.
It’s a tricky listen because the slower songs lull you into a relaxed state but then you are jarred by a burst of noise on the following track each time.  It opens with the fairly heavy Pig before settling into a hazy, drifting mood with Painbirds and the gentle guitar pickings of Saint Mary.  The mood becomes murkier with the brief instrumental drone of the title track before the strident, upbeat rock song Sick of Goodbyes.
Sunshine is a gorgeous melody which is dragged out a little over 5 minutes which should work better but unfortunately it doesn’t quite succeed.  Chaos of the Galaxy/Happy Man should be a driving rock song but it the opening 2 minutes of the song is muffled, buried under layers of static and studio trickery.
After a nice cover of Daniel Johnston’s Hey Joe, Linkous darkens the mood with the gloomy, almost Cure-like melody of Come On In.  An example of the fine musicianship on this album is Maria’s Little Elbows, which has a gorgeous guitar led descending melody and a nice Velvet Underground referencing lyric: (“she says I’ve really come to hate my body”).
But it’s almost as if too much mellowness is hard for Mark Linkous to take.  Pounding melodic rocker Cruel Sun obliterates the mood, though the effect cleanses the palette nicely for the dreamy, drowsy All Night Home.
Despite the fact that the songs on this album are far less immediate than its predecessor, they resonate for longer, making it arguably a more rewarding listen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Album Review: Tindersticks – Tindersticks [II]

Tindersticks released their second self-titled album in 1995, the [II] was inserted by me for the sake of differentiating it from their first album.  At a measly 16 tracks and a mere 70 minutes it’s seven minutes shorter than its predecessor, mostly eschewing short interludes to create arguably a more focused album.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s certainly the equal of their debut.  El Diablo en el Ojo sets the scene, all brooding vocals and foreboding atmospheres.  A run of three really strong songs follows.  The breathlessly moody A Night In kicks it off, Stuart Staples singing “I know you’re hurting and I won’t be there for you” over swooning strings.  The more playful, spoken word My Sister follows on before the hugely dramatic Tiny Tears, a tale of “lying in bed for a week now” before the sweeping chorus of “tiny tears make up an ocean.”
The album really peaks with these three songs and it would be understandable if it failed to replicate these highs.  But here, the good songs keep on coming, too numerous to list here but I’ll mention two more of them:  The muted No More Affairs is sparser than many of the tracks here, giving Staples’ baritone loads of space to breathe.  Another high point is Travelling Light, Stuart Staples duetting with Carla Torgensen of the Walkabouts to great effect.
All these tracks are underpinned by a really good band of musicians on an album that conjures up a world of its own.  So not the most unbiased review then, but if you’re wondering what Tindersticks are about, you could start here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Album Review: The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me


In 1987 The Cure were very much on the cusp of something. Not that my peers believed it. They were more interested in U2, so much so that the local HMV opened its doors at midnight so fans could buy The Joshua Tree. A few months later, of much more importance to me was The Cure's first ever double album - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. In fact it was the first double album I ever bought.

 

Although it wasn't available at midnight I bought it as soon as I could, to general disinterest from most people I knew. Some Cure albums are very much a mood piece, Seventeen Seconds and Faith are glorious slabs of gloom, while others are more skittish, flitting from mood to mood (The Head on the Door). This album feels very much like a sum up of all these facets. It opens with the squalling guitars of the somewhat heavy title track, before giving way to the first slice of pop genius, Catch. It's an effortlessly simple song, a breezy melody over a lyric about how Robert Smith "used to sometimes try to catch her, but never even caught her name." All dispatched in less than 3 minutes!

 

The hard-riffing Torture is slightly marred by some 80s era brass (the Cure had a penchant for this in the mid to late 1980s) but this is followed by the gorgeous, narcoleptic ballad If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, featuring what appears to be a sitar. It features a long instrumental build up, beloved of their early 80s peak period, allowing the track to unfold slowly and deliberately before Smith's idiosyncratic vocals begin. Later this is taken a stage further on The Snakepit, which crawls along sluggishly as Smith sings about "writhing in the snakepit" as the band cook up an almost psychedelic atmosphere. It's the longest track here at nearly seven minutes yet it drones on so pleasantly you don't want it to end.

 

Apart from some of the Cure's poppiest moments (Why Can't I Be You, Hot Hot Hot and the irritating Hey You) the rest of the material here can be divided into various 'types' of Cure songs. There are classic Cure strumalong tracks such as How Beautiful You Are, the whimsical The Perfect Girl and the towering Just Like Heaven. Although the latter borrows from older Cure tracks such as In Between Days it's a really joyous Cure track, with one of Robert Smith's classic jangly guitar riffs. There are also angrier tracks All I Want, Icing Sugar, Shiver and Shake and Fight, showing a rockier side to Smith's guitar playing. The first of these is probably the most successful. Keyboards are prominent throughout the album, particularly on the slow-paced, soaring One More Time and A Thousand Hours, a pair of brooders in the vein of Faith.

 

It's a good album but it's hard to imagine it as anyone's favourite Cure album, there are too many changes of mood, and, well, too much music to digest here. Yet conversely it may be the Cure album which represents the band best: they were never quite the morose goths of Faith and Disintegration, nor the bouncy pop band of The Love Cats and Friday I'm In Love but an amalgam of all of this and more besides.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Album Review: Husker Du – Warehouse: Songs and Stories

Husker Du’s second double album, released in 1987 was never going to be a bloated affair with 20 songs zipping by in 69 minutes.  On first listen, all the elements are present and correct, Bob Mould’s furious guitars, Grant Hart’s distinctive drumming… but what’s that… 80s era keyboards on Charity, Chastity, Prudence and Hope and also Turn It Around?!
Mould’s bludgeoning guitars on the likes of Standing In The Rain, Ice Cold Ice, Could You Be The One? and Bed of Nails are a distinctive improvement.  On the other hand, Hart’s songs are a little weaker than Mould’s, particularly Back From Somewhere and the uninspired boogie of Actual Condition, though Too Much Spice makes a good recovery.
The midtempo guitar sprawl of It’s Not Peculiar hits a little harder than most of the tracks here, pointing towards Sugar/Mould’s solo material, as does No Reservations.  Later, the melodic Up In The Air shows the influence of REM, particularly the backing vocals.
However nothing hits quite as hard as previous Husker Du albums, rendering this album as something of a disappointment after Flip Your Wig and Candy Apple Grey.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Album Review: Dinosaur

Dinosaur (they had yet to add the jr then) released their self-titled debut in 1985.  It’s pretty different to the rest of their albums as there are a whole load of different styles on this album.  J Mascis had yet to truly find his guitar sound, and it makes for a very interesting listen.  A couple of the tracks sound a little like the Cure, especially the Lou Barlow sung Forget the Swan which perfectly distils the essence of the Cure’s Fire In Cairo.
Cats In A Bowl barrels along the lines of label mates the Meat Puppets.  The Leper, Pointless and Repulsion are rockier, closer to the sound they became famous for.  Does It Float marries a load of different styles in the one song, starting out like the Cure’s Primary and morphing into a Meat Puppets chugger with shades of REM before lurching into screaming hardcore all in the one song.
Severed Lips is the most relaxed track here, an almost gentle strum with Mascis whining “I won’t cry if you won’t”.  The track is notable for one of the earliest of Mascis’ glorious guitar solos.  Final track Quest has a similar feel.  On the other extreme Mountain Man is speed metal, almost pure Creeping Death era Metallica even down to Barlow’s James Hetfield style vocals!
It’s a strange listen as the songs don’t hang together particularly well but it’s kind of fascinating to hear the band try out different styles.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Album Review: Lou Reed – The Blue Mask

For anyone who ever wondered how Lou Reed went from his chaotic 70s character to his professorial late 80s/early 90s character, 1982’s The Blue Mask may reveal the answers.  On this album Reed is playing the character of husband.  It starts gently with the gentle, middle-aged electric strum of My House.  Reed’s guitar combines well with Robert Quine’s throughout this album, on heavy workouts and also gentler tracks such as Women which features some really gorgeous instrumental passages.
It has to be said that the lyrics are a little trite on this album.  As a newly-wed (to Sylvia Morales) he embraces the concept of marriage – “I’ve really got a lucky life, my writing, my motorcycle and my wife” also “I love women I think they’re great”, neither couplet likely to win a Booker prize.
However the music is so strong the album succeeds, after the gentle, vaguely threatening The Gun we get the full-on assault of the title track which sees Reed and Quine’s guitars go completely into overdrive, rocking like crazy on this track, Reed barking threatening lyrics like “make the sacrifice, mutilate my face, if you need someone to kill I’m a man without a will” over feedback squeals.  Waves of Fear is in a similarly powerful vein.
But quieter tracks are more the norm, The Heroine and The Day John Kennedy Died.  Not all the tracks work – Average Guy is far too repetitive and banal (“I’m just your average guy trying to do what’s right”), while although Heavenly Arms has a decent melody, lyrically it’s cringeworthy, the chorus merely features the name Sylvia sung over and over.  However these tracks don’t detract from what is one of Reed’s stronger albums. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Album Review: Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey

Candy Apple Grey came out in 1986 and it opens with a noisy, jarring track Crystal… well noisy because of Bob Mould’s crazily roared vocals.  This track is not typical of the rest of album.  Grant Hart is in fine songwriting form, with two perfect power pop songs, the driving Don’t Wanna Know If You Are Lonely and the very Elvis Costello sounding Sorry Somehow (think it’s the combination of Hart’s vocals and the organ in the background).  What’s great about these songs is that they are catchy without being annoying, and Mould plays a fine guitar on both.  Later Dead Set on Destruction possesses the irreverent snarl of the Ramones’ Chinese Rocks.
They indulge in some sensitivity with Mould’s somewhat overwrought acoustic ballad Too Far Down and Hart’s dodgy piano ballad No Promise Have I Made.  But Mould’s repetitive yet great Hardly Getting Over It is a Westerberg/Replacements slice of wistful genius, a yearning tune over ringing guitars. 
Thankfully the second half of the album has a pair of fine rockers in Eiffel Tower High and All This I’ve Done For You (this one especially welcome after No Promise Have I Made).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

EP Review: The Savings and Loan EP

The Savings and Loan is a curiously-named band from Scotland who released this self-titled EP in 2007.  Singer Martin Donnelly is a vocalist from the Nick Cave/Fearghal McKee/Matt Berninger school of singing so this is perfectly pitched for a good old mope.
The EP is bookended by These Hands and Those Hands, effectively the same song in two short versions, the latter being slightly more exuberant.  Introducing the album is Andrew Bush’s (or possibly Donnelly's) plaintive acoustic guitar playing, while Donnelly croons “good evening friends and welcome in, to broken skin on broken skin”.
Swallows has well-worn guitar picking which to any student of Morrissey etc will sound instantly like you can’t believe you haven’t heard it before.  The Virgin’s Lullaby is slightly more Cave-like, all brushed percussion and distorted vocals.  Catholic Boys In The Rain is in a similar vein, introduced by a recording of Scottish poet Tom Leonard reading a list of alcoholic drinks, appropriate as this track will remind some listeners of Irish band Whipping Boy.
After the sweet-sounding Her Window and the glacially-paced Met (A Storm) the EP ends with the crescendo (relative to the rest) of Those Hands, with drums and even electric guitar.  Much of this material ended up on their debut album proper, Today I Need Light, released in 2010 but this is a very promising EP.  It’s not hugely original and Donnelly and Bush sound like a pair of undertakers but they get this sort of thing SO right.  It’s available for free download from http://thesavingsandloan.bandcamp.com/album/the-savings-and-loan-ep

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth

Trent Reznor’s first Nine Inch Nails album of the millennium, and first for six years had a tough job to attempt to recapture the God of Angst position he occupied in the nineties.  The album opens not with a bang but with the stealthy, cruel slash that is All The Love In The World, all muted synths and brooding atmosphere (foreshadowing his solo, soundtrack work) along with skittering beats, as the track builds into an almost gloom-disco anthem.  It works really well.  Normal service resumes with You Know What You Are, boasting an ENORMOUS chorus (“DON’T YOU F**KING KNOW WHAT YOU ARE!”), one of many tracks where it seems like Reznor is trying to regain his position from younger pretenders. 
The brutal stomp of The Collector and the industrial-dance of The Hand That Feeds are a little obvious, NIN-by-numbers.  Better is the Depeche Mode-like (yet lyrically unimaginative) Every Day Is Exactly The Same (more cruel folk would paraphrase the title as a metaphor for the album) and the title track (apart from Reznor’s singing of the chorus “with-ah teeth-ah”).
Where he does attempt new ground has very mixed results – the poppy, grooving Only is a little repetitive – while Getting Smaller comes across like NIN covering the Pixies’ Planet of Sound.  Reznor’s swearing on the former track (and others throughout the album) doesn’t particularly suit him at this point in his career.  Later, The Line Begins To Blur is like the Rolling Stones gone industrial and doesn’t quite work.
He saves the best two tracks for last.  Beside You In Time is a fine, pounding, electro track which threatens to explode but never quite does, heightening the tension, while tradition dictates that the final track, Right Where It Belongs is a brooder in the vein of Hurt.
Perhaps he tries too hard.  The album lasts 55 minutes but feels twice as long, with a lot of self-conscious aggression.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Album Review: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – I See A Darkness

This was Will Oldham’s first album recorded under the name of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in 1999.  It kicks off with the singalong A Minor Place which features weedy organ in the background.  Better is follow up track Nomadic Revery (All Around), with gloriously undisciplined vocals where Oldham sounds like a 90 year old man.  The playing across these and other tracks is subtle and spare, nothing is too overdone.
The title track is the centerpiece, it’s a kind of a quiet, brooding, creeping song (covered a year later by Johnny Cash), and probably the most ‘backwoodsy’, quintessentially Oldham song.  Much of the material is quite dark, as evidenced by the titles – Another Day Full of Dread, Death to Everyone, Today I Was An Evil One, and the Appalachian folk-style Black – yet most have the melodies are highly memorable.
It’s not all downbeat, Madeleine-Mary rollicks along with a loping beat and the aforementioned Today I Was An Evil One is relatively sprightly.  This album is the one by which all Oldham’s future works have been judged, and as such, is a little overrated.  He was, however, doing that ‘log cabin’ thing years before Bon Iver brought it to the masses, and this album is a good example of this.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Album Review: Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger

After the (at times brilliant) three album madness of 2005, Ryan Adams returned with the more straightforward Easy Tiger.  There are a couple of overblown rockers (Goodnight Rose, Halloween Head) which don’t help matters.  Equally off-putting is the hokey country of Tears of Gold.  However he’s better when he slows it down and plays it simple.  The rather bland Two (a duet with Sheryl Crow – edgy!) and Two Hearts are an improvement, but there are stronger tracks on the album.
Everybody Knows is a ringer for Neil Young in his acoustic, After the Gold Rush period.  It’s perfectly executed and all over in two and a half minutes.  The leisurely guitar picking of Oh My God Whatever, Etc works well, as does the bluegrassy Pearls On A String.  Finest song on the album is possibly piano ballad, Rip Off, a weary and worn-out ballad. 
He trawls back to his vast, unreleased tracks in the vault for two of the stronger tracks for wistful ballad Off Broadway and the drawling guitar plucking of These Girls (previously known as Hey There Mrs Lovely). 
It's not a classic Ryan Adams album, but it IS a typical Ryan Adams album: some great tracks, some bland tracks and some frustrating tracks.  The killer with Adams is he is capable of real brilliance, but an inability to stay focused dilutes his talent.