Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Album Review: Husker Du - New Day Rising

After the leap forward of Zen Arcade, 1985’s New Day Rising felt like a slight disappointment.  The opening title track consists of Bob Mould repeating the title over and over alongside a fuzzy guitar riff.  The guitar fuzz is very pronounced on this album, making it a hard listen initially.  Some tracks such as I Apologize and I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About are almost mod-punk, with Mould sounding like Weller in his Jam days.  There are some fine performances here, Mould riffs hard on Folk Lore over 96 seconds and Grant Hart belts out If I Told You over more fine riffs.

Celebrated Summer is the longest song here at four minutes and represents something of a centerpiece.  It’s a classic rock sounding anthem with a pretty melody played at breakneck speed by Mould’s fuzzy, punky guitars.  The song is broken up by some acoustic guitar midway through and at the end, heightening its anthemic qualities.  The song leads into one of the more relaxed tracks here, the relatively subdued Perfect Example, which sounds like it might pave the way for Wedding Present.  Elsewhere, Terms of Psychic Warfare is like Dylan gone fuzz-punk before 59 Times The Pain heads back into more complex territory, the band showing good grasp of dynamics, plodding along through the verse before sprinting into the chorus, then slowing down again.

Powerline is one of the stronger tracks here, riffing hard at breakneck speed for 2 minutes before easing off the throttle for final few seconds of the outro.  Some tracks don’t really work, Books About UFOs is a little too jaunty, while the demented How To Skin A Cat starts with the sound of a knife being sharpened before descending into aural chaos.

Towards the end the album harks back to their earlier material, as if to prove they can still rock harder than anyone else as in the 93 seconds of Whatcha Drinkin’ and power-speed-riffola of Plans I Make.  It’s an interesting but at times exhausting listen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Album Review: Low – Drums and Guns

With 2007’s Drums and Guns album, Low got really out there.  Gone were the rock guitars of The Great Destroyer, replaced by an emphasis on beats and eerie organ tones.  It’s a very jarring listen right from the first track Pretty People, which has little instrumentation to speak of barring Alan Sparhawk singing “all you pretty people, we’re all going to die”.  It's possibly one of the least inviting opening tracks ever.

There’s a kind of malevolence at the heart of the album with song titles like Sandinista, Hatchet, Murderer, Violent Past etc.  Belarus sees them in electronica territory, not too far away from Radiohead’s Kid A.  Breaker feels very minimalist, with handclaps and a one-fingered organ melody fleshing out a melody which on another Low album would probably be a warm guitar strum.

The album actually gets stronger as it progresses, Sandinista’s marching drums provide the background for Mimi Parker and Sparhawk’s wonderful harmonies.  Like many tracks on the album it’s brief, clocking in at under two and a half minutes, further into the album Your Poison is a mere 1 minute 13 seconds.  Even the sweeter moments like Parker’s Dust On The Window are covered in crashing drums and eerie noises, while church bells run throughout the odd-sounding Take Your Time.

Possibly the three strongest melodies are saved till the final three tracks.  In Silence features a piano and a rare appearance of guitar rounding out the sound and Murderer is fleshed out with glitchy electronica to gloriously sinister effect, accentuating lyrics like “don’t act so innocent, I’ve seen you pound your fist into the earth”.  Final track Violent Past manages to turn the chilly keyboards into something approaching (luke)warmth.

It’s never going to be my favourite Low album, and it certainly isn’t a good introduction to them, but it’s a fascinating and rewarding album nevertheless.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Album Review: Dinosaur Jr - Bug

Dinosaur Jr’s third album, Bug, was released in 1989.  The album is dominated by so-called slacker anthem Freak Scene, so called because J Mascis really sounds like he doesn’t give a damn as he drawls the lyrics over some choice guitar riffs.
The rest of the album is well worth a listen too.  Most of the songs are relatively uncomplicated, based on simple, distorted riffs which either zip along quickly (They Always Come, Let It Ride) or pound along sluggishly (Yeah We Know, The Post).  Mascis’ ‘singing’ really is laughably out of tune on tracks like No Bones and Let It Ride, but nonetheless it works.  Pond Song jangles along pleasantly while Budge takes a leaf out of Sonic Youth’s Teenage Riot.  Final track, Don’t is pretty awful, consisting of Lou Barlow screaming “why don't you like me” over distorted guitar riffs, and it’s unlistenable.
Although it doesn’t quite hit the heights of You’re Living All Over Me, it’s well worth checking out.