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:

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.