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.