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.

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.

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 –

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.