Sunday, January 27, 2013

Album Review: Neil Young - American Stars 'n' Bars

Neil Young's 1977 album followed a very productive streak which produced the peerless On The Beach and Zuma. It's a bit of a mish-mash of styles, opening up with The Old Country Waltz, which is just that, a relatively hokey, countrified waltz featuring backing vocals from Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. Dodgy songs abound, particularly the country-rock pairing of Saddle Up The Palomino and Bite The Bullet, and the slow country of Hold Back The Tears is not much better.

So why bother with this album? There are 4 very fine tracks on it. The country strum of Hey Babe strides along very nicely, and the acoustic ballad Star of Bethlehem is equally fine. But the latter half of the album is dominated by two tracks which taken together last 15 minutes. The spooky acoustic ballad Will To Love is the first of these. The song features a vibraphone along with the sound of campfire crackling in the background, lending it an eerie atmosphere. Oblique lyrics about "an ocean fish who swam upstream" simply add to this.

The next track blows all the cobwebs away. Like A Hurricane was recorded with Crazy Horse, and it shows. The song is an epic guitar tour de force, a straightforward descending melody provides the background for Neil Young's blistering guitar solos. The final track, country-stomp Homegrown is something of a let down but this album is worth seeking out for the previous two tracks alone.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Album Review: J Mascis + The Fog - More Light

In 2000, J Mascis released what ostensibly was his first solo album but in reality followed on from his Dinosaur Jr work, which saw him progressively take over more and more responsibility for the music. The album features Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard on vocals on a few of the tracks, and also, thrillingly, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine.

Despite the personnel involved, it's pretty much business as usual for Mascis, from the moment he slams into opener Sameday, which is in the vein of vintage Dinosaur Jr ie heavy riffs and Mascis charmingly half-arsed drawled vocals. Where'd You Go has an almost 70s classic rock riff at its core, while Back Before You Go and All the Girls have a kind of Lemonheads-gone-heavy feel.

The album is not without its fine mellow moments - the swirling keyboards of Waistin', the summery, acoustic picking of Ground Me To You and the blissed-out, what can only be described as 'wibblyness' of Ammaring. Later, Pollard makes his presence on the call-and-response grunge of I'm Not Fine. As for Shields? Most prominent on the title track, the final song on the album. He pours his own particular brand of magic over a complete headrush of a track, equal parts MBV and Primal Scream's Accelerator, and the tracks collapses in a sea of distortion and effects. It's a great way to round off a collection of songs well able to stand alongside Mascis' Dinosaur Jr material.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Album Review: Small Town Boredom - Notes From The Infirmary

Where Small Town Boredom's debut album featured 14 songs, their 2010 follow up is far more focused at six songs. Fraser McGowan's whispered lyrics on the slow-burning Song for Matthew Leonard leave little to the imagination ("they gave me Librium to mend my broken heart"), unfurling slowly and carefully. After the lush instrumental White Cart Water, they return to sparse, hushed folk with Black Cart Ways and the haunting Void Lighting. 
The bleak World's Most Unwanted explodes with despair mid song, almost like a release of tension, with wordless cries and guitar distortion. But this is a rare moment of disquiet. Final track Moments for Denial has a beautifully picked acoustic guitar over a simple, electronic beat with minimalist vocals from McGowan, which works as well as anything else here.  It's available from

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Album Review: Sparklehorse - Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

A descending guitar line opens Sparklehorse's 2006 album. Don't Take My Sunshine Away has all the hallmarks of Mark Linkous' most accessible songs, till he adds a heapload of static and noise halfway through. Noisy moments abound, with Ghost In The Sky and It's Not So Hard dominated by static. Other tracks, like Getting It Wrong have a more electronic feel than usual.

There are pop moments, Shade and Honey could almost be Eel's, while the catchily downbeat Some Sweet Day uses piano sparingly. The acoustic picking of Return To Me is a rare stripped-down moment. But the title track, occupying the final ten and a half minutes, is a complete departure.

What appears to be an aimlessly drifting instrumental, consisting of piano and all manner of electronics, is a shimmering, addictive piece. The music is blissfully mournful and damaged, with faraway pedal steel guitar whines. It's almost like Neil Young's Cortez the Killer on tranquillisers, floating in space, and is as 'out there' as Linkous has ever got.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Album Review: Type O Negative - Life Is Killing Me

Type O Negative released their sixth album in 2003, four years after its predecessor. It's a long, sprawling album. After a brief intro (Thir13teen), I Don't Wanna Be Me bursts out of the traps. It's faster than anything on their previous album World Coming Down, roaring along in a thrillingly thrash-goth manner, Peter Steele providing a wonderfully brutal vocal. I Like Goils and a cover of Angry Inch barrel along in a similar fashion.

Less Than Zero is on more familiar ground. It's the first of many tracks to channel the 80s, with a bubble goth Gary Numan-style verse coupled with great big riffs on the chorus, with a tabla thrown in for kicks. Todd's Ship Gods is in a similar vein, while (We Were) Electrocute goes one step further, spelling it out (musically) and ending up as pastiche. But just when you think you've the latter song nailed, it, like many tracks here, confounds you by morphing into something else entirely. On this occasion Electrocute ends up as one of Type O Negative's trademark black holes.

The band pretty much try every style of song in their repertoire on his album. Unfortunately they try and pack all this into one song ...A Dish Best Served Coldly, and it ends up as a bloated mess. The very Black Sabbath-y title track is an improvement, with a strong chorus, but the album never really regains its momentum.

Nettie sounds like a dark, brooding leftover from World Coming Down crossed with Jim Steinman-era Sisters of Mercy (a GOOD thing), and Anesthesia is a slow, heavy goth rocker. However at 15 tracks over 74 minutes, the overall effect is overwhelming. Much less coherent than World Coming Down, this album can at times be a slog to get through.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Album Review: Bob Mould

Bob Mould's first album post-Sugar in 1996 starts with the slowly building Anymore Time Between, which starts as a fairly static, brooding affair but it casts off its shackles, turning into a rousing number. Structurally it's atypical of him, and it suits him quite well.

After this departure, most of the rest of the material follows a well-worn path. Tracks like I Hate Alternative Rock, Deep Karma Canyon and Art Crisis are fairly bog-standard Mould rockers. Better are the more anthemic tracks such as Fort Knox, King Solomon and the closing track Roll Over And Die. He also turns his hand to more introspective, bitter numbers like the vicious Next Time That You Leave ("I'm burning everything you own"), and Thumbtack, where Mould sounds worn out.

As the above song titles indicate, Bob Mould was not in a good place at this point in his career. This album has an almost nihilistic feel to it and probably not a great starting point to investigate this guy's work.