Monday, March 29, 2010

Dead Kings Rise Again

Jimi Hendrix
Valleys Of Neptune

Posthumous albums usually make me cringe. Not just because of the creep factor of mining the vaults of a dead musician for some last way to squeeze some proverbial blood from the stone. Like previous Hendrix collections, Valleys Of Neptune contains different versions of previously released material. The record kicks off with a more up-tempo version of "Stone Free," than was originally on Are You Experienced. It sounds far less menacing than the original and less of a threat from a man exercising his right to freedom.

Then comes the long sought after "Valleys Of Neptune", a decent enough song but hardly the long lost Hendrix classic. The covers of "Bleeding Heart", which is also a competent track with blistering Jimi guitar mastery, and the instrumental Cream "classic" "Sunshine Of Your Love," improve on their originals. I know it sounds as though I don't like this record, but I do. I do think it is the voyeuristing feeling of listening to this that maybe taints my feeling. The tracks are still strong. It's Jimi Fuckin' Hendrix! "Hear My Train A Comin'," and "Mr. Bad Luck," are fantastic and fresh. I could have done without the re-working of classics. But the lesser known or previously unknown traacks do not sully Jimi's legacy.

Track Grades:
  1. Stone Free - 8.8
  2. Valleys Of Neptune - 8.6
  3. Bleeding Heart - 8.4
  4. Hear My Train A Comin' - 9.3
  5. Mr. Bad Luck - 9.5
  6. Sunshine Of Your Love - 7.8
  7. Lover Man - 8.2
  8. Ships Passing Through The Night - 7.5
  9. Fire - 8.5
  10. Red House - 8.0
  11. Lullaby For The Summer - 8.7
  12. Crying Blue Rain - 8.5
Overall Grade=8.48

Johnny Cash
American VI: Ain't No Grave
Lost Highway

With all of the output that Rick Rubin managed to record from Johnny over the last few years of his life, it's easy to imagine Rubin locking Cash in a cabin yelling, "Sing, monkey, sing!". Even so, it is difficult to deny the effectiveness of Cash's voice, weakened by age, singing the remainder of his dwindling lifeforce over this simple arrangements. Ain't No Grave, like its posthumous predecessor A Hundred Highways, is little more than a collection of outtakes.

The first two tracks are lovely, poignant gems. Never has a Sheryl Crow song sounded so meaningful. And the title track is the prerequesite ominous tune about death or the endtimes in the vein of previous American album tracks like "The Man Comes Around", "God's Gonna Cut You Down",  or "The Mercy Seat,". Some albums are jam packed with them. After those first two songs, however, the record just gets bogged down and makes me sad, honestly.

Track Grades:
  1. Ain't No Grave - 9.3
  2. Redemption Day - 9.0
  3. For The Good Times - 7.4
  4. I Corinthians 15:55 - 7.8
  5. Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound - 7.4
  6. A Satisfied Mind - 7.6
  7. I Don't Hurt Anymore - 7.7
  8. Cool Water - 7.1
  9. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream - 7.1
  10. Aloha Oe - 6.6
Overall Grade=7.7

Monday, March 22, 2010

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

Joanna Newsom
Have One On Me
Drag City

On previous albums, I have found Joanna Newsom to be incredibly talented but annoying. On this ambitious triple album, however, her talent just shines through and her voice only occasionally pierces my brain with hot pokers of shrillness. This is an album whose kind of beauty only Tori Amos has ever managed to show.

The album is remarkably consistent. There aren't any tracks that make you want to puncture your eardrums. That is a rather interesting feats considering that there are 18 real tracks, no interludes or weird intros (unless you count "On A Bad Day,"). There are some real standouts like the title track, "In California," and "Soft As Chalk,". Being a mellow affair, it surprises me that the highlights are the longer songs. Normally, that much somberness is too much to take. Perhaps it allows the multi-intrumentalist to really spread her creative wings. The arrangements on those tracks are, expectedly, more interesting as well. This is the album PJ Harvey wishes she sould have delivered with White Chalk.

There are recurring themes of companionship, drunkedness, regret, loss, and death sprinkled throughout the stories within Have One On Me. There are many characters Newsom sings through as to lead the listener away from thinking her transparent. The depths of feeling are hard to ignore but there's very little you should want to ignore on this album.

Track Grades:
  1. Easy - 7.9
  2. Have One On Me - 8.8
  3. '81 - 7.6
  4. Good Intentions Paving Co. - 8.0
  5. No Provenance - 7.3
  6. Baby Birch - 8.5
  7. On A Good Day - 7.7
  8. You And Me, Bess - 7.1
  9. In California - 9.3
  10. Jackrabbits - 7.9
  11. Go Long - 8.2
  12. Occident - 7.8
  13. Soft As Chalk - 9.2
  14. Esme - 7.7
  15. Autumn - 8.4
  16. Ribbon Bows - 7.4
  17. Kingfisher - 8.7
  18. Does Not Suffice - 8.1
Overall Grade = 8.09

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Titus Andronicus & A SXSW Wishlist

Titus Andronicus is a great young band gaining confidence. While I could not see the performance (best shot of my vantage point below), they were properly raucous and energetic for a free show. It is not difficult to imagine them blowing Ted Leo + The Pharmacists off the stage later that night.

Now, onto my own horrible mis-step. I did not, originally, think it was going to be feasible to get the time off of my day job to get down to South By Southwest. Imagine my surprise when I found that my workload had dwindled to nothing. So, if you could, let me live through you and tell me about these performances. Here is what I would have attended if I would have been in Austin for all the festivities:

Friday, March 12:
  2:00 PM Game On: Funding Gaming Start-Ups In A Recession
  3:30 PM How to Rawk SXSW Film
  4:30 PM The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Screening
  7:00 PM Kick-Ass Screening
10:00 PM Predators First Look w/Robert Rodriguez
11:59 PM Tucker And Dale vs. Evil

Saturday, March 13:
11:00 AM How To Make A Living As A Blogger (needed big time)
12:30 PM Directing the Dead: Genre Directors Spill Their Guts
  2:00 PM Blow Something Up!: Live Action Special Effects
  4:10 PM Zombies, Vampires & Monsters: Fostering Loyal Genre Communities
  6:00 PM The People vs. George Lucas
  7:00 PM The Thorn In The Heart: Michel Gondry
  9:00 PM American Grindhouse

Sunday, March 14:
  1:30 PM The Cow Who Wanted To Be a Burger: George Plimpton
  3:30 PM Jeffrey Tambor's Acting Workshop
  9:30 PM Elektra Luxx Screening

Monday, March 15:
12:30 PM Visual FX for Indies: Big Impact, Small Budgets
  3:30 PM Creating a Graphic Novel Hollywood Will Buy
  4:00 PM American: The Bill Hicks Story
  6:45 PM Lemmy
  9:00 PM The Annual Austin Chronicle Film Bash

Tuesday, March 16:
  9:30 AM 14,000 Songs in 28 Days: A Case Study
11:00 AM Music Licensing for Emerging Media: Apps, Widgets, Viral Videos
  3:30 PM Devo, the Internet and You
  5:00 PM The State of Music Blogs In 2010
  8:00 PM SXSW Film Awards
  9:00 PM SXSW Film Closing/Music Opening Party hosted by VH1 and YouTube

Wednesday, March 17:
12:00 PM Indie Record Labels At The Indie Village
  2:30 PM Martin Atkins & Whitney Francis
  3:00 PM Canadian Blast BBQ
  5:00 PM SXSW Interview: Lemmy
  6:00 PM One Night Only
  8:00 PM Melissa Auf der Maur
  8:45 PM The Walkmen
  9:45 PM Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
10:30 PM Motörhead
12:05 AM Andrew W.K.
wouldn't be going quietly into that good night

Thursday, March 18:
12:30 PM How to Make Money with Vinyl
  2:00 PM Merge Makes Noise
  2:30 PM Mac McCaughan & Laura Ballance
  5:00 PM Why Hasn't the Record Industry Sued Girl Talk?
  7:00 PM Gordon Gano and The Ryan Brothers
  8:30 PM The Besnard Lakes
  9:30 PM The Soft Pack
10:30 PM Drive-By Truckers
11:30 Band Of Horses
12:45 Broken Social Scene

Friday, March 19th:
11:00 AM Chicago Beats by Chicago.com /Music
12:00 PM SXSW Music Stimulus Party
  5:10 PM Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (Featuring Neko Case and Kelly Hogan)
  8:00 PM Thurston Moore
11:00 PM Cymbals Eat Guitars
  1:00 AM The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Saturday, March 20th:
  1:00 PM Stereogum Range Life
  2:00 PM SXSW Interview: Death
  3:00 PM Death
  8:00 PM This Will Destroy You
10:15 PM Titus Andronicus
  1:15 AM Fucked Up

Bands like Surfer Blood and Les Savy Fav were victims of inconvenient timing. Luckily, I don't have to worry about missing them for something else because I will be missing all of it. [sigh]

Monday, March 15, 2010

Quarter Century Review: Up On The Sun

Meat Puppets
Up On The Sun
Produced by Spot

Like a million others, I was introduced to the Meat Puppets on December 14, 1993. When they joined Nirvana on their Unplugged special to perform a couple of their songs, I thought the songs were pretty good but wouldn't sound as good without Kurt Cobain singing them. While I was right about that, the Meat Puppets do have some merit as artists. Like SST alum (the late) D. Boon, Curt Kirkwood performs some very nimble guitarwork on this album. The album actually sounds like a more mellow Minutemen release.

The much mailgned (by me) production by SST house producer Spot is another fine example of just capturing the band as is, like the New Day Rising review from January. Up On The Sun just might be the slickest sounding SST release. The vocals fit in well with the music and are perfectly blended in the mix without being overpowering. Two of the tracks without vocals ("Maiden's Milk," and "Animal Kingdom,") are perhaps the most enjoyable musically on the album. I can't say that this album will ever be a part of any kind of regular rotation in my listening but I can say that is a very well-crafted album. It starts off great with "Up On The Sun," and does lose a little bit of steam toward the end but it is a great effort overall.

Overall Grade = 8.15

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

This is, undoubtably, the album I have been most excited to hear of the year. As I write this, I am at 80% of the download I received for pre-ordering it here. I am champing at the bit waiting for this to download. I have already heard the first single, "Albatross," and enjoyed it. But what I learned from 2007's The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse is that one song detached from the whole album isn't as powerful. The Besnard Lakes are one of very few bands that are more concerned with crafting a full album and not just concentrating on a few singles and a some filler. I just realized that I have written an entire paragraph that has very little to do with the actual album.

Mind you, I haven't seen any lyrics so my interpretation is solely on the music and the picture it paints for me. The story that began with Volume 1 and continued through Dark Horse sounds as though it is concluding with a Roaring Night. Both spy characters (each played by the Besnard Lakes husband and wife duo Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas) get to take their parting shots on each other and the world. It all starts off rather somber as if to denote that the spy game that our characters have waged has met its end. The opening tandem tracks making up "Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent," set the mood nicely and is a bit of a straightforward song for them, albeit very well-layered. "Chicago Train," is a remarkably beautiful and the first real acknowledgment that our characters are aware that this is their last pillaging hurrah. "Albatross," shows Goreas as thankful for the destruction the couple has wrought but her capture has brought it to an end prematurely.

The mood then shifts as "Glass Printer," lashes out a bit. "Land Of Living Skies," has Goreas lamenting on her unfortunate fate only for Lasek to arrive and release her, our couple joining together again for their common  final assault. "And This Is What We Call Progress," sounds the beginning of a rebellion against a foe only the creators could know of. It is the groundwork of their endgame. "Light Up The Night", as expected, sets their town ablaze as they watch from a distance. The closer sounds like something that came from their last album with the Angelo Badalamenti style guitars. The song would not be out of place at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks and makes a perfect requiem for the album and story.

Track Grades:
  1. Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent (Parts 1 & 2) - 8.8
  2. Chicago Train - 9.9
  3. Albatross - 9.5
  4. Glass Printer - 8.6
  5. Land Of Living Skies (Parts 1 & 2) - 8.7
  6. And This Is What We Call Progress - 9.1
  7. Light Up The Night - 8.6
  8. The Lonely Moan - 9.0
Overall Grade = 9.03

Quarter Century Review: Bad Moon Rising

Sonic Youth
Bad Moon Rising
Produced by Sonic Youth and Martin Bisi

I am, as readers should note by now, a huge SY fan. So it is with great trepidation that I revisit Bad Moon Rising. This has always been regarded by me as the album before the band got good. It did, of course, contain the first Sonic Youth classic in "Death Valley '69," (featuring New York punk legend Lydia Lunch) but little else. There are interesting moments like the MC5 interlude at the beginning of "I Love Her All The Time," but it has nothing to do with the song itself, which is actually not half bad.

On the whole, this album is just a really challenging listen. The more in depth I listened, the more I found myself wincing and gnashing my teeth. I like some ambient noise but there comes a point where it starts to become unlistenable like someone sawing through scrap metal with no earplugs. I always imagine that when Juno MacGuff tells Jason Bateman's character that Sonic Youth is just noise, she has just finished listening to any of the first 3 albums. If only she would have given what would come later a chance as I am glad I did.

Overall Grade = 6.83

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back

Peter Gabriel
Scratch My Back
Real World/Virgin

For the most part, this tribute of Gabriel's is an itch better left unscratched. As a huge admirer of the man with the remarkably unremarkable yet amazing pipes, I was disappointed from the get-go with the knowledge that there were no guitars on the album. The pleasant surprises don't come often enough.

Scratch My Back kicks off with its most well-known track and probably its best in "Heroes," originally by the inimitable David Bowie. The vocals and instrumentation are very low in the mix to start and gradually builds like the character of the song steadily gaining the confidence to become the hero, at least for one day.

What starts so meek and builds to a crescendo begins to fade instead of continuing to soar. The majority of the album could be funeral processionals. Gabriel's voice normally excelling in sadness and shining through it is instead weighed down by the moroseness of the arrangements, which are beautifully performed but would work better as the soundtrack to the largest budget Lifetime movie ever. Among these dirges, there are a few signs of life. His take on Arcade Fire's "My Body Is A Cage," occasionally awakes Gabriel from his slumber. "The Book Of Love," sounds as if The Magnetic Fields could have intended it for Gabriel.

It is my hope that this is not the last we will hear of Peter Gabriel. He has done some amazing works and is one of the finest talents in rock in the last 40 years. If this is his time to reflect on his place among his idols and his contemporaries, let him get through it. There is yet a gem for him to uncover, but Scratch My Back is not it.

Track Grades:
  1. Heroes - 8.9
  2. The Boy In The Bubble - 6.3
  3. Mirrorball - 7.0
  4. Flume - 7.8
  5. Listening Wind - 7.2
  6. The Power Of The Heart - 6.5
  7. My Body Is A Cage - 8.0
  8. The Book Of Love - 8.8
  9. I Think It's Going To Rain Today - 5.3
  10. Après Moi - 7.5
  11. Philadelphia - 6.7
  12. Street Spirit (Fade Out) - 6.4
Overall Grade = 7.20

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

High On Fire - Snakes For The Divine

High On Fire
Snakes For The Divine
E1 Music

I was only recently indoctrinated with High On Fire and I heard enough to want to check out this album. I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking as, generally, metal with vocals like this make me shrug and leave the room (I'm lookin' at you, Dimmu Borgir). The music here only occasionally make up for the limits and shortcomings of the vocals but that is not the norm.

I appreciate just how heavy this is. I really do. There is just something here that lies flat whereas bands like Slayer stick to the script but still make things exciting. It is no surprise to me that the best track on here is the one minute plus instrumental "The Path,". I know that there are a lot of people out there that prefer these growly "vocals" but I don't understand why. Each song trudges along but goes nowhere, which is where I am going to leave this review.

Track Grades:
  1. Snakes For The Divine - 6.9
  2. Frost Hammer - 6.6
  3. Bastard Samurai - 6.3
  4. Ghost Neck - 6.4
  5. The Path - 7.7
  6. Fire, Blood & Plague - 7.3
  7. How Dark We Pray - 6.2
  8. Holy Flames Of The Fire Spitter - 6.0
Overall Grade = 6.68

Monday, March 01, 2010

Quarter Century Review: All Rise

Naked Raygun
All Rise
Produced by Iain Burgess

This album's release date is unknown other than the year. This is was kind of the beginning of the end of the unquestioned excellence of Naked Raygun. Their apex reached with their 1984 sophomore effort, Throb Throb, Jeff Pezzati and company saw their power being to wane with this album.

That being said, it just means that they were a mortal band after all. Few punk bands could match the fury of, and undying loyalty to, Naked Raygun in the mid-eighties. Every show was a sing-along. It speaks to their songcrafting and overall appeal. They didn't have the most fans but they inspired the best of the ones they had. The classic lineup combination of Pezzati's powerful vocals and John Haggerty's guitars are on great display here. There was no true classic lineup of Naked Raygun but their heyday is clearly the combination of Pezzati and Haggerty. The recently deceased Burgess was a huge influence on the Chicago post punk scene of the mid-eighties, helping create the buzzsaw guitar sound used by Raygun and Big Black. While not their greatest overall collection of songs, there are still at least three real punk anthems ("Home Of The Brave", "Knock Me Down", "I Remember") as highlights. And there are far more great tracks than mediocre ones. And you can find few better ways to end an album than the Santiago Durango-penned "New Dreams,".

Overall Grade=8.31