Archive for the ‘Un-Rolled Reviews’ Category

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Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (2013) semi-pointless track-by-track review

May 14, 2013
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Roll: N/A
Album: Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

This is the only album on this site I haven’t purchased. Having purchased an album, I feel like that gives me free-reign to crap all over it if I want. Also, if I bought it and it’s stayed in my collection long enough to end up on this site, that probably means I like it. Anyway, I’m only reviewing Random Access Memories now because yesterday I was being pressured to listen to the pre-release iTunes stream by a Facebook friend.

He said, “You’re not going to listen to it. Come on.”

I said, “The track I heard from it was a pale shadow of their former selves. Also, that PR campaign was irritating.”

He said, “If by irritating you actually mean brilliant, then yes.”

A day later, curiosity has gotten the better of me and I’m listening to the stream. So far, two tracks in, I haven’t shaken my impression that Daft Punk are past their prime and have kind of been shark-jumped by their own image.

Give Life Back To Music” is sort of okay dance music but there’s not much oomph here. The kick drum should be crunching more. The melodies are begging me to find them alluring but they seem a bit shallow for all their glitter. Also, is vocoder going to be used on every song? I suspect they recorded “The Game of Love” without a vocoder and realized it’s one of the most tuneless pop-songs ever written. The vocoder evokes Discovery nicely but at this point in their career the gimmick feels like treading water.

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Weekly new release round-up: Miles Davis, Gin Wigmore, Wax Idols

April 19, 2013
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More recent release reviews at this page.

Miles Davis Quintet: Live In Europe - Bootleg Series Vol. 2

Miles Davis Quintet: Live In Europe – Bootleg Series Vol. 2 — Though the “Lost Quintet” never recorded in a studio together, they are probably one of the the most heavily documented line-ups Miles Davis played with. I own recordings of at least six cities from their 1969 European tour. It seems like every year another recording surfaces and gets issued, so they’re hardly lost at this point. Since I refuse to go through the trouble of playing them all back to back to determine which has the best performance-to-fidelity ratio, I’ll just state this set is all the 1969 European tour of the “Lost Quintet” you’ll ever need to find. Disc 2 and 3 offer slightly better ROI with some great solos from Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette and the general tearing-shit-uppedness of all involved. I haven’t watched the DVD of the Berlin date yet (I’ve heard the audio on a different CD release, I remember it being good), but I have watched the Copenhagen DVD from the Bitches Brew 40th anniversary set which suggests it’s well worth watching (I’ll get to it someday). The band was indeed, as Miles famously said, “really a bad motherfucker.” Though perhaps not, in my opinion, really any more bad than the Wayne Shorter-less 1970 quintet which has a slew of better quality recordings available and delves a little deeper into the psych-rock fusion people associate with this period of Davis’ career. The Quintet is still jazz on these dates. Very experimental, electric jazz, but pure jazz compared to the stratospheric fusion Davis would soon explore beyond Bitches Brew.

4  Decently high fidelities out of 5 Real bad motherfuckers.

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Gin Wigmore: Gravel & Wine — The short story is this is the kind of white-hot, red-line rock version of Amy Winehouse that Adele was hinting at with “Rolling In The Deep“. Or sort of a better, less contrived, more assured version of Lykke Li‘s “Get Some“. But repeated nine times with three ballads covered in the dirt they unfortunately scraped off Adele’s 21 before they released it. If, at some point in the last 20 years, you ever wished for a dream collaboration between PortisheadBoss Hog and The Bad Seeds, this isn’t that far off. Nancy Sinatra packing a sawed-off shotgun on amphetamines washed down with enough gin (pun intended) to bring out her inner Shirley Bassey. Okay, enough name-dropping. Noir swamprock with a pop edge.

4.75 Pistol packin’ rock’n’roll mamas out of 5 R&B revival femme fatales

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Wax Idols: Discipline + Desire — I think I’ve arrived at an age where if someone did do something new and exciting in rock, I wouldn’t like it. This is probably why chillwave and shitgaze and whatever it was Animal Collective were supposed to be didn’t impress  me at all. So instead I’ll just listen to records by bands that SOUND EXACTLY like Siouxsie and the Banshees. Not that Wax Idols sound exactly like Siouxsie and the Banshees every single second. Sometimes they sound a lot like Siouxisie Sioux singing on a blend of early PiL and The Cure tracks. Which is great because she didn’t sing with those bands and now I get to hear the results of some fanboy dream collaborations. Plus, I just really like this kind of reverential post-punk throwback. Naked on the Vague do it pretty well too, though perhaps with a little more originality. Anyway, Discipline + Desire fits nicely into my curmudgeon comfortzone. It’s good to see these ghosts perennially resurrected. What I don’t like to see resurrected is the stupid “mystery song” tacked onto the end of the last track of the album after a few seconds of silence. That should have died a fiery death in the late-90’s and I thought it did. Do people not realize how annoying that is when you put the album on your phone? Do they not realize that’s where people listen to CDs now? Good god, people, if you feel the need to tack an out-take on the end, make it its own track and just don’t list it on the art work. (The song in question is actually a pretty great halloweeny garage rocker).

3.75 Siouxsies out of 5 Banshees.

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Alex Calder: Time — A sort of weirdly lo-fi dream-pop album. Listening to it gave me the nagging sensation I’d heard it before. But like it was in another dimension or a dream. That was kind of invigorating until I decided it sounds exactly like Polvo playing Danielson Family songs. Then it became a lot less interesting. Not saying it’s at all bad mind you, just not the right record for me.

2.5 Oddballs out of 5 Songwriters

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Inspiral Carpets: Life (extended edition) — Not often recognized as such, Life is probably the best album of the Madchester and Brit-pop eras. It’s just that little more rock’n’roll than Primal ScreamStone RosesOasis and, of course, Happy Mondays (who weren’t very rock’n’roll at all). The songs are a bit better and the psychedelic flourishes come off a little less contrived than those of their counterparts. Brilliant and ecstatic. This reissue is a little bit of a baffling creature though. Included as bonus materials are the Planecrash and Trainsurfing EPs and their first Peel Session. Bloody fantastic! But left out is material from the Joe and Island Head EPs which means “Commercial Reign“, the song most associated with the album on this side of the pond, is missing along with “Joe” (one of their bigger early hits). “Besides Me” from the original UK release is reinstated but a few other tracks included on the original North American release are AWOL. Anyway, all this material could have fit nicely on the second disc except the second disc is naturally the now obligatory live DVD meant to draw in old fans like me. Which is great, I guess, except I might never get around to watching it and would rather have the complete picture of the band’s music up to this period in one nice shelfspace-saving package. A near miss.

Life5 Monkeys out of 5 Backs / Reissue: 3.75 Real Things out of 5 Happy Returns.
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2013 Rolling Round-Up

March 5, 2013

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Since I can’t seem to limit my year-end lists to a reasonable ten titles, rather than undergo the mad round-up review-writing scramble on December 31st I’ve decided to do mini-reviews of 2013 (and late 2012) releases as they come across my path. You can find them on a new page under FEATURES on the right called 2013 Rolling Round-Up (← or click). Newest reviews will be at the top of the page. First review is Christopher Owens‘ concept mini-album Lysandre.

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My Bloody Valentine: mbv

February 5, 2013

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Roll: N/A
Album: My Bloody Valentine, mbv

Since it’s taking me a while to get rolling again after the 2012 best of reviews, a little bandwagon jumping seems just the thing. Why should I be the one music writer to not weigh-in on the arrival of the second coming of shoegaze.

Putting it that way reminds me of the last time I’d rabidly awaited the follow-up to an unsurpassable classic, The Stone Roses‘ grand disappointment Second Coming (1994). The wait wasn’t as long for that disc (only five years), but the disappointment was far greater. I spent the good part of a week in denial that the Roses follow-up to their eponymous debut wasn’t more than a little shite.

The epic grandeur of the opening track, “Breaking Into Heaven“, was enough to disguise the fact the rest of the album lacked solid choons, as they say. The best of the lot, “Loves Spreads“, was overworked and sounded a bit like The Black Crows on methaqualone.  Or maybe a (more) pretentious, and less ballsy, Oasis. Either way, it didn’t sound like The Stone Roses we loved. I remember feeling deeply betrayed. It turned out our generation was no damn better than The Who‘s generation. Beauty is fleeting, everything worth loving dies.

Perhaps if The Stone Roses had just abandoned the sessions and spent another fifteen years on their Second Coming, it’d have worked out better.

Or perhaps not. Another reunion/comeback album I was excited for, Bauhaus‘ 2008 swansong Go Away White, was 25 years in the making yet didn’t quite deliver the old black magic. The problem could have been that it wasn’t actually 25 years in the making, it was 18 days in the making and that shows.

At first blush, it sounded pretty good; almost as visceral yet beefier than their early cuts. But after a few listens, things began to feel a little half-baked and Peter Murphy frankly needed more time to work on the lyrics.  Though probably not their intention (and it sounds like they were actually having fun in the studio for perhaps the first time in their history together), it came off a bit like Bauhaus “doing Bauhaus” with tongue firmly in cheek and not trying very hard. I remember walking to the subway and it suddenly hitting me, “Huh… this is all kinda bullshit, innit?

It was with both these disappointments in mind that my expectations for the follow-up to Loveless, if it should ever materialize, were low.

But unlike Second Coming or Go Away White,  mbv (what a lazy, cop-out title!) actually sounds like it was recorded by the same band that recorded Loveless. At times it also sounds a bit like Stereolab circa 1991, but one would assume MBV would have been influenced by that group and if mbv was released in ’93 or ’94, this is pretty much what it would have sounded like. It might not be the start-to-finish, all-killer-no-filler masterpiece Loveless is, but it shows an overall improvement in craft. Not too many bands from that era who are still putting out records sound this fresh and engaged.  And, for my money, a  few of the songs actually are better than anything off of Loveless.

What is great about mbv is it doesn’t sound like My Bloody Valentine “doing My Bloody Valentine” (tongue in cheek or not). And even better it doesn’t sound like My Bloody Valentine doing Fleeting Joys/Air Formation/Pia Fraus/etc. doing My Bloody Valentine. The latter option was my expectation for the best we could hope for.

Ultimately, despite my instinct to form a contrary opinion to all the hype and hyperbole surrounding mbv, it feels to me like one of the best follow-up albums ever offered by a band (whether it took six months or 30 years to make). As a bonus, it’s made me a lot less chagrined by the prospect of new platters by The Stone Roses and Jesus and Mary Chain.

I suspect the number of songs from mbv are going to dwindle from my iPhone over time but, unlike Go Away White, the album will remain safely in my collection.

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The Very Good, the Not At All Bad and the Downright Ugly Records of 2012

December 17, 2012

Looking back, I simply purchased too many amazing platters in 2012.  In the past week or two, I found myself faced with a problem in trying to figure out how to break the year’s releases down. I intended to keep it simple this season and only do a Top Five but that instantly became a Top Ten. Once I got to my Top Twenty-Five it seemed criminal to leave out the rest.

So how about a top fifty-one?

That’s the total of the first two sections (The Very Good and The Not At All Bad) in this 66 album year-end round-up. There’s probably a few you’ll think should be in the first category, but the two lists are almost arbitrary pretty much interchangeable.

And of course, being who I am, I couldn’t resist pointing out the ugliest discs I picked up this year as well, some of which are still in rotation on my iPod (which is no indication of quality).

 

THE (very) GOOD

2012 the very good

Swans: The Seer // “This album was 30 years in the making” is the kind of artist’s statement which can only lead to falsely heightened expectations and disappointment. Unless the artist is  Michael Gira. In which case he delivers on the promise. He’s made crushing records. He’s made beautiful records. He’s made epic records. Now he’s a made the beautiful, crushing, epic record every previous Swans and Angels of Light album was striving towards. This is the album My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky was just shy of. It’s a lyrical and transcendental, truly hypnotic spiritual experience. There’s nowhere to go but down from here. If the next Swans album is harsher, or more beautiful, or more epic, The Seer‘s exquisite balance would be thrown off and the result couldn’t be as perfect. The best Gira can hope do next is stagnate—which isn’t something he’s ever been willing to do. If, in a few years, he does manage to top The Seer, I almost don’t want to hear it. I doubt my mortal heart could take it. It’d be like looking into the sun and seeing that hideous dog face from the cover staring back at you. It’d be like the rock’n’roll version of Cthulu.

Black Walls: Acedia // In ten or twenty years, if the world hasn’t ended, we can expect something like The Seer from Ken Reaume‘s Black Walls project. That’s the promise he makes with Acedia. At first blush, the album’s sweet, soft-spoken doom could be the love child of Boduf Songs‘  dark lullabies and King Crimson‘s medieval space operas, yet deeper listening reveals Reaume has his own distinct voice. He has his own hard truths to tell and he knows how to soften the blow with layers of soothing arpeggios and yearning whispers.

The Black Magic Family Band:  A Magical World Of Animals And Spirits and Mike Bruno: The Sad Sisters // If you’re going to call yourself The Black Magic Family Band, you’d better be prepared to bring the Chuck Manson acid-folk creep factor. These kids do. In spades. This is total Wickerman shit. Usually artists trading in this kind of gloomy witch-folk pull their punches at some point and give you a wink to tell you it’s all make believe so you’re still able to sleep at night. The Black Magic Family Band doesn’t. And while I don’t expect they actually live in a one-room shack deep in the woods, living off squirrels and mushrooms and communing with spirits, they at least sound like it’s possible. A magical world indeed. Family Band cult leader Mike Bruno‘s solo slab, The Sad Sisters, is a much more intimate affair but just as spine-tingling. Sort of a Leonard Cohen of the Apocalypse or a Marc Bolan who’s more interested in actual spiritual journeys than becoming famous and getting laid.

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Front 242: Front By Front (1988)

May 4, 2012

Roll: 2-4-2
Album: Dead Meadow, Old Growth Front 242, Front by Front

The roll, 2-4-2, actually came up with Dead Meadow‘s 2008 album, Old Growth. But it just seemed a crime that with this roll I shouldn’t review a Front 242 album. And what better album to take on than the Belgian Juggernaut’s career pinnacle, and genre high-water mark, Front By Front (1988)?

To be honest, I also discovered that I have nothing to say about Old Growth. It’s a good, heady, fuzzy, psychedelic-rock album by a good, heady, fuzzy, psychedelic-rockband. If Spacemen 3 had possessed the chops (or even more unlikely, the inclination) to consciously emulate Zeppelin, FloydHendrix, and Sabbath, they might have made a record something like this.

Or perhaps not. It’s a moot point since Dead Meadow actually did make the exact record I’ve just described. It’s called Old Growth and it’s pretty good. Let’s say 8-out-of-10 good. But a rating becomes irrelevant since unless you hate Jason Simon‘s voice—or good, heady, fuzzy, psychedelic-rock in general—you have no real, legitimate excuse for not liking this album. Still, it’s not really essential either. A little extra oomf, a few arena-sized hooks and trimming a little fat might have put it in 9 or 10 territory. But 8 ain’t bad. Assuming good, heady, fuzzy, psychedelic-rock is something that appeals to you.

Front By Front, on the other hand, is a bona fide master stroke and one of the most artistically successful albums in any genre and it’s one you have no legitimate excuse for not liking. Well, that’s assuming clinical, Teutonic, mechanized, nihilistic techno is something that remotely appeals to you. And if if that’s something that doesn’t remotely appeal to you (perhaps quite likely), it’s still worth a listen.

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Very Late and Increasingly Redundant 2011 List, part 2: 33 Disappointments and Sleepers

January 19, 2012

While writing my 25 Best Albums of 2011 list, I came across a bunch of also-rans on my iPod and CD shelves worth mentioning, for better or worse. Some are forgotten gems I really wish I’d remembered in time to include on that list (perhaps taking Björk’s place) and some I just hadn’t gotten around to listening to in time (Veronica Falls, Still Corners, Weekend).

Well, I’m writing about them now. And just to be a jerk, or for my own amusement, I’m going to assign each album a disappointment rating ranked from zero to five.

0 = not disappointing at all (buy it now!)
5 = absolutely gutting to listen to (run away!)

Akron/Family: Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

The title says it all really. Whenever a band subtitles an album with some random gibberish, you know what you’re in for—some seriously pretentious wanking. In actuality, this isn’t nearly as bad as all that. But the band has lost some of the homegrown, organic enthusiasm of their earlier recordings. It almost sounds like Pro Tools is to fault here; a little too much of the Miles Davis, On The Corner-style editing the best bits of separate jams to assemble various tracks. Whether or not this was the case, that’s how the album sounds. A little too dense and a little too hands-off. Compared to Love Is Simple, the hooks and the warmth just aren’t there. On the other hand, compared to whatever flavour of the month lo-fi indie-psych album is currently hot (Sun Araw?), this is brilliant prog-psych by the contemparary masters of the field. Too bad their earlier work is just so much better. Disappointment rating: 3/5

Amiina: Puzzle

It’s hard to say if Amiina make music that’s too cloyingly sweet or if it’s too stereotypically fey for an Icelandic band. Perhaps both, perhaps neither. They definitely straddle a line and may or may not be tilting towards the wrong side of it. Whatever the case, it’s a line made of harp strings with  chimes and elfin voices dangling off it. And it’s a line that is drawing an enchanting picture. Perhaps a little too perfect and a little too cleanly rendered, but beautiful and soothing all the same. Besides, when you’re trying to kick an addiction to chemical sleep aids, you’re going to want an album that’s doesn’t challenge your senses to lull you to a cozy slumber. Disappointment rating: 2.5/5

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