Key To Music Grades

A - You will never be whole without it
B - Highly recommended
C - Flawed, but still pretty good
D - It's your money, not mine
F - Why couldn't this have been burned in Fahrenheit 451?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Down II - A Bustle In Your Hedgerow (2002)

What is there to really say of this album? Disappointment, my brothers and sisters; prepare for disappointment. The chunky riffage of "Lysergik Funeral Procession" opens it all up, as if a kind of continuance of NOLA, but that's about where the fun ends, because the album then proceeds to tank, precipitously -- a helluva NOLA letdown, for sure. A bustle in your hedgerow this effort is not; more like a thimble in a haystack. Phil's voice is, understandably but mournfully, wearied and lacking much of his famous punch. At 15 songs, and one hour in length, the album isn't exactly a sprawling epic, but it sure feels like it; the cheeky pretensions of the title and the torpor of the music contribute to this feeling, I suppose. "Landing On The Mountains Of Meggido," the song that closes it all, is by far the best track on the album, and perhaps one of Down's best songs. Although very Zeppish, this plaintive acoustic song bristles with an angry, albeit subdued and genuine sadness. When Phil tiredly sings, "this is what wars are made of," you can hear the resignation. Other pretty good tracks: "Ghosts In The Mississippi," "Beautifully Depressed" and "Seed." Buyer beware: "Flambeaux's Jamming With St. Aug" and "Doobinterlude" are pointless filler. "Where I'm Going" answers itself musically: nowhere -- worst track, methinks. Listen to NOLA and the new album, not this mess.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Clash - London Calling (1979)

For London Calling, the release dates in the UK and US (December 1979 and January 1980, respectively) signify a kind of bridge between what many believe to be different epochs of music -- all of which matters very little in retrospect considering the album's affinity for complete fusion of many styles. This album has been called one of the greatest of all time (I disagree heartily); it is also used as evidence that The Clash were, in a sense, the Only Band That Matters; but for all its exorbitant praise and nonsense, London Calling is one amazing double album, and is definitely situated high atop my list.

The opening title track, "London Calling," not only blows the hinges off the door for the album, it also sets the political tone. The bass throbs; the drums chop in strict fashion; the guitars plead with the world to end; Joe crows at the apocalypse. It's amazing, and it's only the first song. As a double album, I have no desire to trek through each track, but I will offer a brief summation, to give you a sense of the various styles on the album: "Rudie Can't Fail" is a nod to reggae; "Clampdown" sounds like a Nazi rejoinder filtered through a punk song; "Train In Vain" is the Clash basically showing all the subsequent 80s poseurs how to write a good pop song; "I'm Not Down" is a chipper but churlish up-tempo song; "Brand New Cadillac" is an intense rockabilly cover; "Wrong 'Em Boyo" is an upbeat ska number; "Hateful" and "Death Or Glory" are just pure, vintage Clash; and tell me, who's ever been "Lost In The Supermarket?"

Double albums usually indicate that a band has attained a certain bloated sense of craftsmanship and are going for the artistic nuts, be it of epic quality, rock opera bust or, in the Clash's case, a way of simply giving its fans double the songs for the price of one by tricking its record company and such a gift having been the family jewels. On "London Calling," Joe sings, commenting on the probable death of the punk movement, that "Phony Beatlemania has the bitten the dust." He was right; good thing London Calling wasn't a punk album. A

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Mars Volta - De-Loused In The Comatorium (2003)

The Mars Volta: currently wearing the helm of Prog Band Extraordinaire. Well, not quite. As those who know me in life have heard me gripe, the Mars Volta think they are better than they actually are, and have the pretensions of grandiosity of a great prog band, but sound more like they try to advertise themselves as a prog band rather than just be one. As first evidenced here, their freshman effort, De-Loused In The Comatorium, is a fable in artificiality.

The album begins strongly enough with "Son Et Lumiere" -- a nice opener if any into what is arguably the album's finest track, "Inertiatic ESP," a wicked number with shifting time signatures, dissonant guitar phrasings and all kinds of other things goin' on, man. Unfortunately, it ends with what I call "drugscapes" -- music otherwise horrible to even the most progressive of music listeners but that only drug addicts can appreciate (or the band members themselves). Drugscapes contain nothing of intrinsic musical value and are nothing more than flavoring particles in a sentence; like the German doch, they add nothing but pretense and pomp. (More on this later.) "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)" is a good song, but I worry sometimes that Cedric's wailings resemble modern-day emo angst; and this perplexes me, mostly for the need for reliance on such childish expressionist emotion. "Drunkship Of Lanterns" is yet another centerpiece of quality on the album and I always dig this one.

Otherwise, let me return to the most horrendous use of drugscapes during the most pivotal track on the album, "Cicatriz ESP." All the makings of a great epic song exist, but the band apparently prefers the proverbial l'art pour l'art sentiment here, as it inserts a meaningless and seemingly endless four-or-so-minute drugscape that utterly annihilates the glorious momentum the song had held hitherto -- which is precisely the difference between good prog and bad prog: no meaningless dawdling. In the very least, a poseur prog band must realize that its much more intelligent listeners can recognize the difference between weak jams and random space effects as meaningless dawdling. Alas. "Eriatarka," "Televators" and "Tira Me A Las Arenas" are weak. Unfortunately, these fellows greatly improve upon their strengths for their next album, Frances The Mute, but stupidly ignore their weaknesses. For now, though, let's stick with one subject. B

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ween - Pure Guava (1992)

I had never heard of Ween except for the insistent and effuse praise by a certain gentleman I know well named Cianan who, incidentally, also introduced me to Captain Beefheart, to which I owe him my most soiled diapers. Aside from some absolute brilliance, these guys are way out there. If Proteus were a musician, this would be his music: slippery, ever-changing and containing elements from every crook and cave this side of the nearest cepheid variable. Pure Guava, in this sense, is a tightly wound musical mess, gushing with pink ooze and variance of style. Understandably, some of it is not to my taste -- do you put sugar on your pizza? -- but it works for them.

I'd like to add first that "Pumpin' 4 The Man" is the most wonderful anti-ode to shitty employment ever; it's short, brutal and features a wallop of popping drums and bass.

"Push Th' The Little Daisies" is also a high-saccharine affair and showcases Dean's strangely perfect guitar riffs. "Little Birdy" is what I would call a drugged little ditty with interesting guitar warbling and warped vocals (much like the rest of the record, which is lacking in vocals without effects). "The Stallion, Pt. 3," "Big Jilm," "I Saw Gener Cryin' In His Sleep" -- all solid tracks.

Yet this is not a five-star review by any measure of my demented yardstick. "Tender Situation," "Sarah," and "I Play It Off Legit" are rather lacking in ooomph; frat-boy titled songs like "Touch My Tooter," "Flies On My Dick," "Hey Fat Boy (Asshole)" and "Poop Ship Destroyer" are not only silly titles, they're even stupider songs. Pure Guava, like Ween themselves, is like a buffett; and tell me, who likes to eat everything at a buffett? C-

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Moody Blues - Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)

I've noticed that my reviews, much to my internal disappointment, have drifted in a kind of pendulum fashion: I'm either ponderously thrashing a thoroughly shoddy album from start to finish, or I'm sheepishly mewing the praises of the glorious greats. Problem is, I'm eventually going to run out of albums to review. More importantly, I'm cutting out the middle class. Sad as it is to admit, most albums are middling affairs, and I wish it were otherwise. Ergo, I've decided to put up the Magnificent Moodies on the chopping block. Besides Days Of Future Passed (which I love unconditionally), the Moody Blues have never really put out a terrible album, but have revealed that there's not much to their musical coffers, either. They were, more or less, a great singles band but who used that great single or so and surrounded it with fubbly filler. (Sorry for the patois; it's de rigueur in my mad little world and I always prefer sound to sense.)

While every good boy may deserve favour, the Moodies certainly don't deserve it for their efforts here. A good portion of the album is a recycled orchestral wash. I never listen to the drug-addled mysticism of "Procession," the lullaby pomp of "Emily's Song" or the torpidly lush "My Song." Instead, I prefer tracks like "Nice To Be Here" and "The Guessing Game." Sure, I'm not bobbing up and down with delight, but they're still good. The real meat, I think, is in "After You Came" and the gorgeously melancholy "The Story Of Your Eyes" -- which features quite possibly their best guitar work (with solo!) and most maddeningly depressing lyrics; it's one of my favorite songs of theirs, if that's worth a mention. Otherwise, this is one of those albums where every other song is skip-worthy. C

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Beatles - Rubber Soul (1965)

While there are those who may think me harmlessly puerile, perhaps I cross the line here when I say that the Fab Four weren't so Fab, darling, and that visiting Strawberry Fields every year is not going to bring him back, nor your youth. Such otherworldly adoration befits a person with inherently misplaced priorities -- when was the last time you visited a loved one with such frequency? Yet you sing happy tunes in mournful fashion because a man sat in a bed and protested, claimed grandeur greater than Christianity and you were one of those who believed him. Granted, I dig John Lennon, but not that much. Well, I'll move on to this review, since it is obvious that I'm more in the mood to knife you than attempt to piddle with your rubber soul.

Rubber Soul is an astonishingly bad album. Much like everything else these fabulous fabs created, this album is a certain admixture of hype, cheerfulness and populism amidst a swarthy lyrical backdrop -- which is to say, it's like many of their early records: a mushy filthy stinky bog with an occasional pearl. "In My Life" is that pearl, and very little else is of consequence. For sure, these guys have a grand collection of incredible tunes; if only they had opted to consolidate such greatness over two or three albums instead of the numberless albums, international editions, compilations, singles, etc. that we have long suffered through only to have these same recycled waxatheticals unscrupulously plucked and placed on repackaged anthologies and taken from our wallets thence. When I think of music which is designed to, in a sense, represent the pain and ugliness of humanity, I listen to Penderecki's "Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima," not Rubber Soul -- even though the latter provides me with ample pain and ugliness. Ouch, I've got bug splatter everywhere. Stop, Bryan. Stop. Um, I like "I'm Looking Through You" and "Nowhere Man" too. So there. D

Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)

For those unfamiliar with the current state of affairs, Radiohead -- unwitting bearers of the mantle of Only Band That Matters -- is without a label and a distribution company. Ergo, rather than peddle to corporate filth and delayed the release of their album In Rainbows, they've decided, just as they have musically with each of their albums, to turn the music industry on its head and release the album themselves -- except that you decide what price you would like to pay. A conventional release is expected sometime next year, and a special box set (priced at £40) will be shipped in December of this year; the box set includes the actual album and a bonus CD as well as accompanying vinyl records and artwork. As of October 10, 2007, the album has been available for download at, if you haven't gotten it already -- again, at whatever price you wish to pay, to include zero. (I paid $10 and it's been worth every beautiful Abraham Lincoln.) Not only is this one of those most brain-splitting ventures we've seen in quite awhile, it's also one of the most brilliant. You think people are going to pay nothing? Absolutely. But venture over to Amazon and check out the obvious increase in the sales ranks from everything in their back catalog and tell me, honestly, who do you think those new customers are? Not me. I already own every LP, EP, b-side, etc. that you can think of. How's that for major-revenue producing exposure in the least possible time?

Onwards. This long player, Radiohead's seventh, is simply amazing. If you are expecting something remotely bearing any kind of resemblance to their previous albums, then go listen to those albums again, because In Rainbows won't do it for you. Thom's voice is cleaner and clearer (like on The Eraser), and the music is layered only inasmuch as it needs to be. Rabid Radiohead fans will immediately recognize "Nude," a hanger-on of a song dating back as far as the OK Computer sessions that has finally met the expectations of the band -- and what an otherworldly performance! Thom's voice is beyond beautiful; but like past Radiohead releases, there is a sense of menacing disquiet that undercuts the overt and perhaps superficial feeling evoked musically from the song. (Think "Pyramid Song" from Amnesiac.) In fact, before I continue, I would like to counter much of what is being written about this album; that Radiohead's music has become more accessible; that it seems happier; that it is more mellow. At first listen -- perhaps; but there is something far more sinister at work during In Rainbows than meets the ear. I believe we must take Thom at his word when he states that the lyrics are more terrifying on In Rainbows than on OK Computer. Is it no coincidence that "Videotape," the last song on the album, sounds like a suicide note left to someone, replete with its mournful piano and eerie drum tapping? For all you happy-sayers, ask yourself if the joy of a glockenspiel or if an uplifting acoustic guitar really overpowers Thom's real and very fragile voice bleatings of collapsing infrastructure, being eaten by worms; or, my favorite line from "Nude" -- "you'll go to hell for what you dirty mind is thinking." Sound likes the "we hope that you choke" at the end of "Exit Music," right? You know, that romantic little love ditty about Romeo and Juliet? Or perhaps "we can we wipe you out anytime" from "Sit Down. Stand Up" was more your cup of romantic tea?

Well, get on with it if you haven't already. The fury of "Bodysnatchers" -- the lush arrangement of the perfectly brief "Faust Arp" -- the skittish electronica of "15 Step" -- the funk-laden groove of "All I Need" -- the wonderful arpeggios in "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." The album is just brilliant -- like a tender hand hopeful of redemption scouring through the blackness and shit. It's Radiohead people. Relish it. A

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Night Sun - Mournin' (1972)

It was 1972 -- a glorious year for music, and hard rock especially. BOC's eponymous debut. Sabbath's Vol. 4. Purple's Machine Head. 1972 -- like 1971 or 1973 and many of those years long, long ago when music mattered -- was an absolute slugfest of brilliant albums battling for your auricular attention. So it makes perfect sense that Night Sun, a German prog band no less, subsequently fell off the face of the musical earth after trying to compete with a talent-loaded era with the release of their one and only Mournin', an intense guitar/organ-fest with enough resemblances to Sabbath and Purple to make a faint comparison, but not enough to squarely underpin the band as shameless poseurs. Actually, for those familiar with Night Sun and who've written them off as just that, consider this line from Nabokov's Despair (Отчаяние for my Russian audience): "You'll say next that all Chinamen are alike. You forget, my good man, that what the artist perceives is, primarily, the difference between things. It is the vulgar who note their resemblance." Do they sound like Purple just because they have an organ? Are they Sabbath-esque because they have monstrous riffs? Ugh.

The album opens with "Plastic Shotgun," a strangely syncopated stop-go explosiveness, both guitar and organ ablaze with intensity and is over before you've ingested it. "Crazy Woman" also features an awesome organ and guitar battle and some nifty psychedelic drumming. "Got A Bone Of My Own" is a prog-a-rific instrumental; "Slush Pan Man" has some great mid-tempo sludgy riffs and a pounding organ. "Nightmare" is by far the sickest thing you'll find on this album -- a hopping mad display of riffage and groove.

"Blind" is great too, though not as frenzied. So what have you got to lose? You know you're not content with the lack of oomph on the new Foo's album, or the classic rock pretensions of Icky Thump. Face it. Most music sucks. Go back and dig up the bands that never made it, like Night Sun. A D-list band from the 70s is 10,000 maniacs better than the pop gods we have to suffer through today. B+

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um (1959)

The Angry Man of Jazz turns in, arguably, his best set on Mingus Ah Um. I realize The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady has its many advocates and strengths, but this album is simply the reason jazz should exist. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," a tribute to the deceased Lester Young, is probably the most famous piece from this work, and deservedly so; it brilliantly encapsulates the longing and emotion for a lost friend while simultaneously celebrating him. Well-respected musicians such as Andy Summers, Jeff Beck, and John McLaughlin, to name a few, have done cover versions of it.

But that's not the only thing worth listening to. "Better Git It In Your Soul," the album's opener, is an expressive, semi-loose kind of jam replete with vocal punctuations of hallelujah but with a tempered groove. "Boogie Stop Shuffle" sounds like you've heard it from the theme of some crime detective television show from the 50s, but after thirty seconds, you'll realize it's too good to be condensed as such and will begin to bop with the boogie. "Open Letter To Duke" is a kind of response to Duke Ellington, a huge influence on Mingus and is just superb. Take a listen.

Gives me chills, man! Similarly, "Bird Calls" is in the vein of Mr. Parker, and does not disappoint, either. "GG Train" is excellent as well. Despite its status as a standard, I am not entirely enamored with "Fables Of Faubus," but what can you do? This is a very nuanced, expressive statement from one of the great jazz musicians of our time and overall its individual compositions form a diverse palette for your tastes (just like this blog). A-

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Metallica - Reload (1997)

I usually don't do consecutive reviews of the same band, but I take exception here, simply because one scathing review is generally best followed by another -- think of it as a kind of musical criticism bukkake. Anyway, Reload is exactly that -- a reload of the same garbage you heard on Load, except that the songs are more or less outtakes and recycled versions of the same filth. If Load was a rotten discolored dog turd, Reload is that same turd but having been maliciously stepped on and scavenged by vultures for undigested corn droppings.

The first track, "Fuel," is enormously fantastic -- so fantastic that Metallica immediately decided to sell the rights to NASCAR for use during broadcasts. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that Danica Patrick got more people interested in racing; it was all because of "Fuel."

Beautiful, man, beautiful. Like McDonald's, I'm lovin' it. Like GEICO, you guys make it look so easy, a caveman could do it. Most importantly -- and this is perhaps the purest distillation of wisdom and individual verbal craft I can construct to bestow with marvelous munificence on your magnificent album -- where's the beef? An F for everything, you bastards.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Metallica - Load (1996)

This is the album that made me loathe everything thereunto that was Metallica, a burgeoning second-hand purveyor of sludgy blues and snarling billboard ballads à la James Hetfield, the replacement Robert Plant of the 1990s (except Hetfield prefers to growl instead of meow.) True, The Black Album was disappointing and inconsistent, but that album, so we believed at the time despite our premature tears, was their sophomore effort, the one where they experimented a bit, right? Well, no. See, if the name Metallica is, in a sense, wordplay on the word metal, certainly Load has become the dross atop it. Scum. Drivel. The ick from a syphilitic dick.

"Ain't My Bitch", the opening track, contains the lyric, "I've already heard this song before" -- and I couldn't agree more. Sure does sound like everything else and not like Metallica anymore, eh? Perhaps they were trying for Alice In Chains-Lite, or Creed with a smarmy snarl, or perchance just the first pioneering thrash outfit to incorporate twang into their tunes and completely lose the riffs? Nah, no self-respecting band would ever do that. I remember being in the car with my mother at the time of this album's release and "Until It Sleeps" came on the radio; and let me tell you something, when this woman -- who could have just two hours earlier screamed at me for raping her ears with "Hit The Lights" -- casually remarked that this song was actually pretty good, I knew that the Metallica I loved was dead and rotting with hundreds of thousands of hungry pop fleas encircling and eating up what newly marketable stink sound it was emanating.

I have little positive to say, other than "King Nothing" and "Hero Of The Day" provide brief glimpses of the former glory these Bay Area thrashers used to indulge in. This abortion of an album along with the subsequent release of its demented sister release, Reload, cemented Metallica's status as the ultimate Benedict Arnold's of the music business. Good luck assholes. I hope you choke on your own shit. F