Sweet John Bloom: Weird Prayer

Weird PrayerI suppose I like my rock and roll bratty. Or just a little more on the brash, less serious side. That’s why I’ve always shied away from bands like Radiohead and the like, as there seems to be a self-seriousness there that I find off-putting. I like music that comes with almost a wink and a nod from the band members that it’s pretty awesome that you’re listening to their songs. And it not that they don’t know any more than you do, but unlike you can play guitars and write music. It’s not that they’re not serious about their craft per se, but they don’t want to give you a lesson in their sadness, they just want to rock you out. Sweet John Bloom seems to follow that model Continue reading

Murs: Have a Nice Life

Have a Nice lifeThe humble brag isn’t a good look for a rapper. That’s how Murs starts off this album with an odd God-centric track that basically talks about his comfy life, his faithful wife and his willingness to create radio-friendly music. Look, I’m no cheerleader for the G-man, but when athletes basically say, “I’m not great, I’m just blessed by Jesus with a 50″ vertical and a 4.3 forty that allows me to juke motherfuckers,” I think even their lord and savior wants to tell them to shut the fuck up. So it’s instantly disappointing that Murs would go that way out the gate. I mean Continue reading

Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp

Ivy TrippI want to like this. I do. The same way I wanted to like PJ Harvey and some of those woman-fronted college radio rock bands from back in the 90s. I just can’t get past the meandering melodies of the whole thing. The lack of hooks. The lack of anything to grasp other than a nice singing voice and perhaps some sweet harmonies. It all feels a little too much like the Lilith Fair version of Dave Matthews to me. Ok, that’s too harsh. It’s more like I want more, well… More balls. Continue reading

Built to Spill: Untethered Moon

Untethered MoonBuilt to Spill sound like a band out of time. I mean people just don’t make music like this anymore. And that’s not a sentimental statement, but more so an indictment of the current state of indie rock. To be fair, though, very few bands made music like BTS even when slightly spacey guitar rock was actually a thing. I heard a podcast recently where Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie admitted that he just completely ripped the beginning of his musical career straight from BTS and that their influence propelled his music to the extent he thought that the similarities would be so shamefully Continue reading

Gang of Youths: The Positions

The PositionsOpening your album with a seven-and-a-half minute song is a pretty ballsy thing to do. It’s basically a band saying, “You’re gonna take us seriously, motherfucker!” And then to make that song a clear mashup to all of your heroes in U2 and Springsteen and some Tom Waits and perhaps something a little edgier version of The National, you’re laying it all out for listeners to either click away or be so intrigued they Continue reading

Earl Sweatshirt: I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go OutsideEarl, the reform school, bipolar rap prodigy from the hot-for-a-minute Odd Future, surprisingly seems to be the one that really broke out from under the yoke of insta-fame. Surprisingly because for a while there he looked to be the one who had the most to lose. Granted, I’m stuck in the white hipster echo chamber of joints like Pitchfork and the like who are less interested in what’s hot in the ‘hood and more about what they deem to be artful. So it’s a compete possibility that Earl’s haze-filled, jumbled bag of broken appliance-sounding beats may only appeal to an indie crowd unimpressed by 95% of the other hip hop out there. It’s not to say I’m completely in love with this album, as there are times when his delivery slows to a point that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Like a train grinding to a halt. It’s not like I want Twista or anything, but most of the album sounds like it’s stuck in quicksand. Like a guy who’s just popped a handful of Continue reading

The Decemberists: What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful WorldThe Decemberists are a ways off from their sea shanty days. A long way from tales that meandered through World War I circuses and purveyors of arcane goods and livers of extinct lifestyles. There are less instruments that look like pepper grinders and fireplace bellows and a move toward more traditional, modern day instrumentation. And despite that old sound growing, well, old, their new approach, which hovers somewhere around adult contemporary Americana, I miss some of that 6/8 wackiness. Ironically they even mention the change in the first track, and my favorite track, on the album, “The Singer Adresses His Audience.” It’s almost as if they were like “okay, we’ll give them a Decemberists’ track to start off the album, but in that song we’ll tell our audience not to expect any more.” It’s not as if the rest of the album doesn’t sound like them — in fact it probably sounds more like the older stuff than their last album, The King is Dead, but they clearly found a new Continue reading

Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful

Mr. WonderfulThe man is like the Chris Farley of rap. On second thought he’s more like the John Belushi of rap. And it’s not just because the man loves Italian sandwiches (lots and lots of them) but because there’s more to him, more under the surface, than just the fat, smirking guy. Sure he’s hard to look at with his giant ginger beard, XXXXL t-shirts and the now ubiquitous tats, but the man can not only rap like a stoned, white Ghostface, but can apparently cook the shit out of a nice Mediterranean meal. He also expands his sound quite a bit on this, his major label debut, showing range that he hinted at on his mixed tapes, but now apparently has the budget to execute. Live instrumentation, including drums, guitars and organs and a bunch of presumably purchased jazz samples pepper the tracks with a laid back vibe that melds with his almost loungey approach to hip-hop with his off-kilter singing and buttery rapping. Despite being laid back, he still has the swagger (however seriously you take it) of a man who is clearly not gorgeous, by continuously refers to himself that way. The perfect track for me that really sets the dude up is “Actin’ Crazy.” He kind of encapsulates everything about him as a person and him as an artist. It’s a dope song. Continue reading

The Hotelier: It Never Goes Out

It Never Goes OutI feel like someone is going to pop out any second and knock my iPhone from my hand while listening to this album and scream, “What the fuck are you listening to, you fucking pussy and your emo shit!” And then I’ll be ashamed that I really dig these guys, but poo-poo those who came before them in the pop-punk/emo genre. Because, at the end of the pain (that’s a very emo reference), these things are not so much different. But what makes it ok for me to bop my head and admire the group choruses screaming “We are the same!” and a lead singer who’s all of fifteen singing “You can’t fix me because I’m so burnt out.” I mean, seriously kid. Then there are lyrics that smack of R.E.M. and the The Get Up Kids and other touchpoints of being tired in a young body. You wonder how these things happen. This heartache. This need to get away from a situation which has barely had the opportunity to mature. It seems that the band’s lead singer was almost pre-destined to be a singer in a band like this having two of the biggest martyrs in literary history integrated into his name, Christian Holden. Yes, there’s our friend, Christ. The guy died for your sins, the scape goat and water and blood and all that. And Holden Caulfield, he of Catcher in the Rye. So what else is this dude gonna do but emote like hell in front of the squealing public?

I am still absorbing the album, and on my first few listens, it doesn’t quite have the impact of their last, breakout album, Home, Like Noplace Is There, but few albums are as listenable as that one, even after multiple spins. Continue reading

2014 Albums of the Year

Looking back, 2013 was a weak-ass year for me for music. I couldn’t even come up with more than eight albums to stick on my year-end list. This year — a much stronger entry, in my opinion — I have not ten, but eleven, entries! Now keep in mind that my canvas is pretty damn small, so I probably haven’t considered some of those avant-garde albums you’re sitting there rocking. You know, the German EDM weirdos, or the pseudo-lounge guy from Bed-Stuy or the instrumental doom metal band from Sweden, or whatever. But this is my list in no particular order. Not the best, necessarily. Just the stuff I like the best:

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Shellac: Dude Incredible

Dude IncredibleI’m a fan of Steve Albini. I’ve written [not-so] extensively about my love of his engineering prowess — most specifically about how awesome he makes drums sound. Most producers these days (and most days) make drums sound like mushy peas. Not my Steve. That is very much on display on this excellent-sounding album. In fact the rhythm section as a whole — that being the drums and bass — are pretty intensely great-sounding throughout the album. Not surprising considering two-thirds of the band is made up of sound engineers. The drums are pounding; the bass is brutish and manly in a thick, rebellious kind of way. The whole album is akin to a Neanderthal playing math rock. Time signatures are all over the place, lines repeat and repeat and repeat, but instead of being spidery and technical sounding, they hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, just banging away in an almost primordial manner. It makes one almost wish that they employed a real Continue reading

Dads: I’ll Be the Tornado

I'll Be the TornadoSomething about Jersey inspires emotion. Very seldom do you get bands from The Jerz that don’t either tug at those emo heartstrings — like the original screamo act, Thursday — or hit you with that sunny nostalgia, like Yo La Tengo. I mean if you really break it down, the original NJ rocker himself, B. Springsteen, trades in nothing more than emotional nostalgia. So here are the oddly and mysteriously named Paramus band, Dads, neither of whom are, apparently, dads. They hit that emo thing often and they hit it hard. Sometimes, like even the best emo, it’s a little too on the nose with its lyrical whining, but they do a great approximated mash up of early Built to Spill, bands like CaP’n Jazz and American Football (neither of which I love, honestly) and a small nod to their more modern compatriots like Japandroids and Patrick Stickles’ pained whelp. They really do a great job of mixing things up, swinging from one indie rock touchstone to another Continue reading

Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2

Run the Jewels 2I have a love/hate relationship with modern rap. Mostly hate. With the whole mixtape thing, it feels like the market has been saturated with a bunch of assholes who have a laptop and absolutely nothing to say. How do I know you slang and shoot? You could be a kid in your basement in Sudbury, MA. Yo, man, yelling at your mom to get you a Dr. Pepper don’t make you hard. Nor do I really give a shit. There’s just too little of substance and dick this, gun that, molly and whatnot. And now I sound like my parents. But, seriously, rap kinda sucks in 2014. So along comes two Gen X dudes, who by all whatever should be completely irrelevant and run out of town as O.G. suckas — if these swag shitheads even know what that is. Instead, older white dudes like me appreciate them for trying to do something more than repeating the same thing 27 times in a song and calling it music. El-P, being an old white dude himself, has an appreciation Continue reading

The Rural Alberta Advantage: Mended With Gold

Mended With GoldThese guys hold a special place in my heart. I absolutely adored their first two albums. Some have called them the poor man’s Neutral Milk Hotel, but I call them the Canadian Rush! Oh, wait… But they really do have a sound that is affecting in a way few other bands are. The have this far-away, harsh landscape thing that somehow marries itself with an almost dustbowl-era creakiness with subtle organs, strummed acoustics and spindly, animalistic drumming. Or at least they used to. This album feels more fleshed-out and “produced” than their last effort. The drumming, rather than all snare and cymbals (but awesome ones) employs a deeper, richer tom and floor tom thing, and the vocal accompaniment is richer than ever before. In other words, it doesn’t sound like it was produced in an isolated barn in the middle of a glacier — but perhaps it was. There’s also less of a rustic, backwoods sound to the record; less instruments that sound like wood Continue reading

Ex Hex: Rips

RipsThis irony here — or not so much irony, but pity — is that this is the album Wild Flag probably thought they were making. Or at least hoped they’d make. It’s no coincidence that Mary Timony, one-fourth of that super-group, grabs the reigns here and proves that sometimes the individuals within the super-group are better than the sum of the their parts (see Dan Behar as soloist versus of-late New Pornographers). Timony throws the (s)Ex into the Ex and rocks it old-school, combining your classic Joan Jett / Runaways thing with mid-nineties college indie rock. In fact, songs like “Beast” sound an awful lot like the more rocking tunes of Liz Phair’s circa 1993-94. Timony’s vocals, with her kind of monotone thing, are clearly influenced by Patti Smith. And the songs themselves are part Pretenders with a dash of Ramones. The stuff Continue reading

Chick Lead Singers

I realize, scanning my music collection, that I have very few albums by bands that are fronted by chicks. Sure there are some solo acts (Lily Allen, M.I.A., Juliana Hatfield, etc.), but I have very few modern records on which the only voice heard is that of a rockin’ woman. Notice I say “only,” because there are a bunch of bands out there that have bought into the whole boy/girl thing, but still very few (at least in my collection) that are truly fronted solely by a chick. I’d like to think I don’t have a bias against the whole female voice thing, but perhaps I do have a deep-seated problem with estrogen in my rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve actually discussed this with several female acquaintances of mine (just to see if I do indeed have a problem), but to my surprise almost to a woman they claimed to also like the sound of a male voice fronting their bands. Then I started to think that perhaps there was just a dearth of chick-lead bands out there, or that record labels themselves had a bias Continue reading

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Blood Sugar Sex MagikThis album had the misfortune of coming out on the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s not so much that the two albums were competing dollar for dollar right out of the gate from what I recall, but while one spawned several massive hits, the other changed music for years to come and in the process created a deity for an entire generation. I mean I bought both albums in the same trip to the student record store, but I imagine off the back of Mother’s Milk and its huge single, “Higher Ground,” that it had a higher level of expectation around it than did Nirvana’s eventual masterpiece. Or at least name recognition out of the gate. I had been a Chili Peppers fan since the early days, owing mostly to being raised in their hometown of LA and being a larger than normal fan of the whole funk rap and roll hybrid (I’m looking at you 24-7 Spyz.)

So I listened to this first and was honestly pretty blown away. The production on this thing is beautiful. The slinky baselines and ballzy pop of the rhythm section are pretty damn awesome and John Frusciante just makes his guitar sing. I believe I actually laughed out loud at how awesome this album was. It barely feels like the same band who made the albums that came before. Maybe that was partially Rick Rubin working his magic, or perhaps they just hit on a formula that has not been duplicated since. There is not — and I dare you to search — an album that sounds like this one. Not a one. And there probably never will be. Kiedis, love him or hate him, is also a savant on this thing. Clearly the weakest link in a band filled with amazingly talented musicians, he uses that off kilter (and often times out of tune) lisp to put emotion and an almost homeless blues quality on every song. Even when he’s cartoonishly talking about bonin’, Continue reading

Pearl Jam: Ten

TenEasily one of the top five influential and memorable albums of my college years. For those who thought Nirvana was too discordant and suicidal, Pearl Jam instilled that little dose of Phish for the hacky sackers, enough competence and jaminess to satisfy the Dave Matthews crowd and certainly enough gruff singing, emotional resonance and distorted guitars to make an earnest fan of any real rock and roller. Plus you had those great music videos, live performances with Eddie Vedder climbing scaffolding and singing like a possessed epileptic and that hair. All that lovely, lovely long Seattle grunge hair.

So. Here we were in Syracuse. It’s winter. It’s cold. Because of course it is. We go down to the Landmark Theater to see the Chili Peppers. Opening for them are The Smashing Pumpkins, whose Gish we’d heard a couple times and thought sounded fucking amazing (and still does) and some band called Pearl Jam. Stupid, stupid name. So we show up and there are three people there. Two guys sitting in the second row on the aisle and a bum sleeping in the back row trying to get in from the cold. As we’re walking up the center aisle to what we think are our seats, a screech emanates from the stage and PJ launches into “Even Flow.” The two dudes go absolutely banana and start screaming Eddies name. We take our seats and are absolutely blown away by what unfurls in this ancient theater in front of us. Eddie is the Eddie from the early videos. He’s a spaz, jumping all over Jeff Ament and climbing everything he can. As they play, people file in, but these two guys finally get his attention and he jumps into the orchestra pit, climbs a barrier and sits in their laps while singing Jeremy, five feet from us. They give him a Michael Jordan hat and he jumps back into the pit and attempts to get back on stage, and is tackled by security, who are obviously as unfamiliar with Eddie as we are. He breaks free from their grip and continues singing, an obvious cigarette hole now burned in his shirt. He makes a quip after finishing and launches into another song. Meanwhile the crowd that has shown up is clearly enjoying themselves and it turns out that this is the highlight of our night. And, honestly, still one of my favorite concert-going experiences I’ve had to date.
So we leave that night and the next day go down to the student record store and buy Ten. Also a stupid name. But whatevs. We put it on and on and on and on. And songs like “Alive” become anthems. Rallying cries for drunken frat boys, despite the subject matter. And we see more shows. I stop after a while because I’m not a fan of huge arena shows, which they continue to sell out some 20 years later, but Ms. Hipster continues to diligently buy her Ten Club tickets for any shows in or around NYC and probably will continue until she deems our children old enough to share in her experience. This is just one of those albums that changed the face of music and to this day is a lot of Gen Xers Zeppelin IV or White Album.

I Love Steve Albini

I know it’s super old school to care about producers in rock music, but I’m an old school kind of guy. It’s not as if it’s hip-hop or anything. It’s producing guitars and drums and shit that sounds like shit should. No bleeps and bloops, no wall of sound. No bullshit. Just straight ahead rock and fucking roll.

And nobody, in my opinion, does it better than Steve Albini. The man can make drums sound like the banging instrument they should be, not just background mush. And ripping guitar solos and squealing shredding and bombast all right up front and not buried in the overproduced whitewash reverb of most of today’s hipster music. Of course, reading over my Bitch Magnet review, I’m obviously talking about the album of the dual-album re-release that Albini did NOT record… Continue reading

2011 Albums of the Year

So I figure everyone else is doing his top albums thing, so I might as well. Now I don’t get free albums or anything, so I have to spend my hard earned money on music. Thus, my list is limited to the top ten, but you’ll get the idea.Now, are these the best albums of the year? Most likely not. Is it my top ten? Like my favorite albums of the year? Mostly. I honestly find it difficult to find great albums, as consistency just isn’t easy to carry off, apparently. Like track 1-12 consistency. Even some of the best albums are uneven. So here are my top 10 favorite albums that I happen to I own from 2011 in alphabetical order. Enjoy. Or don’t.

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