Category Archives: 2007

Top albums of 2007

Well, here it is. I tried, throughout the course of the past few months, to review as many of the albums that I have heard this year that I could. This has been quite a year for new music, a year that caught me by surprise. I did not realize all of the great albums that came out until about mid November. Many of the albums that I heard I did not get until several months after they were released. These are the ones that got the most spins, and for good reason. Here they are in order, well reverse order, to heighten the suspense.

I had to go with 15 because I really couldn’t narrow it down any further. If there is a problem, please write your congressman.

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam15.) Animal Collective -“Strawberry Jam”
This band out of Baltimore turned out a great electronic, rock, noise album this year in “Strawberry Jam”. The hooks are just as catchy and the vocals are at times soaring and hopeful and at others thoughtful or just plain surreal. It’s always interesting to see how a band operates outside of the “rock” idiom, and the Collective definitely make things interesting. It is unclear as to the instrumentation in each of the songs. Sound manipulation plays a more important role than that of a “drum part” a “guitar part” and verse-chorus-verse structure. Working in the experimental genre can be a tricky balancing act but the Animal Collective do it well. Just the right amount of reaching out and trying new things and straight up classic “good songwriting”.

14.) Marnie Stern – “In Advance of the Broken Arm”Marnie Stern - “In Advance of the Broken Arm”

For me this album came out of nowhere. Kirstie was shooting her for Venus and told me about this crazy two-hand tapping technique that Marnie used. My brother said it was like Maps and Atlases and I can see the connection with her densely contrapuntal and layered guitar sound and vocals that are alternately screamed and sung Marnie’s sound is quite unlike anything else that I have ever heard before. Her lyrics speak of self-confidence and metaphysics and everything in between. The album, however, does seem to weaken a bit towards the end and I think that is going to be quite a challenge to follow up an album like this with a set of songs that are equally intense and interesting without beating the style to death. The use of Hella’s Zach Hill on drums is the perfect choice, as his all out assault on the drums is the perfect match for Stern’s continuously moving and perfectly articulated guitar textures.

13.) Battles – “Mirrored”Battles - “Mirrored”
The clean and precise production on this album speaks of its straddling the line between prog-rock and jazz-fusion. Like Interpol, or Marnie Stern for that matter, the guitars of Battles create a very layered and contrapuntal sound that creates as much forward motion as to propel the listener through a 10 minute track without getting bored. Many of the tunes on this album don’t rely specifically on the talents of one member in particular but as the band truly working as a single unit. The track “Tonto” is a perfect example of this with it’s slow and controlled build up and the perfectly engineered dénouement that closes the track with a gradual slowing of the tempo until everything dies away the way that the track began. There is attention paid to the form of each piece on this album, as well as the form of the album as a whole, with opening and closing tracks working together to form perfect bookends. The album is quite demanding on the listener though, by the end I usually feel rather worn down. This is not quite mindless background music, it is pretty heady and well thought out music that may only appeal on certain levels to true music dorks.

12.) Liars – “Liars”Liars - “Liars”
The follow up to the sparse, hallucinogenic inspired tomes of “Drums Not Dead”, “Liars” finds these Australian crazies synthesizing all that they have accomplished to date. Tracks like “Freak Out” still feature out of tune guitars, but with a funky bass groove that would remind fans of early work such as “Mr. You’re on Fire Mr.”. Elements from their more far out and experimental albums is still present in some tracks like “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Dumb in the Rain” but for the most part, from what I can tell, this is just an album of great songs. There is no hint of a super-intellectual story-telling going on in this album, which is great. This album was the perfect decision for Liars to follow up an early-Sonic Youth-esque stage in their careers, get back on track with some really catchy, yet characteristic songs and probably continue to frighten audiences around the world with their astounding live performances. If you ever have the opportunity to catch this band live I would suggest it highly.

11.) Caribou – “Andorra” Caribou - “Andorra”
Simply put the songs on this album are great. I know that that is a cop-out, as, well, it is obvious that I find the songs great on this album, why else would I put it on my year end best-of list? But I find it to stand out particularly from this years other contenders partly because of it’s seeming stance to bring back the Motown production sound, mixed with a little bit of Phil Spector. The reverb used on this album, along with the sleighbells (particularly the ones heard on the opening track) make it sound like a forward thinking relic of an album. I can’t imagine that there was too much state of the art equipment used in the making of this album, though I could be very wrong. I just really like the authentic sound of this album. One could imagine that this would eventually happen with Caribou, as there are strands of this sound in development in “The Milk Of Human Kindness” though this album benefits from tighter songwriting and less tinkering in an instrumental abyss than past work. This album is a great step forward and according to people I know that have seen Caribous live since this album came out he is definitely an act worth catching.

10.) The Bad Plus – “Prog”The Bad Plus
Cracking my Top 10 is an album closer to the stylings of jazz than anything else. The performance ability of each of the three guys in The Bad Plus is absolutely amazing. They are all masters in their own right, working closely together as composers and performers. This album of covers (yes, it is that good, that I would even consider an album of mostly cover songs shows how great this album actually is) with a few original compositions mixed in for good measure is quite amazing. Covers of David Bowie, Rush and Tears for Fears mix seamlessly with original compositions. The covers are each treated to their own very unique process, parts are added and solos are taken to a whole new level of virtuosity. Though this album clearly stands squarely in the jazz idiom there is a rock sensibility that touches upon each song on the album. The precision, attention to detail and high standard for excellent performance stems from three well-trained jazz musicians but the reckless energy of rock stands behind everything.

9.) Thurston Moore – “Trees Outside the Academy”Thurston Moore - “Trees Outside the Academy”
The latest solo release from Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore is, obviously, quite similar in style to many of the songs that he recently penned for SY’s “Rather Ripped” but there is a more simple style at work when he is without his cohorts. Thurstons strips down the guitars a lot, and the result is a much more clear and relaxed album. The addition of violin is a nice touch, and actually is the element that truly sets the songs quite a far distance apart from anything Sonic Youth has done. This album also shows that Thurston has evolved quite a bit from the “Psychic Hearts” days, the songs here are more focused and calm, but his punk energy still shines through. He’s getting older but he’s always going to be the coolest guy on the planet.

8.) Field Music – “Tones of Town”Field Music - “Tones of Town”
Much like The Futureheads Field Music has a densely layered and contrapuntal sound that sounds like the next generation of 70’s prog rock. Obviously heavily influenced by Yes and other bands of that era these Brits manage to pack quite a lot of excitement and energy into a very diverse album of very catch tunes. This album, for me, was a late entry in my year end lineup and if I was given more time with it I’m sure it would be much higher up on my list. Each song is great in its own way, and it sounds wonderful too, great production quality. I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to their first album, as I didn’t know that they existed prior to November but I am definitely going to make it a point to look into this band further.

7.) Cuff the Duke – “Sidelines of the City”Cuff the Duke - “Sidelines of the City”
I truly think that Cuff the Duke can do no wrong. They are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. Every song that I have heard from them is great. They jump comfortably from genre to genre and sound great and confident no matter what they are doing. The lead singer has a unique, very instantly recognizable voice. The instruments change up a bit from time to time. This time out the opening track adds a single violin playing in a folk style, country inflicted (as many of their songs are) and truly sounding like an American folk-tune. This is an album that I never skip a track on, and I have listened to this album many many times in the past few months. I am already looking forward to their next effort. Unfortunately they aren’t too popular in the U.S. and seeing them any time soon would probably be a dream. To me seeing Cuff the Duke would be a legendary, unforgettable event, though to many Canadians I’m sure that it is just commonplace. Check out this band! You will not be disappointed.

6.) The Good, The Bad and The Queen – “The Good, The Bad and The Queen”The Good the Bad and the Queen - “The Good the Bad and the Queen”
An incredibly dark album about war, times of frustration, uncertainty and suffering. This is a great album, if it all is kind of the same sound over and over again. Each of the songs put you in a place that is dark with a sense of foreboding doom. I have never heard an album that sounds like this before and I am almost positive that this super group of sorts will not be putting out another album, or if they do it will not be anytime soon. I am quite jealous of Damon Albarn’s ability to crank out music all over the place with several different projects going at once it seems. Each of the tracks on this album feel monumental, noteworthy and legendary I would place it higher, but like I said, each of the songs sort of sound a bit the same, thankfully they are all excellent.

5 .) Menomena – “Friend and Foe”Menomena - “Friend and Foe”
Menomena is a great group of musicians, in case you didn’t know. Three guys, all great songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, sharing singing and songwriting duties. They are just as tight live as they are on record. Each of the guys has a distinctive songwriting voice and several instruments are used to create a lush sound. Tracks range from the tragic to the imploring, light and gentle to dark and unnerving. Whenever a band chooses to operate in this manner it can be just what is needed to propel an album through to the end, a distinct amount of variety. Their sound is distinct, to say the least, yet they don’t stray too far from tried and true forms and catchy hooks. What it really comes down to is that these guys are fantastic songwriters and great instrumentalists. This is another album that has been in heavy rotation on my itunes for months and months, and will continue in this manner for a long time to come I’m sure.

4.) Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Ashtray Rock”Joel Plaskett - “Ashtray Rock”
Another album from a fantastic songwriter and amazing guitarist. I don’t even care if he rips off Jimmy Page left and right, it’s fun and it sounds great and he does it well and that’s all I care about. Have you heard Jimmy Page lately, he sounds like shit, but I digress. Joel can write a song about anything, I’m convinced, after seeing him live twice and watching him rewrite lyrics on the spot. He has strung this album into a series of songs that tell a rather simple story, not sure if it’s a true story or not but that is nearly beside the point. The album is so well thought out and well put together and every song is catchy as hell and great (yes even Fashionable People, I happen to love that song). Plaskett blasts through each song with a mind boggling array of guitar sounds and at the same time jumping from inspiration to inspiration making the album truly sound like a recollection from his childhood. This album is also proof that if an album is made by someone that truly has fun while playing music the album will be fun to listen to and in general great, it’s contagious. I could go on for days about how great this album is and how much I love Joel, but I won’t, if you haven’t heard this album, go now and listen.

3.) Interpol – “Our Love to Admire”Interpol - “Our Love to Admire”
New York City neo-shoegaze turned gloomy math-rock band Interpol just keep getting better. Does it matter that it takes them 3 years to create an album? They hardly toured for the better part of 2 years, didn’t do any interviews, were not on TV and when they emerge Carlos D. has a creepy mustache and the guys have put together a truly mindblowing album of thoughtful and complex tunes with cryptic lyrics. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I listened to this album when it first came out. The album itself got into my bones like a virus, slowly working it’s way out from “The Heinrich Maneuver” and eventually spreading to the rest of the album. I couldn’t get enough and soon I was hooked, listening to it everywhere and several times a day. I would say more things about the album in detail, but I think I already did a pretty good job of that here.

2.) Radiohead – “In Rainbows”Radiohead - “In Rainbows”
Well if I had any indie cred I am apparently about to shoot it out the window. I don’t know why hating Radiohead seems to be the cool, hipster thing to do these days, but you can not deny that these Brits can write an absolutely phenomenal album, without a doubt. I, no exaggeration, listened to this album 10 times a day for at least 2 weeks immediately following its release. Not a bad second, no complaints, nothing that I could possibly imagine changing. The gentle lulling of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” featuring a great, closely voiced double guitar line is my favorite of the album. The closing track “Videotape” is reminiscent of other Radiohead closing tracks. This is a truly great album, it is an important album and if you are not listening to it because you think they are too popular or you want to be different and it seems that everyone loves Radiohead, well, pull your head out of your fucking ass, swallow your pride and listen to this album. It will blow your mind. It is legendary. No joke. Next.

1.) Spoon – “Ga ga ga ga ga”Spoon - “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”
The best album of the year happens to have the worst title of any album, ever. Whatever. I have already talked about this album here. This is a great improvement from their last album “Gimme Fiction” a truly overblown, overdone near piece of garbage. “Ga ga ga ga ga” is stripped down, intelligent and great from cover to cover. Nothing truly mindblowing here, just great rock tunes that position Spoon, I feel, much in the same place that Sonic Youth was upon the release of Daydream Nation. Spoon has become the indie band that any other smart indie band wants to be like. They have a large following, are writing great songs, have been at it a while and became the talk of the town after this album was released. I am hoping that the electricity that I felt when they were playing Saturday Night Live was not imagined. I want to believe that not only did they play perfectly but that they connected with the home audience and got some more, well deserved fans. This album sounds fantastic and I am still obsessed with it, and that will last a long long time I’m sure. I am probably the only one that has this at the top of their list, but as Brit says “you got no fear of the underdog, that’s why you will not survive”.

The Bad Plus – Prog

The Bad Plus

I love a group of musicians that can get together and just play. There may be an umbrella style that they fit under, but when it comes down to it there are all sorts of influences involved. Genre-bending, undefinable, whatever you want to call it. Animal Collective, Cuff the Duke, Of Montreal, Eighth Blackbird, Sonic Youth, Beck, Les Georges Leningrad and The Bad Plus are all bands that are impossible to solidly nail down to one particular genre. Sure Sonic Youth is “rock” but they sound nothing like the Flaming Lips, who could also be categorized in the same way. Speaking of which, how the hell would one categorize the Flaming Lips anyway….

That is neither here nor there. If you have not checked out the latest release from the super talented, jazz inflicted-rock inspired prodigious talents The Bad Plus, then you owe yourself. There are far too many things going on in this album to be able to point out in one blog-post, but leave it to me to try anyway.

Although I am never usually a fan of cover songs, I suppose that the exception to the rule would be when bands decide to try something totally new with their cover versions. The versions of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, which opens the album, “Life on Mars” and “Tom Sawyer” fit flawlessly amidst original tunes “Physical Cities” (more on this tune later…) “Thriftstore Jewelry” and “Mint”.

The album floats effortlessly by, without a hint of pretension. One can tell after listening to this album (and watching some footage of them on ye olde Youtube) that this is a group of 3 very talented individuals that simply has fun playing music. From my understanding they record their albums with a limited use of overdubs, putting this fairly close to a live-in-studio album (obvious overdub on “Life On Mars” but other than that I can’t spot any). Because of this the album is not flawless, it is real. This album is amazing because of this. It lacks the overproduced, overperfected and factory produced albums that are cranked out every day.

Pianist Ethan Iverson masterfully rips through a piano solo with as much excitement as anyone with an electric guitar has ever done. Taking a listen to “Tom Sawyer” you would think that Iverson has two brains, with brilliantly voiced right hand lines emerging over the top of an extremely busy yet acutely articulated left hand accompaniment. They imaginatively incorporate their own material into the song so flawlessly you would be led to believe that Geddy Lee and co. meant to do it in the first place over 25 years ago.

The Bad Plus“Life on Mars” builds to a fiery crescendo with grand octaves and the entire ensemble playing out as if they were trying to fill a stadium without the aid of amplification while drummer David King plays with pinpoint accuracy and mathematical complexity. “Mint” remains somewhat restrained, not coming off quite as dynamic as the rest of the album, but providing the listener with a well deserved break. Some light whimsy to help digest the monstrously progged out “Physical Cities”.

“Physical Cities” deserves a post to itself. This is a prog fans dream. The final three minutes of this track are among the most rhythmically intense and demanding I have ever heard. I realize that there is a pattern at work, there must be, and I think that I have found the beginning of it, but it is the longest most complex combination of syncopations and tuplets I have ever heard. When King lays down a solid drumbeat over top, alternating accents with the kick drum it is absolutely unbelievable. Musicianship to such a high caliber that everyone I have let listen to it says something to the effect of “how do they do that?” or simply “nooooo”. But believe it folks, there are still real live musicians out there that value true showmanship and virtuosity.

If you don’t believe that music can be serious and fun then you should check out closing track “1980 World Champion”, a fast paced, swinging jaunt that uncovers the answer to the question, “What would it sound like if Buddy Rich tried to write the theme to the olympics”. The song gets off to a rolling start, breaks down into bombast and then launches forward once again.

“Thriftstore Jewelry” is another lighter tune like “Mint” that sounds like something Page McConnell might try, though The Bad Plus are able to take their forms to new levels rather than simply wandering around in mundane cliches before cascading in a downward spiral towards boring repetitive stagnation. It is worth noting that I, personally, find it fun that the end of “This Guy’s in Love With You” features a recapitulation of the rhythmic material originally found in “Physical Cities”. These guys truly are having fun with their art.

An amazingly well formed album played extraordinarily well by a group of 3 phenomenal musicians.
Continue reading The Bad Plus – Prog

Spoon – "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"

My Interpol obsession has recently given way to one for Spoon.

Well that isn’t entirely true. Interpol went to Matt Good, which went to Of Montreal, and by the time I saw Of Montreal in Buffalo Radiohead had released their new album and I was obsessed with that for a few weeks, listening to it upwards of 10 times a day, THEN I went back to Spoon.

Several months ago, after seeing Spoon at the Pitchfork Music Festival in July of 2006 I began trying to get to know them in earnest. I knew one song when I saw them, “Small Stakes”, and they didn’t even play it. I stood there, far away from the stage haphazardly filming bits of their set not knowing what the hell was going on, but knowing in the back of my mind that Spoon is an important band that I should know. I soon began listening to as much of their stuff as I could get my hands on. I started with the early stuff, which was not a good idea, because that stuff just isn’t quite as strong as more recent material. Spoon, come to find out, grows significantly, noticeably, with each release.

They don’t really become a force to be reckoned with until “Girls Can Tell” in my opinion. There are always hints at what they would become in earlier releases, but it is not until that album that they actually find their voice. “Kill the Moonlight” is good too, the same can’t be said for “Gimme Fiction” but what can be said is that they are prolific. Spoon is one of those bands that just seems to always be writing, which is a good thing, even if they falter now and then.

They really hit the mark with their latest release, “Ga ga ga ga ga”. This album is instantly catchy rightSpoon - “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” from the first listen. Brit Daniel and company are focused on tight songwriting, and the sound, oh man the SOUND of this album is phenomenal. It’s not densely layered like an Interpol album in any sense. Everything is easily heard in the mix. Each of the instruments take up their own space, yet the band cranks away like a machine. The album doesn’t feel overproduced, but one can hear the painstaking detail that went into creating it. There are production values similar to Phil Spector on tracks like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and tracks that have a more live feel to them, like “The Underdog” where everything is up front more and dryer.

I really enjoy Spoon’s use of reverb throughout this album. It becomes an element unto itself on many of the songs, especially in “Eddies Ragga” where the main guitar line plays a single chord through most of the verse with the big room reverb being switched on and off to mark the phrasing. Very inventive. It really drives the song, grabs your ear and changes the feel of the song for that split second. I have never known a band to utilize changes in timbre as an element to their songwriting.

The addition of horns on a few tracks also adds a new element to Spoon’s sound. “The Underdog”, although it sounds very similar to Billy Joel, is one of the strongest tunes on the album. Strong singing with plenty of conviction, a detuned fuzzed out guitar, horns, syncopated handclaps and an acoustic guitar that is properly mic’d, so that one doesn’t just hear the pick smacking against the strings (one of my biggest pet peeves).

Throughout the album I am reminded of Frank Zappa’s “Absolutely Free”, excuse me The Mother’s of Invention….we all know it was all Zappa, anyway… throughout much of the album, in between songs and sometimes during, it is possible to hear Brit talking to the engineer, to the producer. One can also hear other band members talking, and other various studio goings on. This gives the album a feel of a quasi-themeatic venture. Sort of like a day in the life of Spoon. It appears as though they would like to project themselves as a studio band, based on what I see in the video for “The Underdog”, not to mention earlier videos for “Small Stakes” which also features Brit tinkering in the studio during what seems to be late nights.

This album is fairly solid all the way through. Not perfect, but still great. The best that Spoon has put out so far. They have definitely found their niche, and I hope that they will take more time exploring what they have found while making this album instead of veering off course to experiment. I think that an album like this has the potential to propel a band like Spoon into the realm of leaders of their scene. They are a band with a strong following, and a prolific songbook in the making. There was an excitement that I felt during their SNL performance that was not imagined, Pitchfork picked up on it and Youtube responded. Spoon could soon be heralded as the next saviors of rock (sorry Strokes, Rolling Stone needs to give it a break with you guys). This is a definite contender for album of the year.

Continue reading Spoon – "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"

Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

This is my introduction to the music of Animal Collective. From what I understand they are a growing band with quite a large following, and from what I hear, this is for good reason.Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

Out of nowhere now I am putting this album in the running for my best of the year round-up that will be coming up shortly. I wish I had more time to review more albums. This album stands out as one of the more original releases that have passed through my ears in a long time. I’m glad that I didn’t waste my time pontificating over the greatness of the new Radiohead album, as everyone knows that that is a fantastic album, and a very important album….but I digress.

Everything about this Animal Collective album is highly original, everything from the sounds used, to the songforms and lyrics and effects used to process the instruments and voices. I would liken this album to the new release by Liars that came out earlier this year.

At once intense, dark, heavy and layered the unique sound of this band became something of an addiction to me. The psychedelic echoes and wandering falsetto melodies don’t leave me knowing exactly where their influences lay. It is great to be able to hear fresh sounds time and again, that aren’t derivative of something else that is already going on. Animal Collective are forging new territory.

Standout track “For Reverened Green” persists with a repeated, echoed yet staccato distorted guitar while sparse drums permeate the background. The vocals are sung with intensity, and screamed at the top of his lungs at the end of most of the phrases. This is grand music, larger than life. As each song progresses they get bigger and bigger.

There is plenty of push through this album, lots of energy as each track drives into the next one. Each song has a strong melody, as off-kilter as some of them may be. It sounds as if the band is shunning altoghether the traditional rock band set-up. The drums seem to take a back seat to overdubs of guitars, piano lines and various electronic sounds. To be honest, with as much stuff going on at once as there is in this album the drums are not missed to even the slightest degree. Not to say that drums aren’t present at all on the album, it’s just that they are not an interal part of the song, they are not consistently present or persistent in many of the songs. I guess it would be easiest to say that they serve their purpose.

It feels like this album was payed great attention to orchestration. Every song was started from scratch. There don’t seem to be any preconceived notions about what makes up a rock song. The band gets very creative in scoring and instrument choice. There are elements of minimalism throughout most of the album, with it’s repetitious patterns (see the track #1) and layering of material instead of altering the original line in any way.

Another track worthy of special recognition would be “Fireworks”, which begins with a driving (flanged) drumbeat. This would be a great single for radio play in a perfect world. The melody in the verses is just as strong as any I have heard anywhere else. Memorable, powerful and meaningful. A great combination.

I am still at the point where I am listening to this album all the time. There is so much to pick up on, so much to listen to each time. The first 10 listens are definitely exploratory.

As I write this the track “Fireworks” is building to a fiery conclusion, expanding register and dynamics for what seems like days. I don’t want to say that this is the album of the year for me, but I just wanted to take a minute and mention all the things that make this album great. The things that make it great are consequently the things that make all great albums great. Innovative, original, intelligent….etc.

Show Review – Joel Plaskett/The Tragically Hip, November 2, 2007

Traveled 2 hours East on I-90 to catch a great show in Rochester at the Auditorium Theater. The Joel Plaskett Emergency opened up for the Tragically Hip on Friday and it was a great show.

This is the first time I can ever remember being excited about the opening act just as much, or maybe even more, than the headliner. I admit that although I do love the Canadian indie-rock I am not a really hardcore Hip fan. There seems to be only one kind of Tragically Hip fan, and that is the insanely fanatical, which is good. I like bands that have intense cult followings. I have always known that Rochester was a Hip loving town.

Their latest release, “World Container” is a really solid album. There was a time where I was listening to it fairly regularly, but I guess I will have to admit that it never really caught on with me. “Yer not the Ocean” is a great opening track, and “The Lonely End of the Rink” is solid as well. They played both of those tracks at the show, and I was excited to hear them. Something familiar is always good to hear at a show is always a plus. They also played “Music at Work” which is another tune that I know. Other than that their set was pretty foreign to me. Not to say that their set was not good, it was very good. Energetic, spontaneous and long, the three most important things to any good rock show.

Gord Downie is certifiably a madman. His onstage antics were quite entertaining, flailing around a mic stand, wildly strumming an inaudible acoustic guitar and jumping around the stage like a lunatic and the like. His voice is pretty dead on, very passionate, and he is clearly frontman material, like a Freddie Mercury character, only I don’t think anyone was ever worried about Freddie having a breakdown on stage. It is certainly fun to watch the Hip if only to see what the hell Gord is going to do. It was easy to tell that he truly appreciates all his fans and that they are all having a great time up there.

The guitars were solid, rhythm section was tight and the form of their set was great. They moved from several energetic rockers in the beginning to some more subdued material towards the end. Every time they began a song a varying sized crowd would cheer wildly. Every song is a classic to crazed Hip fans, and that was good to see, I felt like I was missing out to a certain degree. I made a mental note to get to know more of their stuff.

Joel Plaskett I am much more familiar with. He opened with his power trio bringing down the house with the best opening act I have ever experienced. Song after song was a sing-along and Joel’s stage presence is something to be admired, he is quite charismatic on stage, and quite a great guitarist which was a nice surprise. Even missing some of the second guitar parts from the albums Joel managed to fill in the space nicely. I was trying to get a good view of the pedals he was using, especially the one large box that was in front of him that looked to have a large plunger on it, perhaps an old tape-delay or something. His band was tight and the solos were wild, as was Joel as he danced across the stage with the confident swagger of a headlining act. Maybe someday I’ll get to see a full set of his.

His newest effort, “Ashtray Rock” is one of the best albums released this year, and another solid classic rock theme album added to the Plaskett catalog. If you are interested in hearing more of his stuff I also highly suggest “Down at the Khyber”. It is fun to pick out the million ways that he is influenced (i.e. rips off) by Led Zeppelin, but the songs do stand on their own as well. I highly suggest.

For your viewing pleasure I recorded all but one song of the Plaskett set and put them on my youtube. They are here, below.

The concert on the whole was great. Sarah and I had great seats (yes, seats, always a plus) in the upper balcony that were cushy, and on my right side was a wall, which is perfect, seriously. During Plaskett we had a very clear view (hence the videos) of the stage, while during the Hip’s set we had a very clear view of the people in front of us, very drunk and dancing around and/or grinding up against the nearest female. Very entertaining all around. The sound of the venue was pretty good, very loud even though we were way in the back. I need to remember to bring my earlove to the Shellac shows in December.

Continue reading Show Review – Joel Plaskett/The Tragically Hip, November 2, 2007

Shellac – "Excellent Italian Greyhound"

The long wait finally came to an end this summer. Shellac released another album, and only 7 years after their last. Putting a gap like that between albums is a risky thing for any band, well, any band that is trying to make a living through record sales and touring. For ShellacShellac - “Excellent Italian Greyhound” this is just protocol.

I only recently came to know Shellac, and instantly become one of their maniacal fans, I don’t think there is such a thing as someone that “casually” listens to them, either you are completely obsessed or you detest them with every fiber of your being. Perhaps grinding, sarcastic, sneering, harsh, abrasive, offensive dissonant math rock is not your thing. I didn’t know it was my thing until I couldn’t stop listening to “1,000 Hurts” for about a month and Shellac shot straight to no.4 on my charts within a week of me first hearing them. I fell in love with Steve Albini’s guitar tone. The Travis Bean aluminum necked guitar sound, apparently augmented by way of metal picks with divots cut into them. It’s funny, Steve’s guitar sound matches his personality: begging to be heard. Even if you don’t like what he has to say the sound will grind its way into your soul.

Naturally after such a long wait there is going to be certain expectations. One would expect a greater album, faster, more powerful, just more in general. This album delivers on many of those expectations through tracks like “Steady as She Goes” and “Spoke” the latter being a mushmouthed scream-fest between Albini and bassist Bob Weston. On some fronts though the songs seem forced and lose their drive, “Genuine Lullabelle” for instance.

The choice of opening track is understandable, from a lyrical standpoint. “The End of Radio” features Albini spouting off while Todd Trainer pummels the snare drum into submission. The song eventually takes off, but not fast enough for me. This song works on the first listen but honestly it doesn’t hold up and gets the work off to a slow start. The whole thing doesn’t actually “start” until “Steady as she Goes”.

“Steady as She Goes” is Shellac doing what Shellac does best, which means they click into their very precise and tightly played groove and crank out a fast-paced, form shattering number. There are some interesting contrasts on this album though, for example probably the most melodic and catchy line that they have ever presented, “Kittypants” appears after the long and boring “Genuine Lullabelle” a song that goes nowhere fast, though the Strongbad appearance is a great addition. Another interesting aspect of that song in particular is the extended use of silence. I’m not trying to be a smart ass, that is a very daring move, first of all to have Albini all alone out there singing and then putting in 10 seconds of silence between phrases, that is something I have never heard anyone try before.

It is good to hear Shellac trying new things, but they are most enjoyableShellac when they stick to doing what they normally do. Face it, they don’t care if you buy their album, they don’t care if you go to their shows, they don’t care about reviews (neither do their fans) so it makes sense that they put out this album which does not work as well as a whole unit as “Terraform” or “At Action Park” do.

To me this is Shellac’s most uneven album and I think the thing that pushes it over the edge is the use of 2 extended tracks where not much happens. “Didn’t we Deserve a Look at You the Way you Really Were” almost kills Terraform, almost….they pushed it too far this time.

Don’t get me wrong, when they are on they are on and the things that they do within a 3-piece ensemble is pretty amazing. They always manage to find new ways to combine instruments or new ways to turn a song into a meter-stretching progged out jam session. And this isn’t even mentioning the fact that they record most of their tracks live, and they are the tightest band you will ever hear, yet another daring thing.

All in all this is a fine album, but it is not going to be enough to hold me over until 2015 when their next album will most likely come out. They took a lot of chances on this one, something they didn’t really do on 1,000 Hurts. There is more to an album than just the music, certain expectations are developed within certain circumstances. Waiting this long for an album this “ok” is anything but ok. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what they do, because all of us fanatical Shellac followers will rush to the record store to buy whatever it is that they put out as if there were only 100 albums pressed.

Although this album is their first misstep, in my opinion I am still extremely excited to be able to see them twice, in the same day, in December. If they do their trademarked “Q & A” session in the middle of the show perhaps I will ask them “Why?”

Albums of the Year

It is getting close to the point where I am going to have to develop my list for the best albums released in 2007.

You may think that is is too early, ahhh, but this is where you are wrong, and it is my blog after all and I do whatever I want. Here’s to an early start. Albums may or may not be added to this list, we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the year goes. In the weeks to come I will begin to review the merits of each of these albums, hopefully that will bring us up to the end of the year where only one winner will remain. Here they are in no particular order:

Thurston Moore – “Trees Outside the Academy”
The most recent addition to the list has the indie rock god still showing everyone how it is done, while coming a long way from “Psychic Hearts”. I expected this to be a bit more Sonic Youth-y, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was very wrong. The addition of violin on the album is a very nice touch, and the song writing is quite polished, all in all a solid album and strong contender.

Interpol – “Our Love to Admire”
The major label debut for NYC’s Interpol is their best effort to date and my personal latest obsession. The album is solid all the way through, despite some rehashing of old material. Dark and beautiful and full of emotion, regardless of whether or not the lyrics make any sense whatsoever.

Matthew Good – “Hospital Music”
This was a surprise to me. I have heard many songs by Matt Good and the Matt Good band in the past, and nothing quite grabbed my attention. This album sat on my computer untouched for a while before deciding to finally listen to it, being sick of all the regular things I was listening to. The album made me stop what I was doing and demanded my attention all the way through. Quite a powerful piece of work from a dark period in the life of this Canadian singer/songwriter.

Air – “Pocket Symphony”
Successful albums, to me, are able to convey a feeling all the way through. The mood is set through the songs, it is the thread that ties each together, but the songs need to also stand alone too. This album is a perfect amalgam of almost, but not quite, ambient pop tunes with a hint of Kraftwerk minus the rigidity and math.

Marnie Stern – “In Advance of the Broken Arm”
Out of nowhere comes this shred guitar, prog, thrash album from a great guitarist with a very odd sense of rhythm (thanks to Hella’s drummer). These songs are catchy, fast, intense and a whirlwind of emotions presented by a captivating, convincing voice. The lack in sound quality on the album is more than made up for by the complex counterpoint of the multiple guitar tracks and almost exclusively finger-tapped guitar.

Of Montreal – “Icons, Abstract Thee” (EP)
Although this is only an EP (you can see already that this most likely will not make the cut) consisting of outtakes from the “Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?” album, it is a concise and well crafted piece of work. This was my introduction to Of Montreal, and for that reason it holds a special place in my heart.

Shellac – “Excellent Italian Greyhound”
What can be said that hasn’t already been said about Chicago’s own Shellac. These intense math-rockers, fronted by the ever captivating and violently opinionated Steve Albini, never fail to deliver to their fans. Although this album does not necessarily break new ground as far as Shellac albums go, it is always great to have more. The production quality, the humor, the guitar tone that I drool over, Albini’s snide, sarcastic tone contrasted by Bob Westons inability to sing on pitch all add up to a demanding listen, although they falter on a few tracks.

That sums it up for right now. I have word that there are a few albums that may be missing. A friend recently told me not to leave out the Grinderman effort, as well as the new Ricki Lee Jones, and I mustn’t forget the new Tegan and Sara album. As soon as I check them out I will add them here. Check back soon to see reviews, and watch the contenders to see who will remain standing at years end.