Category Archives: reviews

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

Show Review – Matthew Good (October 5, 2007. Club Infinity, Buffalo, New York)

I live in a college town, well actually not even a college town, I live in the town that is next to a college town. Over here in Dunkirk, which is a very poor city, one of the poorest in the state, there is no sports arenas for shows, there aren’t even any clubs, just some really dumpy bars. It’s a rather small city….and dumpy, have I mentioned dumpy? Anyway, thankfully we are situated just 45 minutes south of Buffalo. Who would have thought that anyone would be excited for Buffalo? Surely not I. Buffalo is much better than Rochester, who hosts no good shows at all, but I digress. This isn’t a post about the shitty upstate New York music scene, but about a great show by Canadian singer/songwriter Matthew Good.

Good’s new album, “Hospital Music” is one of the years best, trust me on this one. I realize that I haven’t reviewed it yet, but when I do, you will know, unless of course you own it already. The album is a very personal account of his hospitalization after having suffered a nervous breakdown, and dealing with his newly diagnosed bi-polar disorder.

The concert venue was an open area club type deal, there was a balcony, but it is my understanding that it was a V.I.P thing up there. In order to get to where the show was you had to walk through the bar area where people were playing darts and pool and what not, then in the back was the large, dark room, with the wall of fame prominently displayed. The wall of fame was quite entertaining. Did you know that W.A.S.P has played there….twice? as well as Jordan Knight, JC Chazet or however the fuck you spell his name…whatever, anyway….

Waitresses actually came up to us to offer us drinks, I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to do. My stupified silence was taken for a negative response and I went drinkless for the entire show.When Matt took the stage, alone, with only an acoustic guitar I was worried that I would get bored, how could a show with one guy and a guitar possibly be entertaining? I was wrong, it was a great show. Good’s guitar abilities match his songwriting prowess. He is able and confident on stage, his voice is right on (except when his post-nasal drip gets in the way) and the banter in between songs helps to make the distance between audience and performer a little less.

He did not stick to a show completely consisting of songs from the new album, he drifted back to songs from the Matt Good Band rep, which gave them a new sound and a stripped down honesty. Being that I am more familiar with “Hospital Music” (the album that made me stand and take notice of him even though I have some of his other stuff in my possession) all of the videos that I captured at the gig are of songs off that album.He did play an encore consisting of, I think, about 5 songs, which means he played for a total of about 2 hours. The show certainly exceeded my expectations and I would certainly want to go see him again, perhaps with a full band so as to experience the contrast.

The drive back to Dunkirk was terrible. All of my friends from the show were heading back to Rochester, East on I-90, and we parted at the toll-booth as I headed West, regretfully.

Continue reading Show Review – Matthew Good (October 5, 2007. Club Infinity, Buffalo, New York)

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 last.fm 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?”

Interpol – "Our Love to Admire"

Our Love to AdmireFirst up for review in the new releases this year (I hope to begin doing these as they happen for next year) is the latest effort from New York City’s Interpol.

It is hard to believe that this is their first release on a major label as 2005’s “Antics” was a pretty solid album, though I do mean “pretty” solid, there were a few tracks on that one that don’t quite make the cut. Regardless, that was then and “Our Love To Admire” is an album full of great songwriting and the densely layered guitars that fans have come to love. They are definitely a band that continues to grow with each release.

The album ( I do own this one on vinyl….came with a CD inside too, which earns bonus points….thank you Restless Records in Chicago) opens with the somber “Pioneer to the Falls”, somber but with a lot of forward motion, something that Interpol seems to do better and better. Throughout the song guitars are added, layer upon layer, with the drums chugging along with a march-like roll that proceeds incessantly.

InterpolInterpol seem to have carved out a niche for themselves in being a band that is concerned more and more about keeping a song interesting, never saying anything the same way twice. Things are added, taken away, every song goes from loud to soft or vice versa, every song has a shape and very very few of them follow the tried and true formula of ‘verse – chorus – verse – chorus – chorus – etc..’ and one would hardly notice.

There is a contrapuntal element to Interpol’s songwriting that few bands have. They manage to get up to 4 or 5 different ideas going at one time without the song becoming so dense as to not hear what is going on. Thankfully Carlos D. has learned to keep his bass playing a little more on the functional side this time around. His lines are much less busy than on previous efforts, and he is somewhat more buried in the mix but still noticeable. The guitars tend to stray from the straight 8th note rhythms that made “Turn on the Bright Lights” so plodding, exchanging it instead for a groove that is a lot more free.

The first single “The Heinrich Maneuver” is a straight ahead, driving rocker reminiscent of “Slow Hands”, and in the same key too. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album with the sneering, tense vocals and cryptic lyrics that have become something else that is expected from the band.

Other stand out tracks include “Mammoth”, which is quite similar to “Not Even Jail”. I say that it is quite similar, but not in a derogatory sense, like they ripped themselves off. “Mammoth” is the better track, they took the ideas presented on “Antics” and extrapolated on them, perfected them and present them here again. “Pace is the Trick” comes next, with seemingly endless verses that flow into each other. The additive effect at work in this one is quite grand. It just builds and builds, background vocals are added and guitars are layered (again) the vocal line reaches up higher and higher and then everything is cut off, only to be built back up again double-time. Have I mentioned their brilliant songwriting yet? There is some really groundbreaking stuff on this album.

Aside from the abandoning of traditional songwriting forms (which is nothing new, the New Pornographers have been doing it for years) andInterpol - “Our Love to Admire” the layered, contrapuntal guitar work which are all great there is one thing very wrong with the package…..the artwork.

Sorry, I don’t get it. I know that Interpol has a very dry sense of humor that tends towards the sarcastic and dark, but I liked the dark, intense imagery conjured on their first album. That album had the whole thing down: artwork matched what was contained within. Since then they have drifted in that respect.

Back to the music, and summing this up, it is definitely worthy of your time to try this album. Even if the lyrics tend towards the mysterious on certain songs, there are times when they are not so hard to understand. For every ” show me the dirt pile and I will pray/that the soul can take/three stow-aways” there is a line that is quite to the point: “my friends they come/and the lines they go by/but tonight I’m gonna rest/my chemistry”. Though their sense of humor, ala “Roland”, is still in tact via “No I in Threesome”. Funny, yes, dark, yes, does that make it funnier that you think he is being dead serious YES.

The album has a flow to it as well, it works good as a whole and does not weaken as it draws to a close. If you were to put this on repeat it would go for hours and hours before you even noticed. Trust me, I’ve done it.

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.