David Gray – New Day At Midnight

28 10 2010

Listened: Thursday October 7

New Day at Midnight was David Gray’s followup to White Ladder. I’m sure it let a bunch of people down who wanted another White Ladder. It’s not that. The listener can almost absorb the fact that he’s in a much different place in his life with this album. There won’t be another White Ladder because he’s not that guy anymore.

I love his songs because they’re emotionally resonant songs sung beautifully. I don’t really know what’s going on in many of the songs, but I can feel it anyway. The stresses on the words seem to fall in the right place, even if I can’t intellectually figure out why.

Nirvana – Nevermind

28 10 2010

Listened: Wednesday October 6

It’s somehow very fitting that Nevermind immediately follows Never Mind the Bollocks. The transition is musically seamless.

Nevermind was released when I was in seventh grade. It was a big part of the fabric of my adolescence as a result; it was just everywhere. I remember Smells Like Teen Spirit was one of the first singles I ever bought (a cassingle, mind you) and I also gave it as a gift to my friend Megan when she turned 13, along with Enter Sandman by Metallica. When Smells Like Teen Spirit was played at middle school dances, people would without fail “slam dance” (that’s what all the teachers called moshing) for about a minute and then it would be broken up.

I remember that I bought Nevermind several years after it came out (in high school) from my friend Justin. I’m not sure why he was getting rid of it, maybe he needed the cash. I hadn’t bought it before that time because a bunch of the songs were played on the radio all the time anyway, and I was a cheapskate. But I think I decided at that point that I needed to make sure I owned it, because it was important.

One side note, nothing makes me feel old like hearing about the baby on the cover being a grownup now. Stop telling me this stuff!

Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols

28 10 2010

Listened: Wednesday October 6

Any true fan of the punk revival in the early nineties would have bought Never Mind The Bollocks. Even if we didn’t really grasp what the first go-round of punk was actually about.

I admit it – the summer before I was a senior in high school, my friend Audrey and I saw the Filthy Lucre tour at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View – one of the least punk venues in the world! It was a pretty crappy show, as one might expect, but I can say I’ve seen the Sex Pistols. From a lawn.

When I listen to the Sex Pistols with a critical ear I notice that while the bands they influenced such as Rancid and early Green Day were bratty and liked to imagine themselves as rabble-rousers,  the Sex Pistols are simultaneously very aggressive and angry in both lyrics and music, but also catchy and singable. I imagine that’s really difficult to do, even if you’re trying really hard to achieve that balance.

Rancid and Green Day are singable, but at most they come off as just somewhat annoyed or angsty. Maybe the secret ingredient in the Sex Pistols soup is the English class system. However, even other English punk bands of the era did not achieve the anger/catchy balance as well. The Clash came close, but they still couch their anger and disdain in well-crafted music.

I’ve recently seen Johnny Rotten and PiL at Coachella 2010. It sounds impossible, but imagine the aggression of the Sex Pistols turned up to 11. After the first long, very loud song bled into another, we decided it was time to find another stage and get our hearing and sanity back. I have to give the guy props for still busting out like that at the age of 54. But only props. Not my ears. Or sanity.

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

28 10 2010

Listened: Wednesday October 6

It was going to be hard to top Funeral. We all knew that as we waited for Neon Bible. Thing is, I don’t think Arcade Fire topped it. Neon Bible went in a totally different direction, neither higher nor lower. The artistic quotient went up, the communal happy indie feeling, not so much.

Even if I discount the biblical nature of the title, it’s still obvious this record was recorded in an old church. The lyrical subject matter, choral backing vocals, and heavy organ use make no secret of it. The feeling of questioning the religious lifestyle one grew up with hangs heavy.

This album is certainly darker in tone than Funeral, which I appreciate at some times more than others. It’s brilliant, righteous, and sometimes painful, as good art should be.

Roddy Woomble – My Secret Is My Silence

27 10 2010

Listened: Wednesday October 6

This is one of those albums with a cover that successfully telegraphs the content within – it really sounds like a beardy dude in a beenie sitting in the Scottish countryside. Obviously then, Roddy Woomble’s solo album My Secret is My Silence is very different in sound than classic Idlewild albums (Roddy is the singer from Idlewild).

Most of the songs are very British-trad in instrumentation – twangy and folky with flutes – as opposed to the shoutiness of early Idlewild and the REM-like rock of later records. Additionally, quite a few songs have female backing vocals or even a male-female duet, something which Idlewild never uses.

That said, songs like As Still As I Watch Your Grave or From The Drifter To The Drake could be at home on Idlewild records, so it’s not a total departure. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased, since it had been some time since Idlewild had released anything.

Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

27 10 2010

Listened: Wednesday October 6

My Maudlin Career was the first Camera Obscura album I acquired. I’ve since acquired others.

My Maudlin Career like ear crack. I sing songs like French Navy, Away With Murder, Swans, and James to myself for hours afterward. I’ve never been a big fan of breathy female vocals, but Camera Obscura do it so expertly I can’t help but love it. The sixties-inspired instrumentation with Belle & Sebastian style strings tie it all up with a big bow.

I subsequently downloaded their other albums when Amazon went crazy and had them all on sale for $5!

Beck – Mutations

27 10 2010

Listened: Tuesday October 5

I casually enjoyed Beck’s singles on the radio, but I’ve never been a big fan. I think maybe I thought he was too popular? Which is an odd statement, coming from someone who fell so in love with U2, I realize.

That said, I love Mutations. I don’t know how or why I got this album, it was probably very cheap somewhere. I love the Eastern sounds and the mellow tone of most of the songs. It’s a lot more relaxed and eager to please than Odelay.

Various – Music Of Croatia

27 10 2010

Listened: Tuesday October 5

Occasionally Amazon gives away random non-mainstream albums for free. Having visited Croatia and the Balkan region before, and being a fan of the neo-gypsy music craze, I jumped at the chance to get Music of Croatia for free.

I knew nothing about the artists on the album (I’ve since read up on them on Wikipedia, if I could find English-language articles), but they seem to span older styles of Croatian music to modern-day examples. There’s rock, reggae, octet acapella, and very traditional-sounding instrumental songs. It’s quite catchy and does fulfill the need for Gypsy Soundz.

Nirvana – MTV Unplugged In New York

27 10 2010

Listened: Tuesday October 5

It took reading wikipedia’s article on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album for me to grasp how unique it is. Since I grew up with it, it was a normal part of history for me, and I hadn’t really thought about how odd it was that they played relatively few of their own songs, and almost none of the big hits at all.

They play songs by David Bowie, The Meat Puppets, The Vaselines, and Leadbelly. These are probably artists and songs almost no mainstream rock fans were familiar with at the time.

I heard this version of The Man Who Sold The World before I ever heard the Bowie version, and as a result, I prefer it. It’s one of the spookiest songs I can think of, second only to Ghost Town by The Specials. (My Mind Playing Tricks on Me by Geto Boys is on that list too.) As a rabid reader of rock magazines, I had heard mention of the Meat Puppets before, but was totally unfamiliar with their music before hearing this. The covers of their songs are some of the best on the album.

The capper to all this is Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night – which Kurt totally tears up like probably no one else could. He gives us the 90s punky version of the blues, which works out perfectly. Even more so than his own songs, it gives us a glimpse of the struggles he was going through at the time.

Heartless Bastards – The Mountain

25 10 2010

Listened: Tuesday October 5

I’ve already commented on what a force of nature Erika Wennerstrom is, but on The Mountain, she is quite simply a badass. Fitting that this review follows Ocean Colour Scene, because I’d use the same descriptors I used there for this album: bombastic, testosterone stomp.

Since I wrote my last Heartless Bastards review all those months ago at the beginning of the project, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform. It was everything a rock and roll show should be – loud and fearless. Heartless Bastards, like Led Zeppelin, are the rare band that makes me want to headbang.