Weezer – Weezer (Green)

27 07 2012

Listened: Saturday June 30

I remember very clearly when The Green Album came out – I was an unemployed new college grad living at home with my parents again. I had spent my entire college career with no new Weezer, since Pinkerton had come out in 1996 and Green came out in 2001. Given the very different masterpieces which are their first two albums, it was really exciting to ponder what new Weezer would sound like.

The answer – a lot like Blue, but with even more energy. It feels like the lyrics are a lot more relaxed than Blue and Pinkerton too. There’s not so much insecurity and angst. It’s not so much better as different.

As I noted in the review for Maladroit, when Green came out I realized that I was perhaps past the age limit and below the coolness factor to be a Weezer fan anymore. I went to my first Weezer show in Oakland on September 12, 2001. Things were already a bit aggro because September 11th had just happened, and it should have been a nice distraction to go to a show for a band I liked, but instead I found myself surrounded by high school cool kids. I was confused –  where were all the 22 year old nerds like myself? It didn’t help that there were 2 openers, one of which Weezer fans clearly weren’t interested in seeing (Cold, who are kind of a gothy metal band; the lineup didn’t make sense then and it still doesn’t make sense now) since during their set more attention was paid to booing, hecking, and pushing the already packed crowd all over the place.

It wasn’t a fun time, and it affected my reception of their next album, Maladroit. As I noted in that review, now that a lot of time has passed, I can acknowledge that album’s decentness, but at the time, it was time to move on to something else.

Weezer – Weezer (Blue)

26 07 2012

Listened: Wednesday May 30

Along with Green Day’s Dookie, The Blue Album reminds me of freshman year of high school, which is when I was discovering how great rock music is. I think The Sweater Song is more evocative of my youth than Smells Like Teen Spirit (which was also important). This is  because Weezer’s music was really the first mainstream example of nerd rock that acknowledged itself. Shoutouts to D&D, a love of KISS, and descriptions of feeling comfortable in a garage where your peers can’t bother you about your weird tendencies bear this out. As a lifelong nerd, this was definitely appealing to me.

Maybe because it’s never really gone away since its release in 1994, Blue doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s still a groovy, heartfelt masterpiece from beginning to end. The only song that really gives me pause now that I’m an adult is No One Else – the attitude towards the woman in question is quite immature and disturbing. His ideal girlfriend needs to keep her laughter in check for anyone but him and can’t wear makeup for anyone else but him? I feel sorry for someone who still thinks that way as an adult!

Pulp – We Love Life

13 07 2012

Listened: Tuesday, May 15

I have no idea why We Love Life gets no love. When I saw Pulp perform back in April (best show I’ve ever been to, by the way) they only played Sunrise. I love all the other songs from Different Class, This is Hardcore, and His ‘n’ Hers, but there are so many great ones here as well.

One of my favorite songs in the Pulp catalog is Forever in My Dreams (a US bonus track on the album), mostly because of the classic “Oh, daaaamn!” lyrics Jarvis sings with gusto during what could be a romantic love song “I will love and respect you, I will honor and obey. But baby, will I marry you? Well, that’ll be the day!” I also enjoy that it’s very Bolero-like musically, which enhances the epic buildup to that lyrical bomb.

Sunrise is Pulp’s classic festival song, and I’m glad I got to hear them do it at Coachella 2012. It’s a song for ambivalent nocturnal creatures of the underground to shake their asses to – “I used to hate the sun because it shone on everything I’d done. Made me feel that all that I had done was overfill the ashtray of my life. All my achievements in days of yore range from pathetic  to piss-poor, but all that’s gonna change.” I believe him.

Two songs on this album – The Night That Minnie Timperley Died and The Birds in Your Garden – seem rather straightforward, but upon repeated listens I’ve discovered some interesting and possibly intentional vagueness of the lyrics in both.

Minnie Timperley seems to be murdered by a pervy serial killer. However, that’s never directly said in the lyrics. Maybe dying is a metaphor for simply being deflowered and losing her innocence. Jarvis sings “The world wants to sleep with you tonight” and punches right for the gut with “He only did what he did, ’cause you looked like one of his kids.”  Yes, her life could have been taken, or she might have had her virginity taken by someone with less than sincere intentions. It’s interesting to realize that I had immediately leapt to a reading that wasn’t concrete, if I listened to what was actually being said.

The Birds in Your Garden is nearly the opposite – the initial impression is that this is the story of a guy who is getting motivated to make the first move on a girl, but can’t quite get the nerve to, until he has an epiphany about life being short, and the listener thinks, “Hey, good job, dude!” as he seals the deal.

However, upon closer reading the lyrics become rather more disturbing. First, the perspective is very limited to just the guy’s vision. No clue is given as to the woman’s opinion of or response to anything; maybe she’s not as keen on his plan as he imagines her to be. The guy also notes he had an absentee father who never told him about the birds and the bees, raising concerns about the examples he’s had in his life. Further, the lyrics suggest (but don’t actually say) the guy woke up in the woman’s bed with her. He could also be some weirdo who had been stalking this woman, so he knows she’s still asleep and he’s rising early to go to her garden to think about doing more than stalking her this time. Then he hears voices (birds) telling him he shouldn’t be scared of his feelings about “taking her” and that he should be “touching her inside”.  At the end of the song, he goes to her bedroom and does “what’s only natural” but doesn’t actually say what that is – is it making sweet love to her or taking her life? I wish I had never thought of this, because the meaning of the song has totally changed since I did. However, I also love that Jarvis’ well-crafted lyrics can change over time.

Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

12 07 2012

Listened: Wednesday May 30

Freelance Whales’ Sufjan-Stevens-like gentle vocals, the use of plinky pianos, and the crafty album cover hit the twee switches. However, I don’t mean this in a derogatory fashion. I really enjoy listening to Weathervanes.

Location reminds me a bit of The Postal Service, as does the skittery-sweet sound of Starring. There are also constant references to creating music crossed with relationship angst – “You are somewhere in the basement, Beating on a makeshift drum kit” and “You could fake a melody, we could argue over where and when the cymbal hits should be” – if I had to guess I’d say the songwriter and his dream (or nightmare) girl are in the band together.

Idlewild – Warnings/Promises

1 07 2012

Listened: Wednesday May 30

I know I said The Remote Part is my favorite album, but as a result of repeated listenings for the project, I’ve really become fond of Warnings/Promises. It has great energy, whether Roddy is gently singing folkier songs (Welcome Home, Goodnight, Not Just Sometimes But Always) or more classic snarling rockers (I Want a Warning, The Space Between all Things). This album is one big singalong for me from start to finish.

As a Californian I love the El Capitan name-check in the song of the same name. Perhaps they’d better watch out for Roddy BASE-jumping it, judging by the lyrics. I’d watch that!

U2 – War

30 06 2012

Listened: Wednesday May 2

I’m sure Achtung Baby was my first U2 and Boy was the last of the historical albums I acquired. But in between I’ve lost track of how things shook out. I’m pretty sure War was early on though, due to its songs that were already classics when I was in high school: Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day.

As the years have passed, the sound of this album definitely has aged. Two Hearts Beat as One in particular is extremely 80s sounding, and on some days it even sounds dated to me.

Further, while Boy and October were very personal, post-punk albums, something has definitely changed here. With War, the band became big, anthemic, sure of themselves, a voice for young people.

I love how the album is bookended by two very similar lyrics – in Sunday Bloody Sunday “How long must we sing this song?” and in 40 “How long to sing this song?” One question asked with righteous indignation, and one with earnest faith.

War is actually filled with many questions: There’s many lost, but tell me who has won? Where are you going to now? Exactly who are you? Is there nothing left? Is honesty what you want? How can you help me? Through these questions I can hear more of that voice of and for young people (the members of the band were only 22 or 23 when this album was recorded), always challenging authority and looking for answers to questions no one else wants to ask. They might be older, wiser, and have a different style these days, but that’s what U2 is still about.

James – Wah Wah

1 06 2012

Listened: May 1

I bought Wah Wah very early on in my CD-buying career. I don’t remember if I owned Laid yet or not. I think Wah Wah had just come out so I wanted to own James’ “newest one”. But little did I know that this album is just experiments the band did with Brian Eno whilst recording Laid. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a good introduction to “classic Eno”-type explorations. I remember being 15 years old, listening to this album on a family vacation to Maui, alone in the bedroom of the condo with island breezes flowing around me as I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. It’s amazing now how much Jam J & the bass of Frequency Dip sound like Achtung Baby-period U2. It’s clear that Eno was experimenting with a certain sound during the early 90s, no matter who he was working with.

Not that there aren’t some pretty traditional Jamesian songs here amongst the noodling – Pressure’s On and Tomorrow are especially good. At Coachella 2012 I saw James live for the first time, in unusual-for-Coachella rainy weather. When they busted out Tomorrow, it seemed like the clouds parted. I love that about them.



Sigur Ros – Von Brigði (Recycle Bin)

30 05 2012

Listened: May 1

Remixing Sigur Ros is a weird idea. But Von Brigði works out very well. It’s easy to listen to while working, unlike some of Sigur Ros’ other works. I have good memories of doing a final cleaning of my college apartment as this album played.

The style is quite drum ‘n’ bassy, which makes sense since it came out in the late 90s. Like Von, I had to order this album specially back in the early days of Sigur Ros’ US popularity. It was one of the more expensive single CD purchases I’ve ever made, but it was definitely worth it.

Sigur Ros – Von

27 05 2012

Listened: Monday March 12

When Sigur Ros’ magnum opus Ágætis byrjun came out while I was in college, it was one of the most indie-darling records that maybe has ever existed. And the praise was rightfully deserved.

At the time, one could only get Ágætis byrjun, not Von or Von brigði, even in record stores like Amoeba in Berkeley, where one could find pretty much anything of consequence. I knew the earlier records existed though (thanks Internet!), and I wanted to own them because it was so hard to own them – which is what one did in those days if you were truly dedicated to your love of music. I remember ordering both the earlier albums from a guy in Colorado on a semi-dodgy web site and at a premium (which I rarely did, ever), to really check that music-fan box. I hadn’t processed before reading Von’s Wikipedia page just now that I have an Icelandic CD, not the UK re-release (which was 2004, way after I acquired my copy, in 1999 or 2000). That’s kinda neat.

Von is to say the least a very bizarre album. It’s quite ambient and experimental in tone and many of the songs aren’t much like later Sigur Ros (though the seeds of the sound are definitely here). I didn’t listen to it much when I originally bought it (unlike Von brigði); I’ve listened to it during the project more than I ever did before. The standout track for me is Myrkur aka Darkness (track 5). After quite a few tracks of of noodling and sampling, this track bursts forth immediately with the most wonderful non-English-language Brittpoppy sound. It would have fit right into the landscape in the mid-90s when it was recorded and released. The name of the track is a total misnomer.

I’ve really come to appreciate Von. It’s quite a bit more understated than later works, though also less tight. For fans of later Sigur Ros and generally ambitious listeners, I highly recommend it.

She & Him – Volume One

25 05 2012

Listened: Monday March 12

I had low expectations going into Volume One. I hadn’t heard Zooey Deschanel’s singing voice before, and even after I heard it I wasn’t sure I liked it. However, it’s really grown on me. I also thought more of the songs were covers that I just wasn’t familiar with, but I was surprised to find most of the songs are Deschanel-penned. Her lyrics are decent and the songs are wonderfully old-school in tone. There’re great musical touches as well (I presume M.Ward-influenced), such as the wonderful use of lap steel on Change is Hard.

Zooey’s interpretation of I Should Have Known Better is right up there with other great straightforward Beatles covers. It’s quite similar to the original (plus more of that lap steel), but with that special something. Zooey’s version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that ends the album is quite haunting. It’s also quite an odd choice that completely pays off. Much like the rest of the album, really.