Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

10 02 2012

Listened: Thursday December 1

When I first heard Vampire Weekend, I assumed Paul Simon was one of their musical influences, due to the African-sounding rhythms flowing through this debut. Then I read in Spin that they claimed to have never heard a Paul Simon record. Bullshit!

At least they couldn’t deny the Peter Gabriel angle, since he’s name-checked in the lyrics (see this link for one of the most perfectly appropriate covers songs ever). Also incredibly ballsy of them to bring back the harpsichord to pop music. It’s been gone quite a while.

I didn’t want to like Vampire Weekend when I heard their unabashedly hipster elitist lyrics about New York, Cape Cod, the Ivy League, Oxford Commas, Mansard Roofs, Dharamsala, passports, and  Buddhas. But then came the occasional nod to things like the inherent truthfulness of Lil Jon. They forced me to like them against my will.

I’ve always wondered about Blake’s Got a New Face. I’ve assumed this was referring to a new girlfriend (the slangy “Face” in question), but I can’t quite tell from the lyrics. I’m curious to hear if you have another interpretation.


The Verve – Urban Hymns

28 01 2012

Listened: Thursday December 1

Urban Hymns reminds me so much of freshman year of college, since that’s when it came out. Bitter Sweet Symphony was everywhere for a while, and its tone still reminds me of being young and sure of yourself. The video of Richard Ashcroft walking unswervingly down a city street shoulder-checking people left and right continues this theme.

For quite a while I didn’t actually own this album, I bought it recently because I thought I should have it as an artifact from my youth. It’s a great album – 90s tinged, but quite classic rather than dated. I love The Drugs Don’t Work and Another Velvet Morning. They’re not quite as anthemic as Bitter Sweet Symphony but still great songs. I feel like I need to investigate the older Verve albums and see if they’re as good as this.

XTC – Upsy Daisy Assortment

4 01 2012

Listened: Thursday December 1

I fondly remember XTC from my high school days. They weren’t played on Live 105 as often as some bands, but I recall hearing Making Plans for Nigel, Senses Working Overtime, and Dear God on occasion.

I also recall being a MTV-less teenager who watched the couple hours of the California Music Channel that was shown on channel 26 on weekday afternoons in hopes of seeing a decent video. I remember seeing the video for The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead a couple of times. I was totally mesmerized by the catchy song illustrated with JFK-assassination visuals. Seeing it again now, it’s still a decent video.

Since obtaining this album, besides gaining a new appreciation for the songs I knew already, I’ve fallen in love with Life Begins at the Hop. It’s undeniably catchy, and I believe it to be true – life does begin at the Hop.

Oddly, my copy of Upsy Daisy Assortment has the tracks in different order than the CD case listing. Apparently this was a pressing issue with some copies, but until I could Google such things, I figured someone had put a CD for another compilation in this case and sold it (I bought the album used).

The Libertines – Up The Bracket

3 01 2012

Listened: Thursday December 1

By the time Up The Bracket was released stateside, Pete Doherty’s shenanigans were already notorious. I think I acquired the album cheaply because it was the thing to do, but I lack patience with out of control people (see Amy Winehouse, Keane), so my biases wouldn’t let me enjoy it the one or two times I tried to listen to it. Listening to it now, I hear what all the fuss was about.

It’s clear the Libertines are major music fans. I can hear the Clash, the Jam, the Kinks, and Oasis running through their songs, as well as the Strokes, who were busting out at the same point in time.

I love many of the songs, but my favorite is probably Time for Heroes – who would have thought a scuzzer like Pete would make “I cherish you, my love!” a believable lyric?


Erlend Øye – Unrest

19 12 2011

Listened: Wednesday November 16

Unrest is the only album I can think of that is both chill and dancey at the same time. Depending upon my mood I can dance or relax. The concept of the album is also very obvious – each song was recorded in a different city. The urban nomad flavor fills the sound of the album.

It’s a bummer Erlend hasn’t come out with another  similar album; I’m sure it would be just as brilliant. However, it seems his time has been spent guesting on albums like Royksopp, and on more KOC albums. Not that I’m complaining – they’re amazing too.

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire

10 12 2011

Listened: Wednesday November 16

The difference between the War album and The Unforgettable Fire is jarring. This difference is likely due to a new producer – Brian Eno. The artiness factor has been turned way up and the rock turned down, though Pride (In the Name of Love) and Bad could certainly still be considered rock. However, ambient meditations and sonic experimentation in the vein of Brian Eno’s solo work are found here. The seeds of Bono’s later operatic singing can also be heard on Elvis Presley and America.

It was through reviewing this album that I realized I accidentally skipped the Rattle n Hum album in the project. I realized this because the song MLK always catches my attention due to the visuals from the film that are immediately called to mind (Bono’s singing in silhouette, with a powerful spotlight shining behind him directly into the camera). It’s one of the most arresting moments from a beautiful, misunderstood film.

I think it was important for U2 to go this direction to develop skills they put to maximum use on later albums (The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby), but like October, I must admit that in a ranking of my favorite U2 albums, this would be near the bottom. It has some great songs, but it’s not as cohesive as it could be.


Camera Obscura – Underacheivers Please Try Harder

9 12 2011

Listened: Wednesday November 16

When I first heard Underachievers Please Try Harder I wasn’t sure I liked it as much as My Maudlin Career; at first it seemed much more low-key and mellow, almost boring.

However, I’ve come around. It’s amazing how much the female vocals sound like Isobel Campbell here. If you told me it was her, I’d believe you. The male/female duets with guest John Henderson are also wonderful ( I love a good male/female duet).

The influences are spilling out all over too – naturally, the aforementioned Belle & Sebastian reminders are constant. Let Me Go Home is kind of a Scottish male Supremes song – it reminds me a lot of the song Baby Love. The vocal style of A Sisters Social Agony sounds like a full-on Leonard Cohen homage.

The album cover is also very engaging, though almost too overstuffed with hipsterism – twee looking hot chicks, a vintage camera, well-worn teddy bear with glasses, 60s layout stylings – my hipster detector smoked and exploded the moment I saw it. However, I must admit – I love it.

Keane – Under the Iron Sea

2 12 2011

Listened: Wednesday November 16

I was perhaps a bit too harsh when I reviewed Hopes and Fears. Hearing Under the Iron Sea reminds me that Keane does have a talent for lovely singing and piano work, even if the words don’t really mean anything.

Maybe they didn’t have the dreaded sophomore slump, but actually a sophomore surge – I enjoy this album more than Hopes and Fears. As I mentioned before, however, I just couldn’t deal with the drama – the singer of a such a relatively low-key band already going to rehab?

In writing this review, I decided to check out samples of their third album, Perfect Symmetry, and well, it’s just not as good. It sounds almost… disco-y? Maybe I gave up on them at just the right time.

U2 – Under a Blood Red Sky

23 11 2011

Listened: Wednesday Nov 16

Hearing Under a Blood Red Sky makes me bummed out that I was only 4 in 1983. The energy of of this show at Red Rocks makes me wish I could have experienced it. Yes, Bono is terribly earnest (as I get older I can hear just how young he is here – 24), but I never doubt his commitment to what he’s doing. That someone so young could storm in and capture everyone’s attention so fully is notable.

I’ve seen the accompanying concert video, which is an amazing document in and of itself (Bono with a serious mullet plus jeggings with boots), but I’ve just had my mind blown regarding the album, thanks to wikipedia – most of the album was actually recorded in Germany! Here I was, impressed that a young Irish band could blow minds so thoroughly in Colorado, but that’s not really what I’m hearing after all. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

The Orb – U. F. Off: The Best of The Orb

18 11 2011

Listened: Friday November 11

The Orb are one of those rare bands who manage to sound classic yet not dated. My first exposure to them was on a mix tape a British guy named Steve sent me. I believe Steve was one of my first Internet friends way back in 1995 or so, and it was so long ago I don’t remember what his last name is or how we “met”. I still have the mix tapes somewhere (he sent me 4), and they say “Steve’s Mix” on them; that’s the only reason I remember even his first name. There was some great music on those tapes; I need to remind myself what’s there.

The Orb song I remember most from the “dance music” tape was Little Fluffy Clouds, which is an amazing painting in sound. I can see the clouds and understand how beautiful they are, just from the use of spoken word samples and musical flourishes. Whenever someone hears the inherent musical sound in conversation and uses it so effectively as a sample like this, I’m impressed. Perpetual Dawn is more of a “proper” song and satisfies my reggae/dub jones. It must have been really fun to dance to back in the day. DJ Asylum seems to be clearly influenced by the original Dr Who theme, with its chimy keyboards.

Mostly, I just love the way the songs chug along, like a slow-moving freight train. There’s no need to build to a climax like modern dance music, or at least a very immediate, intentionally crowd-pleasing one. I really need to get some proper Orb albums, since I love this Best Of so much. Similarly, Orbital – an Orb contemporary, who are very easy to confuse with the Orb since they are just as brilliant.