Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Column: 2009's Last Gasp

Well hello there. I had an amazingly busy and tempestuous week, and I'll be very glad for tomorrow's holiday. Once again, I found no time to blog, something I will certainly rectify in the future. But I did manage to squeeze out another column for your reading enjoyment.

We're now in the end-of-the-year doldrums, when nothing notable hits stores. I can count the new albums I'm buying between now and January on one hand. Good for the checkbook, bad for the column - last week was 2009's Last Gasp, the final big new release week of the year. But it was a pretty big one, and I've examined it, reviewing the debut of supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, and new ones from John Mayer and Switchfoot.

Click on over to read it, then head back here to leave me a comment. And happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Column: Wait, What?

This week at, it's another selection of albums so weird that, if I hadn't heard them myself, I'd probably doubt their existence.

First up is Tori Amos' Christmas album Midwinter Graces, and if you'd told me 15 years ago that Tori Amos would one day make a Walmart-safe Christmas album, I'd have probably said "ho, ho, ho." (I know, that was awful.) Second is Joy Electric's covers album, which includes analog synthesizer takes on songs by the Killers, Keane, Blink-182, Feist, Coldplay and others. That's one that shouldn't work at all, but does marvelously.

The column also includes my thoughts on last weekend's Doctor Who special, The Waters of Mars. Click on over to read it, then head on back here to leave a comment.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

First Listen: Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears, Mad Valentines

A shout-out to Tony Shore right up front - without him, I might never have heard Bryan Scary. Tony convinced me to look beyond the strange band name and buy last year's Flight of the Knife album, one of the most insane pop records I've picked up in many a moon. It is also totally awesome.

Mad Valentines isn't exactly the follow-up, but it is an excellent six-song EP full of the same piano-driven prog-pop that Scary and his band do so well. In some ways, Mad Valentines is a single with five b-sides, and that single is leadoff track "Andromeda's Eyes." If you're into mighty musicianship that still retains its sense of tunefulness, you have to hear this. It's super-fast, explosive stuff, with a melody that just keeps coming at you, relentlessly.

Not to slight the other five, but the EP never gets that energetic again. It does, however, remain complex, sweet, poppy and all-around terrific. Closer "The Red Umbrella" is my other favorite, but it's all good. Imagine Supertramp on Jolt Cola, and you have the idea. Listen here. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Listen: Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young

The Strokes are yet another band I don't understand. They are all right, for what they are - a mediocre guitar-rock band that momentarily captured the public's attention. The Strokes were at the forefront of the garage-rock revival of the early 'aughts, and their second and third albums failed to ignite the same spark. I'm not sure why people still look to them as an important band.

So here's Julian Casablancas, the Strokes' lead singer, stepping out on his own, and he's followed the cliche to the hilt. Phrazes for the Young goes all synthesizer on our asses, glamming up Casablancas' simple songs with keyboard lines and drum patterns. I wish this wasn't such a predictable move at this point, because I like synthesizers and drum machines, when used well. But it really comes down to the songs, in the end.

Some of these eight songs are okay - "Glass" is catchy, "11th Dimension" is pretty good. Some of them are terrible - "Ludlow St." made me want to tear my ears off, "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" sadly fails to live up to its title. None of them are memorable. Like the Strokes themselves, Phrazes for the Young will shortly fade from memory, leaving no trace. If you don't want to bother with it, I wouldn't blame you.

First Listen: Nirvana, Live at Reading

I'm not sure why I bought this. It is certainly exactly what I expected.

I have never been a member of the Cult of Cobain. I will grant him his place in history - Nirvana hit at exactly the right time, selling millions of copies of an album that was, at the time, too loud and angry for radio. Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic basically forced the mainstream to accept what they did, and kicked open the door for dozens of others who did the same thing.

And Cobain's suicide cemented that place - had he remained alive, he would probably be Billy Corgan right now, watching relevance as it disappears in the distance. But we'll never know. Cobain's early death turned him into an icon, and his band into one of the most acclaimed ever.

But man, they weren't very good, and Live at Reading proves it. Nirvana played loud, sloppy Pixies-lite stuff, and on stage, they evidently didn't do it very well - they weren't tight-but-faking-loose, like the Pixies; they were really just amateur players. Live at Reading captures their set at the Reading Festival in August of 1992, just after Nevermind made them superstars, and they run through most of that album, much of superior debut Bleach, a couple from the gestating In Utero, and some covers.

And it all sounds like garage-band noise. The songs are okay, for what they are, but they don't belong anywhere near a "Best Songs Ever" list. And the performance is... well, there's an argument to be made that Cobain and company were ironically pretending to be this lackadaisical - see the missed notes on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or the horribly-played "Star Spangled Banner" at concert's end.

Of course, the other argument is that they just kind of sucked. And I think Live at Reading, for all its sound and fury, makes that argument convincingly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Column: I Am Musician, Hear Me Roar

It's all about breathtaking complexity this week at, as I take a listen to three albums that were made primarily to get approving nods from other musicians. Is there something for everyone to enjoy in these discs? Well, probably not, and that's the trouble.

Reviews include Slayer's crushing World Painted Blood, Transatlantic's mammoth The Whirlwind, and Between the Buried and Me's astonishing The Great Misdirect. Click on over to read it, then come on back here to comment.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Column: Uniform of Youth

Yes, it's true. I very much like Weezer's new album Raditude.

I know I'm going to have to defend this one more than any other this year, but this album hits the spot for me. Weezer has always been best when they focus on silly yet satisfying pop, and on the dopey Raditude, they deliver in ways they haven't since the Green Album. It's an incredibly stupid album, written from the point of view of a 15-year-old who hangs out at malls and tries to impress girls. But it's an incredibly catchy one too.

I've put forth my best defense at this week. I also reviewed the AMAZING new live album from R.E.M., and the soundtrack to New Moon. It's all wrapped up in the theme of feeling younger while getting older.

Click on over to read it, then come back here and leave a comment. You know you're going to want to after this one.

Sunday, November 1, 2009