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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spoon - Transference

Two things make a Spoon record great. Second of these is Britt Daniel’s songwriting, which is generally full of great hooks, both lyrical and musical. Songs like “Sister Jack”, “Don’t Make Me a Target,” and “You Got Your Cherry Bomb” don’t need any bullshit to make them solid, they just stand on their own. But the first thing that’s great about this band is drummer Jim Eno’s impeccable talent, a timekeeper with this mysterious groove who always seems just a whisker behind the beat, lending an immediacy to the songs. Those drums have also been remarkably well-recorded, such that I can visualize the stick cracking the head with every midtempo beat. Unfortunately the band screws up both of these factors on their latest release, Transference.

The LP starts off with a grooveless dirge, “Before Destruction”, which displays the raw aesthetic sought on the record as a whole. I’m okay with somewhat lo-fi recording, hell I love classic Guided by Voices, but when a band at Spoon’s level of professionalism adopts it, the statement is a little concerning. The following tune, “Is Love Forever?”, has a decent groove, lyrically and musically. Unfortunately there’s an unnerving phased drum snap which reeks too much of gimmicky David-Fridman/Flaming Lips bullshit, when the washed, echoed vocal track kicks in, my fears are realized: these guys are trying to make an Indie/Artie record rather than a Rock record. “Mystery Zone” comes next with a decent, B-grade Spoon groove that’s making me question my doubts. Maybe this record will turn around? No, because “Who Makes Your Money” starts with a phased keyboard riff that could have carried the tune if it weren’t all fucked with, then the chorus comes in with more of that same echoey phasey shit. Nice bass line in there, though. The final cut on side A (yeah, I got this on vinyl, so for 20 clams I'm entitled to an opinion), “Written in Reverse,” gives a little taste of that Spoon groove I was looking for, with a heartfelt vocal, nice little harmony touches, and a killer bridge leading to a decent breakdown, false stop, and wrapup. Okay Britt, whatcha got for side 2?

“I Saw the Light” kicks it off in good style, a slow burner with nice build and song dynamics. This ‘raw’ production is starting to annoy me though, as I seem to be hearing a bit too much clipped distortion. C’mon boys, you’re too good to follow along with the distorto production trend! Just when it sounds really crap, they shift into a nice drawn out march to the finish, but unfortunately the breakdown/solo at the end is a phasey minute of “brum, brum, brum, brum” followed by a crazy distorted (er, digitally clipped) “bumbumbumbumbum…” that thankfully just ends to stop the song. Stop it now! But as they say on late night TV, There’s More! “Trouble Comes Running,” a Faces-style rocker, sounds absolutely atrocious, all tinny and clipped. What’s worse, this has the best vocal hook and harmony so far on the record. These guys are starting to remind me of the smart girl who acts like an idiot bimbo to impress the boys. You’re too good for this shit! Stop, please! And stop they do, only to shift into full piano ballad mode on “Goodnight Laura.” The sound isn’t bad, but the song is pretty much a ripoff of “Golden Slumber” from Abbey Road. “Out Go the Lights” comes back in with one of those great-sounding hanging snare grooves, a typical mid-tempo Spoon tune. Nice sound on this one, they must have recorded it on a good day, or before they heard the latest Flaming Lips record. The little echoey touches are nice and not overdone here, which makes me admire how post YHF Wilco has been able to integrate the ubiquitous laptop blips without them talking over. Boom bap, Boom bap; in kicks “Got Nuffin”, the leaked singleish money track. Nice rocker there with a well-used phased guitar lead and tinkly key accents. The record finishes with “Nobody Gets Me But You”, another marching song, with that fucked-up distorto drum sound and another nice bassline.

Conclusion: it’s great they picked up a consistent bass man, whose prominence is welcome. Obviously I can’t stand the distorted production crap, and given that this is the first record they have produced themselves, the blame all falls in their lap. After so many great records, I guess I expected more from these guys. Still, it’s a Spoon record, not Tapes n’ Tapes, so even their crap gets 3.5 stars.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top 10 albums for 2009

I’m a formerly run-of-the-mill music consumer who still needs to get his pop fix via a physical album/cd/whatever. I tend to acquire 50+ albums a year from all sorts of sources and eras, so my annual highlights only reflect what I picked up that year, with a mix of old (but new-to-me) and new releases. I also lean more towards vinyl than CD or download releases, so my acquisitions tend to skew in that direction. Sound quality, especially in the mastering process, also is pretty important to me, and tends to lead me away from a lot of hyper-compressed indie releases (Flaming Lips and anything else touched by David Friddman, I’m looking at you.) That said, here’s my little list:

Voivod, Nothingface. I remember a tour ad for these Montreal metalers in the back of some mag back in the 80’s with Soundgarden and Faith No More supporting. I picked up some early, crappy quality, pre-greatness ‘albums’ on eMusic some 10 years ago but didn’t pay much attention to their generic thrash. This mid-period classic, however, is the shit- think Pink Floyd and Rush meet 80’s Metallica and some SciFi lyrics/mythology and this is just amazing metal. Easily my best find in 2009.

Killing Joke, Killing Joke. Strange as it may seem, this dumb hick farmboy from Orange County, VT (me) once was big into Industrial; the whole Wax Trax!/Chicago/Europe thump and clang ‘dance’ scene. While that stuff from the late 80’s-early 90’s has not aged gracefully, this groundbreaker from 1980 is simply stunning; think of it as post-punk proto-industrial metal with a solid, organic groove. Vinyl score from Burlington Records, certainly not expecting to see that.

Dinosaur Jr., Farm. Like many folks from my generation, DJ are considered a pretty solid act in my world, discounting of course their mid-late 90’s crap. After last year’s unexpected and solid reunion, this release proves the boys can still rock as well as they did in their late 80’s prime.Awesome album cover, btw.

Neko Case, Middle Cyclone. Call me a fanboy, but I just love NC. Sure, the new one has upped the pop quotient, but is that such a bad thing? And given the pile of poo nominated for Grammy’s this year (especially see the album of the year category), it’s great that someone of her talent is recognized by the powers-that-were.

Booker T, Potato Hole. Great set from the king of instrumental soul with solid backing from the do-no-wrong Drive-By Truckers. Side note- when the hell are DBT coming to this town?

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes. Yeah, FF are so 2008, but I’m behind the curve on these cool indie-rock things nowadays. Besides, I wait until I see everyone else’s ‘best-of’ lists before getting too excited about the flavor of the week. Anyway, picked this LP up at PP and boy is it worth the hype. I guess I’ll have to write about Grizzly Bear in 2010??

Robyn Hitchcock, I Wanna Go Backwards Box Set. Another oldie (from 80’s, reissued in 2006?), but a killer set from this crown prince of pop psychedelia. I have a good number of RH and the Egyptians records which feature more fleshed out (i.e. electric) weirdo pop, often brilliant, so I have no need for the second set, Groovy Decay. This material from both pre- and post-Egyptians is essential. To hell with the Beatles remasters, this is what the music world needs more of. Yep Roc Records.

Tiger Trap, Tiger Trap. Slightly twee girly punky-pop from the mid-90’s. Vinyl copies are pretty hard to find and at times pricey, I’ve seen up to $50. Picked this off a random eBay auction for $15, sealed.

The Go-Betweens, Oceans Apart. Picked this LP up straight from Yep Roc Records when they were having a $5 vinyl sale. What little bit I’ve heard from these late Aussie indie-poppers is just great. I love the bouncy opening cut, “Here Comes a City.”

Pearl Jam. As a child of the 80’s-early 90’s, I’ll always have a spot for these guys in the rotation. Countless hours were spent bombed out and bombing around in the (Che)Vette with Ten cranked, but I recognize that they are certainly not cultural icons. They play rock and roll, nothing more nothing less, and continue to do a great job at it. So in 2009 I picked up the Ten LP rerelease with the new Brendan O’Brien remix that really does add a ‘sparkle’ to the record. Also got Backspacer on LP, and I give “The Fixer” a vote as pop single of the year. Finally saw VS. on cd and picked it up, only copy I’ve ever had is a Memorex tape dupe. I might say that they’ve never bettered that one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Wicked deals at Yeproc

I'm breaking my resolution to only buy my music locally only because this deal is too good to pass up, and it goes straight to the label/artist. Guilt and warm and fuzzies aside, this is awesome, a bunch of cds from Yeproc for $5 each. Load up on some Sadies, Chris Stamey, Chuck Prophet, Minus 5, Robyn Hitchcock, and whatever just looks good that you haven't yet discovered, this shit is cheap! They had the same deal on a smaller selection of lps a couple of weeks ago. The deal only llasts through October 16.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bad News for Music Lovers: Rhino Records Gutted by Layoffs

Yesterday's announcement that Warner Music Group will be laying off 30-40 employees of Rhino Records marks another sad day for modern-day music lovers who still buy physical product (you know, cd's and records). Rhino has from the outset been a premier reissue and compilation label, and many of their sets simply define genres for the discerning consumer. Some of their modern/punk/indie sets including No Thanks! The ’70s Punk Rebellion, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ’80s Underground, A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box and The Brit Box: U.K. Indie, Shoegaze and Britpop Gems of the Last Millennium are no-brainers in an essential music collection; their other genre sets are also not to be missed (but I couldn't find an easy link to copy like those above). Put simnply, this sucks.
It appears that they are going out with one of the best and most anticipated box sets in recent times, Big Star: Keep and Eye on the Sky. Buy some freakin' real music, will ya', and keep this music industry (the parts that don't suck) alive.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nice finds at Riverwalk

I admit that I haven't always given Riverwalk Records the credit they're due. I like to check out new music, and I'm partial to Pure Pop's selection in that department. I've also wrongly given RWR the assumption that their selection is just more and more and more classic rock, even though I nearly always pick something up when I stop in. This week:

Husker Du, Flip Your Wig: I saw this in the window the other day and it brought me in. Absolutely stunning power pop punk, five stars no question. I think it's still in print from SST.

Voivod, Nothingface: Have a little of their stuff, but this along with their other mid-late 80's albums have been on my list. Imagine Rush, Metallica, and Pink Floyd in a blender, but is a good way. I needledropped this one and the sound, especialy the punch of the drums, is just awesome.

Traveling Wilbury's, Volume 1: This is just a great record. Hardly groundbreaking, just good pop/rock. It's a little hard to find, but old copies have come down in price since Rhino rereleased their stuff a few years ago.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One LP

Fuckin' love this record...finally. I got this as a crappy 128k mp3
from emusic almost ten years ago and have wanted the record (that's
vinyl) since. Too bad it fetches upwards of $50 or more on eBay. So
when I see Matador re-released it, I hopped down to Pure Pop to pick
mine up for 25 clams. I almost downloaded the 320k mp3's that came with
it but as I was lookinh on the hard drive I noticed my copy was a
full-res flac file. Oh yeah...I bought this on cdat a garage sale for
$1 last summer. Oh well, this is worth having in multiple (good)
formats,and worth supporting at retail value.

It's like a love song to pop music; so varied, yet cohesive. The
couplet of 'Stockholm Syndrome' and 'Autumn Sweater' (record 1, side 2)
still gives me the feelies.

I'll give someone the download code that came with my record since I
don't need it. Only hitch is you have to buy at least one more YLT
cd/record at an independent music store, no itunes, no cheating. Maybe
pick up a killer Kinks record while you're at it?