Jun 30, 2008

np: "Stoned at the Taj Again" - Grails

I'll admit to being slightly bitter today, having suffered through a hugely disappointing three games by my beloved Chicago Cubs. It's always hard to watch them get swept by the South Siders, but even harder when they are fighting to remain in first place. But enough with the sports talk...

Am I the only shocked to realize that tomorrow is already July 1st? 2008 is half over already! But as far as music goes... it's been a pretty good year so far. I haven't found myself falling head over heels for very many great singles this year (I'm still waiting for my jam of the summer, I'm already sick of "Lollipop"), but I've heard so many fantastic albums in the first half of the year. More on that tomorrow though, when I present my list of top 2008 releases thus far.

In news that (kinda sorta) made up for the miserable baseball weekend, I got my ticket in the mail today for an outstanding show at the Empty Bottle in July: Boris, Torche, and Nachtmystium. I've been anxious to see Boris for quite some time now and the new Torche album is quickly becoming one of my favorites of the year (again, more on that tomorrow), so I would have happily paid $15 to see either them at an intimate venue like the Bottle. But to get both of them on the same bill? Including progressive-black metal-ers Nachtmystium? It was a no-brainer and I can't wait for the show. You'll definitely be hearing more about that show.

With that I'm off to try and be productive with the rest of my night, but I leave you with a selection of trippy tunes to soundtrack your Monday night or Tuesday morning. Enjoy.

Grails - "Stoned at the Taj Again" (taken from Take Refuge in Clean Living)
Hawkwind - "Orgone Accumulator" (taken from Space Ritual)
Jennifer Gentle - "Take My Hand" (taken from The Midnight Room)
Bardo Pond - "Datura" (taken from Set and Setting)
Boris - "Ano Onna No Onryou" (taken from Akuma No Uta)

Jun 26, 2008

np: "The Smiling Cobra" - Melvins

Awhile back, I made a vague allusion to a writing project that I would be talking a little more about when the time came. Well, that time has come. If you head out to your preferred purveyor of periodicals, you can browse the music section and pick up the July 2008 issue of Metal Edge with Judas Priest on the cover. Why should you do such a thing? Because, once you flip to the back and hit the "reviews" section, you will find three album reviews by yours truly! You'll be able to read my thoughts on the latest albums from sludge pioneering Melvins, the feisty cabaret reviving Dresden Dolls, and the up and coming horror-flick obsessed Stigma. Cool stuff, and decent albums all three (especially that Melvins disc).

So you'll have to excuse the self-promoting post here, but I'm pretty excited to see my first reviews printed in a national publication!

Jun 25, 2008

Recent Release Round-Up

It's been awhile since I did one of these, but here's a few quick thoughts on some recent album releases, along with some song samples for your own taste.

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges (ATO)
The fifth full-length album from these hipster approved Kentucky rockers will probably prove to be a polarizing release for some fans. The Bonnaroo friendly guitar jams and Jim James' spine tingling vocals are still present throughout, but this time the guys have tried to get a little more *ahem* funky. Well, at least as funky as white boys from Kentucky can get. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But boy, when they fail, they fail spectacularly. While trying to approximate Prince on the awful "Highly Suspicious" the band stumbles into the worst thing they've ever put to tape. Thankfully they are far more successful with integrating the funk on cuts like "I'm Amazed" and "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2". I sound like I'm being pretty harsh, but this is actually a pretty good album. If they'd removed the "Suspicious" trainwreck and the LOL-worthy "Librarian" (note: a Kentucky southern-rock band should never, never, ever use the word "interweb" in a song) it would have been another great album for the band.
My Morning Jacket - "I'm Amazed"

Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (Beggars/XL)
Or, for the Americans in the audience, With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly. The Icelandic band enlists the production help of Flood (Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails) for their fifth full-length, a little bit of a departure from their usual widescreen, dour epics. The first two tracks showcase the more obvious new directions for the group, with lead single "Gobbledigook" sounding like an Icelandic Animal Collective and some actual sunshine (gasp!) pop in "Inni mer Syngur Vitleysingur" ("Within Me A Lunatic Sings"). But fear not fans of Agaeitis Bryjun and ( ), the band soon shifts back into the expected Sigur Ros twist on post-rock later in the album. A particular highlight is the achingly beautiful "Ara Batur", which easily stands among the best work they've ever done. The band sounds looser and more vibrant than they have in the last few years, much to their benefit. An album well worth checking out.
Sigur Ros - "Inni mer Syngur Vitleysingur"

Mudhoney - The Lucky Ones (Sub Pop)
Much of the talk surrounding this O.G. (original grungster) Seattle band this Spring has centered around the fantastic deluxe reissue of their classic EP Superfuzz Bigmuff (definitely worth your money), but their brand new 2008 album seems to be getting a little overlooked. The Lucky Ones, recorded in a mere three and a half days, catches the veteran band in a loose and playful mood, tearing through 11 tracks that recall their glory days without falling back on pure nostalgia. It's a great set that serves as a kick in the ass to one of Seattle's most under-appreciated bands.
Mudhoney - "Inside Out Over You"

Three 6 Mafia - Last 2 Walk (Hypnotize Minds/Columbia)
Just when it finally stopped being weird to hear them called the "Academy Award winning" Three 6 Mafia, the Memphis hip-hop stalwarts and MTV reality show stars drop a long awaited album that makes me wonder if it isn't all downhill from here on out. Last 2 Walk, so named because Juicy J and DJ Paul are the only full-fledged members left of the original six, hit the streets this week with a resounding thud. Despite some high profile guest stars including Akon, UGK, and Unk; there is almost nothing on here to get excited about. There's nothing that lives up to classics like "Sippin' On Some Syrup", "Ridin' Spinners" or 2005's breakthrough hit "Stay Fly". The Triple 6 crew has never really been relied on for deep lyrical topics and here we find more of the usual taking drugs/selling drugs/driving cars/having sex/taking drugs/selling drugs/taking drugs hustle, but more disappointing is the lackluster production work. Usually J and Paul can be counted on for something hot and fresh, but nearly every beat on Last 2 Walk sounds uninspired or recycled from better songs. Its pretty telling when, during the album's outro, they complain about spouting off the same catchphrases again and again and again. Hmmm. I won't even rant on the collaboration with Good Charlotte. I mean, really? Good Charlotte? Ease up on that purple drank boys, I know you got better in you than this.
Three 6 Mafia - "I Got (feat. Pimp C & Project Pat)"

Jun 24, 2008

Party Like It's 1987!!!

So the original Motley Crue line-up is back with their first full-length featuring the original line-up since 1997's abysmal Generation Swine. Saints of Los Angeles is being touted as the ever popular "return to form" album, but if the lead single is any indication - that descriptor may actually mean something this time around. "Saints of Los Angeles", the single, is a full-on throwback to the golden era of sleazy hair metal - glam guitars, gang vocals on the chorus, big solo, the whole nine yards. You can almost smell the Aqua Net in the air. That may be a bad thing to fans of today's sludgier and altogether darker metal, but for those of us that grew up on "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Kickstart My Heart" - this is a welcome development in the ongoing soap opera that is the Crue. Time will tell whether or not the rest of the album lives up to the promise of this single, but at least it has to be better than that John Corabi shit anyway.

Motley Crue - "Saints of Los Angeles" (taken from Saints of Los Angeles)

Jun 23, 2008

Weezy F. don't-forget-the-Baby

One of the big music stories of the past week was the surprisingly strong performance of former Hot Boy Lil' Wayne and his highly anticipated sixth solo joint, Tha Carter III. Thanks to his never-ending flow of mixtape material and guest appearances, Weezy had built up enough of a buzz that the number one Billboard slot was pretty much a forgone conclusion. What was surprising however, was just how many copies he managed to unload in the first seven days - 1,006,000 (423,000 on the first day alone). Now this may not sound like much when compared to the figures Britney and the boy bands were putting up in the RIAA's cash cow years, but for an industry in its death throes - Weezy's was a pretty impressive figure. The last album to top 1 million in the first week? 50 Cent with his disappointing The Massacre in 2005. Not even Kanye could crack seven digits with his excellent Graduation disc from last year.

To keep these figures in perspective, here's the first week sales of other recent chart toppers:
Mariah Carey - E=MC2 (463,000 copies to reach #1 - the year's pacesetter until now)
Usher - Here I Stand (433,000)
Disturbed - Indestructible (253,000)
Leona Lewis - Spirit (204,000)
Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs (144,000)

Interesting, huh? Time will tell if this says more about Tha Carter III's lengthy gestation period, the rapid success of "Lollipop", or the rebounding of the record industry. I'm guessing more of the first two than the latter, but stranger things have happened.

So, how's the album itself? Worth all the fuss? The short answer - kinda sorta. See, this thing was never going to live up to expectations. For a time this album seemed to be the hip-hop equivalent of Chinese Democracy - a highly anticipated album that kept getting pushed further back on the calendar, with huge predictions on how amazing/awful it was going to be. It was destined to be a disappointment to someone. Many argued that Weezy had wasted all his best material on the handful of mixtapes he tossed off in the last two years, while many others argued that he never had any good material in the first place. The way I figure it though, if you are borderline batshit insane and spend 12-14 hours a day spitting every crazy idea that enters your head into the mic - eventually you're going to hit on something solid. "Lollipop" is the obvious success story here, riding the T-Pain vocoder bit straight to #1 - but its probably only the fourth best song on the disc. The Kanye West produced "Let the Beat Build" is the strongest, with Wayne spitting some of the album's best lyrics over a minimal drum beat and a trademark 'Ye soul sample. Album closer "Dontgetit" finds Wayne at his most smoked-out, venting his thoughts over the classic "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". The paranoia vibe works really well for the first couple verses, even if it does overstay its welcome by quite a bit. From a production standpoint, David Banner and Bangladesh score big points for "La La" and "A Milli" respectively, though I still slightly prefer the earlier incarnations of both (I guess Weezy couldn't toss on the Cory Gunz verse to allow him to be upstaged on his own disc, could he?).

For all the exciting highlights though, there are some tracks that simply fall flat or fail to build on a decent premise. "Mr. Carter" starts off fairly promising, but the lazy Jay-Z verse towards the end nearly runs the track into the ground, while the Bobby Valentino assisted "Mrs. Officer" exerts way too much energy on a half-hearted "fuck the police" punchline. And the less said about the other Kanye production, "Comfortable" featuring Babyface(?!), the better. Let's just say that Weezy should stay away from the ballads.

In spite of the few mis-steps, this is a pretty fun album. A 5-mic classic? Not even close. But Wayne the hitmaker allows Weezy the character enough free rein to toss out rhymes like "osh-gosh b'gosh Posh Spice's husband couldn't kick it like I kick it" to keep things fun. And that's really what a summer hip-hop album should be all about.

(Related note - is that the best cover art of the year? Or the worst? I think strong arguments could be made either way.)

Lil Wayne - "Playing With Fire (f. Betty Wright)" (taken from Tha Carter III)
Lil Wayne - "Let the Beat Build" (taken from Tha Carter III)

Jun 21, 2008

np: "Visions" - Judas Priest

Yes, I am finally back after my wonderful little hiatus. Life certainly does seem a little brighter now that I'm married to most wonderful woman in the world and am coming off a week in beautiful Costa Rica. I highly recommend a visit if the chance ever arises.

I've mainly spent the last week or so catching up on the stuff that has been piling up on my desk (of which I'll be posting more later this week, hopefully) but I wanted to take a second to address one of this summer's big name metal releases now that I've had the chance to absorb it. I've never been the biggest Judas Priest fan, my collection until now had been limited to vinyl copies of British Steel and Screaming For Vengeance, but I've always held a huge amount of respect for the band. When news started filtering out about the band's latest album being an epic, double-disc concept album about Nostradamus, I thought that sounded ambitious and over-the-top enough to be worth a spin. On those counts, I certainly wasn't disappointed - this thing is epic as hell. Over 100 minutes, multiple instrumental segues, seven tracks passing the 6 minute mark, etc etc.

So how is it? Well, let's just say that a pretty decent 40 minute album is probably buried in this thing somewhere. The second disc is pretty painful to sit through up until the end and most of the ballads are downright awful, but there are some really great moments sprinkled throughout. "Death" is a great Priest twist on rumbling doom metal and the title track is an absolute firestorm once it kicks into gear. But these moments are too few and far between to make this album really worth the time it takes to listen. The overreach in ambition and tendency towards the cheese are at fault here, because instrumentally the band is on fire and Halford, despite nearing 60, hasn't lost an ounce of vocal prowess. Longtime Priest fans will probably find a lot to like here, but there are enough better metal albums coming out this summer to render this inessential.

Judas Priest - "Nostradamus"