Home FAQ Links About Me Message Board Contact Me Home Image Map

21st Century Song Reviews


Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind [EP] (2009)

Read the full review:
Atomic Kitten

Graze A

They create such an usual atmosphere with this song that it's hard to describe. They find a thick, ringing sounding synthesizer, which plays a very dissonant chord progression. Avery Tare (I assume) sings an appropriately mystical and disconnected melody to this otherworldly atmosphere, and it actually sounds appropriate. This will probably seem a bit wanky to most people, but I find that their atmosphere is engaging enough to make this work. Halfway through, a completely different song starts to play, characterized by a rapidly played tribal flute playing a groove along with a standard drum set and a very deep synthesizer. That part is a lot of fun!

What Would I Want? Sky A

Once again, they're concentrating on thick atmospheres, which I greatly prefer over the sound of most of their previous albums. (I've kind of liked their more minimalist Strawberry Jam and Feels although I haven't quite acquired the taste you probably need to fully like those.) Like the previous track, this song has two distinct sections. The first is thickly atmospheric busy with space noises and a very repetitive melody (it sounds like he's saying “blue jean” although that's probably because I still have Bowie's Tonight in flowing through my mind, which I have reviewed recently). More of a traditional drum and guitar-centered song with lyrics pipes up midway through, and it's actually a really good one. The melody isn't hooky as such, but it's bright enough to be ear catching. What's most appealing about that song is the background instrumentation, which constantly evolves. You'll hear all sorts of jangly noises, violins, spaced-out echoey things evolving in the background as it progresses. Pitchfork apparently awarded this song a coveted 10/10, which only comes about once in a blue moon. As you've probably noticed, I'm a lot more liberal dishing out perfect scores... but even then I'm not quite moved enough by the song to give it a full A+... It's special, but it's not that special.

Bleed B

At this point I start to shrug my shoulders slightly at their extremely thick, atmospheric songs. It doesn't help that this atmosphere isn't nearly as captivating as the ones presented at the beginnings of “Graze” and “What Would I Want? (Sky).” Making it worse is it doesn't jump to a completely different song in the second half with a groove! I suppose that wasn't a requirement, but I've been getting used to it!

On a Highway B+

Yup, this is another one of those mystical songs with thick and rather strange atmospheres. It's interesting although I don't find it to be quite as engaging as the beginnings of the first two songs. (When I listen to this, I start to mentally check out!) Predominantly, this one features a rather loud and wavy industrialized synthesizer. Occasionally we hear some rat-a-tats from the drums, but the drums never actually take control of the song. The lead singing continues to sound mystical and somewhat alien. Occasionally they catch a hook or two, especially when those thickly layered vocals come in for what I guess might be considered an “alienfied chorus.” (These guys are way too unconventional to write things like “choruses” the way they're traditionally known as... But there's definitely a part in this song that seems more singalongable than the others, so I'll call those sections the chorus.)

I Think I Can A

I want to say these guys are on the verge of something great. I'm certain Brian Eno would be proud of that thick synthscape they created at the beginnings and ends of this song, which is ambient music that sounds like it was recorded in the forest on another planet. Soon, a pounding, tribal sort of song pipes up, which also sounds like an alien version of an American Indian chant. The drum beat is a bit unbalanced, which helps give it that unusual feeling to it. Part of the strange textures they create through this are almost reminiscent of a Philip Glass composition, and the overall thick production as well as the vaguely world-beat feel to it is up Peter Gabriel's alley. And yet, this is its own unique creation. My one complaint about this is that I lose my interest in it slightly around the halfway mark. As unusual as their ideas are, there wasn't quite enough of them to really warrant the seven-minute running time.


Atomic Kitten: Atomic Kitten (2007)

Read the full review:
Atomic Kitten

It's OK C+

I agree. This is OK. It's teen-beat pop music at its heart, but after that initial “adjustment,” we can start appreciating that it doesn't fall badly into the traps that most music of this genre finds itself in. They open it with some real-sounding fake violins instead of some vomit-filled synth sound. There's a bubbly noise we hear subtly in the mix, which gives it some texture. The problem is with the melody, which is bland (but adequate) ... and I wish someone would tell these pop artists that those vocal enhanced echoes sound horrible. Somehow it doesn't grow too stale by the end. The groove has staying power!

Be With U C+

This is characterized by some blatant disco overtones. Oh why did the '70s have to end?? A few '00s-style touches keep a light texture, which generally appealing to hear. The vocals are also light and fluffy, which suits the material. What's the problem with the song, then? ... THE MELODY! It would also be nice if they would change the groove around a little bit.

Tide is High (Get the Feeling) C-

Yup, this is a cover of Blondie's cover of “Tide is High!” This is played a lot like the original except for a different chorus that contains no hooks. I hate that monotonous drum machine and the part where they only have an acoustic guitar playing. These instrumentals are rather inept and they destroy what is otherwise a good song.

Feels So Good C-

Could have been better, I suppose. Kylie Minogue co-wrote this song, and therefore the instrumentation needed more body. The vocal performances are weak (and I'm honestly not sure if that's Minogue's voice I hear ... it could be.) But her songs usually have stronger, more overpowering vocals. The song is fitfully danceable, but it grows stale by the end. The instrumentation is ill-conceived. (Oh god, there's another SAW plug.)

Walking on Water C-

There's something I like in those strings that open this tune! They're almost classical. But it's downhill from there as they go in this tiring discourse into repetitive teen-beat nonsense. To its credit, I would describe much of this as “minimal,” but that's not so much a compliment when that's one of the reasons why it's so boring.

Love Doesn't Have to Hurt C

You've been watching too many bad romantic comedies! (What am I talking about? This is the sort of music that gets featured in bad romantic comedies.) Frankly, I'm a bit confused that this is yet another C-scoring track. Yeah, it's bland, but there's a moment when they're working toward that chorus that piques my interest whenever it decides to pop up. Also, I've heard worse melodies.

Love Won't Wait C+

I flirted with the idea of giving this a B-, but I wanted to keep with the pattern! This is a generally likable pop song with some disco undertones. Very weak ideas with the instrumentation which are too light and repetitive, but the melody is actually OK. These girls are lackluster singers.

Whole Again B-

They're actually peaking their heads out of the clouds a little bit here. But here, the melody recalls early '60s girl groups, and their take on it is rather charming. Other than the awful drum machines which get duller every time I hear them, there are some lite-gospel ideas here they execute without sounding overblown like some godawful Whitney Houston song. Not bad.

Last Goodbye C+

I've got to give them credit for getting this far without turning in a real clunker. I'm basking in mediocrity, but there's no real reason to hate this song other than the fact that the plain drum machine sound is grating on my nerves. The melody is OK, and the chord progressions are more interesting than usual. As mildly enjoyable as it gets without giving me the desire to ever hear it again.

Right Now B-

Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez. You know how I said a few of the previous songs had some disco overtones? Here is a full fledged disco song. That funky, wispy guitar is right out of those Blaxploitation movies, and there's even that familiar chugga-chugga-chugga disco bass line. I suppose it's nice to hear them quit messing around with the bullcrap and really start giving us the disco! (And yaaay, I get a break from the awful drum machines! Finally, my time has come!!)

Eternal Flame B

Now they're covering The Bangles!!!!!! In every single ways, The Bangles were a superior girl group (and an actual band you know). The original probably wasn't The Bangles shiningest moment... it sounds more like a nursery rhyme than a real '80s pop song! But, I guess the melody was well-written, because this is one of the nicest slices of melody on this whole disc. The instrumentation is a bit more involved than the original, and (I daresay) apart from the drum machine sounds a minor improvement?

The Moment You Leave Me C-

Nice going! An entire pop album without a real *clunker* on it. Rock purists will disagree with me, and you'll undoubtedly note that I have too much of a capacity for this sort of nonsense, but there you go. I have the capacity! The melody is spritey enough to keep from growing too stale. The lite instrumentation continues to annoy me, but those additions from the violins keep it from getting too monotonous. I can't think of a compelling reason to listen to this again, but this valueless experience at least wasn't painful. O, beautiful mediocrity!


Beulah: When Your Heartstrings Break (1999)

Read the full review:
When Your Heartstrings Break

Score From Agusta A

The first track of this album indicates that I like this band. It's an upbeat, hooky, and playful song that is well-orchestrated with a swinging horn section, some well-placed fuzz-guitar and a toy-piano. I don't know about you, but any catchy song with a swinging horn section and a toy piano is automatically on my good side.

Sunday Under Glass A-

Man! This band is a lot of fun, already! This is another lighthearted upbeat song that is well-mixed and orchestrated using a nice variety of instruments. Involved horns, an accordion, a small string section, a flute, a jangly vibe-type instrument are all meshed comfortably in the background (at different times) to create a sweet, homely texture. The melody is even upbeat and likable. It's hooky but not deadly!

Matter Vs. Space B+

I'm rooting for space. From what I remember from physics, matter is mostly space anyway... Well, these guys are insanely likable. Those upbeat drum machine makes sure of that. I've certainly run across better melody writers in my day, but the melody is still complex and overall interesting. The best thing about them, once again, is their knack for diversifying the instrumentation. There always seems to be something new in here. A horn section comes in at times. Other times, there's a frankly rather cool descending, fuzzy guitar riff. A bit of a surf-style rhythm guitar. There's even a few zippy sound effects were brought in here and there. ...Hardly a great song, but it's a good one.

Emma Blowgun's Last Stand B

There's no singing in the first half, which made me think it was going to be an instrumental. But I'm glad that they eventually brought in a sweet vocal melody, because I was starting to get a bit bored. (I love those swinging horns, but they can only go so far.) I should also mention that, while I love all these happy, ubpeat songs, they're becoming less and less impressive.... How about exploring another emotion? All in all, I like this song, though. It's likable. It wants to be your friend, and you don't see why not.

Calm Go the Wild Strings A-

There's a bit of an Eastern flavor to this one. So give them a point for diversity (finally). This is still a happy song, but it doesn't involve the same sort of upbeat drum pattern. I love their use of various Eastern-sounding instruments. I have no idea what they're called: those flute things, those banjo things, those violin things. You know what I'm talking about, I think. I particularly like that chorus section and those uplifting “oooh” back-up vocals. Again, they win on instrumentation. I just wish the melody were a tad stronger.

Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut B

This isn't really a ballad... Or at least what I consider to be a ballad. Ballads aren't supposed to be fast, upbeat and snappy like this! So, really, this sounds like any of the opening four songs, but the instrumentation isn't so delightfully varied. ...I like that they tried to very briefly cut-and-paste a sparse cowboy groove in here a few times. That doesn't come off as awkward as I thought it would.

Comrade's Twenty Sixth B

At this point in the track-listing, I can officially state that these songs are really starting to sound alike. It's not necessarily that all of these songs are happy and have the same tempo... It's that they all also have likable though somewhat indistinct melodies. I mean, I'm enjoying myself right now, but there's no way I'm going to remember how this goes after I'm through playing it.

The Aristocratic Swells B

I like that song title! ...I also like this song! Upbeat. Happy. Snappy. Upbeat. It has a good groove that sounds like a watered down version of something they might have heard from a Motown song. The toot-tooty horns that come in are fun as usual, but ... oh, those are in all these songs, aren't they? ...Lastly, the melody could have been stronger. Likable though uncompelling.

Silverado Days B-

They finally came out with a slow-moving song. I'm guessing they repressed, though, because it's pretty uneventful. Likable? You bet. It's not even that boring, since it has plenty of juice in it for a three-and-a-half-minute song. The instrumentation isn't anything particularly great. Nothing too surprising. Just a string section, slowly plodding piano, guitar stabs, and a thumpy drum. Even though it's slow-moving, it still has a distinct undercurrent of optimism to it. Really, this is one freaking HAPPY album, isn't it? ......No, that's no complaint. I like happy albums.

Warmer B+

Now, this one gets extra points for having a better-than-usual melody and some excellent instrumentation ideas. That backwards instrument noodling around in the groove gives us a bit of a different texture that we're used to. I also like that scaling, twinkly “vibe-ish” instrument in the chorus. That catches my ear.

If We Can Land a Man On the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart A

I had to stop using the expression “If we can land a man on the moon...” because I realized one day that I personally had nothing to do with landing men on the moon. As a matter of fact, I was born in 1982 when all of those man-moon missions were pretty much over with. Perhaps if NASA gives me a job after I graduate (not likely!) and that butt-munch-of-a-government-of-ours soon resumes investing in moon missions (double not likely!), I can claim to be in the collective “we” of people who landed a man on the moon. But now, I just don't feel comfortable that being a member of society is enough to use the “If we can land a man on the moon...” expression. ......Where was I? Oh! I love this song! It's delightful! Clearly they saved one of the best for last! The melody is strong (though not as successfully Beatlesesque as they were probably hoping), but it's pretty memorable. The star of the show is undoubtedly the instrumentation. Especially the swelling string and horn sections in the chorus seem to capture my attention and take my senses along for the ride. Good, snappy fun! It sounds a lot like the other songs of the album, but it was done better.


The Bird and the Bee: The Bird and the Bee (2007)

Read the full review:
The Bird and the Bee

Again & Again B

A lonely electric piano plays and Inara George's squeaky vocals sing a few notes and they suddenly bring in a jangly beat. This is enjoyable for the first minute-and-a-half, but after that, the idea grows stale. There wasn't much to the melody to begin with. This song could have used more substance, and it seems to consist of repeating the same things over and over. But considering the song isn't even three minutes long, it's fine. Just fine.

Birds and the Bees C

The first minute is pretty horrible. An quiet thing with George singing a few notes. The instrumentation is quiet and creates an atmosphere, but it's not a very compelling one. After that, a more challenging bit comes in with some complicated rhythms. The harmonies aren't much to speak of, but I don't mind so much. .......And the rest of the song just repeat these two sections over and over, and the more I hear them the less interesting they get. That's lazy songwriting if you ask me.

F*cking Boyfriend B

This is almost an excellent song! (Don't you love my reservations?) It's a good song, though. They seemed to have mastered this lite-indie stuff, because this sound is rather appealing here. The arrangements are delicate and lively with light percussive taps & snaps, calculator synths, wooshy noises and George's sweetie-pie vocal performance. There are only two crippling flaws. One, the melody isn't interesting ... it tends to be just one or two lines that keeps on repeating. Two, the song really doesn't flow well. There's way too much cutting-and-pasting going on. Cut-and-paste has its place, but shouldn't be this heavily relied upon.

I'm a Broken Heart B+

This is a lot more normal than the other songs. I hate to say it, but it's better for that. It's still twisted enough to be interesting ... and I can tell these guys liked to use their imaginations. This is a slowly-paced song with a simple melody, but nice chord progressions and smart instrumentation. The modest horn arrangements are especially notable! My main complaint about it is it's boring and goes on for about a minute too long. Other than that, it's wonderful!

La La La B+

Arggggh... this constant near-excellence is frustrating! I like that introduction. Jangly percussion and a funny chord progression with George's sweet voice gives off such a vibe that makes me sit up in my chair! I'm doing similar things hearing this song unfold for about the first minute, but after that, it just repeats itself and grows boring by the second. There's still enough stamina to sustain it for the three minutes, but not as much as there *should* have been. These atmospheres are really nice, though. Very warm.

My Fair Lady A-

A lot more intriguing than most of these other songs. It starts out with a creepy, jingly atmosphere. The instrumentals slowly build on each other as George sings a jazzy melody. A chorus comes in with these sugary vocals and well-developed harmonies. Unfortunately, these sections keep repeating, but they were weird enough to pretty much sustain me through the whole sitting. I also like that creepy instrumental interlude with a piano and fuzzy guitar playing the same notes. It sounds very demented. Excellent.

I Hate Camera A-

Either I'm getting slowly more demented with the passing of all these songs, but they're actually getting better. As if it was possible, this is even a little better than “My Fair Lady.” There's a lot of repetition, but not to the point where it bugs me. The instrumentation is very busy with these awesome beeping noises all over the place! I should give it a higher rating, but the melody isn't distinctive enough.

Because B+

This is like some weird dream. Appealing, for sure. This stuff could very well put me to sleep, and I can only imagine what images my brain will start concocting! There are a lot of snaps in the percussion, with minimalist synthesizer grooves that give off a detached feel. George's vocals are even weirder. This is very good and interesting... except for the melody. (I guess that's this album's biggest pitfall.) The last thirty seconds were completely unnecessary. They have a false ending, and then it fades out with the same old thing.

Preparedness C

The rhythms aren't very good. They're too busy. And that nursery-song vibraphone doesn't do anything. There aren't very many instrumental turns here. The ones they have (including a machine-gun like drum and a wobbly synthesizer) don't make the overall experience any more interesting, unfortunately. This whole album seemed pretty much complacent, but that hasn't bugged me a whole lot until now.

Spark C-

Not a good song. Going for a psychedelic vibe now with cosmic synthesizers and a few beeping noises. The purpose of such songs is supposedly to make us imagine that we're floating around tranquilly in outer space. That's difficult to pull off since that is such a pretentious aim and these songs are intrinsically boring. ...But it didn't work. This song is boring.


Simon Bookish: Everything/Everything (2008)

Read the full review:
Everything/Everything

The Flood A+

This song is awesome, because it is big, weird, and catchy. It begins with a sort of horn fanfare, which ends up forming some sort of strange sounding four-chords. It's very theatrical. Then it launches into an extremely repetitive song.. But of course that's not a bad thing, if you know what exactly I mean by repetitive. If you've ever listened to Philip Glass music or Sparks Lil' Beethoven, then you'll have the basic idea of what to expect here. The tight, repetitive grooves he comes up with are always ear-dazzling, and he changes them around enough so that they never grow too stale. ...One of the secrets to creating a good song like this is to come up with compelling chord progressions. Sometimes he flips to a different chord, and uses that opportunity to change the sense of the song. Although usually he just goes back and forth between two chords, but... well those are two really good chords, aren't they? His singing is also something to behold. He's extremely theatrical—even more theatrical than David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust heyday. Though his voice is somewhat reminiscent of Bowie's... or probably more exactly Neil Tennant's of The Divine Comedy. His vocals are going off all over the place, sounded paranoid or excitable, and even reaching some falsetto high notes. ...And the last thing I want to mention is the instrumentation. As far as I can tell, it's mostly keyboard based, and there's a drum machine. There are a lot of horns and strings, which help create a dazzling atmosphere. The secret to a good drum machine is never letting its groove go stale, which is exactly what he does. ...Do you think I wrote enough about this song?

Dumb Terminal A

His chord progressions are very good. ...Probably the only reason I'm pointing that out is because I've spent forever one summer trying to write chord progressions, only to discover that I hadn't the energy to really orchestrate them. ...This song starts out as a somewhat slow as a minimal harp ballad... He sings a little bit over it, and *eh*... But it isn't long before he gets a quirky groove going with some horns. ...I suppose he's going to be the quirky groove guy, right? The song completely changes by the end of it, turning into a very heavy and dramatic part where he starts to belt out a few strange and words. The vocals continue to be dazzling and theatrical. ...It's all very strange and delightful.

Portrait of the Artist as a Fountain A-

I've got to say... I'm not sure I like this song so much the way it starts as a two-note guitar groove while Bookish starts singing something about a cowboy. But Bookish has a way of heavily layering on instrumentation to always make it seem fresh. His vocal melody is pretty good, and I like that quirky way he sings it. ...Unfortunately, this doesn't quite delight me endlessly like the previous two songs did, and that might be because that detached, Philip-Glass-ish snyth horn groove that pipes up in the middle I find a little too off-putting. Nevertheless, this is pretty good.

Carbon A-

I have a feeling this album was made for me... Or at least somebody quite a lot like me... These very tight and repetitive grooves fascinate me, and I like hearing Bookish's forever-theatrical vocal performances over them. There's an instrumental interlude in middle of this where he goes particularly crazy with the tight grooves... That chord progression he comes up with is very good, although I sort of wish he would have put a lead instrument over that or something! ...Anyway, this is another awesomely wacky song.

Victorinox A-

Certainly one of the more maniacal pieces of the album even though it starts as a rather sullen theatrical ballad... Certainly the chord progression in this part is really good and shows just where a chord progression can take you. A xylophone pops up eventually... a twinkling effect is always a good touch. After that, the same heavily textured and fast-paced horns pop up, and Bookish finds a bunch of cool words to rhyme together in his overly dramatic voice. It's good, but I'm struck with the notion that we've heard this done better before in the album...

Il Trionfo Del Tempo... (Ridley Road) A

Certainly one of the more interesting tunes... Or at least he's taking a moment to give those maniacal textures a bit of a rest for a rather mystical ballad. I hear a dark organ playing long chords in the background while a mystical harp noodles around in a sort of cheesy though enjoyable fashion... Apart from the singing, maybe this sounds like something out of a '60s fantasy movie. There isn't so much a melody sung here as a sort of performance art piece where Bookish sings in an artfully detached manner. It's unusual and quite unlike anything I've heard before in pop music.

Synchrotron A

This is another moment where drum machines can sound pretty cool. (Although I have to assume there's going to be a point where that overly light, retro Kraftwerk-style boom-thwack in the context of modern pop music is going to become... well... dated.) But I'm listening to this on January 1, 2011, and I profess that it's a pretty cool sound. The groove he gets going with this song is driven along by a chugging saxophone... or at least an instrument that sounds like a saxophone... I can never tell these days... Bookish sings a pretty catchy melody over it, and the flutter of horn arrangements set over it—frequently doing that extremely repetitive Philip Glass thing—is entertaining. At the end of this five minute song, he goes off on a pretty severe instrumental diversion, where he builds up some of the quirkiest grooves imaginable.

A Crack in Larsen C A-

This is a sparse piano ballad. Sometimes songs like this sound boring, and I would assume that many people would put this one in the category... But this one progresses in its mood, eventually building up in such a way that Bookish is singing in the loudest, most dramatic voice that he could possibly muster. It's far more like early Kate Bush than Elton John, but it's executed very well. The lyrics are interesting, too. (“How are you going to look? / What are you going to do when you're older? / Will you feel more special than anybody else? / Will I regret the books I never read? / Formalized Music, awake / When will I have plastic surgery? / Can you recall your greatest mistake to date?”)

Alsatian Dog A+

If you've made it this far in the album and have so far agreed with my ratings, then... Maybe you'll want to demote some of those As to make this one seem to stick out better? This song is all sorts of awesomeness. That quickly grooving bass and funk guitar is right out of a peak-era Talking Heads song... except of course Bookish gives it his own style by letting those tight and grooving Philip-Glass-style grooves take over, and his flashy Bowie vocals never get old. He has some back-up singers to support him in certain spots, which was an excellent touch. In other spots, some twinkly pianos and glockenspiels can be heard. …Once again, I like twinkly thing. It's the musical equivalent of shiny things... At the end of the song, he starts chanting some of the most enjoyable string of quasi-nonsensical lyrics I've ever heard... (“What does he eat? / Dog food or oyster sauce / Millefeuille off the kitchen floor / Plastic or kerosene / Toast, jam, and margarine / Rare breeds or poppy seeds / A peace pipe found amongst the weeds / No time for the Saxon beast / What does he eat? / The French meats / Venison, beef, pork, venison / Beef, pork, venison, beef, pork / What does he use? / A knife, a fork, and language.”)

A New Sense of Humor A

Bookish used the word “Lexicon” in the previous song, which immediately made the 80s pop band ABC pop up in my mind. ...Now I listen to this song, and it starts to sound like ABC to me, especially the chorus where Bookish's vocals sound exactly like it. ...But anyway, anything that sounds like ABC must be fun, right? This starts out with a rather dark groove, but it slowly builds up to create something rather glorious and you'll be fighting the urge to tap your foot to it... that is, if you're listening to this at work and you don't want your boss to know that you're enjoying your headphones more than work. The horn section is especially good, which always seem to find these fun, jazzy chords to dazzle us with. My only complaint, and the only real reason I denied it a full A+, is that the end is very slow.

Colophon A

Wow! Talk about ending this with a BANG! This could be Bookish's most glorious creation. It starts out with a gentle harp pattern, but eventually I hear some horns, bass guitar, and drums come up on top of it... Hearing that build-up is fantastic. It's basically a four-chord composition, but he nevertheless picks four interesting chords together. His ever-dramatic vocals sound like he's singing about the most important thing in the world... And you know what? Maybe he is? (“It's not too late to rewrite history / Not too late to save ourselves / Not too late to pull this species / Above, beyond, above, beyond”)


Michael Chagnon: Michael Chagnon (2009)

Read the full review:
Michael Chagnon

Gwynneth B-

The vocals take a little bit of getting used to, and I'm not sure if I've even gotten used to them. He sounds fine in the talky verses sections, but when he sings over the chorus, his voice starts to get really nasal, and pierce my eardrums. That aside, this is an interestingly structured song. It starts quietly and acoustic before breaking into a louder, more soaring chorus, and then the outro is taken on by bouncy guitars. That's quite a lot of development for a song that's less than three minutes long.

Fall in Love Again B

This is a quieter and more laid-back song, which I suppose means it's more fit for this singer's vocal style. And he does have a perfectly pleasant voice, but it occasionally hits these tones that starts to bug me. The tune is quite good and sweet. Even bringing in a mandolin was a nice touch. But just as you'd think the song would take off to a nice chorus, he gives up on it, and gets on with a strummy outro section.

Don't Push Me Away B-

The fuzz guitar is prevalent on this one, which is a good change of sound. Whether it actually fits with this singer's vocal style is another matter... but it doesn't get carried away, so it's good for one song. Once again, it seems he wasn't giving this song enough of a chance to take off. The first thirty seconds is an introduction and the last thirty seconds is another odd outro. This is only a two-minute song, so the main meat of it only takes one minute.

The End of the Real World B-

The voice starts to get irritating with those long-drawn-out notes, but other than that, this is a perfectly decent pop tune with a nice melody. The instrumentation, just with an acoustic guitar, is all it needed I suppose. Not the most memorable tune that exists, but I like it.

Tired of Life A-

This is more like it! We have a sort of unconventional singer in the first place, so he sounds a little better suited for these novelty type songs. This one has that bouncy old oompah-oompah rhythm and a silly melody. It's something that children might like! My complaint about it is, once again, it doesn't seem that well developed. It's less than two minutes long, but I want it to have been four minutes after listening to the first minute.

1952 B-

It's a decent song, but unfortunately it just seems half-developed. I suppose it's no coincidence that the melody is like one of those Frank Sinatra songs from the '50s. The hooks are OK but generic (and it can't completely be ignored, because it was designed to be generic on purpose). And the disheveled instrumentation doesn't do it many favors.

The Only One B

Certainly one of the better songs of the album. His voice is tamed down quite a bit, which lets me finally concentrate on the melody and instrumentation, which isn't all that bad. The melody has a nice hook in it albeit not earth shattering. It does seem to get repetitive after awhile, and that solo seems a bit clunky.

Love Me To Death A-

I might have to modify what I said earlier about his voice and the fuzz guitar. Really, they don't go too terribly together! Perhaps the only problem I'm having with his style is that he has trouble figuring out how he's supposed to sound. In this song, he gets a nice, tight, and fuzzy riff going. The guitar is way more confident than it has been anywhere else on this album. This song is just a riff, but that's all it needs.

Meagan B

This is a cute, upbeat, acoustic tune reminiscent of one of a Randy Newman tune. The bouncy acoustic guitars are fun and the breezy melody makes a nice listen. The production is a bit rough, of course. (Really, everything in this album sounds to be demo quality... but what do I expect? Not everybody has Paul McCartney's budget.) It's a nice tune if a bit forgettable.

Love You C+

Chagnon has love on the mind, doesn't he! I suppose that's not unheard of... Unfortunately, I find this piano ballad to be a bit dull. It's taken on by a lifeless piano loop before Chagnon comes in and delivers an uninteresting melody. The break into the chorus was nice, but even the chorus doesn't rescue it.

Summer Days B-

Another pop song that's not terribly interesting. In a way, it's just like the previous song except the boring loop is played with a fuzz guitar instead of a piano.

Go Back B

Piano ballad! The piano playing is slightly more interesting here and the vocal hooks aren't bad either. It's not a terrible listen, but it's generally unremarkable. I don't have much to say about it.

Love Knows No Sorrow A-

Easily one of the most fully developed songs of the album. It clocks in at a huge five minutes, which is what I thought that plenty of songs earlier on should have been stretched to become! It opens with a two-chord minor chord sequence that's instrumented with a lot of fuzz guitar! There's a bit in the middle with an understated drum solo... which is pretty good for a drum solo! For some reason he also decided to reverse his vocals in some kind of psychedelic homage. As a hole, this song is the best developed one of the album.

Astrophobia B

song by Geoffrey Osbourne

I was also asked to review a three-song EP by Chagnon's touring companion. I'm just going to tack these reviews at the end of his album, because I can't think of too many things to say about it! ...But the first thing I can say about it is that the production is a lot cleaner and perhaps more innovative than anything on Chagnon's album. I even hear a little bit of ELO-style vocoder in its final third! The guitars sound clear, the drums are well-mixed, and the vocals are at the proper volume. Where the song loses points is a forgettable melody...

Come Down C+

song by Geoffrey Osbourne

This starts to sound so generic that it reminds me of CCM music. (Maybe I'm being unfair to CCM music... I don't listen to a whole lot of generic '90s and '00s music except at church!) The hooks are canned and uninteresting. But the song production is alright although the guitars probably could have stood to be more crunchy.

Frustrated B

song by Geoffrey Osbourne

Immediately after reviewing this, I'm going to review a Dream Theater album, so this song is a rather foreboding! This melody is certainly better than the previous song although the chorus has that canned feeling to it. The instrumentation is bouncier and quite nicely done as a whole. It could have done with more post-production, but it's OK anyway, especially for that xylophone I hear in there. A xylophone! Also he layers his vocals rather nicely.


Country Teasers: The Empire Strikes Back (2006)

Read the full review:
The Empire Strikes Back

Spiderman in the Flesh A-

Holy mother of crap, it took me way too long to finally realize this was a cover from The Wall. I probably wouldn't have recognized it at all if it weren't for that familiar electric guitar passage that pipes up in the second half. Anyway, I think this song is pretty widely considered the worst song from The Wall, so it was sort of an odd choice. But based on the other songs in this album, this is sort of an odd band, so in that respect it's wholly appropriate.

Points of View A

Apparently this isn't a covers album. I checked, and all the other songs are original compositions. (Hell yeah, I'm capable of Google searches!) This one is characterized by being five minutes worth of a clompy rhythm and half-rapping lyrics. The chord progression seems to be similarly weird and clompy, but that makes it even more interesting in my view. There's an army of squeaky feedback noises that decorates it. (If you don't think squeaky feedback noises makes good decoration, then you'll probably not like this album very much...)

Hitlers & Churchills A+

The only reason I think this deserves an A+ is because I like the bass and I find those incessant synthesizer loops quirky. Perhaps that's not the right reasons, but whatever. I love it. It's dirty and messy, of course, and that's another reason to love it. I somehow managed to find part of the lyrics online, and they're definitely consistent with their underground art-rock/post-punk/whatever reputation... in case you were interested. This is definitely not a mainstream act. Probably will offend most people. Fair warning.

Mos E17ley B-

I pretty much hated this song the first time I heard it, and I still haven't quite warmed up to it... It consists of an extremely slow paced piano groove while the lyrics consists of somebody muttering very quietly over it, about Star Wars. There are some sci-fi whooshing noises inserted throughout as well. Eh... I don't get it.

The Ship B

This is another song I'd qualify as “clompy” consisting mostly of a dizzy two-note keyboard pattern with some random clicking noises providing the “decoration.” Things get a little more interesting when a fuzzy, sloppy electric guitar interlude pipes up in the second half, but it doesn't really float my boat.

Raglan Top of Lonsdale Grey A-

Sleepy. That's this song in a nutshell, at the beginning at least. The end is more of a heavy, violent guitar passages at the end! I like the beginning though with that lazy singing of extremely violent lyrics and that interesting slide guitar bending all over the place in the background. (It's probably not a real slide guitar! ...I can't say I know much about guitars, actually, since I don't play one.)

Good Looking Boys or Women A+

Definitely a song that tickles my fancy. They're favoring a heavy drum beat that sounds a bit like troops marching at times. Their sloppy guitar riff is dirty and primitive though memorable. The lead singer sounds like he's spouting the lyrics through a loud speaker, giving an interesting effect. The best thing is that there are layers of dirty guitar sounds that continue to build up as the song progresses, making it louder and messier... all at the same time keeping it enjoyable, because the heavy drum beat stays intact. In other words, this song is awesome!

Your English B

The music is ugly and dirty, and the lyrics seem to consist mostly of swearing (not that I'm against swearing). The riff is interesting and primitive, which is not a big surprise for this album, but it doesn't quite flow too well for me. Their messy sound continues to engage me, particularly when they continue to layer on those dirty sounds as it progresses, but I get somewhat bored with it.

Panic Holiday B-

I can't say I'm a huge fan of these guys when they write these slow, plodding songs. This is a dark, rather uneventful folk song characterized by plodding guitar patterns and a rustic, off-key singing. I like the general idea and sound of it, but I get bored with it after only a few seconds. I guess they try to decorate it with windy sound effects in spots, but that doesn't do much to the overall effect. (I actually had to double check those weren't coming from my window! It's windy up here in Eastern Warshington!) It actually picks up quite a lot in its final minute when an organ and vague hints of back-up singing pop in. I wish that came sooner...

White Patches A

He asks “Why don't black people like my music?” in this. ...I can think of a few good reasons! Anyway, this is one of the more bizarre songs on here, which is really saying something. It's a sprawling seven minute song that shifts back and forth between a wonky two-note-riff pattern and a lighter synthesizer groove. It sounds pretty awkward, but that's the idea of it of course. The screwy guitar solos throughout are weird and are desperately crying out for my attention. Particularly at the end when it gets all evil.

Please Ban Music/Gegen Alles A+

I should probably acknowledge that it's pretty amazing I've been able to listen to this album without going insane. I know that's not a high compliment or anything, but I usually have a nearly impossible time enjoying music that was meant to be ugly. This song in particular continues that “evil” vein they had going at the end of the previous track, but they come up with consistently interesting riffs and groove that I find myself enjoying the CRAP out of it. It's especially great when they get that bass guitar going at full force in the middle. Extra kudos for that dark, wavy synthesizer. Low-tech, of course, but the way it blends in with the evil darkness of it all, it comes across as brilliant.


Crimes in Choir: Trumpery Meiter (2006)

Read the full review:
Trumpery Meiter

Women of Reduction B+

Man, this starts like an '80s space song! I don't know if that's the reason I like it or not. What I do like the most is that it explodes and it sounds like they're playing directly to outer space. Somehow I can't get completely caught up in its energy (it's possible that a reason for my rather lukewarm personal response to this album is I had recently listened to a bunch of classic Mahavishnu Orchestra albums)! But I can't deny that this three-minute instrumental is a glory to behold.

Complete Upsmanship B

This is a good example of a song that I like but I find trouble finding some sort of distinguishing factor about it to set it apart from the other songs. All the same, their rambly progressive rock phrases continue to be rather flashy and entertaining. It could have used a theme or a more distinct mood or atmosphere! But I have a feeling I'll be complaining about that through this whole album...

Land of Sherry Wine and Spanish Horses A

Dammit, I wish I knew what was so grabbing to be about some of these songs and not about the others. On the surface, it's another highly polished, frantically played, flashy progressive rock instrumental, but this one has me on my toes, forcing me to pay attention to it from beginning to end. It's nice that it's this song that strikes me in such a way, because it's a massive 7 minutes! I suppose all those complicated crescendos and explosions they put throughout the song helped (although by far most of this song consists of an “explosion.”) Every turn they make in this song seems to be an inspired one, from that spaced-out beginning to all those complicated drum fills, to that somewhat ominous twinkling part in the middle. I'm just hanging onto it. Its themes are based entirely on scales, but I even find some of the ones they hit on memorable. That frantic synthesizer solo at the very end is epic. I'd listen to this piece just for that.

Grande Gallo B+

Definitely another one of those songs that seems to be taking place in outer space. It doesn't quite have me dazzled as much as the previous song did (which is another pretty strong indicator about how good that one), but this tense piece also has me completely entertained. Especially as I'm trying to picture the space battle that this song is undoubtedly illustrating. (I don't care if that's what the band had in mind when they wrote this! That's what I'm saying it is, dang it!)

Measure of a Master

Kind of a nice, little one-minute spacey instrumental. I'm complaining a lot that there aren't enough quiet spots in this album in order to catch our breath, and I kind of wish there were more nicely textured, sort of mystical spots in this album.

Trumpery Metier B+

Well this instrumental is not terribly emotional or descriptive, but it's flashy. Very upbeat, rather loud. They really like the classic synthesizer, which I'd say is one of this band's better qualities. They come up with just the right amount of textures to keep any of this from growing bored, and even a few of the instrumental themes hit upon something that's rather hooky. It's very fun to listen to, and I'm sure you'll like it too. Even if you think early Genesis is boring, you'll probably like this.

High Thin Circus A

This is quite a glorious little song! Just that chord progression those backing synthesizers play at the beginning is catchy, and that drummer plays the living crap out of those hi-hats! This is a good drummer... Getting a lot of all his tight drum rolls well placed throughout shows that he knows his prog drumming. This develops a lot like Rush's songs did in the late '70s. The transitions between sections are a little jumpy, and they seem to be aimed more at scales than melodies. But this is actually a lot of fun for me, whereas Rush frequently came off as a bit stifling. There are some really good saxophone solos in here, too, and I sort of wish they took them further.

The Hollow Crown B

A lot of fun, but it's all kind of blank emotionally, and all it has is its flashiness, which seems to be present in all these songs. The themes aren't even there, either, so I don't see this thing as memorable as it should be. On the other hand, it's easy to find myself transfixed listening to this, since it's so well played. I still like their synthesizer tones, and really like listening to all the fills the drummer comes up with.

Octopus in the Piano A-

I'm not exactly sure what's making this song stick out at me so much more than the previous one... Maybe the themes are more repetitive, which makes me hold closer attention? Anyway, it's nice to hear their polished flashiness come out with something that grabs me a little bit more, and I have a lot of fun listening to it! It starts out sounding a little like a lighthearted pop song, but of course it isn't too long before they take it to a lengthy prog excursion. As it goes on, though, I start to wonder if they dragged it on for a little too long. A guitar solo or two brought into make it more interesting was nice, but it didn't seem to work wonders.


Cut Copy: In Ghost Colours (2008)

Read the full review:
In Ghost Colours

Feel the Love A-

Duran Duran returned from the grave? ...OK, Duran Duran are still around, but the beginning of this happy-go-lucky pop song bears an uncanny resemblance to their Rio days. The smooth-voiced lead singer is a near duplicate! Perhaps I don't find the melody to be quite as show-stopping... After I'm through listening to this, the melody doesn't exactly linger on in my mind, which is sort of disappointing I guess. But I do at least have fun listening to it. They also make a nice use of sound effects sampling. That's not a major part of the song, but it's something nice to listen to if you feel like listening to it deeper than the dance beats.

Out There On the Ice B+

If Madonna came out with this on Erotica, I might not have hated that album! It not only has a good beat, but it has a melody that isn't stupid! The instrumentation is smart and of the lush variety. Of course it has the drum machines and synth-bass, but they have quite a lot going on in that synthscape they've created. I do have a major complaint about it, though... I love this thing for awhile, but awhile, it starts to grow rather stale. (Oh no, there's an unwelcome Madonna flashback!) Just a minor complaint, really. That probably only comes from listening to it too hard.

Lights & Music A-

This starts to get pretty good... Not only do they create a song with an infectious bass-line, but a menacing one as well that manages to pretty immediately snag me. At the same time, I wish that the melody was strong enough to put a little life into my soul. While I love the beat, I can't claim that the last two minutes of this were as enjoyable as the first two.

We Fight For Diamonds

This is a dreary, one-minute sound effects bridge between the last track and the following track. It contains the fade-out of the previous track and the fade-in for the new one ...It doesn't stand on its own feet well at all, so I ain't scoring it. (Maybe they did this for people getting mp3s or something. Who wants the bridge?

Unforgettable Season B

By the sound of it, I should be giving this song a higher rating. But why am I having such trouble getting caught up in its spirit? It's a strapping, upbeat pop rocker without any trace of their techno ambitions in it. I like its fun, upbeat drums. The instrumentation is atmospheric, although seems to favor noisy dreariness, which I don't always appreciate. Most of all, the melody isn't especially memorable. This makes a nice listen for background music, but where are your hooks? I want to be able to whistle it under my breath when I'm walking down the street! You can do it!!

Midnight Runner C+

Is it just me or are these guys getting boring? I've listened to this track a few times (even after taking a somewhat extended break from it), and for the life of me I can't find anything special about it. This doesn't have much of a melody, and their dreary way of instrumentation is starting to get the better of me. I mean, it's very smartly done, if you like this sort of thing. What I'm hearing is a three-minute song that doesn't challenging or delight me! It's so long-drawn-out that it isn't particularly ignorable either. I have a boat here that badly needs to float! It's sinnnnnkinggggggggggg............

So Haunted A

That's a pretty awkward transition between verses and chorus, but this is the first time in Cut Copy that actually got off its lazy ass and did something unpredictable and delightful. The verses section is rather dreary and violent... An extremely dissonant guitar squeaks above a rather ordinary pop-rock drum beat. The dissonance sounds great as long as you haven't paid too much attention to the previous songs of the album. As it stands, I'm rather tired of everything in this album. But then that jangly chorus pipes up, and it finally feels as though I've become airbourne! Extra points for the xylophone in the outro!!

Voice in Quartz

Again, this is a short track that contains the transition between the previous track and the next. It's dreary though well orchestrated.

Hearts on Fire A-

Somehow, I welcome their return to straight techno music at this point. (Man! Does anybody else think this strongly recalls C + C Music Factory? I must be going crazy, because I actually like this song for that!!) At least this has an infectious bass-line to keep my brain satisfied. And it's a good bass-line, so anybody who wants nice music to dance to should take a look. But why did they have to stop the beat to deliver that boring bridge? Ehhh... Also, the main vocal melody isn't anything special, which I guess means that it's on-par with almost everything else here. GREAT BASS LINE! A lot of fun. The complex and atmospheric instrumentation is good, too, although I think I mentioned quite a lot already that the album's general dreariness is starting to get me down... eeesh...

Far Away A-

Again, excellent instrumentation... I especially like that banjo-like synth they incorporate into the groove... Moreover, this doesn't come off quite as dreary as the other tracks, which means it's quite a substantial step-up over the previous songs. But other than that, this is a fairly ordinary dance-pop ditty. After the first two minutes are done and gone, it becomes evident that they're not going to do anything else with it. I do wish they would do something more unpredictable sometimes... Maybe they were too predisposed to creating club dance music... Those complaints aside, this is good club dance music thanks to yet another infectious bass-line and a likable vocal melody. The vocal melody isn't nearly as strong as the best that Duran Duran (for instance) had to offer, but it works quite well.

Silver Thoughts

Another atmospheric sound-effects, synth-ridden bridge thingy. Blahiheireuituri!!!!!

Strangers in the Wind C

God, it's like they're trying to torture me or something. What's with that incessantly wavy synthesizer? I thought perhaps trying to listen to it with my headphones on would help, but it only made me dislike it more. If they're going to make dancey techno music, did they have to litter it up with that wavy synthesizer? Get yer hands off that volume knob! Other than that, this is another fitfully nice dance track although the bass isn't nearly as fun as the previous coupla songs. Remember my boat!

Visions

Yay, a one minute bridge thing. ...This one at least has a rhythm. The others were more like looking into a toilet bowl of barf. (...Seriously, what's the point of these??? I like that they're doing advanced things like bridging their songs together with atmospheric instrumentals, but I get less and less impressed with it the more I hear it.)

Nobody Lost, Nobody Found B+

Alright! Here's an excellent dance song that I can bob my head to. It's great for the first minute, but I start to get tired of it after that. The melody is nice, but they have quite a ways before they reach early Duran Duran's style of hit-making. The bass-line is catchy although not infectious enough to linger on in my head. They have a rather intelligent interlude section with all sorts of jumbly and squeaky sound-effects. But, once again, it's noisy and dreary. This is a respectable song, but Cut Copy ain't exactly much for diversity. Unfortunately.

Eternity One Night Only B

I feel a bit relieved to have gotten to the end, which is proof that I didn't like this album a whole lot... I'm sorry... I know Cut Copy has its fans, but what can I say? It didn't happen to be my cup of tea! Win some, lose some ...This final track isn't anything particularly special to talk about. It's just as dreary as the last song, but it doesn't have a techno beat to distract me. There's a little something haunting about those high-pitched vocal 'oohs' in this, which I appreciate greatly. (If they're going to be dreary, the least they could do is be *haunting*.) The last half of this song doesn't seem to do much. Sounds like something being played backwards. Not too interesting.


Delays: Faded Seaside Glamour (2004)

Read the full review:
Delays

Wanderlust A+

This song begins as a steel drum loop that was probably programmed on the computer. A rather gorgeous falsetto voice (I thought it was a woman's voice until I saw the video) begins to sing a catchy melody and more conventional indie-rock instrumentals come in. Overall, this song is certainly nothing I haven't heard before, but it is very affecting. It's a little like basking in the warm sun on a still spring day... It's warm, sweet and you'll want to keep revisiting it.

Nearer Than Heaven A

They don't show any signs of letting up. This is a similarly sweet tune. That falsetto voice continues to sound angelic. This is similarly arresting as the previous song was, but the only shortcoming it had was the melody, which isn't quite as compelling.

Long Time Coming A

Yet another excellent song. This isn't fundamentally different from the previous tunes, except this one's just a tad more pompous. Again, it's a very smart composition. This one uses a drum machine loop ... I've been known to loathe that sound in other artists' songs, but it fits beautifully here. That bending synthesizer loop is also nicely done, and helps give the song extra personality. Nice!

Bedroom Scene A-

That intro reminds me of “Wanderlust.” An instrument that sounds slightly less like a steel drum plays a loop that's much catchier than the one from “Wanderlust.” But the song loses a little bit of its magic as it progresses through the chorus, which is a little too loud. The end is weak, too. Some of its dreary and others is a little too instrumentally sparse. Despite the pointed complaints, I still think this song is wonderful. The melody is catchy, which trumps everything, of course.

No Ending A

Wow. They can even do quiet ballads with a considerable degree of success. There's a British folk quality to this one... the melody sounds a little bit Medieval. The instrumentation is fairly standard for '00s indie-pop music apart from some sound effects they subtly incorporate into the mix. The final third is particularly good. Angelic and wonderful.

You Wear the Sun B

A much more run-of-the-mill song this time without anything particularly special that pops out at me. The riff is a little flat, and so is the melody. The instrumentation also doesn't do much to stick out... In fact, that transition to the twinkly piano part was a tad rough....... Although that more soulful midsection does make up for some of it.... I'm being too nitpicky, but what do you expect after such a good opening?

Hey Girl A-

Ah.... back to those good old happy songs with a happy melody. The chorus is about as memorable as anything, and the rest of the instrumentation (just the usual guitars) goes swimmingly. It's very brief, and quite nice.

Stay Where You Are A

But this is the sort of thing that makes their songs stand out. The song starts out with a notable buzz synth loop, which sounds a bit out-of-touch with the typical drum beat that backs it up. ....Even though the buzz synth is unique, that part is sometimes a bit irritating....... This song's really notable quality is the catchy melody. The chorus absolutely soars! The instrumentation is a tad more atmospheric than many of these others, which is another fitting, golden quality to it.

There's Water Here A

Usually, when I hear these songs that consists only of singing an acoustic guitar and singing, I tend to write them off. In many cases, they're tuneless and possibly just excuses to be lazy and not write a real arrangement. But this one is very nice. The melody is memorable, and the vocal performance fits that melancholic mood just fine. If they can captivate me without having an arrangement, then they surely have got something.

Satellites Lost B+

This album is hit after hit, which from my experience is pretty dang rare with these whiny indie bands. I like this song and it's probably among the album's worst in terms of quality! The whiny indie band sound doesn't offends me much (although I certainly know of better sounds!), but usually that demographic has trouble coming up with decent melodies. It's funny how actual songwriting talent shines through at the end.

One Night Away B

This is a little bit more routine and run-of-the-mill, but the melody still manages to capture my interest. The guitar riffs probably could have been more vibrant. The overall feeling of it doesn't soar as well as the others from the album...

On B-

The worst song of the album? It's still OK... but it's a shame that it's the concluding track!! I expected a more grandiose conclusion. ...Well, this is pretty grandiose, but it's a repetitive groove, and it doesn't develop in an interesting enough of a fashion. It's a weak ending, but it hardly constitutes a blunder. I like the way they layer those vocals, which lends to a sort of 'epic' atmosphere... (I'm reaching, but this song isn't all that bad.)


Douyé: Journey (2007)

Read the full review:
Journey

Fly Away A-

I'm really sorry if these track reviews are going to be terribly descriptive, but she's not giving me a whole lot to talk about. If you want good lounge music that middle aged people would like, then you're going to like this. Douye has a great voice for this stuff, and she's singing with a smooth and highly polished band. The muted horn tooting throughout in that jazzy way might be a bit elevatorish, but I still like it.

On For You B+

God, these track ratings are so arbitrary that I don't know why I'm even bothering with them. I have little to say about this other than it's well-polished, nicely sung, loungey R&B song. It's very easy on the ears, the melody is marginally interesting, and I'm probably going to forget about it the moment it stops playing. ...I don't mean “forgettable” in a necessarily bad way, since she's clearly writing easy listening mood music for romancin'. It's a good listen. Great voice!

In Love With You B-

Time for me to get in the bubble bath! This is a smooooooooth bedroom soul tune, and it sounds exactly how you think it would sound. Sometimes this stuff makes me vomit, but it has a nice melody and she sings it sweetly. Just one nitpick. That saxophone is scarily starting to sound like Kenny G. It doesn't quite get there, but I hear that long-haired creep-o lurking in the shadows. GET AWAY FROM ME!!!!!!!! STOP VIOLATING ME WITH YOUR SAX!

Journey B

More of that lounge jazz! It's pretty good! I can snap my fingers to it, if I feel like. There's a hard trumpet sound instead of a bedroom saxophone, which is definitely preferred. It's nice to listen to. Get out the bubbly.

Still Hurting B+

This is a good song, and the melody seems to be a bit stronger than the rest. Its verses are nice, it has a chorus, and even an appealing middle-eight. I get the impression that she sounds best when she's letting go with those extended notes, which gives her the opportunity to show off that lovely voice of hers.

Wicked World B

It tries to get that seedy, street feeling going, but I'm not buying it. I've heard this sort of song plenty of times, and she would have had to try different things to actually make this seem “wicked” to me. I don't want to be too dismissive about it since it is a nicely written song. I'll give it a cookie if it makes it happy.

Cold Wind Blows B+

And hot wind sucks. Usually ethereal ballads like this have me snoozing, but she's hits a few heavenly chords here and there with the back-up singing. As a whole, this is quite a nice song to listen to, and the melody is strong! Probably could have used a bit more kick, but she wasn't going for that.

Waiting For My Man B-

Honestly I don't think this is a whole lot worse than the other songs, but I'm getting rather tired of listening to the same old thing over and over. The wandering loungey melody is nice and wandering, and of course she sings it well, but I want something new! DANG IT, ENTERTAIN ME!

Walk Away B-

Same old lounge jazz. Getting pretty boring right now. Am I supposed to be sipping champagne to this? This would probably be more entertaining if I had a light buzz. Seriously, if you're living in Los Angeles and you're hosting a champagne party, Douyé is your girl.

A Day in Paradise B

This is a little bit livelier and so this song was saved from that B- purgatory. I like that the guitar is bubbly for a change! This is still strictly middle-of-the-road, but I seem to be paying slightly more attention to it.

The Voice C

This extremely slow ballad is so dull that it's starting to hurt a little bit. She tries to make it uplifting in the middle, but it doesn't really work on me. Good thing this is the last bit of the album.


Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)

Read the full review:
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

The Glass Prison B+

Starts out with some foreboding grandfather clock chimes before delving right away into those heavy, heavy, heavy guitars. The guitars don't manage to play any terribly interesting riffs. They just chug along robotically at a heavy and fast pace. The scaling guitar solos are rapid-fast and similarly without emotion or personality. The drumming is tight and complicated, and easily the main attraction of this song. Since the guitars don't play interesting riffs and the vocal melody is dull, there is nothing else left to call this but a rhythm based song. The drumming directs the guitars to frequently change patterns, and we're thankful for that, because this 14-minute song otherwise would have been terribly dull. These complicated patterns generally flow well into each other, but there are a few clunky moments. Other sections seem to go on for far too long particularly by the final third. My main complaint about this song is that there are almost no quiet moments. Loudness always sounds more majestic if it's the culmination of a crescendo. You'd think in a 14-minute song, they would have cleverly worked in a few quiet moments! But, no, they only know loudness. I guess that's why this is considered progressive-metal and not simply metal. As a whole, however, I'm surprisingly entertained by this song. I wish it wasn't so emotionally robotic, and had more musical substance, but I can actually sit through this without being bored out of my mind. (I should also add that these guys apparently have an affection for corny synthesizers... Oh no, there's a picture of them on their Wikipedia page featuring some guy using a keytar, and he's not joking. Oh, crap.)

Blind Faith B-

Am I only a tiny fraction of the way through with reviewing this album? I have a long day ahead of me. Well, this song starts out quietly until it gradually turns into a mildly paced pop-rock song that's heavily laden with atmosphere. They sing what probably amounts to a pop-melody, but the hooks are weak and unmemorable. When they start hitting those heavy and loudly sung chorus, my brain starts to turn off from it. They are probably trying to be passionate, but they forget that singing loudly doesn't automatically make your music passionate. Midway through, they get to the complicated drum patterns and blank riffage. At one point, they stop everything and bring in a piano solo! And it's a real piano! But even the piano solo is far more based on its rhythm than its melody.

Misunderstood C

OK... This is like the previous song. It starts quieter and more atmospheric before building up into an extremely LOUD chorus. I don't find it terribly moving, the melody is uninteresting, and I'm finding myself getting less and less impressed with their instrumental precision. The drumming is laden with tons of fills, which I would normally call it a bit excessive for what amounts to a 9-minute power-ballad. But the drumming is about the only thing that keeps this cold and uninteresting song afloat. I suppose those bubbly synthesizer effects in the final third do something.

The Great Debate C+

I've always been allergic to songs that contain soundbytes from newscasters talking about current events. Certainly this was designed for us to be mindful of important topics pertaining to current politics, but I usually hate it when rock 'n' roll bands tell me that I should be thinking about current events. You should do such a thing on your own volition, and not because someone “cool” tells you to, like Dream Theater. Dagnabit. Anyway, this song is more of the same. Quick and slick rhythms with nothing interesting to report in the riffs/melody department. Their textures are technically well played and complicated enough to keep this thing from growing brain-numbingly boring, but regrettably that's all there is to this song. Iron Maiden would write songs like this, but they would work in plenty of catchy riffs, and they had a more commanding lead singer.

Disappear B-

I am going to get a lot of flame letters for this album review, aren't I? But you have to sit back and take a look at this based on my point of view! I've complained in earlier Dream Theater songs that they have no atmosphere. But atmosphere is almost all there is to this song. Except the atmosphere sounds like something out of a cheesy, made-for-TV horror movie soundtrack. Not that there is something terribly wrong with that... just stating the facts. The one nice thing about this sort of song, as opposed to the rhythmically centered earlier tracks is that there is a greater emphasis placed on the vocal melody. ...But the vocal melody is as cold and hookless as they have been all throughout this album. They also pretty much stick with the same old atmospheric tone throughout its near seven-minute running length. But finally bringing in the drums midway through helped give it extra life. Unfortunately, they lose some of that by the end when they up the fuzz guitars, and lose the atmosphere.

Overture B+

And this begins the second disc of the album. It's all supposed to be one entire song, like Thick as a Brick except this was released in the iTunes era, so they had to break the song up into separate tracks. ...Anyway, this is isn't a terrible instrumental even though it sounds like the opening credits of an anime film. And not even one of the great anime films. Even their instrumentation seems fakey and goofy. Couldn't they have come out with more interesting synthesizer sounds? They make up for it a little bit with real guitars and drums, but … Man, I can get fuller synthesizer sounds out of my $200 Yamaha keyboard than the sounds they managed to come out with here. The melody is easily the most interesting one they had come up with so far in the album, but it still seems silly and fake. They at least take some time to develop the song... they have quiet parts, loud parts, and use variations. It's quite bombastic. I can fully enjoy it as long as I realize how cartoonish and silly it is.

About to Crash B+

They're definitely taking care to write more coherent melodies for the second half of this album. Its hooks aren't barbed enough to stick to me, they're at least they're followable. It's also worth noting that the song lengths are more reasonable... However, at six minutes it still seems far too extended. The instrumental stuff in the final third, however, is rather enjoyable if sometimes a bit slow. For once, I'm more or less caring about one of their electric guitar solos. ...Certainly it helps solos when they more or less have a melody to play! They weren't noodling much to anything in the previous disc.

War Inside My Head B

This rather gracelessly bleeds into this entirely different song. (Basically that means this isn't really a disc-long song. Remember how Tubular Bells was a seemless string of tunes and textures? This isn't quite the same thing.) What they're doing here is basically a two-minute long heavy nu-metal texture. It helps that they're using quick riffs, and they still have that frilly drummer.

The Test That Stumped Them All B

I had a test like that in a geology class. Everyone in the room was silently shaking their heads at everyone else in disbelief. Nobody understood what was going on. Except we didn't have this frantic guitar music going on in our heads! It sounded more like ...Tubular Bells. This is another one of Dream Theater's signature songs that concentrates mainly on complicated guitar textures and drum rhythms and less on the musicality. Although there's one strange call-and-response bit they go into occasionally where the scream-singing lead singer interacts with a squeaky voiced Hobbit. I gave this song a 'B' just for that. Without that, it would just be scales and rhythms.

Goodnight Kiss C+

Here is another one of their attempts at building up a song. Unfortunately, they take way too long to do this. I'm sitting at the three-minute mark and they're still building up the song. Any self-respecting cheesy metal band would have come in with the power chords at the 90-second mark at least. And in fact, this song never actually builds up to anything; it just wallows around going nowhere. It eventually leads to a disco rhythm in the final third and a rather loud electric guitar solo... It reminds me of The Wall, so I suppose that's OK with me. Still, this song seems to be missing something. Of course, it all would have been redeemed if the melody were catchier, but they don't seem to be capable of writing catchy melodies. I'm listening to the song right now, and I can't even recall how the melody goes. The synthesizer sounds they use throughout the latter half sounds like something out of the NeverEnding Story soundtrack except not as good. (SERIOUSLY, THEY COULDN'T HAVE COME UP WITH LESS CHEESY SYNTHESIZERS?)

Solitary Shell B

It's been pointed out to me that Dream Theater ripped off Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" for this song. But somehow, even ripping off a great song, they manage to sound pretty lame. Do people ever praise Dream Theater for their melodic abilities? I hope not. This melody sounds canned like an average CCM song, and I really don't care for the pseudo-passionate way he's singing this, which just goes to further remind me how lame the melody is. Other than that, this isn't a terrible song. At least it's not based on obnoxious rhythms like most of them were on the first half. And as long as we're getting used to their corny synthesizers, I can sit back and say “some of these synthesizers remind me of Styx!” ...And no, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I also like that rapid, twinkly acoustic guitar solo in the second half. Of course completely emotionless, but they play such rapid notes that it's dazzling!

About to Crash (Reprise) B

I've been doing nothing all day but listening to this album, and the only part of the original song that I can remember is that chorus, which is the closest thing this album has been able to get to a decent melodic hook. (And I don't want to get heated letters back to me with that old “songs don't have to have hooks!” chestnut. It's clear to me that Dream Theater thinks they're writing catchy music... it just doesn't catch onto me. Except for that chorus.) The rest of this is more complicated rhythms and patterns. It's flashy and entertaining, of course, but it doesn't give me a whole lot of experiences to take away from it.

Losing Time / Grand Finale B+

Wow this is pompous! Once again, the it's basically all show and little substance since they don't really come up with an interesting melody... but that doesn't keep them from bringing it to a LOUD and SOARING chorus. He sings it so loudly that it's noticeable that he's having trouble reaching some of these notes. And of course the drummer, probably the only interesting instrumentalist of the whole band, gets to have his way with the rhythm section, bringing in all sorts of frilly fills. (If the drummer isn't the most interesting instrumentalist in the group, then it's nobody. It certainly isn't the keyboardist, who makes Tony Banks' work in Wind & Wuthering sound melancholic. Then again, I'm betting everyone who has e-mailed me in the past about my thoughts on Wind & Wuthering have also been Dream Theater fans. ...I mean, if you like robot music, then that's fine. It's a free Internet. Until Comcast takes it over.) This song is so bombastic that its closing chord includes a gong and takes two minutes to fade out. I'm not kidding.


Edan: Beauty and the Beat (2005)

Read the full review:
Beauty and the Beat

Polite Meeting (Intro) A

I know I'm not into the hip-hop culture, and based on what I've read, neither is Edan. However, let's forget a moment that we're narrowly talking about the classification of “hip hop.” This thing is a trip! You have the basic beat and rapping of course, but in the background he brings in a variety of beeps, whooshes, harp scales, and even a recording of an interview he apparently had with a British reporter. This is well-programmed and fun to listen to. The lyrics are reminiscent of the title track from Magical Mystery Tour, and I get the same overall vibe from it.

Funky Voltron A

As the title might suggest, this one samples an old funk tune. It's a good funk groove, so you can expect that this automatically enjoyable, but Edan gets extra credit by also bringing in a few sound effects, which sounds like an early '60s girl group. I might not like rap very much, but this is a blast!

I See Colours A-

This one tries the same trippy psychedelic atmosphere that the opening track had although this doesn't quite give me that same, hazy, mind-boggling, trippy feeling that it did. Although this is still pretty spacey. He's still rapping over some whooshy sound effects, and occasionally what sounds like an old '60s pop song weaves itself in. I thought I heard The Left Banke's “Walk Away Renee” at the end... Whether I've identified that correctly or not, it should at least give you the idea of the sort of songs he's sampling!

Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme A

I will say that Edan seems to have a knack for finding interesting hooks to cement his songs together, and he gives them a bit of an alien edge as well. This time, some gnomish voices sing the title throughout. Of course there's a main rapping part, which flows together very well, although I have no idea what he's talking about! Ah, maybe it doesn't matter. More of those sci-fi whooshy sound effects he puts in the background helps keep it lively...

Murder Mystery B

This doesn't quite have the fun factor as any of the previous songs, and its visceral trippiness isn't completely making it up for me. I guess the main reason that it isn't as fun as the previous tracks is he doesn't put in a lively drum beat, and he concentrates mainly on those zippy sound effects and creepy spoken dialogue. A jazzy brass section pipes up at the end, which is cool, but seems a bit too late.

Torture Chamber A+

Too bad I don't know anything about hip-hop or I might be able to comment on how unusual this thing is. However, if there are other songs out there like this, then I would be surprised. The overall beat is menacing and somewhat creepy at times. The sound effects sound firey and sci-fi. The rapping sounds like he's narrating the world coming to an end. Quite a menacing little number...

Making Planets A-

Trying to score these track reviews are little more than gut reactions... and given that I don't have much experience with hip-hop, that's really all I have. While I enjoy listening to this, I'm not completely flowing with its dream-like structure. Although I appreciate certainly the drug-induced trip they bring mid-way through, which most actual psychedelic bands didn't do this well. (Did Pink Floyd do this sort of stuff this well? ...Definitely not after Syd Barrett left.)

Time Out (Segue)

This is a one-minute track filled with a subdued drum beat, a bunch of zippy noises and other miscellaneous sound effects. It sort of connects the previous track and the following...

Rock and Roll A

There we go, the first hip-hop album I reviewed has a song titled “Rock and Roll” in it! On the other hand maybe hip-hop is rock and roll, or will be thought of under the same umbrella 200 years in the future? Food for thought. Anyway, this is a heavy song that seems to smack me around a bit as a listener. The background instrumentation is dirty and grimy, and like “Torture Chamber” he sounds like he's rapping about the end of the world!

Beauty B+

I was joking about Beethoven in the main portion of this review, but he's showing me here how that might be done if someone were to try that or perhaps somebody already tried that! This is a rap song put over some string and flute arrangements over an array of sound effects. I'm not too thrilled about this one, though... Unlike some of these other songs, I'm somewhat bored through this. I'm thinking he's trying too hard to be psychedelic, but it's not too much fun.

The Science of the Two B

Once again, this is interesting, but I'm not really having fun with it. It's very slow paced and those trippy/atmospheric background instrumentation doesn't overly compel me enough to enjoy it completely. The rapping itself is of course just a lot of rhythmic talking, so they're not giving us a melody to speak of... (Oh there we go... getting into the fundamental reason I've never gotten into hip-hop. I guess I could talk about the lyrics, but I can't find them online and I can't really make out what they're saying.)

Smile B-

Even worse than the last one... Am I just going crazy or something? The earlier songs had some pretty strong hooks to them, and a toe-tapping beat to it. They bring in a psychedelic melody halfway in, but it seems too little. So without these things, it's a rap song with whooshy sound effects, and it doesn't draw me in all that well.

Promised Land A

This is one of the better combinations between psychedelia, cinematic music, and hip-hop that I think is probably humanely possible. You have a rather epic sounding '60s chamber pop background music while a spacey echo effect is put on the vocals. So, it's completely trippy, and it has that necessary hook that I was missing in some of the songs that immediately preceded this. Also this is a great closer, for my money.


Feist: The Reminder (2007)

Read the full review:
The Reminder

So Sorry B

Here's a simple, old-fashioned song! Feist singing along with minimal instrumentals. A light, twinkly piano, tinny synthesizer sounds, acoustic guitars twiddling away, a bass that's barely there... and a tambourine. Very very simple stuff! I like the non-pretentiousness, at least. It's subtly pretty with an OK melody. It took me a few listens to appreciate it, but it would've benefited greatly if it was either more exciting or beautiful. As it stands, it's fairly cold.

I Feel It All B+

I do like this! Much bolder, and I'm glad they're not going to torture me with dozens of sleep-inducing songs. There's a little snare drum here and it's pounding away loudly! Awesome. The songwriting is OK, too. Rather standard and not exciting, but it has its endearing qualities. A well mixed synthesizer “riff” helps give it character, and they give us some organic pianos adding texture. A few times, they stop the snare drum for quieter parts. Well done!

My Moon My Man A-

A heavy drum beat and a single line of notes played by a dark piano provide the groove at the beginning of this track. Feist comes in with her typically bland vocal melody! But a chorus comes in, which enlivens the experience. Much more bombastic compared to the previous songs (I mean, there's an electric guitar solo and this psychedelic waves of energy in the middle!!). I'm giving this song an A- because of these creative, unpredictable and seamlessly-executed instrumental ideas. Something I wish they would do often! I do that knowing that the harmonies aren't much to speak of and neither is the melody. This song is a lot of style but little substance ... but the style is so convincing that I'm willing to buy into it. Good job!

Park B

A light, folky song played amidst some bird noises ... allegedly noises taken from a park. Here is another simplistic song that threatens to bore the hell out of me, but whatever they're doing it's working. A heavy-handed, ultra serious song with minimal instrumental touches....... But what they do have here is effective. An acoustic guitar plucks sparsely but smartly, and occasionally some tuba synths come into give their two cents. Probably more importantly is Feist's pleasant vocal performance ... especially at the end when she starts wailing a bit.

Water C

These so-called introspective songs can get damn tedious if you're not careful. “Park” managed to survive it, but “Water” wasn't so lucky. Again, here's a minimalist ballad with next-to-no instrumentation, a bland melody and too much focus on Feist's vocals, which (let's face it) aren't that good. The fact they dragged it on for five minutes means makes this fillerola.

Sea Lion Woman B+

This is bizarre. I guess they're trying to pioneer electro-gospel! A small choir of back-up singers are clapping and singing “sea lion!” over and over again. A robo-bass line is playing only a few notes whilst a synthesizer puts in its two cents occasionally. In the middle, there's a funny vocal upwelling with some good rhythms. After that part, it turns into a rock 'n' roll jam! ...They should have ended it right there, but they bring back the gospel for the last 30 seconds or so.

Past in Present B

More or less an ordinary mid-tempo rocker with acoustic guitar strumming away and a typical drum beat. And I guess that's why this song isn't so distinctive! But it's a well-written one with an OK but not phenomenal melody. I like listening to it, at least!

Limit to Your Love B

It begins with an uneventful beat and some synthetic violins rumbling. A muted guitar plays a depressed rhythm. Feist comes in with a vocal melody, and a piano starts playing a minimal loop... Not the most exciting songwriting, I must tell you! But the arrangements get more intricate as it progresses, so it's rather beautiful by the end.

1234 A-

This probably has the most distinctive and memorable melody, but it's really nothing fabulous. It's something close to a nursery song! But the instrumentation is nothing if it's not charming. (I mean, there's a banjo in this! What's not to love about a song with a banjo???) A neat trumpet solo comes in during the final third. It has a good pop-rock beat, so you can snap your fingers with it, if you wish! An excellent, harmless song.

Brandy Alexander B

The pace is slower and the melody is less memorable. The atmosphere is strange, though, and they do a good job of developing that (whilst using minimal instrumentals). I could imagine the latter half of this could be used as stargazing music in a film.

Intuition C

Another quiet introspective song. Or maybe it isn't? The only reason I want to call this a quiet “introspective” song is because it's so boring, but I still want to respect it! Feist's melodies aren't anything special, and she could use instrumental accompaniment. Just an acoustic guitar twiddling away minimally isn't that interesting. (I like that half-hearted call and response thing at the end, though ... we needed more ideas like that to glitter this thing up.)

Honey Honey C+

Like “Sea Lion Woman,” this is a rather bizarre song ... although, not quite as such. She really loves these slow tempos! A creepy, plucky instrument keeps looping around while some slidey back-up singers provide “texture.” A harp comes in ...... I appreciate the creativity, but would it kill you to make the songs a little more fun? Both the melodies and harmonies needed work.

How My Heart Behaves B

After successfully sitting through this album, I think I know how your heart behaves. It's thoughtful and mellow, but it's cold and distant. This is exactly the mood through this whole album! That said, this is a rather pretty song... Trudging along at a snail's pace, as usual, but the orchestration is rather nicely done. I like the chorus. The minimal pianos deliver a nice texture as well as a harp that comes into offer its two cents.


The Fore: Black & White (2008)

Read the full review:
Black & White

Love For Sale A-

Yikes, they start this album right away sounding like The Beatles, and they've obviously been doing their homework. Not only is that ultra clean guitar sound Beatleseque, but they come up with a convincing, twee melody to sing. The harmonies are right on-spot, and this song is even structured like a Beatles song. It has a middle-eight section and everything. Things are so close to the Fab Four that it's a little bit spooky... The one thing that they couldn't quite nail down were their magical melodies. While this is catchy, it doesn't *quite* make it. Sorry, but if you're going to copy The Beatles, then you're gonna have to face these harsh comparisons!

A Girl Like You A

Another impressively close Beatles imitation! It's a shame that there weren't any convincing McCartney imitators in the group... I just wish they would sing a little bit louder. There's even some harmonica in here, which recalls several Beatles songs. I'd say this really catchy melody is just a few notches down... So, it's really good then! Even the middle-eight section is awesome. Its exciting and ultra-clean instrumentation is toe-tapping, and it makes a really fun listen.

Little Louisa A+

WOW. I had to check the CD case to make sure this wasn't actually a Bo Diddley cover or something, but it's apparently an original. Well, it's impressive! I'm assuming that they're imitating The Beatles covering Bo Diddley, and they do another formidable job at that. Again, their voices are a little pale, but the song itself is fun to listen to. The choppy riff is catchy, and the pounding drum beat is bold.

If I Show You Love A-

And now they're doing a mightily good old-style ballad. It's amazing that they're able to make it sound so authentic... The only thing out of place is the crystal clear audio production! Anyway, it's a very smooth song with nice, close vocal harmonizations. The middle section is a little bit flat, but that's not a big deal.

You'll Be Mine A

Another song that would have appeared on some of the earliest Beatles albums, with its fast-paced rhythm and tight vocal harmonies. Once again, everything about this authentic including the furious but tight guitars, and especially that melody, which is so hooky that it very well could have been a big hit back in the day.

Man of Few Words B

Quite a bit less hooky and not as complex. It's more like a Dave Clarke Five impersonation than a Beatles impersonation, but that's also something that I'm sure some fans would like!... The central hook is OK, and it's almost impossible to dislike such a good natured song.

I Want to Be With You A-

Once again, they amaze me with their ability to so closely imitate The Beatles. Apart from the hooks not glistening with diamonds and gold, this is musically indistinguishable. It's just missing that extra sparkle, you know? But it's a remarkably catchy song nonetheless...

Someone New B+

The song starts with more of those Bo Diddley style drums, but it quickly turns into another older-styled song. I don't know why, but for some reason this doesn't sound very '60s-ish to me. It's probably those harmonies, which reminds me more of a They Might Be Giants or Barenaked Ladies song. But it's not like they signed a contract with me stating that every single song was going to share striking similarities with The Beatles. And besides, this is fun to listen to.

I Got a Girl A

I can't picture The Beatles doing a song like this, not even the Rolling Stones. But probably The Animals! The extremely tight guitar riffing is right out of that era, and song keeps a convincing, menacing pace. Yeah, these guys were living the old classic-rock fanboy dream!

Here Comes the Girl A-

This is the sort of mid-tempo song you can bounce your head with pleasantly like you could on any number of songs from A Hard Days Night. I also can't deny that this melody is completely catchy, and those little harmonic touches they do shows that they spent plenty of hours in dark corners studying everything The Beatles ever did. Again it doesn't reek of the Beatles magic, since the melody isn't greatly memorable, but it's formidable yes!

Please Tell Me B

I'm not sure why, but I'm having difficulty really getting into this one. I'm suspecting mostly it's because I'm tired of all the fast-paced Beatles imitating! But again, they do a pretty good job of it. Definitely out of the Please Please Me era, and I don't say that because the song title starts with the same word. There's a bit of harmonica in it, too!

Shake B

A rock 'n' roll instrumental with a bit of a surf edge to it. Were they going after The Ventures? Yeah, probably. This is pretty good and tightly played. We hear someone screaming a little bit in the background, which again puts us back in that era.

In So Deep B-

The hooks are getting less and less compelling... Again, this is probably closer to the Dave Clark Five than The Beatles, but I know this song will still have its admirers! The instrumentals are at least still quite tight and professionally played. Nobody's giving it a half-effort!

It'll Be Me B-

They're going a little crazy with this one, bringing in a really undisciplined guitar solo in the middle! That's sort of fun to listen to, but unfortunately they're not giving us their finest melodies here. I know there were a lot of songs like this in the '60s... and this would have only been mildly enjoyable back then too. ...They've included some sort of “hidden track” here... sit around and wait for it. It's a laid back acoustic guitar instrumental. It's OK.


Fruit Bats: Mouthfuls (2003)

Read the full review:
Mouthfuls

Rainbow Sign A

I know I've grown more fond of folky music over these last few years (i.e. I'm turning into an old man), and this slowly paced song makes a rather nice listen. The melody is fairly simple, but it's warm and likable, and I also like that they brought in other instruments by the end of it to help play the groove, including the xylophone and some sort of pan flute! (The my understanding of the pan flute comes exclusively from that instrument setting on my Yamaha keyboard. Does that instrument actually exist? Hm, according to trusty Wikipedia, all signs point to yes.)

A Bit of Wind A-

Without a doubt, if you liked the previous song, you're going to like this one, too. It's a charming, folk song! Perhaps the melody doesn't quite strike me, but it's still a pleasant, tuneful thing. Once again, they choose to layer on very organic sounding instruments as it progresses, and thus it always seem fresh. The horn section, in particular, gives it a larger-than-life feeling.

Magic Hour B

And here's the drawback to folk-rock. It's not too exciting, is it? This slow-moving track has a good melody that flows nicely, and it's easy to listen to, but it doesn't get out there and do anything great that smacks me on the face and forces me to pay attention. The closest thing they do is bring in some sweet choral “ooh” sounds for the chorus, which isn't too exciting.

The Little Acorn B

Another nicely written folk-pop ditty that's enjoyable if you're planning on lazing around on a weekend afternoon, and you don't want anything to bug you. The melody is nice, and it's sung with easy-on-the-ears vocals that also have a world-worn quality to them. This is a rather lengthy song, at six and a half minutes, and I confess I start to space out and think about other things half way through.

Track Rabbits B

Clearly if you don't like slowly paced, acoustic folk stuff then it's safe to say you won't care for it. I usually like this sort of thing, but they're not completely selling it to me. Once again, I suppose you could say this is the sort of album you should listen to while you're reading, or spaced out thinking about something else. Not that this type of music doesn't have its place in the world (better this than... er... Yanni). The instrumentation is kind of cool for such a song. The Beatles-esque harmonization in the second half sounds nice, and there's a little touch of flute-synths that reminds me of an early '70s prog record. I don't know what that instrument is that sounds like a cricket, but that's cool, too. (Maybe they chose a cricket sound, because they were getting a little bored, too?) This is a good song, but they seem to wallow around a lot playing just two chords.

Union Blanket B+

Definitely a step in the right direction. This has a much more defined drum rhythm, and those rough vocals sing a melody that gets me a bit out of that daze the previous three songs put me in and gets me to pay attention a little better. They also put on a number of unusual electronic embellishments. It amounts to nothing more than sound effects, but at least they play a rhythm.

Lazy Eye B+

As this piano ballad starts out, I groan a little bit. It only consists of a guy singing with a piano, the melody does little for me, and it's very slowly paced. But as it goes on, the singing becomes more passionate, and I actually start to sit up and take notice of it. Hardly a great song, but I would say it's greater than the sum of its parts.

Sipping Through the Sensors B-

While I still like the overall sound of this with the acoustic guitars and those torn vocals, they're starting to really get me bored now. Once it gets going initially, they don't do anything to it to keep it fresh. I hate to say it, but this is another one of their songs that shouldn't be listened to directly. However, that's probably what you're going to do with this album whether it was intentional or not!

Seaweed B

The melody strikes me a little nicer than the previous song, and I continue to like the way they are delivered. But other than that, this is an ordinary folk song with singing and an acoustic guitar, and I do think some more variety might have been in order!

When U Love Somebody B

This is slightly different than the others, which is certainly a good thing at this point, but I'm having an awfully difficult time getting into it. The opening chords are played with a muted organ, which sounds drowsy, and the inevitable folk-pop song that comes after doesn't do a whole lot for me, particularly the riff that sounds kind of dull.


Gravity Field: Gravity Field (2009)

Read the full review:
Gravity Field

Lost Forever B

Nice riff! It's very '70s! The verses of this song is quieter and more atmospheric, obviously inspired by that band Coldplay that the kids like so much these days. I like the riff, but the rest of the song does little for me. It's nice to listen to—the lead vocals are fine and it's pleasant enough to listen to. It certainly could have used a tune, though, and perhaps some creativity. You know... it's not like I ask the world out of these bands!

Paris Based Think Tank B+

I know I always tell you that I don't like heavy metal very much, but I think this band is far better off just being a straight metal band. They find some mightily decent riffs to piddle around with! They could have been juicier, surely, and more exciting, but they're not poorly written. When they're not playing the riff, a much less interesting Coldplay inspired vocal melody comes in with lush instrumentation involving bending, whispy strings and synthesizers. Eh. I'm not a big fan of it, honestly. If they're going to go that route, they really needed a melody. That said, there's a mightily cool sound-effect section in the middle of this... but again it just seems like they're copying other bands without expressing their own creativity. That's just boring to me, I'm sad to say. ...And I'm just whining. This is a pretty good song, I think.

Psychoanalyze C+

They really like that heavy-metal/Coldplay formula! I'm already getting a bit tired of it. What makes this song lesser than the previous two is not that I'm getting tired of the formula; it's just not as good of a song. The heavy metal riff ain't that special, and I get even more bogged down by the unimpressive vocal melody. This song generally sounds good; it's mixed well. The guitars are dark and they can pack a punch. The robot voice they bring in the final third was a cool idea I guess. I just wish this was more ... er ... memorable.

Sheeple B

Again, this isn't bad. This is much guitar heavy this time, and they lay off the ultra-lush, Coldplay-inspired vocal melody for a bit. The heavy metal riff is OK, but it's a bit dull particularly compared to the opening two tracks. This is a very dark and serious song, and I'm having trouble liking it. The vocal melody isn't much to speak of. That wobbly guitar that's prominent throughout as well as the pointless feedback noise only serves to make it drearier. ...Geez, guys! Lighten up, will ya?

Illuminati Apocalypse C+

Just an instrumental, which suits me fine since I haven't been greatly impressed with their vocal melodies. It's not a *riff* rocker, though, which is sort of a shame. It consists of a series of dark guitar chords that aren't all that interesting. They incorporate some fun sound effects deeply in the background, which would probably make this appropriate for a movie soundtrack or something.

Chapter 322 B-

NINE MINUTES LONG!!! ... In keeping with the usual idea of this album, it's mostly heavy-metal-ish, but the verses are a little more pop-rock oriented. They come out with a pretty good riff, I think, but the verses could have been more memorable. The lusher, spacier sound-effects bit in the middle almost seems obligatory at this point. I sort of wish they would have tried to be a little more creative in those spots than simply going with the space-rock cliches (wobbly guitars, watery synthesizers... you know). The fact this goes on for nine minutes is a little bit cumbersome, but it's not any less interesting than sitting through any of these other songs.

Dead Cat Bounce C+

Again, this a competently produced and performed heavy metal song. I just don't get much out of the experience of listening to this. What's more, this sounds exactly the same as everything else on here, so I'm sorta bored outta my mind. I'm sorry... I don't have much to say about this.

The Well of Sorrow C

Perhaps this is a little more prog-oriented due to the lengthy guitar passages that remind me of Rush. I think if you read my Rush reviews, I never cared a whole hell of a lot for that band. I just found them too dull sometimes. I have the same problem with this song. There's no real push to it. It's eight minutes long, it sounds nice, but I'm very bored sitting through it. No real interesting melodic ideas to speak of... Hm...


Macy Gray: On How Life Is (1999)

Read the full review:
On How Life Is

Why Didn't You Call Me 9.5/10

Oh give me that groove! It's as polished as a rich guy's dining room table, but it still manages to have enough raunch to give it attitude. If you're hearing Macy Gray's vocals for the first time, you might find occasion to laugh out loud. Her odd vocals deliver a very interesting "musical instrument" to say the least. But the best thing about the song is that it has a catchy melody! Why, this is a song that's worthy of Stevie Wonder -- the master of this brand of soul pop! ... The weird innovation here is they insert background conversation noise, which gives this an interesting texture. I love it all!

Do Something 8.5/10

Some broken up vocals begin this 'un, and it's saying something that sounds almost like a bad word! (OOoooo!) Well, this song isn't nearly as delightful as the previous track and neither is it as catchy. But the R&B groove (mid-tempoed this time) still has a lot of that 'tude and so does Gray's cartoon vocals. Woot? There's some beautifully done orchestral work in the latter half of the tune that does a great job of keeping my attention! It needed it, because five minutes was a little too long for such a work that doesn't change its rhythm at all.

Caligula 9.5/10

This track features another delicious R&B groove, except this one's done by rather off-kilter instruments. An organ that seems uncomfortably weak makes up the bulk of the groove and other sound effects chime in. Very well done! Whoever's responsible for the song production must be one of the few mainstream producers who actually does *good* work! (Search for my Mariah Carey reviews for the opposite end of the production spectrum.) The funny thing is the song doesn't have a melody to speak of ... it's just the groove and instrumentation. But it's all so varied and spicey (chock-full of odd instrumentals) that this song is absolutely impossible to keep your attention from veering away from it. This track is really really really fun.

I Try 9.5/10

Now, here's a song with not only fun and unique instrumentation, but it also has an extremely fantastic melody. It's no wonder that this was also Macy Gray's biggest hit single from the album! It also landed her a Grammy award for vocal performance. Well...... I absolutely abhor the Grammies, but I don't see anything wrong with honoring these crazy cartoon vocals. The song is easily the hookiest of the album. The production tricks are surprisingly at a minimum, though. (Maybe they were thinking silly production tricks weren't suitable for a hit single?) Anyway, this is a very well written song.

Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak 9/10

The song title also describes Macy Gray pretty well, I can imagine! Well, at least we're back to the crazy song production. A lot of '70s guitar that was popular in the blaxploitation era is present as well as some odd sound effect strewn throughout. The track manages to even have a spirited chorus that even contains a few good hooks or two. It's retro but with modern production sensibilities. This track contains the best things about yesterday and today! Yeah!!! (Can you see why I'm so excited about this album???)

I Can't Wait to Meetchu 9.5/10

This is based on a very repetitive hook, but it's a catchy one. The song producers do the right thing and continue to build up the orchestration throughout and make the effort even more glorious as it moves along. This production is horn-heavy and extremely easy on the ears! It's fun without getting cheap or corny. Brilliance!!

Still 8/10

This is slower and more mid-tempoed. There's a piano at its core (next to the drum beat as usual!) But in the production, they also add in some rather beautiful string passages that are just subtle enough to not go overboard. All that said, this song just doesn't seem as appealing as the other tracks. The blame for that is probably due to the lack of novelty effect, but the melody isn't as hooky as some of these other songs. It's "still" pretty above average for the genre.

I've Committed Murder 9/10

This is also not one of the album's highlights, but big fans of lyrical content might enjoy hearing her narrative. There's also some interesting vocal interchanges in the middle of this! Interesting that the typical groovy percussion is replaced with bongos this time! The instrumentation slowly gets more bizarre as it moves along (bringing in, what, a mandolin????) No, that wasn't a bad idea at all! The chord progression is a little too usual, and the melody is extremely simple. But, just with so many of these songs, the instrumentation and production is unique enough to be fun. It gets more interesting as it progresses, which I wish more artists would think about doing. I mean, if the melody were just a tad better, it would almost be as good as Kate Bush!! That's pretty good.

A Moment to Myself 8/10

This is pretty bland to start with and the song production is considerably milder than the other songs. The song production is just slightly weirder than "I Try," but the melody isn't nearly as memorable unfortunately. Oh ........... so I guess this is the worst song on the album. It continues to be just weird enough to be enjoyable. Yes, thank goodness for that strange voice! (I hear guinea pig noises at the end of this! ... I miss my guinea pig.)

The Letter 9.5/10

And the effort concludes with this absolutely blistering number. I'd wager to say that the melody is as catchy as "I Try" (but, you know, catchiness is absolutely impossible to measure). The song is nearly six minutes long making it the lengthiest track of the album. But the slow development to utter glory makes the running length completely necessary! This is a catchy song that's, above all, fun!! Yay!


Justin Guarini: Justin Guarini (2003)

Read the full review:
Justin Guarini

One Heart Too Many 6.5/10

This is a boringly overproduced track that seems to do poor Justin Guarini a disservice. That Spanish guitar calls for that scene in Animal House in which John Belushi smashes that instrument. Oh, the other instrumentals are completely worthless anyway. The best thing we could hope for is a catchy melody and a vocal performance from this apparently good singer. Well, I do like his voice, but the melody is so-so. This is just an averagely bad pop tune. The lyrics sound like they were written by a self-important 13-year-old.

I Saw Your Face 5/10

Yeesh ... This funk ballad might have been alright IF IT DIDN'T SUCK!!! HAHAHAHAH!!!!! In more constructive terms, this is another example of a song that's overproduced to the core. The instrumentation is just boring and paint-by-numbers. There's a few melodic hooks, but they're few and far between. If this singer was so great, they wouldn't have needed to use these annoying vocal effects. The moment where Guarini starts talking in the sexy voice is when I get the feeling this guy already slipped into self-parody.

Be a Heartbreaker 4/10

I really am trying to not explode here, but it's hard when they throw in a song like this, which is so ill-conceived it's almost hilarious. Well, it's definitely sad anyway. The instrumentation continues to sound like their session musicians were robots. The layered whispering throughout the track are absolutely, mind-bogglingly stupid... Why would they do that? It contributes nothing but this ugly clutter. And that whistle synth they use ... it's giving me nausea. Back to the drawing board wit' cha!

Unchained Melody 8.5/10

I just listened to an excellent version of this recorded by Al Green. For some reason, even though this song is so simple, the whole world doesn't seem to get sick of it. It's not my kind of song, but I admit that it's quite pretty. Guarini's version is a soulless pebble in comparison, but at the very least he doesn't do much to screw it up. The instrumentation already sounds dated, but everything else seems done right. At least I get to listen to Guarini's voice unaffected by the crass obnoxiousness that plagued the previous tracks, which I do heartily think is a good voice.

Sorry 1/10

Oh my freaking crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. After that pretty song, they begin a groove more obnoxious than anything I remember even hearing in Madonna's dismal crapperpiece American Life. The songwriters apparently try to apologize with the song-title, but that doesn't cut it, buddy. Imagine if I was hitting you in the face with a glove and apologizing about it at the same time. That guitar in the middle of this track does absolutely nothing ... it's so incredibly stupid ....... Who the heck was in charge of this?

How Will You Know 7/10

I almost think this is a great song, but I'm half-wondering if that previous track didn't completely numb my mind! The instrumentals aren't too imaginitive but they seem to be more or less constructive toward the whole effort. But the one thing that makes this a good song is the melody, which *gasp* is actually catchy and nice. The downfall is that it gets more annoying in the second half when Guarini attempts to get more "soulful." There's no point in even trying. Don't listen to the lyrics, though. They're poison. I'm serious.

Inner Child 6.5/10

This is an overproduced and annoying pop-tune. For the first 20 seconds it sounded like this might be enjoyable, but they screw everything up by making it obnoxious. The melody was worth a few hooks, but the producer was too inept to make it work. ... But what do I know? He/she is probably very rich! That call and response bit in the middle is just embarassing. Yuck. That sort of thing would pass for a high school talent show, and even then it'd be annoying.

Condition of My Heart 8/10

This isn't the worst thing I heard. In fact, it's mostly passable. It's a shame the instrumentals have to be like that, but through all the muck we get a pretty nice melody and an entirely decent vocal performance. This Guarini has a capable voice, but he's trying a bit too hard to make it sound frilly. Some mood build-ups throughout almost seem like somebody --- somewhere --- somehow --- knew what they were doing.

Doin' Things (We're Supposed to Do) 6/10

3&#*@. Justin Guarini is banned from performing funk music for life. Go to jail, and do not collect $200. Apparently, these songwriters think the only thing there is to that genre is annoying grooves. I honestly don't think this is quite as crappy as some of the earlier funk tunes, but I'm so sick of these soulless poor excuses that I'm about to beat myself up. If I didn't listen to that Al Green track just recently, these songs might have made me give up on the whole bloody genre.

If You Wanna 0minus/10

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghhh!!!! Am I in Hell? If I'm not, I'm inches away. If this isn't the nadir of pop music, then Madonna is a good songwriter. And Kiss is a great rock band. And Meat Loaf doesn't need to go on a diet. The groove is so stupid ... it's not really even a groove ... it's just a bunch of random noises and an irregular beat... Absolutely unlistenable. The sad thing is, this is such an involved track that these guys probably actually thought they were doing something good. I'd better not make fun of them --- it would seem too cruel.

Thinking of You 7/10

I get the feeling they only write tracks as inherently stupid as "If You Wanna" is to make their STUPID ballads like this sound good. Well it works. It has, what we music "novices" would identify as a "melody." Plus, it has instrumentation that can be called "not idiotic." Oh I hate this song, but I'm so deranged right now that I'm smiling and I can't stop.

Get Here 5/10

Oh god, this is so boring... At least it's not driving me nuts, but it's just another one of those dime-a-dozen banal ballads that give music a bad name. Do you see what this album is doing to me? It's making me lose my faith in music!

Timeless 8.5/10

I guess just to prove that he didn't have any hard feelings toward Kelly Clarkson, he did a duet with her here. Well, just to prove to me that there is a God in heaven, this is actually a pretty good song. It manages to soar to pretty grand heights! It nice to share the spotlight with her one of the more melodically well-written tracks. The production is awful, but the two dueting vocals sound very nice. I'd even say "inspired." I do like Clarkson's voice, and she makes a nice, solid contrast to Guarini's solid vocal presence.


Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová: Once -- Music From the Motion Picture (2007)

Read the full review:
Once -- Music From the Motion Picture

Falling Slowly A+

The most endearing quality of this song is how it pushes itself to the conclusion. It doesn't start out that remarkably. A twinkly piano and acoustic guitar play very quiet and minimal notes. Hansard comes in singing a similarly simple melody. We've heard this a million times. But something uncanny happens. The mood picks up. A violin comes in through the background, and they start singing an extremely tuneful chorus. There's something magical about it. You don't run across too many songs like that. And it actually won an Academy Award! Those Hollywood people must appreciate good music more than the Grammy people! (Don't act so surprised.)

If You Want Me A

Irglova takes the lead vocals of this very haunting tune. The melody is haunting, and the instrumentation is also just right. That's even though I'm pretty sure those drums came from a little Casio keyboard or something! I don't know how they did it. They struck gold twice in a row!

Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy B+

In the film, this was an impromptu performance (and you hear some of the dialogue factors in it). It isn't even a minute long, and it's played like an old folk song. Hansgard gives a playful performance! They could have gotten away without including this ... especially since most people who buy the album want to think this was actually the thing they were recording in the studio. But that's OK.

When Your Mind's Made Up A+

Another great song! I like this even better than “Falling Slowly” even though that was the Academy Award winning song. This one has an unusual time signature and a nice beat to go along with it. The melody is memorable and hummable. Hansard has a habit of sort of scream-singing. It's maybe a little annoying listening to it, but you'll appreciate it better once you see the film. His face turns red!

Lies A-

I'm not the world's biggest fan of the first half of the song. It's a very slow ballad with very sparse instrumentation. The piano is there and the standard acoustic guitar. Some classical violins interspersed throughout gives it some extra class. But, overall, this song is a little *too* bleak this time, and they take too long to really give it some meat. But when they do, briefly in the middle and at the end, it all seemed like it was worth it. That's really an unusual quality.

Gold B

There's a little bit of a Celtic flavor to this. There appears to be about three or four acoustic guitars playing along with some violins puttering in the background. It's nicely done, of course, though it's not one of my favorite tunes. It's average.

The Hill B

The only song on here to be exclusively composed by Irglova. It's pretty good though somehow this was better seeing it in the film. It's a simple piano ballad with light contributions from some violins. The piano plays very uniform patterns with only scant development. But Irglova's mousy voice has a lot of feeling in it, though, and you get the idea that she believes what she's singing.

Fallen From the Sky B+

Now I know this beat was programmed on a tiny Casio keyboard. I remember that scene from the movie! That's an interesting choice, I guess. It accentuates the homemade feel of it although I can't really say that I like the sound of it that much. Its synth-pop quality does lend to the album's diversity. At least the melody is rather catchy!

Leave B-

There, if you dislike Hansard's scream-singing then you'll find a lot to dislike about this! It starts out as a standard acoustic guitar ballad, but then he starts screaming at the end! Weirdo.

Trying to Pull Myself Away A-

I was wondering where all those good songs left! This album started with so many gems, but retreated so quickly that I wondered what happened to them. Luckily, here's an upbeat song done as a typical “indie” fest. Something that you would expect Sufjan Stevens or someone to come up with. But that ain't no sin if it has a catchy melody and a smartly bombastic instrumentation. This is a likable song with one of the most developed sounds of the whole disc.

All the Way Down B-

Not bad. Again, this is Hansard singing just to a guitar. This sort of stuff has enough value to be worth hearing by people who live on this sort of stuff. I'm missing the presence of an interesting melody. And of course, the instrumentation is boring.

Once A-

Better this time. It's a duet this time between Hansard and Irglova, which gives it some added death. The melody has its moments and the song actually develops quite a bit. Some parts sound like calm water, but other parts sound like they were on the verge of exploding. Really, it's a sweet little song... something that does seem to make a good title track to that film.

Say it to Me Now A-

Here's another example of Hansard's scream-singing. It sounds overblown in the soundtrack, but it was more interesting in the film. The instrumentation is just him and his guitar, but the melody is very good. I guess that scream-singing does leave an impression!


Heavy Jack: Multiply (2008)

Read the full review:
Mulitply

Bushfire B+

Fun! It's not original in even the slightest sense, but I don't think they were trying to be. It has quick, upbeat guitarin' with a bouncy though unremarkable riff. The singing is loud and energetic. It's a cocky hair-metal voice. It could have used more of a GROWL but it suffices. Half-way into the song they, for some reason, change its previously straight-ahead rhythm to something more jerky and distorted. It ends with an overlong, ultra-distorted chord that sounds like airplane noises. That gives me pretty evil flashbacks of those early '90s Neil Young records. Geez!!!!!!

Blood Red Sun C-

Playing those drums pretty fast, are we? Why don't you just beat up my brains, while you're at it? ...And why does this song have to be loud and annoying like this? The lead singer sounds detached here. Hm. The guitars aren't that enticing, the melody is boring, the energy doesn't radiate off it as well as it should. It gets better in the final third when the pace picks up and a hair-metal-style electric guitar has its way with things. But not *much* better.

What's in a Name C+

Letters! OH! I'M SO CLEVER!!! Well... I sort of like how this song starts. It's a lighter than the previous song, and I hear some bouncy Cars-like rhythm guitars prominently in the mix. But after that, it becomes apparent that there was no real focus on the song. It just sort of rambles, and I feel lost listening to it. It doesn't really help that the song consists mostly of generic guitar riffs and the lead singer doesn't really sing a *melody*, but just sort of half-heartedly warbles over everything.

Movin' On C

Ho-hah! Ho-hah! Ho-hah! ... Maybe incorporating those macho calls throughout the song wasn't such a good idea. It sounds like one of those bad ideas that Kiss would have. There's something to these guitar textures, but they don't really develop it into anything that I could possibly like. They change the drum texture in the middle for a guitar-solo interlude, but I'm bored through it.

Jumpin' Jack Flash B+

Oh look! There's a riff! The guitars are quite a bit more loud and boxy than the original version, which is expected since they have heavy metal aspirations. The lead singer is clearly trying to hard. He's going all over the place! Listening to that is like trying to follow a fly across the room with my eyes. ...Other than that, this is a fun rendition of a Rolling Stones song. The guitars are solids, and the rhythms are good, and it's hard to mess a song like this up.

Bandits in the Night C+

This is OK. It's a mid-tempo song with a complicated guitar patterns that they almost don't seem quite capable to handle, but ... well, they do fine. I'm just jealous, because I'm to uncoordinated to play even a single chord on the guitar. That's why I spend my days sitting in my bedroom spitting bile! ...This song is seven minutes long. Pushing it! But at least I don't have to hear the lead singer much longer who I'm sick to death of right now.

Fly Away (Black Crow) A-

Well, here's something that I can like! This is a lot more laid back than the previous songs, and they seem pretty happy keeping themselves restrained in that way. Once again, the focus here is on the guitars, and these are nice-sounding ones with purer, wobbly tones. They're still trying to pull of these over-the-top crowd-pleasing moves. Um. OK. I'm not going to sleep with you, if that's what you're after! ...But I actually like some of what he does. Maybe he shouldn't have used so many notes... This is a good song, though.

Peace Soldier B+

Not bad, actually! They're merciful enough on me to close the album with an upbeat guitar rocker with some real energy to it. Again, it's nothing original, but it's FUN!!!! The interludes are a little bit weird ... and it has something like a jungle drum solo in it while the lead singer sounds like he's falling in the background. But hey, at least this drumming is regular and rhythmic. He's not trying to do anything too fancy. ...Um... They briefly quote the “Star Spangled Banner.” ...OK. They're trying my patience at the outtro where the lead singer starts acting like a boot-camp instructor yelling “Left! Left! Left right left!”


Ist: Toothpick Bridge (2009)

Read the full review:
Toothpick Bridge

The Boy's Not Right B+

These guys seem like a nice bunch of songwriters, and it's difficult to not admire their ability to write decent hooks and happy-go-lucky pop rhythms. It sounds exactly like something they could probably perform out of a nightclub. Nothing apart from the usual mix of guitars and drums. The presentation seems rather stiff to me, but certainly all the notes are in their proper place.

Pep Talk B+

Hey, bring out the pop horns! Sort of like the previous composition, this is an absolutely happy and bubbly song. There doesn't seem to be anything underneath its surface, but it does make you tap your toes. The lead singer sounds like he wants to be a new Elvis Costello, and he sounds the part.

My Head Aches B+

They slow it down for the third song, which is the standard formula for a pop album, to deliver this rather nice, country tune. Once again, they write a very solid melody that's quite catchy although somehow it doesn't seem to work its way into my heart. (And due to business in my personal life, I haven't been able to review this album for four months... So, it had quite a long chance.)

Rebecca B

They're trying way too hard to sound like Elvis Costello. They have the style down, but they're missing the verve. All the same, the songwriting continues to be strong, and of course that doesn't come easily.

A Scotsman in a Church A-

Ah yes, here's a song that seems to leap at me a little better than the others. It's another fairly standard pub-rock style tune with a rocking horn section, but I like its liveliness!

Would You Buy a Bible From This Man? B

Once again, these guys show that they have some really nice abilities with melody writing, and this is yet another nicely constructed and fully functional song. This is more slowly paced and features some nicely played harmonica and an electric guitar solo. I find it to be a bit stale but likable all the same.

Demand B+

This piano ballad sounds like the beginning of an epic Bonnie Tyler or Meat Loaf song or something! It's less than two minutes long, so it never gets that ultra-dramatic chorus, which kind of disappoints me, because it sounds like it's leading up to that. At any rate, it's a nicely written tune and it sounds excellent for a song with no other instrument than a piano.

Remington Steele B

They're fond of writing these tight riffs, but they never seem to really leap out at me. (The riff on “A Scotsman in a Church” was quite lively and made the song fun, but it wasn't anything too special.) They're going for a dirty rock sound here with some ultra-fuzzy guitar and a wailing high-pitched guitar noodling throughout, but they never fail to keep that tight, fast-paced groove going.

Social Workers #12 & 35 B

I like that seedy and more deeply pitched vocal performance they bring up occasionally in here, which sounds a little more like late-'70s David Bowie than Elvis Costello. The horn section they bring back has some flare to it, but for some reason they stop playing that catchy riff midway through.

Company of Sense B+

It's really hard to deny that this band doesn't know how to write a solid tune, and this is also sung loudly in a way as though the singer really means it. I talked about the lyrics extensively in the opening paragraph in this review, but the line “They say darkness falls for a reason” manages to stick out at me.

This Must Be the Desert B+

This is another loudly sung slower song that sounds passionate and confessional except this one is punched up nicely with a horn section and some nice slide guitar tucked in the background. It's a lot of fun to listen to. The melody sounds sort of like a traditional old hymn, and it's not necessarily bad for that.

You Should Be Ashamed B

...Er, here is third passionately sung confessional and country-tinged song in a row, and I confess it's starting to wear thin on me especially since I wasn't extremely hot on them to begin with. But it's solidly performed, and I especially like the folksy backup singers.

Yer Man's a Bingo Caller A-

It's about time they got out of that confessional phase and just rocked out a little bit with a horn instrumental. It still seems a bit stiff to me, but it's definitely fun and the horn melody is catchy.

She Clears Her Throat B

This is a nice song, but they're returning to that passionate power-ballad that's supposed to be heartfelt, but it just doesn't connect with me. Either it's played too stiffly or it's just too similar to the other songs on this album that it's not connecting with me. I'm more or less enjoying listening to it, however, because the melody is well-written, but that's all they seem to have!


Janet Jackson: Discipline (2008)

Read the full review:
Discipline

I.D. (Interlude)

I might have to consult my dictionary, but I'm pretty sure that you can't begin anything with an interlude. It's a little like having an intermission before the opening credits begin. But let's lot dwell on this trivial matter. In this “interlude” Jackson has apparently taken on the character of some future woman who tells it to load an album called “Discipline.” ......Wait a minute, isn't that the album we're listening to right now? If my calculations are correct, that means the computer will start playing the beginning of the album, which is a track called “I.D. (Interlude).” At the end of that song, the computer will again call “I.D. Interlude.”

Feedback B-

...Oh thank god. I thought I was going to listen to the same 47-second track for infinity. What we got instead is a sort of R&B thing with those terrible electronic vocal embellishments that pop stars seem to like nowadays, because they apparently forgot how to sing. But for some reason, I don't seem to mind it so much. At least the song has a snappy groove that doesn't quite overstay its welcome. Three minutes was just about right. I don't like it if I listen to it more than once, so I'll leave it at that.

Luv B+

The biggest compliment that I think I could give Janet Jackson's songwriting team is they've written something that could probably be produced by a girlie indie band. The vocal embellishments sound sweet and light. Just the right sound. Of course, indie girlie bands probably would think of a little less standard synthesizer and rhythm sounds. But these are still pretty good.

Spinnin' (Interlude)

Now it's OK to start calling these things “interludes.” This is a seven minute sound-byte of Jackson saying something like she's on pot.

Rollercoaster C+

Terrible percussion. I don't know who the heck thought of that droning bongo thing in the background that sounds like it's looping four times every second. I also don't know who was making that poor guy scream “Oh! Oh!” and “Hey! Hey!” all the time like he thought he was at a Russian dance party. It's a shame this production was so underwhelming, because the song itself isn't that bad. The melody is primitive, but it's a sweet one that might have worked.

Bathroom Break (Interlude)

Sound bytes apparently recorded in the bathroom. (No, it's girlie talk... no “twinkly” noises like you were thinking, sicko.) These interludes are annoying. The cheesy sci-fi thing was fine. It was like a Michael Bay movie. But this is just stupid.

Rock With U B

I'm surprised I'm enjoying this. (Hey, I have no taste... what do you expect?) This is a very standard club-dance song ... the exact same thing they've been producing ever since the early '90s. But hey, it has a good beat, and you can dance to it. The production is even well done. Nicely programmed synthesizer sounds. The drum machines are a little plain, but they're not offensive. They even keep it trim, at less than four minutes.

2Nite C+

Hm... The wayward Russian dancer found his way back to the studio. Don't these guys have any security? Well, you don't hear him that much, at least. This song deserves some credit for having a bit of inner-variety. So many of these dance songs contain a mere dance groove and never changes anything about it. But this changes around quite a bit. The problem is, the flow is a bit awkward, and it does very little to actually *interest* me. It's not as intrinsically danceable as “Rock With U,” and the melody is worthless as far as I'm concerned.

Can't B Good D+

Ugh... Here's a very standard ballad. An electric piano from the '70s plays in the background over some intrusive, percussive loops. Yeah, the instrumentation is terrible. The mediocre melody does very little to salvage the experience. It's too repetitive, and wasn't too good to begin with.

4 Words (Interlude)

Janet Jackson on pot again. She's not very much fun.

Never Letchu Go D+

I wonder what a “Letchu” is. Could that be the planet the Jackson family came from? Maybe the planet continues to follow them around demanding their return, but they refuse. In that case, the song title needs to be rewritten as: “Never! Letchu, Go!” ....... I'm a dreamer. That's not what this song is at all. It's the exact same thing as “Can't B Good” except slightly more annoying. Yeah, that was possible.

Truth or Dare (Interlude)

These interludes are just nutty. Here's a Truth or Dare sequence, which results in the question, “Describe the greatest ex you've ever had.” I'm sure Jackson's two former husbands are killing themselves over who she's going to pick...

Greatest X B-

Oh, I'm sorry. I misheard that. It's “X” not “ex.” Well... that still doesn't make sense. (Though it does make more sense than Blondie's “X offender.” I'm pretty sure a letter of the alphabet can't be offended. It's a letter.) It's just a letter in the alphabet. It'll be the same no matter how you approach it. Maybe she was writing this song for little kids watching Sesame Street since members of this family like little kids so much. ........ Joking aside, it's probably best to approach this song for its unintentional humor considering this is just a standard pop ballad. But the melody isn't bad. And the unintentional humor is too great to resist. (I mean --- I really *can* picture something like this on Sesame Street. It's cracking me up!!!)

Good Morning Janet (Interlude)

The talking computer is back. Apparently, it can also function as a psychologist.

So Much Betta F

Whattttttttttt.................................................... the crud... This could be another joke-song considering the title they came up with it. But... no, they weren't joking. They were absolutely serious when they decided to replace all the oxygen in a recording studio with helium and have some guy start rapping. Fortunately, you can't survive too long only breathing oxygen, and the rapper choked to death thus limiting the song's length to under three minutes.

Play Selection (Interlude)

Wait a second... Here's the talking computer again. It's now scanning for songs. If the computer selected to play the album Discipline, then why would it scan for new songs in the middle of it? There's no plot development in this thing whatsoever.

The 1 C-

OK. I'm taking a transcript of the first two lines of the lyrics. “Tell me how long is it, boo/seven inches, yo doe doe doo.” This song must be about the last licorice stick from a bag of Twizzlers. I've always wanted to write a song about that. Though I wouldn't have made it so repetitive with so much awful rapping in it. Perhaps more imaginative percussion would be in order. And a theremin.

What's Ur Name? C-

If you're talking about the Iraq city, I think you got it. That's a funny way to form a question to inquire about a city's name... Well, I don't know *what* happened to this album. I distinctly remember it starting out as marginally enjoyable dance stuff. But here's another boring faux-R&B ditty the likes of which should have been shot in the pants in the '80s.

The Meaning (Interlude) C

It's almost a regular song... A minute long with a quiet groove and Jackson whispering something. Who writes this stuff?

Discipline F

There's a funny habit of title songs to either be the best of the album or the worst. This is clearly the latter. If you know someone who needs discipline tonight, then have them listen to this. It's an absolutely swollen affair that was dead in the water in its first 10 seconds, and it keeps going in that mode for the whole five minutes. Torture!!!!! The sparse beat sounds is a complete nightmare. If all of that wasn't bad enough, Jackson ends it with a bunch of sex noises. SEX NOISES!!!! On an album targeted to the Sesame Street audience? What sort of creepy things is she up to?

Back (Interlude)

...hey, the talking computer is back for one last time. All along, apparently, Janet Jackson was in another world, and now it's returning her to the real world. Uh oh.

Curtains D

Still one last song to go. It's a ballad. And it's as underwhelming as the other ballads. Boy, these guys really dropped the ball. The album started out so well.............. But now I'm bored out of my mind. I would be better off staring at the ceiling pretending that paint chips are falling off. (I've actually done that once...... it's very fun.)


Jil is Lucky: Jil is Lucky (2009)

Read the full review:
Jil is Lucky

Winter is Over B+

Right away he sounds like he listens to Sufjan Stevens, although he certainly doesn't blatantly copy his style. This has a homemade feeling to it, and it sounds as though it were carefully and deliberately constructed so that not a whole lot of post production had to be done on it. The beginning of this song is quiet and the guitars strum about casually and quietly. Soon, it turns into a rather heavy rockin' part with huge, swinging horns and good times. Not a terribly memorable or substantial song. I think it's possible he could have come up with a more memorable opening track. However, I'm nitpicking.

J.E.S.U.S Said A

This is certainly a mean-spirited take on religion, but the lyrics notwithstanding, this upbeat take on '60s surf-pop music is incredibly fun. I still get the Sufjan Stevens vibe from this, particularly due to the heavy use of a horn riff. However, Stevens never got this upbeat, did he? Particularly that really, really crazy guitar solo in the middle, which really sticks out in a good way. The tune is catchy, and I got this thing stuck in my head all afternoon. It devolves into an a cappella and clapping part at the end, which further intensifies its bold and homemade feeling.

When I Am Alone B+

Really good songwriting. I wouldn't normally specify that, but a band promoter asked me to review this, and it's sort of rare these things turn out to be really good. The tune is nice and breezy, the chord progressions are advanced, and there are hints of Spain in its instrumentation, which gives it personality. (There are two horns playing extended notes throughout, and the drum beat is supplied by some bongo drums, and that strumming acoustic guitar could be Spanish for all I know!)

Judah Loew's Mistake A

He's definitely pulling things out of a huge bag of influences! (And yet, all of these songs so far had horns sewn throughout them? Could this be the thread that holds this album together?) You might have guessed from the title already that he's taking from Jewish influences here. I have to say I like the variety, and also the fact that he seems to be able to pull together so many nice tunes. Particularly this one, which like “J.E.S.U.S Said” gets caught in my head. The noodly violin in the background was brilliant played, and extra kudos for those folksy back-up singers that pop in occasionally, which makes this seem even brighter. This is a really cool song!

Sidi Bel Abbes

This song is 40 seconds worth of mayhem! But at least it's mayhem with a rapid drum beat and a rhythm guitar that's playing an Eastern-sounding groove. The trumpets in the background are fluttering and playing far more atonal notes.

I May Be Late B+

This is more of a rock 'n' roll type song with a steady drum beat and a riff delivered by a rather heavy electric guitar. It's rather slowly paced, and so I have more of a difficult time finding myself caught up in this than some of these other songs. However, as it goes along, the pace starts to gradually get quicker, eventually culminating into a crazy and dissonant electric guitar solo. I'm not a huge fan of this song, frankly, but surely the style of it certainly sets it apart from the other songs, and it does catch my ear on more than one occasion.

The Wanderer A

This is yet another song with a homemade feel to it that really manages to hit my sweet spot. He seems to be channeling the Middle East with those opening violin notes. (Alternately, you can probably say he's channeling They Might Be Giant's “Constantinople.”) After that, an acoustic guitar plays a quiet, folksy groove. It's a nice, pleasant and catchy melody that's instantly likable. He could have done the entire song in that manner, however the band continues to lay on more instruments as it goes along, and so this song always seems fresh.

Without You B+

This acoustic folk song doesn't quite jump out at me and force me to pay attention, but the tune is actually quite good, and the dark violin that comes in during the bridge was a very nice touch.

Paolo Majora Canamus

This is another brief instrumental interlude song that I have trouble trying to categorize. A rather wonky trumpet groove fades in along with a very slow drum beat. The atmosphere is quite thick, and that makes enough of an impression on you, but I have a feeling this song isn't one that was meant to be very closely listened to.

Don't Work A-

That interlude does fade in quite nicely with this very sweet folk-pop tune with a catchy melody. I noticed that the constant trumpet seems to have been replaced with a violin. It's still a sweet instrument, which makes this slowly paced song quite lovely.

Supernovas A-

So, he's been bringing out the violins in his songs lately, and now he's taken to straight-up classical music. This is almost a straight string quartet, as he's singing over no other instrument but string instruments! His vocal performance sounds quite torn, and the melody is pretty memorable.

Hovering Machine B

This is an 11-minute long heavy-rock song. Considering I usually get bored with these, this is quite good. The mid-tempo groove or pace remains consistent for about six minutes, and the only thing that keeps it together are those tortured electric guitar solos. There's some silence and then they break into a heavy electric guitar jam. Other than the fact this is pretty good, it's still a bit too long for me, and it's extremely cold. I don't know what happened to the warmth at the beginning of this album!


Kayo Dot: Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue (2006)

Read the full review:
Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue

Gemini on the Tripod A

This is a perfect sort of freak-out song for all of you strange people who are into that sort of thing. The first time I listened to this, I was a bit surprised at how entertainingly freaky it was. This sort of song usually bores me (and it didn't help that the running length was more than 10 minutes long), but I'm fairly well engaged throughout. The first parts of it contain a menacingly strummy guitar with Mellotron like instruments playing a vaguely dissonant chord progression. Soon, it gets more violent with loud drums and screechy violins. Somewhere in the middle, we start to hear someone sing like a Buddhist chanting, except it's completely freaked-out. Like he's under some sort of traumatizing spell. The end of the song is more fast paced craziness with some fast paced, washed out guitar playing some dissonant notes together. ...I suppose this means that tripped out psychedelic music is alive and well.

Immortelle and Paper Caravelle B

The first two times I listened to this album it was when I was walking with my iPod, which worked great for the first song, but that's probably not the best way to listen to the rest of this album that is much more spaced-out than freaky. The opening section of this 10-minute song develops a rather ominous atmosphere and rattly drums, which is somewhat interesting, but not completely absorbing. The middle of the track contains a rather slow pop song with a Burt Bacharach style trumpet (!). The end is very quiet, very ambient piddly guitar music and screeching violins. ...Give them credit for being strange, but I don't see the great appeal to this. The ambient stuff doesn't really capture me, and I didn't even particularly care for the pop song.

Aura on an Asylum Wall A-

I definitely like the way this opens with some freaked out singing and some dark, evil sounding guitars that occasionally seem to strike a funny chord and fade into oblivion. Partway into this, we hear a jazzy trumpet solo, which sounds really good as far as I am able to judge trumpet solos. Midway through it resembles more Mahavishnu Orchestra style fusion than psychedelia, but that's OK. I like fusion! Mahavishnu Orchestra's best stuff spoiled almost every other band for me, but these guys come up with interesting themes, and I enjoy listening to it. Then it gets almost thrashy, metal at the end with rapid paced guitars and drums. Can't say these lengthy songs don't evolve, can you? Definitely interesting stuff here, and I'm enjoying most of it. Not nearly as crazy as the opening song, but it's entertaining.

___ On Lipid Form B+

I really like the way this opens, sounding something like a heavy Black Sabbath song except more slowly paced and really alien chord progressions. It sounds a bit evil, but the presence of the rather friendly sounding violin and trumpet invites you to join with it. It gradually evolves into a more sparse state at around the five minute mark, and I will admit I find that to be a little bit grating although I suppose those numerous subdued drum fills amidst those power chords are impressive on a technical standpoint. (And no they're not really traditional drum solos... They're actually there to help provide that sparse, cold atmosphere!) These power chords and drums go on for basically the remaining 12 minutes of the song, but it gets more violent, distorted and cold thanks to whooshy noises and feedback sounds. At the end, I start to hear these mechanical rhythms and outer space noises, which gives me visions of some sort of space ship (there goes my overactive sci-fi brain again) ...Clearly, this isn't for everyone, and maybe not even for me, but at least it engages my brain. Unfortunately a little more my brain than my heart, since I'm not completely enjoying it for its entire 18 minute length. But definitely interesting.

Amaranth the Peddler B+

I can't stress it enough that Kayo Dot is only for an exclusive audience that I'm not even going to pretend to be apart of. I can definitely see tons of value in their cold, sparse and mostly instrumental works, but I'm the sort of listener who likes a lot of flash, glamor, and melodies. This subdued coldness is instrumented interestingly with rumbly bass sounds... Some spaced-out, paranoid singing starts up halfway though with some really spaced out rumbly string sounds... It starts to take off a bit when some woodwinds join in the fun, but the excitement dies and they return with the sparseness. The sparseness literally consists of cold wind sound effects and calmly strummed guitars to produce an ambient effect. A series of high-pitched whistle noises that sounds like air being let out of a balloons starts to whiz in providing a little bit of alien chaos to the calmness. And with that, the song and the album is over.


KK: Telescopes (2008)

Read the full review:
Telescopes

Dewdrop B+

This is a one-minute instrumental (although there is some vocalizations ... though they were seemingly altered by a computer). A mid-range twinkly piano plays some scales while some synthesizer orchestrations pick up dramatically. It was designed to give us that outer space feel, which I think it did rather well. It makes an impression despite the short running length.

Dust B+

Listen to that technology! This guy really knows how to work those computers! This is a sort of spaced-out extravaganza with so many instrumental ideas packed into such a small amount of space that it's almost jarring. I don't dare count how many different sorts of instruments that can be heard throughout this... it's like counting dust, I guess. Amazingly, these instrumental sections come in and out almost at random, and it doesn't sound so incredibly awkward. You're walking a dangerous line when you want to clutter up your songs with music, because usually it just sounds cluttered. But this is pretty fun to listen to. However, if you strip away all this technology, that vocal melody is merely so-so, and the harmonies are pretty bleak.

Sol 3 B

This is a one-minute song that consists of some creepy background music with someone reading a silly sci-fi dialogue.

Magic Spell A

This is definitely worth listening to! It's a lot like “Dust” except the ideas are even more extravagant, and the technology is about as dazzling as it gets. What's more, the harmonies pass the test this time with flying colors. When the song first plays, we're treated to an intoxicating, sort of atonal groove... and what ensues can only be described as “some really weird stuff.” It's fun to listen to, also. Once again, there's so many instruments and ideas that it's impossible to count them...

Andromeda B

I guess this would be a space military march, or something. Once again, this really sounds great. It's not quite as busy as “Dust” or “Magic Spell” (and therefore, I guess, not as dizzying). But it's still quite impressive in the technological front. We have a typical militaristic drum beat, and slow build-ups of different instruments. Notably, some Medieval-sounding vocals. This is fairly typical for something in any movie soundtrack, except I really like that wildly bending operatic soprano and I suppose that cool, sci-fi bass-line. I'm not sure why this had to be just a two-chord song, though.

Infinity B-

There's more of a Bollywood flavor to this one. I like the change-of-pace I guess, but I'm a little less impressed with the technology for some reason. Maybe this time, it actually starts to seem less like a song and more like a conglomeration of loosely tied together sound-effects. And again, I only hear two chords...

Codebreaker C+

Another song that takes me to Bollywood! I do like Indian-flavored music as long as it isn't actually Indian music. There's little nicer than Western music splashed with a bit of curry! Once again, this is mainly a two-chord song (with a few one-chord deviations), and they're not very good chords to be honest. The instruments are fun to listen to, certainly. Once again, they're layered thick and not entirely overdone.

Ancestor Simulation B

Well, at least this ain't a two-chord song again, though it is fairly drab. It's not really a song, but an instrumental suite. It's not incredibly expressive or memorable, but the wildly creative instrumentation and development keeps it from growing too dull. There's really sort of a cool Asian flavor to this. (Not real Asian music, mind you, just the sort of Asian music Hollywood would put in their movies.) The middle third is particularly exciting.

Paradise Found B+

Hey, this is almost a normal song. And he's even pretty good when he decides to go down this route. Maybe a tad on the dull side, but it has the charming tendency to get better the more you listen to it. This is mostly a piano pop tune with a few guitars and light synthesizers added to the mix. The sound effects are brought to a surprising minimum! The melody isn't so much hooky, but earthly. Nicely done!

Pale Blue Dot B-

The beginning is really mystical, thanks in part to a simple but effective harmonies, which raises the alien feeling of it. The sound effects, of course, are the whole point of the song. Those radio voices at the beginning were really cool, coupled with the atmospheric instrumentation. A sort of dreary vocal melody comes in, which is appropriate for the dreamy atmosphere. The problem sort of comes in with the running length. Those four chords were cool at the beginning, but they really run out of steam by the end.

Crunch B+

This is another one of those weird spacey songs that consists of cheesy spoken dialogue and funny synthesizers. It's a little more “out-there” than “Sol 3,” not to mention longer. Bringing in those synthesized choir in the middle was great. This is the sort of thing you'd probably get at a planetarium show. (The final third is a dead-ringer for that.)

Voyager C

Just a three-minute instrumental. Not a particularly impressive track as far as technology is concerned (it sounds nice, but it's not the incredible, lavish display from the other tracks), and again this is a two-chord song. Chord progressions are your friend!


Lindsay Lohan: Speak (2004)

Read the full review:
Speak

First B-

An appropriate name for an album opener on a debut album if there ever was one. Shockingly enough, the first song on Lindsay Lohan's teen-beat debut isn't half-bad. (Yes, I have no taste. I realized this long ago.) It's a bouncy pop song with hard-edged electric guitar tones. Lohan does what she can to sound like a tough girl like Joan Jett. Of course, she doesn't come close, but at least she was trying. (I'm ignoring the bratty lyrics ........... you might not be as well-disciplined as I. Just a warning.)

Nobody Till You A-

Shockingly good. Anyone sick of the generic teen-beat sound will undoubtedly be immediately off-put by it. But let's examine some of its merits. For one: I like the melody. It's snappy; it's catchy. It has enough staying power to be worth a couple listens. The arrangements are too generic for most of our tastes, but they were at least smart enough to change the textures every once in awhile and the transitions were well-executed. Easily the weakest link here is Lohan herself, who sounds empty and soulless. The song required a singer who could sing loudly with more confidence.

Symptoms of You D+

Starts out as a dull piano ballad, put these manufactured guitar power-chords come in. The textures change a little bit, but they're much clunkier than “Nobody Till You” and the melody is boring as hell. Those cutesy squeaks Lohan gives us at the end of a few of these lines are becoming old, fast. This is awkward, tuneless and has no redeeming qualities.

Speak A

Maybe I should throw out the window the notions that if I find that I'm liking one of these songs that I have bad taste. As I've said a number of times: I don't control what I'm entertained by! This is a very slick dance-pop song with a melody that works. The rhythm is danceable and has some real drive to it. It has a dark sense of urgency that manages to keep my ears engaged. The arrangements aren't anything innovative, but there's some detailed synthesizer textures that we can hear in the background to keep the atmosphere thick. Lastly, I'd imagine that Lohan's vocals were doctored a little bit ... but they don't sound awful.

Over C+

Mediocre, but it actually puts forth a respectable show. The melody is bland, but the upbeat instrumentation has real body to it. They don't just write a single groove and expect us to be satisfied with hearing it over and over again. This is an actual song! Albeit one that's bland and never takes off... but I appreciate the effort, anyway. Lohan's vocals are good here. They sound confident, which gives the experience a boost.

Something I Never Had D+

...A sober experience since you turned 18? Cheap shot. I'm sorry. You know, this album is really scattershot although I can't immediately tell you what so distinctly offends me about this song over the others. Much of it has to do with Lohan's vocals, which are employing those cutesy squeaks, but there's something about the melody and harmonies I don't like. It gets a few Brownie points for the added, more orchestral instrumentation toward the end (even though the transition to the coda was horrendously awkward).

Anything But Me C-

This is almost an adequate song, although Lohan's vocals are still trying too hard to be “sexy” and “flashy.” A few moments sound like it could have just taken off if it wanted to, but a number of ill-advised instrumental turns kept it from doing that. The harmonies are generally well-conceived, though, and that's definitely worth something. The sound-effects ridden groove in the introduction was a nice gesture, but I suppose those sorts of things should be left to people who know what they're doing.

Disconnected D-

Yucky. I WISH SHE WOULD STOP MAKING THOSE SQUEAKY SOUNDS! ... The melody is awful, anyway, and it's the sort of thing that tries to suck my will-to-live out of my soul. But it's those incessant squeaks that makes this so hard to sit through.

To Know Your Name D+

You only wish you knew my name! This one starts out with some simple, Kraftwerk-esque synthesizer noises, and a pounding and monotonous drum machine comes in as Lohan delivers a worth-nothing melody. Give some points for the involved Commodore 64 video game noises in the instrumentation.

Very Last Moment in Time C-

Holy crap, am I about to die? ... Oh, man, it'd be so embarrassing to have my corpse discovered with a Lindsay Lohan album! .......Well, it's a shame to have to die while listening to a song that belongs in Purgatory. It's a not-bad-not-good pop song without anything memorable about it. Lohan's squeaks are still here, but not as prevalent as the previous few songs.

Magnet D+

Another Kraftwerk-esque instrumental introduction ... but other than that, this isn't too distinguished. The groove and melody is interesting for a few seconds, but it loses its spark so quickly. Any song that would have a dance-pop base, but suddenly insert a slower piano-ballad is a sign that they only spent half an afternoon writing it.

Rumors F

A hip-hop conclusion, and it's not very good. This is about 20 seconds worth of ideas expanded to a three-minute song. I've heard worse, but this does get old quickly. The pounding bass-groove is mixed too loudly, and there are some annoying and unnatural breaks all throughout. This is the same sort of electro-garbage that Madonna tried pulling off on American Life. They must've not gotten the memo that that album sucked yet!


Jennifer Lopez: On the 6 (1999)

Read the full review:
On the 6

If You Had My Love B

It begins with some quiet, light acoustic guitars with a light Latin flavor, and then a string synth comes in. A mid-tempo electro beat comes in as Lo-J starts to sing a marginally catchy vocal melody. They don't bother trying to develop the song at all... It's heavily monotonous, and there's zero emotion and creativity in the songwriting. Very run-of-the-mill stuff! That's no real surprise. But I won't argue that I find this pleasant. Jennifer Lopez gives an adequate vocal performance. It wouldn't be any different if any other person sang it.

Should've Never D-

Go on Wikipedia and read how many people they have credited to writing each song. Corporate-pop songwriting some sort of assembly-line process! Surely no one was emotionally invested in this process....... But I won't go off on that tangent. This is a very quiet ballad with a bland “atmosphere” and snaps in the percussion. The only thing that's missing is Kenny G giving a barf-ridden sax solo. Lopez whispers Spanish in a “sexy” voice in the last two minutes of it. That was some stupid excuse to extend this past six minutes. What a waste of life!

Too Late B-

It starts out well with a somewhat detached groove featuring violin synths and a few tango-esque dark notes on a piano that are accompanied well by a drum rhythm. If they went to all that trouble, why on earth did they have to bring in a strictly run-of-the-mill vocal melody? Those back-up vocals sound like deranged hip-hop robots, and are threatening to steal my soul. But Lopez sounds OK.

Feelin' So Good C-

I guess if your pop album doesn't have a hip-hop song on it, then you're not going to appeal enough to the masses! These drums are mixed too loudly, and I can't hear Lopez's vocal melody, which sounds more interesting than normal. If I wanted to more fully hear what she's singing, I'd have to turn up the volume, but these rhythms are piercing my eardrums as it is. Really a shame, because I can sense something in this. They must not have been paying their sound mixers enough money! ... And the mixing ineptitude isn't the only reason for the lowish score... Just because it's hip-hop doesn't mean they should only write one rhythm-pattern, let it run constantly for five-and-a-half-minutes and call it a night.

Let's Get Loud B-

1999 was the year of the Latin crossover, and I was wondering when we'd start really hearing more of that. This is also the first real dance song ... for some reason I thought there would be more. Does this inspire me to get up off my bottom and boogie? .... I have a boogie hanging out of my nose, and I should get up and get a Kleenex sometime, but that's different. As far as these types of songs go, this isn't bad. It has a good beat you can dance to, and the producers were smart enough to keep the instrumentation to organic sounding rhythms and realish horns. Lopez's vocals are completely undoctored ... Indeed, this is practically a dance song back in the old disco tradition except with a Latin flavor! But ooooooh it is so sterile!

Could This Be Love B+

Now this is surprisingly good for an ultra-manufactured pop ballad. The instrumentation isn't anything new ... we have a Spanish guitar piddling around, typically watery backing synthesizers and an utterly boring rhythm. BUT, the melody is actually likable! Lopez continues to be a non-fascinating singer, but her delivery is so unpretentious that it's impossible to hate it. I'll give The Man this one. But don't expect any more favors.

No Me Ames [Tropical Remix] C

Here's a little duet with Marc Anthony. ... Oh yes, Marc Anthony. I know him well. I lent him my ears once, but he never returned them. These two would get married in a few years, and I suppose some listeners might think this pre-emptive duetting is so sweet. I think Anthony was blessed with the better voice of the couple... That guy with his clean, soaring vocals can do that corny romantic character like nobody's business! Unfortunately, this is a cookie-cutter romantic ballad, and this rendition of the formula is stale. No surprises. Nothing.

Waiting For Tonight C-

The dance pop of the Madonna variety... I do detest this sort of music, but I guess this is easier to take between cookie cutter ballads than it is to hear this stuff back-to-back like on a typical '90s Madonna creation. ...And it's not that bad, to be frank. It fails as a dance song because it doesn't actually inspire me to get up and dance. (Who knows what that groaning thing she's doing in the middle of this was about? No, they're not sex noises ... sounds more like she woke up with a hangover.) But I can sit through it nodding my head a little bit. The melody is adequate enough that it doesn't want to suck the life out of me.

Open Off My Love D-

More of that Latin cross over stuff. I don't know who told her to sing as if someone was pulling out your fingernails, but that was a poor idea! There was something in that horn and piano led Latin groove, but that turned sour after the first twenty seconds... and they just keep on repeating it. That's ten seconds worth of music extended past four minutes. What do they have against music?

Promise Me You'll Try D

More effective than a sleeping pill to put you to sleep ................. sorry, nodded off for a second there. I had to pull a Mr. Bean and keep my eyes open with toothpicks. The good news is I can truthfully report that this is better than “Open Off My Love” whose track-title is becoming more confusing as I think about it. The melody is worthless, and we have Lopez doing her best to sing like Whitney Houston. But the poor scantily clad female just doesn't have the chops.

It's Not That Serious C-

They're bringing in a salsa flavor for this one except there's a weird, scattershot quality to it. Like half of the band fell asleep during it. The piano is strange ... something that might have sounded appealing if they would have experimented a little bit with it in the studio! I mean... put in some good synthesizer textures or sound-effects. One thing that had to go were those awful Backstreet-Boys-esque back-up singers who aren't adding anything. And whoever wrote this song doesn't know the first thing about harmony. No surprise, though.

Talk About Us D

Even though this is a miserably degrading adult-contemporary ballad that shouldn't exist, it's not so horrible. Again, the instrumentation is formula-city and I hate all the back-up singers. This melody has been written and performed 1,000,000 times already, but that's OK. This time-tested formula hasn't made our brains explode ala Mars Attacks yet, but we wish it would so that we would be put out of our misery.

No Me Ames [Ballad Version] C

Didn't we already hear that song? ... And wasn't the original a ballad also? Yeah, the back-up instrumentals were different, but it's the same freaking song. Geez... couldn't they just poop another song out of their cookie cutter instead of recycling the same one? ... Why do I ask such rhetorical questions? Is anybody even reading this?

Una Noche Mas C+

Hey, this isn't bad! Another Madonna-esque techno song, but melody is good enough that it has a few hooks in it. The bouncy beat is fun....... for the first thirty seconds. But then it becomes clear that they're not going to bother changing the beat or melody, or anything. And there's another part that sounds like Lopez was groaning after she woke up. Couldn't they come up with a synthesizer solo or something? You guys are really going to have to come up with something better than coming up with 15 seconds worth of ideas and extending that for a whole four-minute song.

BONUS TRACKS:

Baila (from “Music From the Heart”) C

Isn't it ironic that a movie called Music From the Heart would have a song like this in it? A stale, miserable dance song... The only people who would be enticed to dance with this are zombies who care that the song a cold and distant song without any infectiousness. The back-up singers in the chorus are awful, and Lopez's vocal performance sound remarkably amateurish. ...The one redeeming quality of this, which made me raise this rating considerably, are those instrumental discourses at the end... For some reason, I thought it was going to fade in and fade out without changing anything. The song still sucks though.

Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To) A-

FINALLY, HARMONIES!!! This was exactly what I was talking about... This is beautiful! I'm probably inflating this song rating just because I want to POINT OUT WHAT GOOD HARMONIES IN POP MUSIC ARE SUPPOSED TO SOUND LIKE. If more respectable musicians put this out, I would criticize the instrumentation, which sounds fake and plastic. I don't know how this awful, museum-boring, nightmarishly brain-dead instrumentation standards have become the norm. But I don't care! Hear the harmonies! ... And the melody is beautiful too! ... And then I looked up the origin of the song, and it's actually a Diana Ross cover from 1975 written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin. Take a look, my fellows, at what real musicians do ... and don't screw it up with these godawful instrumentals.


Man Man: Rabbit Habits (2008)

Read the full review:
Rabbit Habits

Mister Jung Stuffed A

If you don't immediately think that this is one of the most delightful weird songs, then there's something broken. A lot of bands strive to being *weird*, but not all of them strive to be accessible at the same time. Catch a whiff of how the song starts; those steady, poppy drums and the falsetto, faux-Christmas “la-la-la's” never fails to squeeze a smile on my face. Soon, some growling, comical vocals pop up, and they do a rather primitive albeit very catchy melody. The energy-level of this song is high, and the entertainment level is higher.

Hurly / Burly A-

Perhaps not as unabashedly enjoyable as the previous song, but this one has it's special charm. It's based on a droning and steady groove based on a quickly played electro-bass groove, a typical drum beat and a 'honking' noise. Naturally, this groove evolves throughout the song... sometimes it evolves, sometimes it devolves. The singing style ranges from chanting, aping the funk-singers from the seventies, and the scream-singing of a depressed teenager. Despite the melody not being particularly memorable, there's so much stuff here that it never runs out of steam.

The Ballad of Butter Beans A-

Once again, if these guys prove to be nothing else, they prove to be fun. This is really quite a serious jazz-tune, though, but they give it a fresh perspective. It's that spirited drum with all its jumps and skips, that frantic xylophone that plays throughout, and that call-and-response style singing between that maniacal growl-singer and a pair of girls. The pace is kept punchy, and they don't forget to frequently change things up so that it never grows dull. Wow... it's like these guys know exactly what to do!

Big Trouble A

These guys really like doing old jazz take-offs! I'm not going to complain as long as they can continue making them sound this fresh and exciting. (Even though it's not as intrinsically fun as the previous track.) It starts out with what sounds like a New Orleans death march... a sort of depressed horn-ridden fanfare... After some discombobulated chords, a jazzy horn section pops up. There's a synthesizer instead of a tuba playing “oompahs.” Once again, the lead singing is crazy and a big part of the song's entertainment value; he finds so many animated intonations that it's comparable to John Lydon's work with Public Image Ltd. Easily the weirdest thing about the song is how frequently it seems to nearly fall apart. This elephant groove is interrupted a few times with a series of detached chords. This is almost too good.

Mysteries of the Universe Unraveled

I'm not a slow typer or anything, but it literally took me longer to type the song title than it took for the song to play. It's an eight-second-long track consisting of nothing but fireworks noises.

Doo Right B+

This piano pop song is barely more than a minute and a half, but it's quite good! Even though the only instrument here is a piano (and it is rather boringly played ... it's just rapidly pounding at a very regular pace). Nonetheless, the harmonies are so rich and the melody is so catchy that this wouldn't seem so out of place on Paul McCartney's homemade debut album. (That's a pretty big compliment, you know.)

Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos B

This is yet another one of their take-offs of old jazz! Man, this is pretty fun, too, although it doesn't quite have that insane creativity like the previous ones. This sounds quite a lot like Tom Waits (who I admit I haven't heard a great deal, but enough to know that I could imagine him doing a song like this), a comparison that is further made by that growl-singing style. I'm only giving this a B although it's very close to a B+ thanks to how fun it is.

Harpoon Fever (Queequeeg's Playhouse) A-

I know how useful it is to call a song 'strange' in this album review, but this one's stranger than most of these strange ones. It switches back-and-forth between a simple one-chord, high-pitched tinny piano part with chanting (and a little surf guitar making a cameo), and a more spirited growl-singing bit with heavier, rock 'n' roll back-up instruments. This contrast is really fun... every time they switch to the louder part, it always seems delightful to me!

El Azteca B+

These guys just can't give up these loud, fast-paced groovy things with the bizarre instrumentation! I love it!! This one has more of a robo-groove with a few synthesized robotic vocals coming in at very rhythmic moments. I have no idea why they would title such a song “El Azteca.” Perhaps that's one of the more head-scratching mysteries of this!

Rabbit Habits B-

What are these “rabbit habits,” exactly? And why is did they make their most monotonous song the title track? ...All quite a mystery. There's not much to this song other than a pounding piano playing the same interval for almost three minutes and a clarinet playing at a low register while funny lyrics come in that guttural voice. It's not really a bad song—the melody has its nice qualities—but it's not great either.

Top Drawer B

It's possible that they're getting less sparkled at the end, which could explain why I'm suddenly not that enthusiastic about the group. Or this song is just a tad common, which is what's getting to me. (Well, it's not a 'common' song ... but it's a step in that direction compared to the others.) The beginning of it sounds like a rhythmic Tom Waits-ish song, which I suppose they've already done, and I'm not wholly thrilled about it since they've been doing that quite a bit. The crazy interlude in the middle with the busy, layered horns isn't incredibly appealing to me either. (Oh look at me nitpick endlessly about a song I'm giving a B to. Well, that's a good sign there's not much that's *actually* wrong with the album!)

Poor Jackie A-

They saved the two epic-length tracks for the end, I suppose because they didn't want to weed out listeners with the short attention spans right away! Anyway, I'll admit that I sometimes like to review lengthy tracks, because it typically means I don't have to write as much as I would if it was three shorter songs, and its lengthiness gives me an immediate thing to complain about! ... Well, “Poor Jackie” might lag a bit in placed (especially toward the end), but the lengthiness happens to be one of the better attributes of it. It's even somewhat repetitive, but that's also one of its better attributes. Getting into this piece, which at times resembles an old European folk song and other times resembles a poppy jazz song, is quite easy... and that great push in the final third to that wild, dissonant hodgepodge is quite a thing! I suppose, in the end, all this song really needed was a catchier melody... But this is still pretty catchy, and it's very fun to hear.

Whalebones B+

This one probably didn't need to be so long... but after what I said in the previous track review, I'm a little embarrassed to say that! This is a seven-minute long tune that's laid back and never-changing. But the groove is so nice that I still can't help but to like it. A banjo, really awesome clarinet, twinkly acoustic guitar, and a steady wooden drum beat keep the whole thing going. The vocals are nice and soothing... a stark contrast to how bananas they were sounding earlier in the album. There's not much else to say about it!


Man-Made Noise: Man-Made Noise (2008)

Read the full review:
Man-Made Noise

Intro

Forty seconds of organ music! And there's this squeaky, distorted sound zipping around over it! Um. Thanks. Kinda depressing! For about one second I think it's about to start playing “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” Just thought you'd like to know that.

Guinea Pigging B

I used to have a guinea pig. I miss my guinea pig... hmmmm............. Where was I? ... Oh, yes, this album that I'm streaming on an Internet site somewhere... Well, it's nice that I get to hear this guy's voice, and it's a pretty nice voice! It's not a great voice or anything, but it's not annoying and it hits all the correct notes unlike so many of these unknown indie albums from the '00s. The songwriting is pretty good also, although the main vocal melody is a little bland. Every once in awhile, it stops and we hear all these gurgly noises! Well, that's pretty nice. In its final fourth, he brings in a complicated guitar riff that reminds me a little of David Bowie's “Space Oddity.” Not bad!

A Drawer A-

Do you mean a 'drawer' as in the things that slide out of desks and cabinets, or as in someone who draws pictures? I remember being terribly confused about that in the fourth grade... Man, I was terribly confused about a lot of things back then. ........Geez, I'm having a hard time focusing, evidently! But at least I'm listening to a very good song right now from this British fella who calls himself Man-Made Noise. This is a rather straight-forward pop-ballad with nice jangly guitars, a tinky xylophone and a high-pitched theremin sound to make it weird. The plain organ sound in the background gives the captivating chorus some excellent body. I guess thinking that this song was too normal he brought in a conglomeration of psychedelic noises toward the end... You know, reversed instruments, unintelligible voices, etc. That probably wasn't necessary, but ... I don't care.

Lead Balloon B

A piano ballad with more of that tinky xylophone! I like piano ballads in general, and I like this one well enough. The melody doesn't compare with the likes of Paul McCartney or Elton John or Stevie Wonder or anything. You guys knew I would be comparing these songs to those guys when you asked me to review this, right?? It's all very pleasant, but it's a little flat. A little boring. The vocals are nice, though, giving a good convicted performance.

One Gallon Drum A

When I said I was comparing this album to Paul McCartney, I'll have you know that also includes comparing it to McCartney II. This synth-pop-ish song dances circles around everything on McCartney II! Except maybe “Coming Up.” But this is better than everything else by far! Those bubbly, bongo-ish and pizzicato violin synthesizers zooping all over the place lend this a weird texture. A huge drum sound gives the song added drive, and that gritty vocal performance is pretty freaking awesome, if you ask me. He does that psychedelic thing with the reversed tapes at the end of this song again, but it's undoubtedly awesome this time, showing us a busy, sort of whimsical texture. Yeah!!! GOOD SONG!!!!!!!!

Muddy Water B+

Somehow, this is a little more captivating than the previous acoustic guitar led ballad. I get a sort of dire, cautionary vibe from listening to it. It also helps that it's kept at just over two minutes, which is probably how long that song should have been. ...Not that I don't appreciate the psychedelic stuff, but you've got to stop ending your songs with weird sound effects. The gimmick gets OLD!

Photocopy Machine C

These song titles are a little bit David Byrne-ish! I like the song titles! ...But this music. Hm. It's a song with a lot of herky-jerky guitar licks. It's a different way to approach pop-rock, I guess, but I find it to be jarring, and I don't think the vocal melody is good. It sounds like what those punk kids are doing nowadays except it's not as annoying. He does the funny psychedelic thing again toward the end, but it doesn't quite take over the whole thing. (That evil whisper noise is pretty cool!)

Take a Well Known Chocolate Covered

This is a strange 50-second consisting of an acoustic guitar groove and a lot of vocal overdubs! Quirky!

Einstein Wanabe C+

This is the song about the Japanese guy whose parents thought it would be cool to name their kid “Einstein.” Or not. ...I will say one thing about this song: I like how it starts! That dark, creepy synthesizer playing these long, ominous notes remind me of what Depeche Mode sounded like when they were trying to be depressing. Not bad! But the rest of this song is slightly annoying. It's a rap, though, and it's well known that I don't like raps very much. The instrumentation continues to be dreary and depressing, but ... god, there's only so much of that I can take. And having to listen to a rap at the same time doesn't help. At least I like the busy, industrial-ish percussion.

Elsie Creek B

OK, the depressing rap is over, thank GOD. Now, he's back to these boring though entirely pleasant acoustic folk songs! I wish that old vocal melody was more captivating, but ... it's pretty good. Bringing in that banjo and ultra-fuzzy synthesizer in the middle was a nice addition giving me flashbacks of that one Sufjan Stevens album.

The Sum of Parts C+

This is a little bit like those early Pink Floyd ballads. Rather long-drawn-out, a little weird, and a little boring. Again, I'm throwing the blame mostly at the uninvolved vocal melody. But it gets better at the very end when the guitars start sounding more upbeat. I like those background effects. Those busy, bubbly textures have technology written all over them, and they're pretty cool.

We Had Sand in Our Shoes B-

Well I was hoping for a more spectacular ending! But they're just closing it with another acoustic ballad. I can tell that he's giving it a nice shot with his genuine vocal performance, but the melody! Grrr! It didn't have to be like this, I can tell, because I can hear the song start to get a take-off when those sliding back-up vocals pop in. The twinkly guitars give the song a rather nice texture. ...Um... It's OK.


Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: The Land of Pure Imagination (2006)

Read the full review:
The Land of Pure Imagination

The Land of Pure Imagination A

It's obvious that this guy has an asphyxiation on '60s and '70s concept albums based immediately on this opening number. This has that “let me take you on a journey” vibe that I also get from the beginnings of The Magical Mystery Tour and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and other albums from the era. Of course there's nothing wrong with that, considering those are some of my favorite albums! Manning also shows that he is a strong songwriter, since this song is juicy with hooks and wildly different sections (oscillating enjoyably between a folk ballad and a harder rocking psychedelic rock section). The instrumentation is smart although seems a bit airy for some reason.

Too Late For Us Now A-

This is nothing more or less than a good song. (There's my excuse for not being able to find interesting ways to describe this!) It's a bright and happy pop song with upbeat instrumentation consisting of a bouncy piano and drums and garnished agreeably with sitar-like guitars and synthesizer strings. It's a fun song. The melody is fun although not too infectious.

Wish It Would Rain A

According to Ken from my message board, this song “was originally to be co-written with Brian Wilson for his ill-fated Sweet Insanity album. but all Brian did was improvise over the chorus and then medley it into "Surfer Girl" before leaving to take his medications and never coming back.” (I quoted him instead of paraphrased him, because Ken phrased it so well! Also, I'm lazy.) I can definitely feel the Brian Wilsonness in this that Manning obviously had in mind when he wrote it. The melody and vocal harmonies are as warm as blankets, and this puts a smile on my face. I might have liked to hear Wilson's vocals on this, since even as he's approaching 70, he has a better voice than Manning. But anyway, you can't argue with the warmness and happiness present here.

The Loser B

This doesn't seem like a very significant song... It seems a bit lightweight in a bad way with a somewhat forced chorus and standard drum and guitar patterns. As I've said in the main review, his vocals sound like Al Stewart, so he's not particularly adept at sounding great with rock 'n' roll. But the songwriting is way too strong for me to dismiss this. The hooks, while hardly Beatlesesque, are strong, and I can't ignore that this song has a fairly complicated structure... (you know, it has an intro/verses/chorus/verses/middle-eight/verses/chorus/conclusion type structure... which is pretty good these days...)

Sandman A-

As I was making cursory listens to this album, this was one of the one that was sticking out for some reason. Although when I take closer listens to it, I guess I don't see it as anything more special than the opening songs or especially “Wish it Would Rain.” But I suppose this is one of the more unique songs of the record, and it's a definite take of on '60s baroque-pop. It opens with an a cappella section before delving into a rather haunting melody featuring a harpsichord and somewhat dissonant background strings. It's well-written, catchy, memorable, and (without a doubt) this sort of thing fits in perfectly with Manning's nasally, aristocratic vocals.

Pray For the Many B+

I've mentioned that Manning sounds like Al Stewart, but this is actually more up his alley. It has a definite “light” feel to it, but its dramatic presentation manages to amass some gravity. It sounds a little like a church hymn, and that's not because of the title. (So, what I'm saying is effectively, this song is light but heavy. ...Hmmm, maybe I am better off dancing about architecture.) At any rate, this is another enjoyable song, and there's some passionate in that singing, which helps him sell it.

Dragonfly A

If he didn't mean this to be a take-off on James Bond title sequences, then I would be shocked. (He mentions a spy in the lyrics, so I'm pretty sure about this.) It's one of my wildest pipe dreams to direct a James Bond movie, and I just found the perfect song to use. (I would definitely take it back to its stylized '60s roots... Recast James Bond with an Ewan MacGregor type.................. Back on topic.) It's not a perfect song, and in fact I think there's a bit of a chord progression problem in the chorus, but this is an utter delight. The melody is catchy with that spy/mysterious aura. The lightweight instrumentation shows that he didn't have a very big budget, but he did a pretty good job with what he had.

Creeple People B+

This is a guitar heavy glam song, and it's odd how well the previous song bled into this one! As I mentioned earlier, his Al Stewart like voice is one of the main things getting into the way of Manning creating a wholly wonderful song of this caliber. But the songwriting is still good with a well-built complex structure, plenty of hooks, and a toe-tapping beat.

In the Name of Romance A-

This album reminds me in many ways of classic Todd Rundgren. Perhaps Manning doesn't have the wild ideas or creativity of Rundgren (and he definitely doesn't have a lick of his production talent), but his songwriting is similar. Especially here. This is a dramatic, hooky ballad that sounds like it was written by someone who doesn't necessarily expect us to take it seriously. That is, it's fairly straightforward and would appeal to your grandma, but it has a certain tongue-in-cheek quality about it that makes it seem a little smarter than it actually is. It's a nicely written song with well-done drama and I have fun listening to it.

You Were Right A

Wow! He waits until the penultimate track to give us this corker of a ballad. (Yes, I used the word “corker.” I'm running out of words!!) Like everything here, this is well-written, but it's a little more magical than that. The verses section captivates me, and that transitions nicely with the chorus with a distinct “Logical Song” Supertramp feel to it. My only complaint about it is the middle-eight section seems a bit forced. ...While I appreciate that he's advanced enough in pop songwriting to include middle-eight sections, he probably would have been better off just leaving this one off. It's not terrible or anything, but it's just not that interesting...

Appleby A-

Part of this sounds exactly like “Let's Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins. I mean, part of it is so similar that I literally think he's going to break out and start singing it. Surely it wasn't intentional, and I probably wouldn't have picked it out if I didn't watch that movie about 200 times as a kid. Anyway, this is another very pleasant ballad, and probably one of the more interesting ones of the disc. It starts out with a strange out-of-tune recorder solo! It's nothing special, but it's enough out-of-the-norm to give it extra personality. It also ends with a chorus of chipmunk laughs... The bulk of the song is a very sweet jangly ballad.

BONUS TRACKS

What You Know About the Girl A+

This isn't a real bonus track... It's on the British version. As I made cursory listens to these songs prior to writing the review, this was the song that stood out the most. It's a dead ringer for The Association. In fact, it might even out-Association The Association. Everything from the twisty chord progressions to those tight vocal harmonies to the memorable summery melody hits the hallmarks exactly. I would even wager to say this is better than most of the songs on an Associations Greatest Hits compilation... except of course Manning's vocals aren't nearly as good... but we're talking about the songwriting. By and far this is my favorite track associated with this album.

Sleep Children A

Why did they take away all the interesting songs for the American release? Not that this is a great song, but it's a very memorable Disneyesque harp-led ballad with a great melody and a perfect fit for his friendly vocal style. Plus, it's different from all these other songs and it provides a nice contrast with everything else here. I mean, what album couldn't use a Disney-esque harp-led ballad?

'Til We Meet Again A

Another extremely solid ballad. I'm wondering if whoever was in charge of compiling the American release of this album shouldn't be smacked around a bit. Maybe they think we Americans aren't sophisticated enough for all this goodness? This is a very sweet and beautiful piano ballad with one of the album's more solid melodies. He sings it with a fair amount of passion, too, and this style of song fits in pretty well with his light and friendly vocal style, so … really, this could be one of his signature songs. ...In short, I would definitely get the British release of this!


of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007)

Read the full review:
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Suffer for Fashion A

You know... it almost strange how delightful these guys can be. They can sometime be on the brink of being annoying—and I'm sure they cross that line for many listeners—but I usually find them to be a lot of fun. ....This is a fast paced ditty with potent hooks and goofy singing. They seem to be in love with the dinky sound of drum machines that would date to the '70s, and similarly old-school synthesizers... but the whole hyper-active attitude and its unusual chord progressions give it that distinctly 21st Century flair. I quite like this group for that, and this is clearly one of their better songs.

Sink the Seine A-

Now is a pretty good time to mention that this album seems to be structured a lot like the end of Abbey Road since the songs are relatively short and they just kind of come one after another without any gap between them whatsoever... The previous song ended with a huge synthesizer hit that sounds like a fog-horn from which this new song arises. Now, this song has an interesting enough melody to capture my attention... The overall style of it sounds Beatles-esque except there's something out-of-skew about the melody. This is like The Beatles of a parallel universe. This is slowly paced with someone playing light stabs on an electric organ and there's some croaky sound-effects and some twee lah-lah-lahs in the background.

Cato as a Pun A-

Like Cato from The Pink Panther? Whoah.... Anyway, this is another bizarrely Beatles-like tune that has a melody that's hooky, but in a weiiiiiird way. It seems a little bit like a nasally drone, but it's kind of infectious regardless. They're using old-fashioned drum machines again, but in a modern way... Throughout this some very buzzy synthesizers take over the proceedings, giving it kind of a rough feeling, but it lends it a texture that I think works pretty well.

Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse A

Just listen to those chords at the beginning of this... How many pop stars have you ever heard trying to fit a chord sequence like that into a pop song? ...The answer, of course, is none because pop stars play it too safe. Thank goodness these guys aren't pop stars! Anyway, I'm not sure why I like this song so much. Maybe because it reminds me of goofy Japanese-pop songs with that ultra-cutesy, high-pitched synthesizers buzzing around with an intentionally canned drum machine. Also, I find it amusing as hell listening to Kevin Barnes singing about chemicals and the brain, especially as he hits that Come on chemica-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-als! in the chorus.

Gronlandic Edit A

This is a sort of laid back groove that rings—to me—of a warped version of a classic Al Green song. It has a simple but catchy bass-groove and an ultra-clean (but crunchy this time!) drum machine beat. Barnes sings the beginning of it in kind of an ordinary way, but by the time he hits the chorus, he lets it belt out in a remarkable falsetto. He overdubs a bunch of harmonies over this in a pretty remarkable way... If this was supposed to be a showcase for his voice, then I'd say he did it justice. (So what? It can be nasally at times? ...Eh, after a Styx album, that quality of it is small potatoes, believe me.)

A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger A-

Well the transition from the previous song to this one isn't as gracefully done as others in this album. It just sort of suddenly JUMPS, and that makes me jump a bit in my seat when I hear it. But anyway, this is more of that overly cutesy, overdosed-on-cotton-candy songs that I have a difficult time repressing my appreciation for. At the beginning of this, does anyone else hear a Skulltula at the beginning and end of this? ...Well that's a silly sound-effect whether or not he meant to sound so much like a video game. But then again, the song itself is kind of reminiscent of a video game. Very repetitive, the synthesizers are ultra-sparkly and very fast-paced. The atmosphere is quite thick although I think it gets just a tad soggy. It's also undeniable that the hook is catchy, but I start to get tired of it by the time it reaches its end... Why did this have to be five minutes when some of the others didn't even reach half that time?

The Past is a Grotesque Animal A

Do these song titles even mean anything? ...These artists have a way of confusing the best of us. But anyway, if you thought complaining about the previous song's length was bizarre, then it's because you already know that this song is nearly 12 minutes long. But the secret to making this sort of song work is either to make it essentially a bunch of different songs interwoven within one another, or to make it so hypnotizing that you can't break yourself out of its trance no matter how much you try. ...This song is of the latter variety. The groove itself is very simple, but it draws me in. Adding to its trance-like quality is those wobbly and whizzing background synthesizers get busier and more intense as it goes along. I'd probably put this in the same category as Roxy Music's “Bogus Man,” but just a notch lower because of the less interesting vocal melody and less enticing vocal performance. ...Still, a song like this is very difficult to pull off correctly, and these guys did a wonderful job of it. I mean, if I can listen to 12 minutes of this and I'm not ready for it to end, then I'm impressed.

Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider A

Man, these guys can write some of the most strangely appealing pop hooks known to mankind... but these hooks can also be so weird that I'd imagine the standard reaction to it from most people would be to be utterly turned off. But I like it! If I think I might get an urge to whistle a tune, then I think that must mean it's a pretty good one.  The instrumentation is pretty bizarre, as it seems to be for most songs by these guys, although I wonder if they went too far in this case. The beginning is a sort of dreary synth-led techno number that seems to drag a bit, not really adding much color to the proceedings. Otherwise, I still like that they're using those old-fashioned drum machines, and I like that kind of overly bouncy bass in this. The lyrics are also pretty goofy... Well, I find then amusing...

Faberge Falls For Shuggie A-

When it's all said and done, this isn't one of the songs I remember the most from this album, but it's an immensely fun one regardless. They're adopting a little bit of a funky flair for this one, and the bass-riff they come up for it--while not the most infectious riff of all time--does inspire me to tap my foot. There's kind of a smooth, wall-of-sound string-synthesizer that plays a line throughout that sounds like an out-of-skew line from a smooth-soul classic from the '70s. ...And then Barnes sings it in such a high pitched voice it's like he's tripping on helium. Or maybe this sounds like Bizarro Prince? (As if that's not a contradiction.

Labyrinthian Pomp A-

Why do I get the feeling they've been mimicking Prince lately? Wasn't it at the beginning of this that I thought their antics more resembled The Beatles? Oh well... they were both kinda psychedelic at one point, right? As usual, this is a catchy and memorable tune with a good vocal melody. There's some funk guitar here (hence my Prince comparison) and Barnes sings in an impressive falsetto. Some later parts of this slows down considerably, however, and it becomes less enjoyable. Oh well... You can't have everything!

She's a Rejecter B+

Why only the B+ when this album was consistently giving me A- songs? This one doesn't quite sink into me like the others. It doesn't have any less of that weird energy like the others, but there's nothing that relatively pops out at me. The melody and groove are fun, but less inspired. It's a pretty standard groove done with a tight and clean electric guitar and some drums. Nothing too special to report. I do at least like that funny echo effect Barnes puts on his voice toward the end of it.


Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (2002)

Read the full review:
In Absentia

Blackest Eyes A-

It's heavy metal, but not that nu-metal crap that was crapping over the whole '00s decade. It's very much '70s sounding. Have I ever said that I hated heavy metal? ... If I did, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I was probably just frustrated. I like heavy metal when it sounds like this. For a start, this features a very catchy riff. That's always a good thing to shoot for if you're going to write a heavy-metal song, which is something that too few heavy-metal musicians completely realize! Those times when the beat stops and they bring in those minimal guitar passages was an inventive idea that helped give contrast to the song. Putting this one slightly over the top is the overall likable texture. The riffs and drum-line favors an overall bouncy texture, which makes this quite a bit of fun. The singing is good, too. He can put a slight growl to that performance without sounding like he's trying too hard. YES! I LIKE THIS SONG VERY MUCH! It has a sudden ending, but ... actually, that's not so terrible.

Trains A

While I like heavy metal, I'd rather not listen to a whole album filled with it. This is a pretty acoustic ballad with a light, atmospheric synth-scape! Pretty, atmospheric ballads are generally some of my favorite songs to listen to, but that's because I'm nothing but a giant wussy-boy. I'm really sort of amazed at how well this song flows. It's so laid back and constitutes and extremely pleasurable experience if you're going to sit back and soak it up. What's more, they're constantly coming up with new inventive things to do throughout, and this six-minute song never grows dull for one moment. That banjo sound in the middle with that really strange percussion noise that sounds like they're banging tiny rocks together was a funny idea, and rather meditative. They work in a more traditional guitar-heavy chorus, which manages to sound lovely and soaring. My minor complaint about it is the melody doesn't have too many great hooks in it... but that's not even a concern based on how enjoyable this song is to sit through. I want to sit through it again!

Lips of Ashes A+

This is even more meditative than the previous song, bringing in more atmospheric almost Eastern flavors to the back-up instrumentation. Working in those normal acoustic guitar sounds in the foreground keeps the song relatively normal and accessible to us. Their tight vocal layering strongly recalls Crosby, Stills and Nash, and that was a brilliant use of those vocals if you ask me. The melody is compelling although not hooky in the Beatles-sense. The brilliant atmosphere is what gets me. God, even that electric guitar solo in the middle sounds like the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. I only wish Crosby, Stills and Nash sounded this compelling.

The Sound of Muzak A-

!!!! -- ANOTHER excellent song. I almost can't believe what I'm hearing. Unless I'm mistaken, they're using an unusual time signature in the verses, with a regular 4/4 chorus. Once again, they create such pleasant textures that this is pleasant to sit back and listen to. This is very close to an A, and it might actually deserve that score because the chorus is so catchy. But I get the sinking feeling that this sounds a bit too sterile... And the chorus, while excellent, seems to repeat a bit too much by the end. Still, this is very excellent!

Gravity Eyelids A-

I heard a rumor somewhere that Porcupine Tree is a progressive rock band. The previous three songs had pretty strong hints of that, but they go pretty knee-deep into progressive-rock-dom in this eight-minute epic. For starters, that faint Mellotron sound in the background vaguely recalls classic Genesis... The main difference is that these guys aren't so enamored with that sound that they COMPLETELY DROWNED THE WHOLE THING OUT WITH IT! (...Actually I'll admit to liking it when Genesis did that, but that's only because eggheads like me enjoy that sort of thing.) The beginning of it is fairly slow and minimal with a modern-type drum machine beat. The moment I get tired of that, a piano comes up, which changes the texture well enough to keep my attention. Although after that point they repeat some of the same ideas, which I'm not too keen on. Although the heavy metal guitars in the middle are awfully exciting. They're very polished sounding, which I've identified in previous reviews can sound pretty terrible sometimes. But these guys created a nice, clean tone that's nice to listen to.

Wedding Nails B

Well, this is pretty excellent for a modern band trying out progressive rock. This instrumental is split between a section of heavy metal licks and atmospheric soundscapes similar to something Pink Floyd might make. The heavy metal part is pretty good with tight, clean licks and chords going off every which way. It's not terribly exciting, but it makes an entertaining listen. The atmospheric bits are a little bit too plain and boring for such music... it's very spacey and it's glittered with industrial-age sound effects, but somehow it seemed like it needed more.

Prodigal A

These guys really like those Crosby, Stills & Nash style vocal harmonies, which just makes me like these songs more. I mean, those vocals are beautiful, aren't they? Plus, they come up with such a memorable, catchy melody that CSN only wrote a few songs that topped it or matched it. Naturally, these guys have more ability to incorporate more exciting and vibrant instrumental solos than CSN ever did even though they continue to favor clean sounds. (Uh oh... am I saying that Porcupine Tree is better than Crosby, Stills & Nash?) But the clean sounds aren't a bad thing, you know. Perhaps it makes the music sound more sterile than it should have, but I still like what they're playing.

.3 B+

This song starts out with a rather elaborate orchestral opening featuring synth-strings, and a slick bass-line. It sounds like something out of a modern movie score. Not terribly exciting or original, but well composed and nice to hear. The goodness doesn't begin until the song is already half over and these guys bring in those sweet vocal melodies! It's not nearly as captivating as it was on “Prodigal,” but I still like it! The watery guitar they use in there helps create that dreamy texture. The final half ends on the same note as it began except someone plays a pretty cool, sliding, dreamy electric guitar solo.

The Creator Has a Mastertape A

Darker and more acid-metal-ish. The drum-line is complicated and the bass-line sounds dire and nervous... but it's pretty catchy. The vocals are pretty creepy, for a start. I like that echo and other sound effects they use on some of those lines... really strange and makes it more exciting. I don't know why, but that sort of disconnected melody reminds me of The Police in their later era... Maybe the instrumentation also vaguely has that Police-ish vibe. At opportune times, a very rip-roaring electric guitar comes into deliver some extremely exciting lines. The flow of this song is smooth and keeps you on your toes. The creator has a masterpiece indeed!

Heartattack in a Layby A+

A captivating ballad. If these guys can continue to write ballads as solidly, if not more solidly, as their harder rocking songs, then that means this is a great band. I know... I probably like ballads a little too much for my own good, and I'm not very manly for admitting that. But there's nothing like an atmospheric slow song with a beautiful melody and a captivating atmosphere. Their vocal layerings this time mimic The Association, and it makes this atmosphere even more beautiful. The overall mood of the song is downbeat, but it somehow reaches out to the heavens. Just like an old Renaissance choral song I suppose. The backing instrumentals are pretty neat and simply constructed. They favor those old Mellotron sounds, but they're smart enough to not overuse it. The minimal bass plunking along is really neat, too... God, this thing is just beautiful all around...

Strip the Soul B

Yeah, I don't know what this says about me, but I prefer their stargazing ballads compared to these more violent heavy-metal-oriented songs. Although these are still pretty excellent in their own right. The heavy metal licks are well-used, and they're as catchy as those things can usually get! This song is more than seven minutes long, but they continue to do a formidable job keeping the flow going, and making subtle changes to the textures so that it never grows dull. It does stop around the five-and-a-half minute mark, although those evil guitar chords that flare up thereafter are pretty friggin' wicked! (Oh, I don't feel like describing exactly what they do throughout.) Overall, this is nicely done! My one complaint is that it doesn't leave an extreme impression once it's done... This comes off as a bit plain to me.

Collapse the Light Into Earth B+

This is over already? This is a 70-minute album from the '00s and I didn't find writing these track reviews excruciating like I do sometimes. (Although to be fair I had about seven hours of sleep in between “Gravity Eyelids” and “Wedding Nails.” In fact, I've enjoyed this experience very much! They close the album with one of their downbeat but oddly beautiful ballads. It's not quite as glorious as “Heartattack in Layby,” but it's terribly engaging. Again, they use those tight vocal harmonies, but they're not elaborate enough to be compared to CSN or The Association. The song consists mainly of a piano riff that repeats through the running length. This would have been better if they worked in a chorus or something... But anyway, the string section is beautiful, and I'm pretty thoroughly captivated by this nonetheless! Great album!


Qa'a: Chie'n (2009)

Read the full review:
Chie'n

Eastdown Westdown A

This song goes on for eight minutes and I honestly never get tired of it. They find a groove and they just run with it. The beginning of the song is slower paced, and the end is faster paced, and both are fairly straightforward. The first section is a little creepy and sort of captivating, and the last half is characterized by its excited drum beat underneath a current of heavy feedback sounds, echoey effects and freaked out singing. The beginning and end of the song succumb to ambient music, but even these are done pretty well, effectively drawing us in its somewhat spooky atmosphere. I'd say they could have cut this by a few minutes and not lost anything as my attention starts to wander, but all in all they did a very nice job with this.

Speakerbox A-

This is a fifteen minute song that doesn't fundamentally change at all throughout the song. But at least its fundamental basis is a funky groove! Funkiness is almost a requirement if I'm going to enjoy a trance-ish song! Of course they bring in a few embellishments in some attempt to freshen it throughout. I especially like that xylophone texture they come up with at the beginning and similar minded guitar solos at the end... These textures are hardly mind-blowing though and it's awfully easy to just space out after awhile and not really pay attention... But this is a pretty good soundtrack for spacing out.

Time is Key B+

They give a song that title and make it more than 17 minutes long! I suppose time is key when it comes down to it! I will tell you that they do come up with quite a lot of good material for this song. There's a little bit in the middle where it seems to get stuck in a rut, a sort of hard ugly groove that repeats an awful lot. It starts out going at a fairly comfortably numb pace (if I may steal Pink Floyd's phrase) before (to my delight) a tortured and distorted rock 'n' roll jam pops up. It's not too fascinating to me, if I may be honest, but it evolves pretty well in its 17 minutes, and I'm generally entertained by it without spacing out to it that much. (Although to some degree, this was more or less designed to space out to. Needless to say, this album isn't full of three-minute pop songs.)

Peeling Off A-

Am I living some sort of nightmare or are these songs getting longer and longer. This particular one is almost 25 minutes long! This isn't even a song but a full-scale psychedelic collage. They take the more ambient route at the beginning of this one starting in with a subdued guitar that sounds like it's trying to tune into a radio station and these high-pitched whizzing noises that sounds like people are slowly letting air out of balloons. The distorted noises pile up onto each other until it eventually fizzles out a few minutes later into a full-scale tribal drum fest. That fades away into almost nothing but despondent, emotionally neutral atmospheres before packing on some of the creepiest, mechanical sound effects that they could muster. I have to give them credit for creating a 25 psychedelic collage that I don't get bored with. I'm holding onto every second of it and enjoying it all until its final nine minutes, which seems to be full of barely heard industrial sound effects, and some rather incessant jet engine and helicopter sounds. Still this is an accomplishment. I don't usually like psychedelic sound collages especially ones that go on for longer than a Simpsons episode. (Try watching a Simpsons episode with the sound off and this track playing. It'll freaking blow your mind!!)

She Provides A-

Oh god, they ripped the cover off of hell for this one. This 10-minute song is basically a whole lot of distorted guitar. Sometimes it gets bouncy, but mostly it's just making a lot of long-drawn-out, terrible sounding noise. Sometimes I can pretty distinctively hear horrified screams in the background. Brrrr! This track is a little much for most people to handle, and I put myself in that category, but I must say for a song like this that I listen to with such a horrified expression on my face........ it's not bad. I mean, it evolves. Some of it will bust your eardrums, surely, but as far as this sort of noise music goes, this is well-done and even memorable.

Chi'en B+

Geez, I must've spent an eternity listening to this album (after sending me through hell in the previous track perhaps that feeling isn't unjustified), but they let it end with a little bit of sweet music. It's only three and a half minutes long, which goes by like 20 seconds. This is only someone strumming an acoustic guitar. It's not too memorable by itself other than just being a nice coda. Perhaps the acoustic guitar never sounded sweeter to you. ..Anyway, this has been an interesting album to say the least.


Research Turtles: Research Turtles (2009)

Read the full review:
Research Turtles

Let's Get Carried Away A-

Quite a nice little pop song! They up the fuzz guitar, and it has its fair share of hooks. The riff is rather lame, but the vocal melody flows nicely and undergoes a few ear-catching twists here and there. There's not much else to say about this since it's straightforward and doesn't interest my art-rock-loving “brain” a whole lot. But I will say that this is an entertaining guitar-pop song, and I enjoy it.

Damn B

This reminds me of The Knack, which will be good or bad to you depending on how much you like The Knack. At least it has a catchy melody, but there's annoying, Knackish over-enunciation put on the chorus that strikes me as somewhat irritating. It's not bad, though. It's about as good as a non-hit Knack song, I guess. There's a squeaky buzz saw guitar solo in the final third, which is pretty well-done. (I'm thinking they were probably going for Elvis Costello... But I'm sorry this sounds much more like The Knack. Much, much, much more like The Knack.)

Mission B

Now I can't get The Knack out of my head. Could this have been a Knack song, too? This has a riff that reminds me of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” but it quickly moves to a more poppish part with lightweight guitars and a chorus. It's almost cutesy, but Research Turtles keep those guitars and drums rocking hard just enough to keep it relatively edgy. The vocals aren't quite as irritating as the previous song, but the chorus he's singing isn't that interesting. It's not a bad song. Not too inspiring, but entertaining.

Kiss Her Goodbye B-

This seems to be a traditional sort of rock-pop album so far, and it was high time for a power ballad! While this one's pretty nicely performed and has an OK melody, it's not too uplifting. The repetitive chorus has enough steam to keep it from growing boring, it wasn't hooky enough for it to have generated that amazing momentum that great songs of this sort generate. It needs more magic.

Cement Floor B

Yeah... That must be an interesting floor... All cement and no aggregate... A stupid waste of materials... (There's the standard lecture from a civil engineer. The floor is CONCRETE!!!) Anyway, I'm becoming less and less fascinated by their upbeat pop-rock since they all start to sound the same to me. But my toe is tapping, and it has hooks. The lead singer has a very plasticy voice here, which some people seem to like given the popularity of Clay Aiken, but I wish it was grittier.

The Riff Song A

At least they're honest. This is a riff song. And just like any good riff song should be, the riff is repeated over and over again, and it's hooky. They even bring on other riffs throughout the course of the song, which keeps it from growing too dull. The fuzz guitars have a nice tone, and the drums are well played. The lead singer has a good heavy blues melody reminiscent, and he's singing through some sort of filter, which helps his voice sound sandier. Quite good! It sounds like something out of Led Zeppelin II.

Tomorrow B+

OK, now I can't get Led Zeppelin out of my mind, specifically “D'yer Mak'er,” their reggae-pop tune from Houses of Holy. It's quite a decent reggae-pop number; it's pleasant and entertaining. You'll like it if you heard it. I will complain that the melody doesn't seem to be too fulfilling...

Into a Hole B

Back to the standard pop-rock tunes. This one is like a '50s ballad except the fuzz guitar is turned on high. It's not bad! They layer on some tight Beatlesesque vocal harmonies, the hooks are good, and it flows pretty nicely. I'm probably not going to put this on a mixtape or anything, but I find it pleasant. (Blech... the lyrics are awful... I fell into a hole / deep inside my soul / into a hole / she took me by the hand / said time to be a man / I know you can / She was my one true love / She's all I'm thinking of / I need her now / Oo somewhere somehow. I know I'm not much of a lyrics man, but FER CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!)

A Feeling B-

This is one of the longest songs on here, and it probably shouldn't have been. There's a power-chord section to this, which doesn't do a whole lot for me, and the main vocal parts are also not too memorable. There's a tiny bit at the end that twinkles and jangles like Christmas, which is sweet, but that also does little to engage me. As a whole, this song doesn't grow tedious or anything, which is good, but I am very prone to spacing out when I'm listening to this.

925 B+

I want to classify this song as “another fast-pace pop-rock song that sounds a lot like the others,” but this one seems to get some really good momentum going, and it has me tapping my foot harder than I was during some of the others. The vocal melody is OK, but somewhat bland.

Break My Fall B-

It starts off with another nice, heavy riff like “The Riff Song,” but it loses its momentum pretty quickly as they bring in a more folky verses section that loses my interest. The song wanders around in a Led Zeppelin sort of way, and it's fairly well developed, although a few of the heavy metal sections start to irritate me a bit. This is another song that was probably carried on for too long (4:30 minutes). If you hang around for a few minutes after it's through playing, you'll hear some sort of acoustic guitar demo. It sounds nice! ...Maybe it's my general preference towards low-tech folk-rock, but I wish they had stuff sounding like this in the actual album. At the end, you can hear some studio chatter. Yup, they're from Louisiana, alright! They're even talking about mosquitoes.


Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (2006)

Read the full review:
Rather Ripped

Reena A

A decent Velvet-Underground-inspired rocker if there ever was one! Even the female singing lead vocals has those Nico vocals down pretty well. The guitar sound is very nice, very laid-back. ...Well, at least compared to their Daydream Nation days. You can't really blame Sonic Youth for failing to release an endless string of albums like that. It must have been hell to record... It's hell to even listen to. This song has a nice clean guitar sound, and they play a solid riff. It's nice, it's fun. It's not going to change the world, but I like it enough to listen to a few more times!

Incinerate B+

Good. It doesn't have as catchy of a riff as the previous song had going for it, but this is another laid-back rocker with a nice, pleasant pace. The guitars are nice 'n' jangly. They're not doing anything to prevent me from very pleasantly bobbing my head to the merry beat. Yes, indeedy.

Do You Believe in Rapture? C

Sure, why not? What's not to believe in rapture? I also believe this song isn't nearly as pleasant as the previous two. What gives? It starts out with an almost nursery-rhyme guitar twinkling two chords around, and someone sings a rather dull melody. Some muted chaos happens in the background... Grr. I guess this is “creativity,” but it's also rather dreary and not too exciting. The song almost gets good around the two-minute mark when they start to play a Velvet Underground riff, but they don't keep the vibe going.

Sleepin' Around A

See, this is all I ask? If you're going to write the rock 'n' roll music, then don't be afraid to bring out the darker, gruffer riffs and maybe a little bit of distorted fuzzy guitar for good measure? Just as long as you don't go all Neil Young-y on the distortedness, a little bit of squeaky noises can go a long way. (I'm seething with sarcasm right now... I'm very sorry...). The best thing about this song? It has a nice groove that you can bob your head too, and there's a nice sloppy guitar solo for good measure. That's also very important in rock 'n' roll.

What a Waste A-

This is a lot like the other songs on this album except for “Do You Believe in Rapture?” It's a mite bit janglier, and they use a really funny, beeping guitar at some times. But, at its core, it's a Velvet-Underground-like rocker with a nice beat that you can bob your head to. Really, these guys were masters at such songs. The melody is also rather catchy, and they come out with a good riff. I like that whooshing sound they bring in the chorus, and that guitar that sounds like a cross between an electric organ and a cat.

Jams Run Free B+

A little bit on the dreary side of things this time, but at least the drummer is still here to give us a good beat. It could have used a catchier riff or a catchier melody or something. This has more of disparate atmosphere to it, and I have a more difficult time getting into it. The sound effects are kind of neat, though, particularly those dank guitars that sound like they're playing out of a medieval dungeon or something. I'm guessing the atmosphere is the whole point of this song, and they did it well. I just wish I was more drawn into it.

Rats A-

A decent melody more than saves this one. They had me right there with the pleasant beat with the occasionally dark, distorted noise (but not *too* distorted). The crazed electric guitar noodles brought in here and there definitely work for good measure. Yes, I like this song, too!

Turquoise Boy B-

Have I mentioned how much Kim Gordon sounds like Nico? (That's right, folks, I actually looked up her name. She's also older than my mom.) This is a pretty good song if rather long, and it doesn't really go anywhere too interesting. I mean, after the obligatory head-bobbing rock song, they go through a period of noisy, industrial noises on their guitars, but that's nothing we haven't heard before. I sort of wish they would concentrate a bit more on riffs, melodies and maybe some good solos, since aimless nose doesn't impress me that much. Hm. ...You know, she really sounds like Nico!

Lights Out B

Good, but not great. What else do you want me to say? They focus on the darker toned, clean guitars for this one, which is fine, but I like the higher-pitched ones! (I demand that you conform to my personal tastes! I don't care what your fans have to say!! ... Why don't you guys have a keyboard player? Don't buy into the myth that the keyboard has no soul!) It might not be awesome, but it's a perfectly nice mid-tempo song. I wouldn't mind it marrying my daughter.

The Neutral B+

Yes! They bring in janglier guitars, hence the + rating, but other than that, this isn't any more amazing than the previous song. It could have used a catchier riff or a catchy melody, but the guitar still sound nice, and the drum beat chugs along at a most agreeable pace. They don't decide that they need to do anything nonsensical like bring in a nutty guitar solo or goofy industrial, distorted noises. This is very agreeable. The guitars are too delicate and well-arranged for me to call this “bland,” but it's also not excessively exciting.

Pink Steam A-

This is an instrumental for the first five minutes, and it's a pretty good one I think. The drum is playing pleasantly at a mid-tempo pace, which is all that's really required. The guitars are a tad brighter with a sort of funny, pulsating texture to them. They also work in slightly darker passages, but they don't interrupt the merry beat. The vocals in the final two minutes are fine, but I suppose the song would have worked just as well without them. This goes by pretty quickly for a seven-minute song.

Or B

Did I give you the impression that I don't like experimental music earlier in these track reviews? If I did, I'm sorry. I just don't like noisy, half-hearted experimentalism. This one's a little bit half-hearted, which makes this relatively boring, but I like that texture they come up with. A dark American Indian drum pounds away along with the occasional jangly guitar. Sleepy vocals come in occasionally to deliver some not-too-interesting vocals. They bring in some clangy sound effects in the background that borders on noise. This is sort of pointless; it doesn't get me into a trance, and it doesn't exactly grab my attention. But I like it enough to keep in on background music.

BONUS TRACK:

Eyeliner C

Some versions of this album have more bonus tracks! I don't know why they must be so discriminatory. Why not put bonus tracks on all of the albums? I don't know. Um. ... Actually, judging by the quality of this song, I don't think I want to know what the other songs sound like. This is pretty intolerable. For a start, those squeaky and whiny lead vocals sound worse than the worse Emo boys. The guitars crunching around were OK, but there's too much reliance on its dark, gruffy tones for its power, and there's not enough OOMPH in those drums. I wonder what the point of “bonus tracks” are in the post-singles era... I guess it's a way to still release these songs, but distance yourself from them a little bit. It worked, too, because I don't consider bonus tracks in album ratings!!


Star & Micey: Star & Micey (2009)

Read the full review:
Star & Micey

Salvation Army Clothes B+

Not too shabby! This is a mid-tempo, bluesy ditty with a heavy drumbeat and a thick electric organ, and the lead singer sounds strong with his high-pitched voice. The melody is even pretty hummable, although I'll probably forget about it in a few minutes. It's a good listen, though! The guitarist makes nice use of those fills!

So Much Pain A-

The lead singer does these goofy “doop-doop” things at the beginning of this as though he thought he were recording a Wings album. (Sorry, I'm too lazy to figure out if that is Star or Micey!) Speaking of Wings, we might not all hate Wild Life if there were more songs like this in it. Here is an enjoyable, straightforward mid-tempo country-fried folk ditty and a fitfully good melody. I especially like it when their drums come in heavy, like a party. The clean, simple electric guitar noodles throughout this are fantastic!

Carly B-

Eh, sorry... The melody seems stale to me, and perhaps they were trying a bit too hard to create a pop song that would get stuck in our heads. Eh, not a chance with me! It sounds like something one of those boring CCM bands would have us sing at church... Stick to the country-rock with those excellent poppy guitar noodles? ...I will say one thing about this: That classical piano they inserted to the end of this is weird. I must say, that's my favorite part...

I Am the One She Needs B-

This is another attempt at a more or less straight pop song with finger snaps and a light-pop groove reminiscent of Spandau Ballet's “True.” (Sorry to compare this to Spandau Ballet, but that's the first thing that popped in my brain!) Again, if they're going to go for straight pop music, they'll have to do a slightly more distinguished job writing pop hooks. I have to say, this melody is pretty forgettable. That's unfortunate, because the lead singer really has nice pop chops! I really want to hear this guy sing out of my radio. His vocals are suited for this stuff.

My Beginning B-

It's really difficult to say much against these songs, because they are so well presented. The light pop groove is well played, and the lead singer continues to be exceptionally suited for light pop music. But this dang song is just so stale and forgettable that I don't get the desire to go back to it. ...I liked your guitar noodling in previous songs, which were more melodic than your actual vocal melodies. I miss that...

On Your Own B

This is different, at least. It's a ballad with a twinkling keyboard and a heavy string section. It's rather beautiful at first, but then it gets a bit too dreary at the beginning for my taste. Maybe if they had Coldplay's budget, they would have turned it into something more sonically impressive, but as it stands, it's not too distinguished. Luckily, it saves itself by picking up in the second half when the lead singer belts out a few lines of lyrics with those strong, soaring vocals!

Late At Night A-

Ah yes, this is a better way to go about pop music. Bring on the heavy rhythms and brass sections! The melody is even quite good this time, and it doesn't seem like they were trying too hard for a radio hit, which helps. The lead singer (still too lazy to look him up!) gives a phenomenal vocal performance; it's pretty and conveys passion without seeming obnoxious.

She's On Fire B+

Like the previous song, this is more rockin' and soulful than light and poppy, and I definitely think that sound suits them better. The rhythm section is darker and heavier, and once again, the lead vocals are excellent for this stuff. Really, I hope these guys go somewhere.

Nelson B-

I know I gave this a B-, but that doesn't mean this is another one of their wannabe radio pop tunes! This is organ heavy country-tinged ditty that I just don't happen to be too impressed with. It definitely sounds good, though; I love heavy organs and the lead singer sounds great even when he veers towards a falsetto range. Really, I love this singer! The song itself doesn't impress me too much.

Quicksand C

I was kind of hoping this would be a David Bowie cover, but it isn't. I'm going to go on record saying they would have sounded great covering that Bowie song!!! After all, that's a folk-pop song, and Star & Micey are good at folk-pop with an exceptional singer who would have sung it better than Bowie himself. But this isn't the Bowie song. What it is instead is a ballad with these dull acoustic guitar arpeggios and a boring melody. This is even more boring than those pop song... at least those were entertaining...


Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (2005)

Read the full review:
Illinois

Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL A-

Sufjan Stevens not only proves that he is a master at chord progressions, but he proves that a song can be compelling with its chord progression alone! This is a gorgeous song featuring a strangely played piano (to produce a sort of echo effect). Some sloppy but lovely woodwind instruments come in to give it body, and Stevens eventually starts to sing a pretty melody. The song bows out after only two minutes, which still seemed appropriate considering you can only listen to that piano for a certain length of time!

The Black Hawk War A-

And he follows that up with a simple instrumental. It begins with some "aahs" in a rather medieval sounding though even simpler chord progression. This eventually transforms into a freaking huge fanfare. At first glance, I thought this track seemed like it's filler (there's no singing or lyrics), but it has quite a bit of undeniable charm also.

Come On! Feel the Illinoise! Part 1: The World's Columbian Explosion/Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream A+

By all accounts, this is the first "real song" in here ... if you feel like discounting the previous two tracks as too minimal to be real songs! Well, it's nearly seven minutes, too! The first half of the song consists of a piano groove in the 5/4 time signature, which is why it seems so off-kilter. Anyway, Stevens manages to land some real deathly hooks with this one... The melodic line that begins "Chicago in fashion..." has a hook that's likely to stick in your mind for some time! The second part of the track is in regular 4/4 time, but it's more memorable in my opinion. The organic instrumentation strewn throughout consisting of real violins, semi-festive drums and Stevens' homely voice combine to create an extremely alluring style. That's not to mention that the track has a few great hooks!

John Wayne Gracy, Jr. A

This might even be more engrossing than the previous track even though it's much quieter, slower and more 'contemplative.' The instrumentation is ever organic with this one ... A lightly picked acoustic guitar and a real piano tinkling around. Steven's charming, wispy voice is extremely convincing. Oh! Give me these melodic hooks for anything in the world! The development is even very nice ... That dramatic turn in the middle of the track begs my ears' attention.

Jacksonville A-

The fun never ends. Stevens adds a banjo to his repertoire, which is an instrument that I've always enjoyed the sound of. The beginning of the track sounds appropriately like a post-modern folk tune. It gets even better in the chorus, which utilizes several major hooks! The orchestral work on this track is amazing ... it's glorious and lush, but still with his minimalist style. You've got to respect that, certainly. This is one of the weaker tracks of the album, but that's only because it's just not as good as some of the others. I do think the melody is a tad too repetitive, but you're likely going to think that about a lot of these songs.

A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But for Very Good Reasons B

This is less than a minute and contains some extended, creepy violin notes. It's a very interesting mood he's creating, but ... seriously, I had to type that full track title! Mary Todd might have went insane for very good reasons, but at least she didn't have to type Sufjan Stevens' freakishly long song titles...

Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step Mother! B

There's more of that excellent banjo here! The song has a groove from a harmonica that seems to chug along like a train. I love the organic feel of this track as usual, but the melodic ideas aren't that memorable this time. Still, it fits in this album about as well as anything else, so how am I going to tell you that this is completely “sub-par,” or something? Nah, I wouldn't do such a thing...

One Last 'Woo-hoo' for the Pullman B

This is six seconds long, features clapping and somebody saying 'Woo-hoo-ho!' ... I originally downloaded this album on emusic.com, and ........ that was so not worth one mp3 download.

Chicago A+

And now here's the real masterpiece of the album. This is purely brilliant! The orchestration is one of the busiest and lush of the whole album ... and well it seems that when he wants to, he can create great atmospheres. It's appropriate too, because Chicago is a huge, 'busy' city. It takes the audience through different stages of development ... some of them seem crazy (including stopping everything and going nearly a cappella in the middle), but it works. Stevens is getting to be one of those rare artists who gets away with pretty much everything.

Casimir Pulaski Day B+

Much more low-key and folky, but it proved to be an excellent follow-up to the previous track. It's homely and utterly endearing with some more of those organic banjo noises. A simple horn provides the instrumental interlude (talk about minimal!!) I love the melody although it's too repetitive this time and the songs' development isn't exciting enough to keep it from growing dull. I still think this is a good song, because the charm wins me over, again...

To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region B+

This is an interesting orchestral passage involving waves of instruments, some twinkly. A song like this could be considered throwaway, because it undoubtedly consisted of Stevens screwing around the studio with instruments and little in terms of melodic or harmonic interest, but ... heck, this guy has the weird knack of making things sound valuable and throwaway at the same time. Like the crap you'll find in an antique shop.

The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Heart B

This is another one of the album's six+-minute songs, although I'd have to say this is one of the lesser ones. Not that the melody isn't good -- it's quite good, in fact. The song production is also pretty darn good most of the time. The verses section is more quiet and contemplative where he sings a melody that sounds exactly like “Come On!” The chorus contains more choppy chords, which is a little bit more grating than it is effective.

Prairie Fire That Wanders About A

This is hardly over two minutes long and it's glorious! The first half consists of a simple chord progression, and Stevens keeps on layering ideas on top of them. But he creates a very fantastic atmosphere that's apt to draw you in. The last part is quite a bit odder and more Medieval sounding. Like an old Christmas carol.

A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze B

This is 19 seconds long, which is about as long as it takes you to read its full title. It's just a wave of noise.

The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! B-

It starts off light and whimsical. A flute plays in the intro, but it sounds like it's played in a lower register than it ought to! But after the intro, Stevens delivers a light and sweet (though a little boring folk tune). It's no longer boring once Stevens offers a strangely textured 'groove' of sorts... This jolts rather unexpectedly back to the folk tune! Stevens gets away with somewhat sloppy technique due to the album's 'homemade' feel, but that doesn't feel great even for him. But the last half of the track is a little better though perhaps too busy ...... Gosh, I don't hear those vocals very well sometimes.

They are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhhh! A-

It starts out with a quasi-funk groove! Well, at least that automatically makes this a more fun song than the previous track, which was a bit of a mess to be honest. Then, as usual, Stevens layers on sound after sound, which engages my interest even further! This all stops and Stevens starts to sing a bit of a folky tune... Much more creepy this time as the title might suggest. I like the mood ... This is an effective song!

Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don't Think They Heard it All the Way Out in Bushnell B

A brief instrumental consisting of violins. Another weird thing he was doing in the studio, obviously!

In This Temple, as in the Hearts of Man, for Whom He Saved the Earth B+

A brief instrumental that sounds like crazy instrumentals playing in a huge, echoey cathedral. Hm.

The Seer's Tower B

I'll tell ya, I'm just whizzing through these tracks! Anyway, this is another nice 'un. It's quiet and thoughtful song. He employs a creepy, organ drone in the background, whilst and organic piano plays and Stevens sings a nice tune. With attempts to keep it from growing boring, the instrumentation gets noisier as it progresses, although this is a rather tedious thing to have to sit through. It eventually sinks back into the quietness where it began .... and eventually disintegrates.

The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders, Part I: The Great Frontier/Part II: Come to Me Only With Playthings Now B+

Basically, this sounds like a rewritten version of 'Come On!,' but Stevens is always known for recycling his ideas! (Well, how are *you* going to come out with so many albums with so many songs on it?) The melody doesn't strike me as being quite as catchy, but the creativity in the instrumentation wins me over (as usual)! This guy inserts such nice ideas in his music (while, interestingly, still qualifying as 'minimalism') that it's difficult for me to be disinterested in him.

Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few A-

Here is another surreal wave of noise, this time resembling jazz! It's very brief.

Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I shake the Dirt From My Sandals As I Run A

And now, the album is finally over with this tune, which also turned out to be a brilliant ending. It's slow fade-in to start up ... Probably his most Philip Glass inspired song on the album. He delivers a texture that's very exotic that incorporates many different types of sounds that go in and out of your speaker. Minimalism is meant to hypnotize you and once your brain is engaged, it'll take you into weird places you never thought you'd go... Well, this song does that. Listen to it and have your own personal experience.


Devin Townsend: Terria (2001)

Read the full review:
Terria

Olives A-

If this is considered heavy metal, then I can surely become a fan of it someday. Instead of opening the album with a predictable series of power chords or a brain-numbing thrash-rocker, Townsend instead creates an ambient song. A series of weird talking voices and bird calls plays in the background, and a few minimal chimes of a jangly electric guitar come in. You know what this means? He's a student of Brian Eno! Of course it's nowhere near as interesting as an Eno composition, but it's still quite absorbing. Almost predictably in the final third there's a crescendo and he starts to play some louder chords. But even these chords have a well-constructed texture to them. It's constructed primarily of a wall of electric guitar sounds, but it contains other noises such as waves of distortion, complicated and scaling keyboards, and (I think) some of his screams. All of it is well produced and easy-on-the-ears. It ain't the most exciting thing on the planet Earth, but they did quite a good job with it.

Mountain A

Speaking as a person who is not a heavy metal fan, I really appreciate how easy on the ears this album is. I'm listening it with headphones right now, genuinely interested in what's going on in it, and it's not irritating my ears one bit. Usually I can't listen to heavy metal with headphones... It just bugs me... The other thing I like about Devin Townsend is that he's almost not a heavy metal guy. Sure there are the typical thrashy beats and heavy guitar sounds, and he scream-growls like a demon a lot through some of this. ...But this is progressive! He uses a strange time signature where a series of excellently produced power-chords play a mesmerizing pattern. In between those sections, there's a fun Pink-Floydian series of sound effects. The sound effect sections aren't especially memorable. Or at least not like Pink Floyd songs are... but they're interesting. This is quite an impressive and fun song that never gets boring the entire six-and-a-half minutes.

Earth Day A+

(Unfortunately I don't have access to the Internet right now, and I don't have a lyrics sheet... It sounds like he's screaming “Recyyyycleeeee!” at the beginning of this. That's pretty funny. I'm going to recycle now, specifically because he said that. How can you not recycle, the way he screams that at you? He also tells me to shut the F*&k up a few times. ...Good thing typing these reviews don't involve speaking, or I'd be in a pickle.) ...Wow. This is a nine minute track that never gets boring. As I had this on as background music over the last week and half-paid attention to it, I didn't seem to get bored with this album. As I'm paying very close attention to it right now, I'm not growing tired of it. Their heavy electric guitar wall-of-sound use is superbly well-produced. Really, everything they do with that sound is automatically going to sound epic to me. It also helps that they come out with genuinely interesting melodies AND an impressive series of evolving textures. I'm not even going to try to describe each section. There's no real point. This sounds like Rush except Townsend sounds bad-ass as he screams his ass off, it has interesting melodies, and it absolutely never gets boring. I feel like I'm on top of the world as I'm listening to this, and that's not easy to do. Easy A+.

Deep Peace A

Usually when I see albums that have a lot of songs that are more than five minutes long, I start to get grumpy. But not here. I want to see where he's going to take me next. It starts out with a little bit of acoustic guitar strumming amongst a well-constructed (though not especially compelling) ambient soundscape. He begins to sing a folky melody and lyrics pertaining to loneliness or something. A third of the way through, electric guitars and some power drums pipe up, and the singing gets more passionate. ...Instead of launching into a heavy metal anthem of sorts (like I would expect) he goes off on a space-rock tangent. ...I really enjoy the textures he comes up with and the electric guitar solo (unlike most electric guitar solos) is actually melodious and absorbing. The overall tone of this song is ... almost magical and wonderous. Hardly the sort of tones I'd expect from a heavy metal guy, eh???

Canada B+

Eh??? (I think I ended the previous track review with an “eh???” because I subconsciously knew a song called “Canada” was next. Thanks subconscious brain, yah hoser. ...Oh! I'm listening to a six-and-a-half minute Devin Townsend song right now. I really like parts of this, specifically those “power ballad choruses.” (I had to put that in quotation marks because these songs aren't exactly structured to have “choruses.”) He really worked in those back-up vocals very well... the sound he creates is so epic that it sounds like I should be watching Lord of the Rings right now or something. Like the other songs, he creates textures that are frequently changing. But it gets a B+ because it's not especially compelling this time. The melodies and patterns are slightly duller, in respect to the other songs of the album. I have more of a tendency to drift off a bit as I listen to this. Especially toward the end.

Down and Under B+

G'day!! This bloomin' song is less than four minutes long, which is incredibly short for this album. I mean, it's so short that it practically doesn't exist. ...Is this band really heavy metal? The answer seemed conclusively 'yes' when I was listening to “Mountain,” but I could confuse this semi-instrumental with any sort of modern indie-pop album. ...Yeah, this isn't heavy metal. ...About the “mere” B+, what I said about the song more or less “not existing” actually had a little bit of relevance. This track, while enjoyable to listen to, doesn't make much of an impression. I love its mood, but things have been weirder, wilder, melodious, and glorious on this album. The instrumentation is good, but not especially inventive. Nitpicks, I know. The wall of sound they create, once again, is quite mesmerizing.

The Fluke A-

This is definitely like a Rush song, except this is actually very fun to listen to. (I must hate Rush or something... How is it that I can like a man named Devin Townsend better than a world-famous, time-tested progressive rock band? Who does this REVIEWER think he is???? ... All I can tell you is that this guy not only knows how to play around with textures throughout his songs, but he also knows how to write interesting melodies. Also, this song gives me a feeling. Rush songs typically haven't done much for me. This song makes me want to grab the nearest sword, or something, and declare war on a small clan of orcs. ...And I'm gonna have to continue saying this... he does this growl-yelling heavy-heavy metal about as non-ear-gratingly as I thought was humanly possible. ...I have two sort of half-complaints about this. Firstly, the evil, growling, wall-of-sound thing has been done before in this album better, so this song automatically seems weaker. Secondly, the last two minutes of this seven-minute track are a series of looped sound effects......... They're not tedious or tasteless or anything, but they're kinda pointless.........

Nobody's Here B+

This really doesn't sound heavy metal, but that's good. I don't like heavy metal! (Generalization!!) You can tell it's a power ballad, because it's slow moving and there's a definite piano tucked away in its wall of sound. Like everything else here, this is a lot of fun to listen to, and I particularly like his vocal performance. (Eat your heart out Bonnie Tyler!) My only complaint is I think the melody is a bit weak...... Truth be told, it's probably about as good as the other songs, but those had those unusual time signatures, constantly evolving textures going in its favor. Nonetheless, the wall-of-sound flavor continues to be glorious, and his electric guitar solo is so majestic that it should make most ex-'80s hair metal guitarist seriously contemplate suicide.

Tiny Tears B

This is also a mid-tempo song, although I'd hardly call it a power-ballad. I'm a tad disappointed that these songs on the latter half of the album aren't nearly as texturally rich as the songs on the first half. Where are the funny sound effects? Where are the unusual time signatures? ... Ah, but I guess this has a pretty entertaining '90s-Neil-Young styled electric guitar solo. I continue to eat up the wall-of-sound style he's created... It continues to be pleasant to the ears! But the melody definitely could've been stronger. Particularly if he's deciding not to be quite as dazzling as he was in these other songs. I will say, however, that it's amazing I can sit through a nine-minute song such as this and not get particularly bored with it. That's the power of the wall-of-sound, I guess!

Stagnant A

“Summer's here!” ...What a cruel twist of fate that I write this review the night before the first day of school starts. Devin Townsend is taunting me! ...Again, the only thing especially heavy-metal about this is the heavy, powerful guitar chords and his penchant for growl-singing. If it wasn't for that, it could very well have been a sunshine-pop song. ...If this reminds me of a sunshine-pop song, that must mean the melody is pretty good! And it is!! The wall-of-sound and the melody combine to create wonderful things. ...I have to point out his vocal performance, which is pretty lively and memorable. (I particularly like the way he screams “SHIT!” in one of these lines. Not that I really endorse cursing.) This sounds like a song that should be played up in the sky somewhere in lieu of thunder... (Oh, there's a mildly clever thing I thought of! Oh how pleased with myself I am.)

Hidden Track

The person who recommended that I reviewed this suggested that I ignore the hidden track. But it's HERE, I'm a part-perfectionist, so how am I supposed to ignore it? (I'm not going to let it influence the overall rating of the album, even though I probably should. I mean, it's a part of the album, isn't it? ...Ah, I guess this was included as some sort of freebie curiosity for the fans. I get it.) But truth be told, this isn't so bad. It's a happy, jumpy acoustic guitar riff. Fun, pleasant, snappy, nice harmonies. It doesn't particularly fit the album. And I guess Townsend didn't believe in it enough to write a serious vocal melody for it... He improvises something in a silly voice. After that, a whirlwind of sound effects zips around for about three minutes... Not a bad sound effect. Weird. Makes me dizzy. ....OK, one minute of that was enough.


Trez Rek 500: Outside the Lines (2009)

Read the full review:
Outside the Lines

Australia A-

Not a Kinks cover! (Since that's probably what 88 percent of you were thinking... based on my scientific calculations...) You know, the nice thing about these guys is they seem to have a natural ability to create good melodies. This song has both a catchy verses section, a memorable chorus, and a section with an electric guitar solo. But other than that, there's not a whole lot to this. It's a song with electric guitars and drums. It's nothing that we haven't heard before. The point is that it's CATCHY and about as non-annoying as it gets. It sounds like they could play this as-is in a nightclub. Yup, I like it.

Good Enough B

Again, nothing beyond the typical drums and electric guitars, but it has a memorable chorus. The verse section seems a little bit too bare for its own good, but I suppose that makes the chorus seem more rockin'. Well, anyway, they did another good job... Nobody could possibly hate this.

Ariel B

They're going ska/reggae/whatever here, and I originally had a hard time getting into it, but it grew on me quite a lot on successive listenings. (My initial score for it was a C...) It sounds like they were trying to retroactively create some sort of Elvis Costello-esque '80s hit. This could very well have been a hit, I reckon, but it's too 2009 for that. Unfortunately, the chorus is rather weak compared to the others, and the reggae bits aren't too impressive either. But give this credit at least for being *fun*. That's all these songs want to be! I can't fault it! The plentiful drum-rolls alone are fun.

Credit B+

That noodly electric guitar seems a bit misfired to me... like it's too scratchy or mixed too loudly or something... Maybe I'm thinking about it too hard... Other than that, this is another enjoyable song. The melody is catchy, especially the chorus. These guys seem always to be good for that. (That point where the lead singer sings “Get it oooooowwwn!” is proof that he's trying too hard.)

Blender B-

...Still very good. Very middle-of-the-road. Not great enough to make a severe impression on me, but not bad enough for me to be in the slightest bit displeased with it. Once again, the melody is good, and the instrumentation is solid. Would I recommend it? Sure... if you want to get it oooooooowwwn.

Trez Rek B-

If this is their 'signature tune,' I find it disappointing that I can't get more caught up in its spirit. It doesn't quite capture me. As everything else on here, it's presented solidly and I like the melody. ...But why can't it dare to do something out-of-the-ordinary?

Mr. Carousel A-

Ah, here's something I like! That arpeggiated twinkly synthesizer in the verses section is a simple idea, but it's enough to make it stand out different than these other songs. In addition to that, the chorus is one of the stronger ones of the album. All in all, this is a toe-tapping pop-rocker!

Cut Through Me C

Slow moving...Unfortunately, I get bored with this. The melody isn't particularly strong or memorable, and thus the slow-moving aspect of it means that the experience starts to grow pretty boring. ...Ah well, it's just one insignificant misstep in an otherwise successful album, methinks.

You Got Yours B-

Yup, these guys sound better when they're sticking to upbeat stuff. I might not particularly find this to be a great piece. The only reason for that is the melody, which is one of the album's least remarkable. But is it fun? You betcha.

Left Behind the Blues B

Here's a fun, solid pop-rocker to close the album with. The melody is catchy, and the presentation is likable. Do you want me to say anything else? ...I hope not.


The White Stripes: Elephant (2003)

Read the full review:
Elephant

Seven Nation Army B+

Hey, they mention the city I grew up in! And they wrote a pretty good riff, too! I like that they start it off with a minimalist bass-and-drums, and bring in the squeakier guitars later on. (Don't you see how much irreverence I have toward rock music... describing these guitars as “squeaky.”) Well, this is a nicely composed song. I could care less about the vocal melody, and four minutes seemed a little long for it, but I actually like listening to it.

Black Math A-

Oh, here's some rock 'n' rolla! They love that huge guitar sound, here, with that guitar so fuzzy that it sounds like it was nearly about to overwhelm their speakers. The nice thing is they find a decent punkish riff to play to a degree that it packs a little bit of energy. They were creative enough to completely change the pace of the song a few times in the middle without sounding awkward, and that helps keep things sounding fresh. Jack White's vocals are strange... trying to wail off like Johnny Rotten or something. Not quite as engaging as Rotten's, but they do OK.

There's No Home For You Here B

Strange! It's sort of difficult to listen to, but it's far from your ordinary whiny punk music that I had the preconceived notion this album was going to be full of. It's very creative, too! It's slowly paced, going back and forth between a slower ballad and more intense moments. At one point, there's a very loud electric guitar wailing through the speakers while they sing some odd things with tight, Beatles-esque vocal harmonies. Disgusting, but interesting! The only reason for the B-rating is the melody isn't very good at all. But this composition does keep me on my toes.

I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself A

Oh, here's something I like. The vocal melody leaps out at me, and that helps me better enjoy their somewhat weird developmental ideas throughout. Part of this sounds a little folky, and other parts are very loud. I've also got to say that Jack White's singing is very tortured and he sounds like a total lunatic through this. ...This is really a nutty song. But the melody is good, and that's what matters. (...Well, the greatest invention of the '00s, Wikipedia, has just informed me this is a Burt Bacharach cover. That explains the melody.)

In the Cold, Cold Night A

Strange! Melodically, this is a very normal blues song. Meg White sings it with an average voice, but she comes off as a regular person, so it's a good voice for this sort of song. It's the extremely minimal instrumentation that gets to me. The plain but extremely dark bass guitar and the simple electric guitar making those creeping scaling patterns. Usually, I'd find something like this boring, but they seem to have created something greater than the sum of its parts.

I Want to Be the Boy... B+

They had a nice idea with this one, and Jack's vocals combined with the raw guitars remind me of listening to an old Joe Cocker song. Well, this is pretty well-written, and the melody is fine, but somehow I'm wising this would gather some real momentum somewhere. I can't get myself totally caught up in it, and I'm an easy audience. (Well, I think I'm an easy audience! I guess whoever's reading this can be the judge of that!)

You've Got Her in Your Pocket B

Hm. To be honest, I'd rather hear them do an acoustic folk song than another one of their heavily distorted punk songs, but the only way to make songs like this totally compelling is MELODY! This one's OK, but it's not good enough to capture my attention. Their chords are pretty good, though... I like some of the turns they take. Or, if not melody, they can give a nice vocal performance, and Jack White has a nice, grainy quality to his voice and he gives me the impression that he's lived a bit of what he's singing about.

Ball and Biscuit A-

Well, these guys have a lot of taste. I don't know why I ever thought they didn't. I guess I figured if all the professional critics liked them so much, then they must be no good. I'm not about to give them any awards or anything (if I was able to do such a thing!), but they're quite a tasteful group. Why do I bring that up for this track in particular? It's seven minutes long, and they actually had a very good reason to drag it out for so long. It actually develops. It's a blues song, too, and they seemed to have given it a fresh enough edge overall that I can find it involving even though I typically get bored with blues music pretty easily. The riff is catchy, their mid-tempo rhythm is heart-pounding, and their guitars are more minimal and thoughtful than just noisy and show-offey. Nicely done!

The Hardest Button to Button B-

A little boring this time, but I still like it mostly. Again, they seem to favor mostly minimal instrumentation, but it has a very murky atmosphere. The constantly pounding bass guitar starts to get a little too unpleasant and mind-numbing. I'm not caught up in those minimal licks from the lead guitar, either, but they know what not to do. That's a nice quality! The lead vocals are a bit obnoxious. Hm.

Little Acorns C+

Hm. The way it starts is certainly unique. Someone reads a story, and then a song starts. Well, I heard Brian Wilson and Tyrannosaurus Rex do it, but that was a looong looong time ago. I actually like how it starts, and at least the story isn't geeky. The actual song with its heavy and numbing riff is a bit difficult for me to take. It's all very murky and depressing. It doesn't capture my imagination.

Hypnotise A-

They deliver quite a sloppy rock song with this one! The melody sounds like it could have been a pop song from an early '60s girl group, but the maniacal, fuzzy electric guitar plays a bizarre, acrobatic riff. Only two minutes long, it was a good running length.

The Air Near My Fingers B+

Another highly respectable song! Once again, they seem to do just the right things, changing the rhythms around when they need to and the guitars sound good. The overall sound of the song, again, is pretty murky and depressing, but tastefully done in those respects. I like those high pitched guitars in the instrumental interlude... it's like the song grew a little rosy for a very brief instance.

Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine B

Back to the more furious punk guitars and Jack White's slightly annoying scream-singing. The riff is good although not quite catchy enough to take me for that thrill-ride the most effective punk songs have been able to do easily. His guitar soloing is definitely good, though. It expresses more personality than that vocal performance, surely. (An indicator of a good guitar solo!)

It's True That We Love One Another B

This is reminds me of one of Paul McCartney's pop-folk ballads from Wild Life. It has plenty of charm, but the melody isn't very inventive and it sounds throwaway. Although in this case, I think we're more apt to disregard that fact, because this seems more throwaway on purpose! At any rate, just like the McCartney's ballads, it doesn't do any harm. The lyrics are pretty entertaining, too.


Yellowcard: Where We Stand (1999)

Read the full review:
Where We Stand

Lesson Learned C

A lesson might have been learned ... but what lesson? Disorganized chords, a messy violin piddling around, a valueless melody and vocals from an obviously young singer who's trying too hard to sound snarling? I'll admit that listening to it a few extra times, it grew on me. They deserve a little credit for trying to make “challenging” music, but they can barely even keep it together. Only a little section they give us in the final third does it actually start sounding like a real song and not so much these aimless guitar crunches. I will close by saying the violin was a good idea, but why let it end there?

Time Will Tell C-

Slow down, little ones! There's no need for that rush in the middle of this ... it leaves me unsettled. Otherwise, the song keeps together better than the previous one, but that doesn't really help it from growing monotonous. The melody is nothing.

Sue D

A lot of aimless noise. Just because there's a lot of screaming and guitars crunching around, it doesn't make the experience any better. They change the textures around a bit, but I never like what they do. It's all aimless drivel. The vocals make matters worse ... if they weren't trying to put up such a front, I might give it some heed.

April 20th F

Slow down, home-boys! What's with all this noise? You don't have any interesting riffs or melodies... and I have difficulty even following this. They're just screaming in the microphone and playing these thrashy chords. That's not music.

Uphill Both Ways D

Wow... talk about a spotty album. The first minute of this is what a real song actually sounds like, for the most part. It starts out with a mid-tempo beat and a followable melody. Why not continue on that streak? But sure enough Mr. Hyde emerges again and they scream in the microphone and play a bunch of boring and fast chords.

Kids C-

More of a punk song in the traditional sense, and that's good. This stuff is too complex to accuse them of going through the motions, but it's pretty obvious that they don't inhabit the soul of punk, and that's a massive problem. That's why this stuff is so off-putting.

Doesn't Matter D+

Again, I don't think these guys are very gifted performers. There is something nice in here with a section containing a quiet, atmospheric bit, but that's bookended by more of that ugly screaming-in-the-microphone stuff.

Sorry Try Again D

These rhythms are very bad. I don't know what else to say. The drummer has less of a clue than the lead singer, he's just pounding away changing rhythms so suddenly and constantly that it's giving me nausea. What's the point of that? Did they design the songs to make us sick??

Anywhere But Here D+

Ooooooooooooh, how I'm longing for real music! I decided to give early Yellowcard a shot, but it's clear they're just going to do all these hopelessly boring exercises. Remember how I accused early Rush progressive rock songs for having too many awkward transitions? They are rock 'n' roll gods compared to what Yellowcard does ... all of this disoriented stuff. It's dizzying.

On the Brink C-

They were nice enough to decide to end it with one of the more lucid songs here. Not to say that it's a good one ... I'm probably even overrating this considering its melody consists of about four notes, and they're doing that awful sudden-rhythm-change thing again. This was a rather short album, so they extended it by putting in these series of annoying sound effects and, apparently, the ramblings of an insane fan. I'm just ignoring this for the sake of the song scores... but holy cow. This is worse that diarrhea.


Home | F.A.Q. | Rating System | Best-to-Worst List | Links | About the Author |
Movie Reviews | Short Stories | Message Board | Contact Me

All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.