Review: Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

When I first received Majesty Shredding at the beginning of this week I figured that by the time I sat down to write this review there would be a lot of “this song sounds like Indoor Living and that song sounds like Come Pick Me Up“.  I then settled into the first listen of the full album and I live tweeted my initial thoughts on each song (see here).  No such comparisons came out of that first listen and after a week “living” with the album that is still not what I want to talk about.

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Majesty Shredding Twittereview (Superchunk)

I’m a little late to the party (thanks Canada Post!!) but I finally got my copy of Superchunk’s Majesty Shredding.  Here is a picture of what I received, with all of the great bonus swag.

This is why Merge Records rules!!

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Review: Album Review: Rick Ross – Teflon Don

Reviewing albums is fun and important.  Okay, mostly fun.  I like to read what people think about albums and I like to write what I think about albums.  But what about the reviewers themselves?  Who are reviewing the reviewers?  Sure, we can comment on how well an artist is doing, but how are we doing?

In Ian Cohen’s review of Teflon Don by Rick Ross there is a lot going on.  We read about the artist, his history, his friends and comrades.  We read about past releases, industry pressures and see a lot of comparisons to other artists.  And I think somewhere in there it talks about the album.  I mean, I see it mentioned a lot, but it seems that perhaps Teflon Don is being used as a basis for viewing the world around, as opposed to the opposite.

I think that this piece was just incorrectly filed.  As “Teflon Don – An Essay” this is a nice bit of analytic writing.  As an album review, well, I still can’t tell whether or not I should have any interest in the album.  I think a more efficient use of time would be to listen to the album and decide for myself as I think reading this review would take longer.

Review: Superchunk – Majesty Shredding*

I finished my HAIL** just a day before the September 14th release date of Superchunk’s Majesty Shredding. My wife was not happy with the amount of money I spent on this purpose built room full of the most advanced audio entertainment equipment (thanks N.A.S.A.!!) and the chair from the set of Dollhouse, but we always taught our children to share and now they can share a kidney.

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The Rural Alberta Advantage

I came across the band The Rural Alberta Advantage last year thanks to Exclaim magazine.  After listening/watching a few things online I immediately bought their album, Hometowns.  I have not listened to an album so dripping with passion and emotion in ages and the energy of their live performance (as seen online, at least) is incomparable.  These guys (and girl) bring it.

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Review: Sleigh Bells – Treats

In the movie Sliding Doors the character played by Gwyneth Paltrow is running to catch a train.  The screen splits; on one screen she makes the train and on the other the sliding doors of the train close just before she gets there.  The rest of the movie shows her two different paths through life.

Now image if, instead of Gwyneth, it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs circa Fever to Tell running towards the train of inspiration (ug).  The Yeah Yeah Yeahs made that train and got off at the It’s Blitz station.  But oh no, they left the fuzz and crunch and noise of Man and Cold Light on the train!  Oh well, they still have enough elements to make slick, polished, amazing music.

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Review: Alkaline Trio – This Addiction

Oh whatever happened to the band that wrote Cop, Fuck you Aurora, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire and You’ve Got So Far to Go?  It feels like they just keep writing the same songs over and over again and they just keep getting watered down.  The songs on This Addiction are decent.  If you like Alkaline Trio, there is no reason not to like these songs.  They just don’t stand out.  I feel like I have grown and the band has not.  There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess.  It just saddens me that I don’t look forward to a new Alkaline Trio album any more.

For the record, I also love Good Fucking Bye.  “So you broke down trying to leave town, I broke down crying on your return”.  Brilliant!

Review: Black Francis – NonStopErotik

When Frank Black started recording again as Black Francis it was an exciting concept.  The Pixies had reunited for a few tours, and though rumours of a possible new album just continue to be rumours, work by  Black Francis seemed to be one step closer to that possibility.  NonStopErotik, however, feels nothing like the Pixies (not that it should).  If feels more like a singles collection.

Given how prolific Black is it is easy to match songs to the various styles of his past works.  Six Legged Man fits easily with Black Francis’ early solo stuff, like Cult of Ray.  Dead Man’s Curve would have fit perfectly on Dog in the Sand by Frank Black and the Catholics.  Wild Son is a well polished C-side to Pixies B-sides like Weird at My School or Dancing the Manta Ray.

There is an excess of falsetto going on in songs like Oh My Tidy Sum and Rabbits.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a falsetto hater.  Mac McCaughan (Superchunk, Portastatic) is one of my favourite artists.  But when Black sings entire songs in falsetto it just doesn’t feel authentic, but rather like he said “let’s do this one slow and high pitched, ’cause we haven’t done that yet on this album”.  Perhaps that feeling is informed by how fast and furiously Black tends to pump out the albums.

In contrast, Corrina‘s rockin’ pace drives Black’s voice up to a high pitch in a natural way that brings an enjoyable energy and life to the song.

Title track Nonstoperotik and When I Go Down on You are baffling tracks with overtly? sexual lyrics.  Lines like “I don’t need to have someone new when I go down on you” and “I want to be inside / that’s my intention / inside of you / all the way” stand out in all the wrong ways in songs that musically are more piano-driven love ballads than anything else.  I get that there are more to the lyrics than what is on the surface, but not being in on the winking I just can’t warm up to the songs.  I think these could have been tracks 13 and 14 on Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats.

Regardless of which post-Pixies moniker Black releases under, each new album is likely to have a couple of gems and a lot of non-standouts.  This is the curse of Black’s song writing style: there is a lot of quantity and within that there is some very high quality, but often the impact is diluted by the mediocrity of the rest of the songs.  Unfortunately NonStopErotik feels like a collection of throw-aways from other albums.  There are some decent tunes here, but nothing to add to the “best of” collection.

Review: Crooked Fingers – Reservoir Songs II

Eric Bachmann and crew return with another EP of cover songs, in the tradition of the first Reservoir Songs EP released in 2002.  This album contains Bachmann’s signature gravelly voice over a variation of musical arrangements.  Such experimentation has been a Crooked Fingers constant and it especially works for Reservoir Songs II in which they cover half a dozen songs, equally varied in style.

I am not as familiar with the originals on this EP as with the last one.  On one hand, this takes away the fun of a covers album as it is interesting to be presented with a new take on songs  you have an existing relationship with.  On the other hand this should allow me to listen and enjoy more objectively.  But then again, how do I know whether my response to the songs are attributable to the original writing or to Crooked Fingers’ interpretation?  I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter who gets “credit”.  This is not a vote for prom queen and I’m not cutting any cheques, so just shut up and listen and enjoy.

I think the most interesting aspect of this EP is the decision to use Kickstarter.  I love the concept of gauging interest before investing in the project and it is a model that makes sense for both established and unestablished artists.  This is a similar approach to what Paul F. Tompkins is doing with his stand-up comedy shows through the Tompkins 300 series on Facebook.  For an established artist like Crooked Fingers I think Kickstarter provides a new way to connect with fans and allow them to participate in the process.

So what about the music?

  • Shelly’s Winter Love (Merle Haggard) – Classic Crooked Fingers, sounds right off of Bring on the Snakes
  • I Am Not Willing (Moby Grape) – Bit of a late-era Archers of Loaf feeling to the music but much nicer vocally
  • Gentle On My Mind (John Hartford) – A picky-plucky guitar song, up there with the best from Eric Bachmann’s most recent solo album To The Races
  • Wild One (Thin Lizzy) – Moody, piano driven with haunting vocals – the least interesting song on the album by far
  • Black Rose (Billy Joe Shaver) – Soft and dreamy
  • Strangers (The Kinks) – Electro drumming backbeat is not my favourite approach, but true to the spirit of the Kinks and fun nonetheless

I did not find this EP as immediately engaging as the last one, but as with all Crooked Fingers albums the more you give to it the more it gives back.  It’s too late to back the project, but go see them live and pick up some merch.

Best Music of 2010: Ted Leo and The Pharmacists

Amid the retirement controversy (c’mon “journalists”, settle down with the rag-mag headlines) I guess it is time for a look at The Brutalist Bricks by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. (hey, is that enough links in one sentence to the same web site?  obviously I know I’m the only person on the Internet who knows how to find information!)

I like punk, but mostly the off-punk kind of punk.  What kind of punk is Ted Leo?

This may be TL/RX’s strongest album since Shake the Sheets.  The punk is strong with this one.  Right from the opening line of The Mighty Sparrow “When the cafe doors exploded I reacted to, I reacted to you” this album hits hard and fast through the intensity of the music and the intensity of the lyrics.

The punkiest of the punk can be found in songs The Stick (“Election time again, I wish that I was dead”), Mourning in America (“You summon ghosts we tried to bury in their white shrouds, With burning cross and bloody crescent in the White House”), Where Was My Brain (“Modern agriculture gave me a thrill, Until I saw the things it brutally killed”) and Everything Gets Interrupted which closes the album with a little wink.

As you can see, the political messages still reign strong in the TL/Rx lyrics.

TL/Rx are at their best, though, when they dial back a little on the punk and let some of their more modern rock influences shine through.  Highlights of The Brutalist Bricks include the aforementioned The Mighty SparrowBottle in Cork with its shifts in tempo (“Tell the bartender I think I’m falling in love”) and Even Heros Have to Die.

For me, the place where TL/Rx tends to fall down is with their punk rock epics.  Living with the Living suffered greatly from this with 4 songs clocking in at 6 minutes or more.  Nothing kills and interesting song or a great hook like dragging it out too long.  The world does not need a Punk Jam Band.  Thankfully this album does not suffer from jamitis, which makes it feel all the more solid and cohesive.

In the words of Tom Scharpling, I don’t like…..I love it!!!