Monday, October 16

Pink Floyd Goes to The Library

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: The Crane Wife

Comments: A poor farmer, with no wife or family, is walking along in the woods one cold winter evening when he comes across a wounded crane. The farmer takes the crane back to his house and cares for the creature until it is healthy enough to fly away. The day comes when the crane is healthy enough to fly away, and even though the farmer is sad to see the bird go, he lets it. The next day, a beautiful girl shows up at his door and becomes his wife. The wife promises to make them both rich, but in order to do so, she must go in a closed room for hours a day, and if the farmer ever looks at what she is doing, she will leave him forever.

Now, if this is how I started a review for any other band, a lot of people would be confused. However, if you are all familiar with the Decemberists, then this is business as usual. And those of you out there concerned that the hyper-literate folk group were going to lose their affinity for story telling after their jump from indie label Kill Rock Stars to major label Capitol, well put those silly worries to rest.

The story outlined above, an ancient Chinese proverb, provides the main tracks and title for the Decemberists latest effort. It is a bit of a departure from the pop/folk bard-ing of “Picturesque”, their best album to date. Truth be told, this album has more in common with Pink Floyd or Yes than any other influence. With such powerful prog influences pushed to the forefront of the song writing, expect some long songs.

Some songs benefit from the length. The hands down standout track on this album is over 12 minutes long. The monstrous multi movement piece is called “The Island: Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel the Drown” and it boats some of vocalist Colin Meloy’s most loose vocal work to date, not to mention the most ballsy keyboard solo this side of “Roundabout”. Other winners include the funky groove of “The Perfect Crime 2” and “The Crane Wife 3” which captures the sting of regret and the personal sin of arrogance with gentle beauty.

However, this album is not without flaws. Meloy, with all his flair for song writing and story telling, can get on some nerves. His songs never reflect anything personal or truly identifiable, because he conveys all his feelings and emotions through characters and by doing so never has to put himself out on a limb emotionally. One thing that really appealed to me about “Picturesque” is how personal the album felt; that feeling is lost for me here. He almost seems too caught up in the story of the songs to worry about the sound of the songs. And where “The Island…” benefited from its massive length, “The Crane Wife 1 and 2” lags because of it; boasting some of the albums most brilliant flashes but never delivering consistently. One song that really could have used a little more time to develop is “When the War Came” which builds until it threatens to spill over, but rather breaks down into a mess of un-listenable noise, despite having the best chorus on the album.

“The Crane Wife” is more fine work from the Decemberists. On this album they are able to thumb their noses at those who questioned their integrity for signing to a major lable, and at the same time expand their sound. They remain the most literate band of the last 30 years. However, their greatest strength is also their biggest weakness; until they can find a balance between their grand tales and their real lives, they will never be perfect. But perfection can wait; the Decemberists have already proven themselves as one of the best folk acts, best pop acts, and now a pretty darn good progressive act. The Crane Wife won’t floor you, but it also won’t leave your CD player for a few weeks.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: “The Island: Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel the Drown” “ The Crane Wife 3” “The Perfect Crime 2” “Sons and Daughters”

Worth The Money: You bet, I would recommend new listeners also pick up “Picturesque”

Monday, October 9

Rock and Roll Holds Steady

Artist: The Hold Steady
Album: Boys and Girls in America

Comments: The grunge revolution of the 90s killed rock and roll.

That’s right, I just typed that last sentence, and what’s more, I’ll type it again for emphasis.

The grunge revolution of the 90s killed rock and roll.

Oh sure, it also saved it. I mean, yes, it did turn back the tide of overproduced, under talented stadium glam trash that was flooding out of the late 80s rock scene, and it did galvanize and inspire an entire generation of angry, unpopular people with no outlet for their rage and social strife. It forever shut the door on Winger, Faster Pussycat, Poison, and said goodnight to that rock and roll era for good.

But it also killed off a lot of things that were good about Rock and Roll. It killed the big, swirling chorus and the sound of 20,000 people all singing the same words at the same time. It put a dagger in the heart of the guitar solo, an art now lost somewhere in the underbelly of modern hard rock. And it put to rest the drunken debauchery of a rock show. It made rock and roll serious, not fun.

And that is why the Hold Steady have no right releasing this album, this “Boys and Girls in America”, in this year of 2006.

What right do they have? Where do they get the stones? Didn’t anyone tell them that his style of bar room rock died in 1992? This album belongs on an 8 track tape, and it should be blasting out of some guy’s mustang on the way to the Springsteen concert.

I’m very glad that the Hold Steady decided to disregard 1992. I’m glad because this is the absolute best ROCK AND ROLL album I’ve heard in years.

When I say it’s a rock and roll record, I mean that in the classic sense. I mean that it has Springsteen keyboard harmonies that bring a smile to your face, drum rolls and kicks that keep your fists pumps, guitar riffs that will have you swaying back and forth and solos that will be sure to inspire an entire generation of new air guitarists. And it’s fun!

And the lyrics, oh the lyrics! It wouldn’t be enough if the band rocked, because then all they would be is a Springsteen cover band who can’t get past 1984. But thankfully, vocalist Craig Finn is not so much a singer as he is a public speaker, and not so much a songwriter as he is a story teller. He weaves poetry together and tells of drinking, love, drugs, and all the perils, pain, tragedy, and triumph of the boys and girls in America. He “loves this girl but can’t tell when she’s having a good time” because “how am I supposed to know that you’re high if you won’t let me touch you”. He tells of kids getting a little bit to high, then “kicking it in the chill-out tent”. He knows that “south town girls won’t blow you away, but you’ll know that they’ll stay.” Craig Finn is able to highlight the good in a world of bad; he is able to pull the pears from all of the mud.

So many bands today use the genre of “Rock and Roll” to describe themselves, but never have the courage to actually rock without irony. Today, rocking out is seen as something to be done with your tongue planted in your cheek and a joke at the ready. But here is a band that is doing just that.

I will not call The Hold Steady the saviors of rock and roll.

But listening to this album, I am almost ready to.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Key Tracks: “Stuck Between Stations” “First Night” “You Can Make Him Like You” “Chillout Tent”

Worth The Money: Yes

Tuesday, October 3

Guest Review - Jared Adams

Artist: The Caesars
Album: Paper Tigers

On Christmas morning 2003 I got SSX3 for my PS2 console and had found a love for gaming that had been lost on me for many months. Not only was it a fresh and beautiful looking game that was just the purest joy to play, the music for the guy that I snowboarded as was from another planet.

This was my first introduction to The Caesars, and I know: what kind of credibility am I painting for them in the mind of an uninitiated listener by mentioning it? Yes it’s true; the song was on a video game’s soundtrack. It was a damn good video game’s soundtrack, but a video game’s soundtrack nonetheless.

“Jerk It Out,” was the song that played and never did I tire of it. Little did I know this song would not tire of me either.

It returned to me again, two years later in a dream. No, my bad, it was on an iPod shuffle commercial (even more street cred!) that debuted on youngster-to-college student-aged television in the second semester of my freshman year of college.

Alcohol and the demands of scholarly pursuits (but mostly alcohol) had taken a significant toll on my mind by this point in the year (ok vastly, basically entirely alcohol) and the nostalgia that this song triggered was a welcome reprieve from the black hole of despair that my life had become (yeah…completely, totally, inescapably alcohol).

By late April I had thankfully fallen into the unavoidable crash & burn that accompanies all addictions and after psychosis, terror, excess, brush with death, hospitalization, pain, suffering, seizures, more brush with death, more hospitalization, withdrawal and recovery had run their course…

The Caesars new album came out.

Paper Tigers came to me at a time when I was desperately gripping for something that bore the slightest resemblance to anything that I had known prior to falling off the cliff that I descended into throughout that costly year of my life.

Never had I found a work of art so cohesive, so lyrically poignant, or so beautifully, wonderfully simplistic. It shuddered, and then stood upright, it grabbed you with a caustic yet inviting urgency that showed you the morning before the evening had completely left you.

It was essentially, the way you wished love could be.

It began with hesitation, barely a whisper, and then the guitar’s first chord is struck, over and over and over again. Seconds later, you hear Cesar speak for the first time. He’s really telling you something, and you don’t know why, but somehow you believe every word he’s saying. That’s all it takes. You’re there for the rest of the album and you can’t wait for the next song.
Before he had reached the second verse, I realized that he was looking for the same thing I was. A complete, total and uncompromising return to what he had once known. To somehow find something wild and alive in the stability of the sleepy neighborhood streets from his youth.

This was a theme that would be maintained throughout the rest of the album and the rest of my summer.

I feel like John Cusack in “High Fidelity,” organizing his albums autobiographically. And you know what? It’s a good feeling. Where’s my Cosby sweater? I think I’m gonna put it on.

Following “Spirit,” the epic opener that you need to hear to believe, you’re hit with “It’s Not The Fall That Hurts.” It was a graphic reminder. The fall didn’t really hurt at all until I was close to the end. The initial portion of the fall was a hoot. Once I allowed myself to teeter off the edge, the ground that would eventually rise up to meet me was of no concern, I was going to enjoy this fall and enjoy it to the fullest.

Sure enough, “it’s when you hit the ground” are the second lines of this hook. I find it highly doubtful that I would have ever grasped the meaning of this song had I come upon it at any other point in my life.

I have never had faith in the abilities of psychiatrists. I am in no place to say that they do not work for some people, but I was convinced that they would do nothing for me. Even after being diagnosed as a chronic alcoholic before my 19th birthday, I refused to subject myself to the scrutiny of one of those people.

But I did attend therapy. I attended it every time I played this album.

Suddenly a new drum beat drops, perfectly syncopated snare and bass compliments the new riff. “Out There” connects to you and you are immediately cognizant of the adventurous search that is taking place here.

They are using the music as a tool for the lyrics. What a novel idea, huh? They are utilizing a retro style, a throwback if you will, to when rock n’ roll was in its earliest purest form. How much more perfect of a method could a band ask for so as to rediscover what was pure and good in themselves through music?

Then there it is again “Jerk It Out,” and it leads a parade of bouncing, gyrating, mirthful tones that explode and sizzle only to explode again. The title track hits at the album’s center, cooling things off after the dazzlingly heated assault you just endured. It’s a calm, melodic groove, fit for the recovery time that greets the middle of a bands set at some summer amphitheatre in a sundown field. Awakening once more you’re are taken back into the fray, and love every minute of it.

Then “Winter Song” occurs. And it just so happens, that the more the song progresses the more you understand the album as a whole and why everything before it happened in the first place.

It’s a beautifully treated acoustic guitar, complimented by chimes, string arrangements, drum swells and a far-off icy echo that I just can’t place.

As the last three songs progress, you realize that these are true masters at their craft. You see the entire portrait they have painted for you and you can finally lay your summer down to sleep, kissing it good by once its fast a slumber.

I never finished listening to this album. I’ve never listened to the final track all the way until the end. For all I know there’s a brilliant hidden track following the last sounds uttered within “Good and Gone.”

But I’ll never know.

Much like you can’t bring yourself to read the last few pages of “Return of the King,” or to wake the Windfish at the end of “Link’s Awakening,” they all means the same thing.

Saying goodbye to old friends.

I followed these guys on this journey from track 1 to track 13. Constructing a perfect album, a little bit of magic and a personal miracle for me. The sun went down on my summer with me understanding why I was still around. What took place while listening to that album was a remarkable transcendence in my mind from what I had once thought an album should be.

I found an album that was made for me, and I pray you do too.

This one, ladies and gentleman, is perfect.

“…runnin through these empty streets… this city’s built for you and me…”


Jared Adams

October 3rd 2006 3:04 AM

Brubacher Hall, Albany, New York

NOTE: Better late than never I always say, and this addition to the site is no exception. Muchos thanks in order to Jared Adams and his deeply personal twist on the review. Jared is of course the folk/pop songweaver I reviewed eariler this year. When he's not writting more songs than you've ever heard, he also lends his pen to an Albany newspaper writting a gonozo collum. He and I have differernt ideas on many things including animal rights, but we both agree on this album, its a groovey jam. Listen to his music or tell him you liked his review at the myspace (you damn kids and your interweb!!).

Monday, October 2

Quick Hits

Hey everyone. A bunch of new albums come out this week. I am really looking forward to telling you all what I think of them, but before I can do that I've got to get some older albums out of the way. Rather than do full reviews for all of these albums, I'm just going to do some quick reviews to give you an idea.

Artist: Outkast
Album: Idlewild
Rating: 4.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: "Mighty O", "Morris Brown", "Hollywood Divorce"

Comments: Nothing here is as good as anything on "Aquimini", but the tracks that work are the ones that Outkast works together on. However, for the most part this album is a disappointing mishmash of prohibition-era blues and soul and mainstream 2000 hip hop. Musicals are dead anyway.

Artist: The Format
Album: Dog Problems
Rating: 6 out of 10
Key Tracks: "Matches" "She Doesn't Get It" "Dog Problems"

Comments: The Format avoid the sophomore slump with another album of quaint, pleasant pop songs about losing, girls, losing girls, and (as the title suggests) dogs. It's a nice album; nothing on here is as engaging as "On Your Porch" or as bubblegum fun as "The First Single", but The Format are holding the course.
Artist: Liars
Album: Drums Not Dead
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack" "A Visit From Drum" "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack"

Comments: A moody and creepy indie rock concept album about the two sides of the creative process of song writhing, "Drums Not Dead" sounds like it should be played in outer space or at the bottom of the worlds darkest cave. Often brutal and abrasive, but also with moments of unbelievable tenderness, this album is a grower. After a first listen you may never play it again, but those willing to go back will find something worth listening to. It gets a little caught up in itself, but not a bad record.
Artist: Cursive
Album: Happy Hollow
Rating: 7 out 0f 10
Key Tracks: "Dorothy at 40" "Bad Sects" "Dorothy Dreams of tornados"

Comments: After exercising his personal demons on Cursive's dark masterpiece "The Ugly Organ", Tim Kashir returns with one less cello player, three more horn players, and a vendetta against the catholic church. This album boasts an excellent first half, but the ideas get stale after a little while. The horns intertwining with the angular guitars that Cursive are known for, and makes for an interesting, if not sometimes rough, sonic experience. Kashir is as gifted with the pen as ever. He is not as open of himself as he has been in the past, but after "the Ugly Organ" the guy deserves a break.


Artist: Tapes n' Tapes
Album: The Loon
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: "Just Drums" "Insistor" "Manitoba"

Comments: This album has two parents. One is the loose jam and quirky sense of Pavement, and one is the wild reckless ness and screaming into the void feel of Pixies. But as far as influences go, you could do a lot worse than those two. The album never strays far from these two parents, but still somehow manages to stand apart from them, always reminding but never ripping off. Fans of either band should pick this up, and after the second listen, you'll like it not because you like Pixies or Pavement, but because you like Tapes n' Tapes.

OK, that's it. Check back this week for reviews about:

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Decemberists - The Crane Wife
The Killers - Sam's Town
...Trail of Dead - New Album