Thursday, December 28

Mr. Dogg’s Top Five – Second Helpings and Leftovers

Year end lists and best of collections are all well and good, but why must they be so final? Sure, TV on the Radio and Bob Dylan had some great records, but what about all those other records that may have gotten caught up in the wash, or unjustly forgotten in December? So, in the spirit of reflection and the starting of a new year, I present to you the Sixth Men of the year. These are the B+ albums of 2006.

5) Camera Obscure – Lets Get Out of This Country
Comments: A little wimpy (think Belle and Sebastian) at times, but an overall solid collection of pure pop sweetness. Lead singer Tracyanne Campbell is pushed to the front of the mix, and her strong vocals carry hang over sweet, simmering melodies. Good music to smooch to, this is one album that girlfriend and boyfriend alike can enjoy.

4) Tapes n Tapes – The Loon
Comments: The bastard child of Modest Mouse, Pixies, and Pavement features charming wit delivered with a smile, and one of the best songs of the year in “Insistor”. A little less restraint on the developed songs, and a little more development on the jams, and “The Loon” would have given Man Man a run for album of the year.

3) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
Comments: This one never got a fair shake from critics, as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were always seen as more of a product of a scene than an actual band. Don’t believe the hype; a little more focus and studio polish has this NYC trio sounding a lot better for the wear. “Show Your Bones” is fine record about not so fine relationships and on songs like “Dudley”, Karen O is able to rekindle the lyrical and vocal vulnerability that made “Maps” one of the best songs of 03.

2) The Futureheads – News and Tributes
Comments: Those well dressed Europeans return with more of their “Wire meets Beach Boy” brit pop, and bring some maturity along for the ride. While they may have pulled their tongues a little bit out of their cheeks, and have a few less quick laughs on their debut, The Futureheads are able to deliver another great pop record. “News and Tributes” proves that The Futureheads are much more than Franz Ferdinand Johnny-come-lately’s. Not to mention that this album has, dare I say, the best first track of the year; a rocking call and response blast indecisively titled Yes/No.

1) Liars – Drum’s Not Dead
Comments: A concept album of sorts, (dealing with the two conflicting sides of the creation process, those being the creative side and the apprehensive side) “Drum’s Not Dead” is a grower of an album. After one listen, people may be turned off. After the second listen, the vast lonesome feeling of the record will have you intrigued. By the third listen, the tender moments peppered among the atmospheric landscape will creep into your head and by the fourth listen; it’ll be one of your favorite records of 2006. I triumph in every sense.

Tuesday, December 19

LEFT OF THE DIAL’S BEST OF 2006

Well, the trees are light up, the stockings are being stuffed, Bing Crosby is melting out of the stereo, and global warming has ruined any chance of snow, so it must be Christmas time. With the holiday season upon us, the chances of this site getting updated are between “snowball in hell” and “Mr. Dogg getting a new car for Christmas” so I’m posting the year end reviews now.

HIP HOP
Mr. Dogg’s Pick: Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
Runner Up: The Roots – Game Theory

Comments: I’ve always loved the Roots, and since moving to Philadelphia my love has swelled into near infatuation. “Game Theory” is the groups finest studio album since the titanic “Things Fall Apart” and in any other year, Black Thought’s battle ready flow matched with ?uestlove’s maturing production would be enough to grant then best Hip Hop honors. However, this year, Ghostface Killah’s “Fishscale” showed up and ruined my potential love fest. Not that I am complaining; “Fishscale” boasts some of the best production and the tightest lyrics of the year. Ghostface has always been a story teller, and on “Fishscale” he spits his street one acts with a ferocity and delicacy not seen by many rappers. Not only does he unite the entire Wu-Tang clan for a track, but he offer parents everywhere parenting advice: beat your kids and they won’t act up. Ghostface loves the kids.

PUNK
Mr. Dogg’s Pick: The Lawrence Arms – Oh! Calcutta!
Runner Up: Be Your Own Pet – Be Your Own Pet

Comments: This was not a banner year for punk. Old bands like NOFX and Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin spewed mediocrity and folk. Epitaph, Victory, Drive Thru, and Fat Wreck, labels that used to poses quality bands, are now shells of their former selves, housing 3rd and 4th tier acts and uninspired lineups. The has long been in need of some new blood, and this year it came in the form of snotty teens Be Your Own Pet. The four piece, just-out-of-high-school, pop punk group put out a self titled album full of energy, nasal screams, buzzing guitar, and a youthful exuberance that hasn’t been sincere in punk for a long time. But despite their excellent d├ębut, the punk album of the year comes from soon-to-be-veteran act, The Lawrence Arms. The Larry Arms have been putting out consistently good pop punk since the late 90s, and their latest is no exception. “Oh! Calcutta!” takes the pop punk sound the band perfected on “Apathy and Exhaustion” and gives it a harder edge. The writing, which is always above average and poignant without being preachy, is in top form on this record. From “The Devil’s Taking Names” to “Are you There Margaret, It’s me God”, this record boasts the best first five tracks of the year. The Lawrence Arms continue to bear the torch of “Best Pop Punk Band” since the Alkaline Trio released “Goddamn It”.



POP
Mr. Dogg’s Pick: Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
Runner Up: NA

Comments: Who the hell would have ever thought that Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse could collaborate to make a commercially successful record? I think the duo must have made some underhanded deal with Satan, because “St. Elsewhere” is one of the few pop records released this year that with musically impressive and widely successful while maintaining high quality music. Cee-Lo’s soulful tones matched with Danger Mouse’s keyboard funk made for perfect soundtrack to any party this year. This is what Motown would sound like if it hadn’t died in the 70s. I only hope that the two bow out gracefully without trying to re-create this album. I feel like this was a one time bolt of lighting that served to shake up the pop landscape and show people that no matter your race, creed, religion or sex, it is okay to be funky. Gnarls Barkley proved to the world that you don’t have to lower your sound to make an album for everyone.

ROCK
Mr. Dogg’s Pick: The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
Runner Up: Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People say I am, That’s What I’m Not.

Comments: Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER trust UK hype about any band. If I were to believe every trumped up claim from England claiming that a band will save rock and roll, take the world by storm, or be the next Beatles, I would be so crushed by disappointment that I would never listen to music again. I would also be disappointed that the Arctic Monkeys didn’t take the US by storm the same way they did the UK. But screw all that hype; the Arctic Monkeys debut, full of youthful debauchery, alcoholism, surf guitar, driving rhythm, and snotty attitude, is as fine a record as any this year. But the real success in the rock world was the emergence of the Hold Steady. Taking their bar room stomp and Springsteen influence and merging it with harmonies and honest-to-God sincere guitar solos, “Boys and Girls in America” is the Hold Steady’s first truly accessible album. Full of wonderful writing and wonderful instrumentation, Craig Finn and Co take their throne atop the rock world. This is my second favorite album of the year.

INDIE
Mr. Dogg’s Pick: Love is All – Nine Time That Same Song
Runner Up: TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain

Comments: I’ve never had credibility as a critic, but if any indie folk thought that I did, this part of the review will shatter it. TV on the Radio’s “Return to Cookie Mountain” is widely accepted in many music circles as the best independently released album of the year. It’s a very impressive album, and songs like “Wolf Like Me” and “Method” make it hard to argue, but sometimes it is more impressive than it is good, and I still prefer their first full length “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes”. No, in my eyes, the best indie record of the year has to be from those Swedish upstarts Love Is All. I saw them open for The Go! Team, and they were absolutely awful. However, their album, full of songs about relationships and personal time management, won my heart with its pop roots and excellent horn use. Songs like “Turn the Radio Off” and “Make out, Fall out, Make Up” sound truly heartfelt, and will be sure to tug at the emotion strings. This is a new tweaking of pop, and I likes it.

MR. DOGG’S PICK OF 06
Man Man – Six Demon Bag


Comments: It kind of sounds like Tom Waits. Except that it doesn’t. If sort of reminds me of Frank Zappa. Except it isn’t. Man Man makes waltzes from purgatory, vaudeville soundtracks for the insane, carnival music for the absurd joke of life. It sounds like nothing, and it sounds like everything. But it’s so much more than a new sound. It is a heartbreakingly personal album about love, loss, and the end of second chances. It presents the idea that everyone has one true love, but that he or she may have died years ago. It claims that everything worth anything is nothing, and nothing is all we really have. Their best line: “I know that I’ll never be the man she thinks she really needs, but that don’t stop me from trying to be”. In the hands of lesser men, its nothing more than sap emo poetry. In the hands of Man, it is an aching statement of unrequited love and beautiful entrapment. “Six Demon Bag” tells the saddest story in history but in a brand new way, with brutal honesty and violent intensity. These are songs to scream at the moon. It is the most original thing I’ve heard in a long time.


FLOPS – They weren’t all gems, folks.

1) Jim Jones – We Fly High
Comments: This is the second worst song of 2006. I don’t know the name of the first, or who is brave enough to take credit for it. If not for that mystery artist, this would be the worst. Jim Jones, even with Dipset, has always been a C- rapper at best, and he is not at his best on this song. Everything in this song, from the opening notes to the “ballin!” that has all the grade schoolers going nuts, makes my head hurts. Yeesh.

2) Rhett Miller/ Old 97’s
Comments: Take one excellent best of compilation, subtract one awful solo album from the lead singer, and subtract one chili’s commercial jingle, and you’ll see how things have been for the Old 97’s this year. Here’s hoping that 07 brings better things from this country/pop act.

3) Less Than Jake – In With the out Crowd
Comments: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? HOW THE… you know what? No. I’m not doing it. I don’t have the energy or the blood pressure to even discuss this. It might be the worst album of 06. This is the "Rocky 5" of Less Than Jake albums. It never happened. DO YOU HEAR ME?! IT! NEVER! HAPPENED!

Monday, December 11

A Brief Synopsis of “10,000 Days”

Artist : Tool
Album: 10,000 Days

Comments: Before I say another word, let me say this: the album is good. The band effectively restates their command over their instruments, and every inane time signature imaginable, while sticking to their trademark tightness. It is correct to say that all cylinders are firing in the area of the execution of the playing of the music, which is both difficult and demanding, while the band powers through most tracks methodically.

Right off the bat, the opening track, “Vicarious,” reasserts Tool’s prowess, power, and presence while simply rocking the listeners face. The second track, “Jambi,” is similar in its volume level and execution of Tool’s eerily mathematic style, and maintains the album’s pace. However, a gear switch is felt in the third track, “Wings for Marie (Part One).” Here the band taps into their other specialty: Atmospherics. Here the lead singer, Maynard Keenan, comes into focus with his ambient, quazi-prophetic lyrical tone. Vague ominous and biblical references lend themselves even further in track four, “10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2),” to create the darkening imagery typical to past Tool releases. Track five is no reprieve as “The Pot” reasserts the ability of the rhythm section of Tool.

However, as the introduction concludes with track five, track six (or rather track seven because track six is a filler track) represents a crossroads for the album. The pace and integrity of the album thus far, which can be good or bad, is very intense and chock-full of everything that makes Tool what they are. Immediately after the filler, however, the album drops into what could be called ambient rock. Track seven and eight are paired, similarly to “Parabol” and “Parabola” from Lateralus, in the sense that they are thematically linked with the track seven leading into track eight. However, despite the fact that track eight, “Rosetta Stoned,” is one of the album’s strongest, the climax of the pairing is drawn out more than its cousin from Lateralus. Likewise, tracks nine and ten, another pairing, lack a sense of urgency or climax. Granted, they are presented as well organized ambient rock songs, but this is the conclusion of an album we are talking about. Track ten, “Right in Two,” does kick into gear in its final minutes, but not to the point where the conclusion of the project is evident. Finally, the final track of the album, “Viginiti Tres,” sounds like an electrical reproduction of a desk fan.

With all said and done, the album is good. However, it is not great. With an anticlimactic arrangement of tracks, the album almost concludes too early. Even so, at the actual conclusion of the album there is something amiss about the entire presentation of the album. Whereas previous albums, like Aenima, and Opiate, featured raw, edgy tracks like “Hooker with a Penis” and “Prison Sex,” 10,000 Days lacks that raw flavor that had been typical to previous Tool releases. The production of 10,000 Days is nearly flawless, however, production has never been one of Tool’s featured standpoints. In other words, the newly conceived focus on production seems to hem in the expansionist rawness that Tool has pioneered thus far.

To conclude, the album opens auspiciously and reasserts Tool’s place in the progressive metal scene. However, the album eventually falls into the grey area of inconclusiveness and an uncharacteristic sense of overproduction. However, this does not occur to the point of discrediting Tool. In fact, the album is still above the average cut, but this is Tool we are talking about.

-James Keough

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: “Vicarious,” “10,000 days,” “The Pot,” and “Rosetta Stoned”

Worth the Money: Yes. Above average, longtime fans will likely be appeased and new fans will be intrigued.

Thursday, December 7

The Floppy Return

Artist: Jay-Z
Album: Kingdom Come

Comments: Is anyone surprised by this?

Really?

Honestly?

Come on. The minute Jay-Z announced his “retirement” from hip hop on the excellent “Black Album”, I knew that there was no way we wouldn’t get at least 2 more albums out of him in the future. Lo and behold, I was right. Jay-Z has come out of his three year hiatus with “Kingdom Come”. All over the album, Jay makes the claim that he’s back to save hip hop and to rejuvenate the game. Sadly, the only thing that’s going to get rejuvenated from this album is Jay’s wallet.

Anyone who’s not impressed by Jay’s ability probably doesn’t understand rap too well. The fact that he is able to rap off the top of his head without writing is a really impressive thing. Most rappers freestyle every few months, but Jay’s albums are all freestyles in a way. It really is a pretty cool thing. But there’s a downside to this skill, and that is that there is no editing or reworking of his rhymes. That’s why Jay-Z can have 2 great verses and one god awful one on the same song. On “Kingdom Come”, it sounds like retirement has made Jay lazy, because there are a lot more bad verses than there are good on the album.

Another problem with this record comes from the producers Jay is working with. Dr. Dre, Kanye West, and Swizz Beats all produce some truly weak tracks. I’m not even sure that Jay could save these songs even if he was at the top of his game. Certainly not when he’s rhyming about 30 being the new 20, getting with broads, and how back he is.

One of the better songs on the record, produced by Just Blaze, is the soul fueled banger “Oh My God”. The song rips, and it is one of the few times on the album that Jay actually brings some good rhymes. Both the lyrics and beat set the bar high, and the two work very well together. It’s a triumphant track, to be sure, and the only one on the album that supports Jay’s swagger. The other good track is the closer “Beach chair”, which is produced by Chris Martin of Coldplay. Nothing against Martin, but when the lead singer of FUCKING COLDPLAY is making better beats than Dr. Dre and Kanye West, maybe you should have held off on the album for a little bit.

Jay-Z sounds bored, and I know why. Jay isn’t hungry any more, but why would he be? When Jay stepped away in 03, he was on top of the world as the self proclaimed best rapper, and there were a lot of people who agreed with him. He accomplished more than most rappers dare dream; he had the world listening. Anyone can have the world, its keeping the world that’s the problem, and when Jay stepped away, he lost us. Sorry Jay, but its going to take more than some B-side beats and half assed lines to win us back.

Jay compares himself to Jordan on the lukewarm single “Show me What you Got”. If he means coming back after his prime and risking embarrassing his legacy, than he might be right.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Key Tracks: “Oh My God” “Beach Chair” “Kingdom Come”

Worth the Money: No