Wednesday, December 31

Top 40 Songs of the Year

40) M.I.A - Paper Planes
Seeing as this song was released in 07, it usually wouldn't be eligible for the "Best of" list. However, I think it would be a much bigger lapse in judgment to ignore a song that was so fucking huge for so long with such a good hook. "Paper Planes" did things for the "Cash Register" and "Gunshot" sound effects that no one has done since late 90s hip hop, and for that alone it deserves to be on the list, regardless of what year it came out in.

39) Black Kids - I'm Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You
In a year saturated with hipster dance music, the Black Kids went post-modern and scored a hit with a track so catchy and simple that it almost feels like a guilty pleasure.

38) The Wombats - My First Wedding It's a story as old as time. Kid goes to a wedding to see an old flame get married, has too much to drink, tells off the wedding party and gets run out of town. The lyrics are authentic and bitter ("She's my heartless bitch that I just can't seem to get enough of..." "She's not that beautiful...") benefitied by excellent delivery and brit-pop effiecntcy, making for the best song about unrequented love on an album overflowing with it.

37) The Gaslight Anthem - The 59 Sound

The title track for The Gaslight Anthem's breakout record paints a perfect picture of the band: new school jersey punks for whom which music stopped with Lifetime and Springsteen, writing songs about cars, funeral songs, the afterlife, and young kids who die on Saturday nights. Tragedies rarely come so well packaged.

36) Man Man - Poor Jackie

Honus Honus and his band of wolves get their sad on with this seven minute sailor's durge about a soul-sucker of a woman who has to hid from the athourites. Concidering how manly Rabbit Habbits is, it's nice to hear Honus howling again, practically sobbing broken man lyrics ("I don't see what everybody sees in youy sexy body / all I see is a pretty face painted on a shallow grave.)

35) Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Posess Your Heart
If there is a band less likely to make an eight-minute long bass heavy love grove than Death Cab For Cutie, I don't know about them. Nothing about this song makes sense, which makes its success all the more rewarding.

34) TV on the Radio - Crying

Track one, side one of Dear Science is textbook TVotR: spacy distant rock music with a beat you can move to and a mind to be the next Talking Heads / David Bowie. Someday, these dudes are going to stop cranking out hits.

33) Tom Gable - Anna is a Stool Pigeon
Gable didn't invent folk-punk, but few people can smash on major chords and grumble about politics better. "Anna" takes a funny turn on a love story gone wrong, painting a revolutionary falling for an FBI informant. Since this is Gable and not Colin Meloy, you can guess how the story ends.

32) Frightened Rabbit - Good Arms vs Bad Arms
Emotional dudes of the world, take notice. Frightened Rabbit are your new gods. Expect big things in 09 / 10.

31) The Cool Kids - What Up Man
The best rap song ever made using only a mic and a bell. Worth a listen just to find out what I'm talking about.

30) Sleepercar - Wednesday Nights
Jim Ward will always sound better as a member of At The Drive In, but he's not half bad as an alt-country crooner, either.

29) The Mars Volta - Goliath
As much as I hate this band, "Goliath" is one of the most brutaly mammoth rock songs of the year, and far and away the best thing TMV has done since their first album.

28) Women - Cameras
27) Wavves - Side Yr On

2008 was a pretty bad year for cheaply made low-fi punk music, what with Japanther going soft and hype bands like No Age and Times New Viking doing blow with strippes. Thank god for Women and Wavves and their crunchy, sunny basement pop. "Cameras" is the kind of song that Brian Wilson listens to while doing drugs, and "Side Yr On" is as fuzzy and rolling as the band's namesake.

26) The Streets - The Strongest Person I Know
If Mike Skinner comes in two settings ("Playful" and "Sentimental"), its the second one that drags him down more often than not. Still, with nothing more than a common piano melody accented with some woodwinds, Skinner's love letter to a nameless hero is honest, down to earth, and wonderfully, strightforwardly simple.

25) Hot Chip - Ready for the Floor

24) Less Than Jake - Abandon Ship
GNV FLA has plauged me in 2008. On the one hand, it is obvious pandering to a slighted fanbase. On the other, it's exactly what what old heads like me were hoping for. "Abandon Ship" is a track very much aware of this dicotomy and serves as a sort of apology for past transgressions. As much as I want to stay mad, it works.

23) Foals - Cassius

Bloc Party + Minus the Bear + Forward, Russia! = the best post-punk song of the year.

22) Nada Surf - I Like What You Say
These aging tigers seem to have burned off all their bitter snark, leaving nothing but sweetly sinsear pop rock songs. "I Like What You Say" is nothing more or less than that, but sometimes that's all you need.

21) Tapes n Tapes - The Dirty Dirty
Walk it Off might have been a letdown, but there is nothing disapointing about this five minute droning rumbler. Odd time signatures, grumbing guitars, church bells and hooky nonsense lyrics are enough to make TnT fans keep on belivin'.

20) The Magnetic Feilds - California Girls

Hands down, my favorite song about teenage girls of the year. If you are between the ages of 14 and 18, think The Hills is a good model for your behavior and are concidering a career in PR, please listen to this song first and take every word to heart.

19) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Midnight Man

Dig! Lazarus! Dig! has got more than its share of hits, including the catchy-as-sin title track, but none are better than Cave's story of a confused woman caught between two men. Cave is as poetic as ever, but its the twist ending that leave the Midnight Man (not to be confused with the Nightman) twisting in the wind that gives the song its punch.

18) Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Really, concidering the amount of press these dudes got this year, do I honestly think I can contribute anything? No. This song rules. Next.

17) The Old 97's - The One
Half "story-of-our-band" song, half bank robbery, "The One" is a pop-rock victory lap for this year's Phinox band, everyone's favorite cow-punks-turned-popsmiths.

16) The YMD - Drown Yr Hamster in Nail Polish

If there is a more successful combination of punk and rap I haven't heard it. Little brother delivery and old-school battle rap lyrics make this track the party-starter for your next basement get-together.

15) Drive-By Truckers - Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife

Usually, when an artist gets a family and starts to mellow out, the music suffers. Thankfully, the opposite happened to the Drive-By Trucker's Patterson Hood, who took his newfound family love and turned it into a soft love letter about those left behind after the passing of life. Sweet and soft, this track serves as a great opener to a great album.

14) MGMT - The Kids
Of all the overhyped bands of the last few years totally undeserving of the credit they've been blessed with, no one seems more transparently crappy as MGMT. Still, my naked dislike for them asife, "The Kids" is one of those rare hipster dance songs that can overcome my blind rage and make me shake my moneymaker. I love this song, but fuck you, MGMT.

13) The Mountain Goats - Heritic Pride
John Darniell's story of a man gleefully dragged from his house only to be murdered in the town square to great rejoicing and personal contentment is...well...kind of fucked up when you type it out like that. Still, it's a rocking track that will have the chorus on your brain for at least 48 hours.

12) Flogging Molly - Float
It seems like I spent a lot of this year walking around looking for jobs to no avail. That kind of nonstop rejection can catch up on a dude and there were more than a few times that I felt like packing it all in and moving back to upstate NY. "Float" became my unemployed jam, my anthem for the pursuit of honesty through any means and regardless of cost. Don't sink the boat that you built to keep afloat.

11) Gnarls Barkley - Run

It's safe to assume that this dynamic duo will never reach their "Crazy" heights again, but it won't be because of a dip in quality. "Run" is a punchy quick neo-soul song that would have gotten a lot more play in a fair an honest world.

10) Los Campisenos! - Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks

9) Future of the Left - Suddenly It's a Folk Song

8) Ra Ra Riot - St. Peter's Day Festival

7) Lil Wayne ft. Babyface - Comfortable

6) Hot Club de Paris - Hey! Housebrick

5) Titus Andronicus - No Future

4) The Hold Steady - Two Handed Handshake

3) Weezer - The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variatons of a Shaker Hymn)

2) Kanye West - Love Lockdown

1) Algernon Cadwallader - Serial Killer Status

Thursday, December 25

Top 25 Albums of the Year: 15 - 1

In my own personal history books, 2008 will have to go down as the year of self doubt. Between my graduation from college and my failed attempts at legitimacy, I am smack dab in the middle of the "Liberal Arts Post-College Bullshit" phase of my life. As a result, I tended to gravitate more towards dark music, the kind of things that gave a voice to my personal situation. As time goes on, odds are good I won't care much about any of these albums, as I don't plan on being depressed forever. However, for a man-boy struggling on the edge of adulthood with nothing left to cling to, these records provided me some companionship, if not comfort.

15) TV on the Radio - Dear Science (DGC / Interscope)

TVotR are like Beck in that I recognize their genius and the potential musical impact they will have on future bands, yet I can never get really excited for them. Dear Science came as close as any album to getting me worked up, and with good reason. The Brooklyn boys are picking up Bowie's torch, making smart dance music for people who like to rock. This album's pop sensibility will no doubt place it high on other lists, but here I can't put it above 15.

14) The Gaslight Anthem - The 59 Sound (SideOneDummy)

The first thing that comes to mind when hearing The 59 Sound is "man, how does the lead singer get his voice to sound like that?" The second thing is how much this band owes to American rock music from the past and how well they are paying homage to it. While The Senior and the Queen remains their best work, this album is an excellent assembly of Springsteenian punk anthems about being young, driving in cars, and the innocent girls who make summer nights seem to last forever.

13) Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)

There is almost too much happening on Chemistry to even comment on. Guitar tracks layered up to 18 times. Vocals pushed as far back in the mix as possible, barking from the back of the room. Clever songs about the mythology of a Christian God. This album is like a swarm of angry wasps, encompassing, furious, and strangely beautiful.

12) The Old 97's - Blame it on Gravity (New West)

It's not often that bands can recapture their old sound without obvious pandering, but the Old 97's have pulled it off. By finding an energy not usually fitting rockers their age, the one-time cow punks have produced an album lousy with country-touched pop gems and released their best album since 1998's fantastic Too Far To Care.

11) Hot Club de Paris - Live at Dead Lake (Moshi Moshi)

Brit pop for kids who like their guitars in odd tunings, their songs outside of 4-4 time, their vocal harmonies constant, and their pop observations as sharp as their bass lines. Live at Dead Lake is a consistent treat from the opening notes of "My Little Haunting" to the faithful Minutmen cover on "The Anchor" to the heartbreaking optimism of "Boy Awaits Return of the Runaway Girl."

10) Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)
Any time an album goes to 19 tracks there is bound to be some filler, and Brighter Than Creation's Dark is no exception. What is remarkable is how few of these 19 tracks feel like throw aways. Tender moments of family reflection are tossed in with character sketches about fractured people and songs about drinking on this massive American rock classic, resulting in a red-state album that crosses all boundaries and appeals to anyone within the 50 states.

9) The YMD - Excuse Me, This is The Yah Mos Def (My Pal God)
What happens when two lifetime Philly hardcore kids cross over into the world of rap? One of the most irreverent and re-playable records of the year. By utilizing Bomb Squad style drums, playground punchlines and some of the finest hardcore samples around (Cap'n Jazz and Drive Like Jehu? Wha?), The YMD have created something fun and orignal using old ideas (not to mention giving a pretty good idea what your punk rock little brother would sound like rapping).

8) The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale EP

Too often modern hip-hop is focused on "Hardness" and "realness," sapping all the original playfulness and fun from the genre. The Bake Sale EP recaptures some of that feeling, providing 10 track of laid back BBQ goodness. This it the kind of music OGs used to kick it to, the kind of cool confident swagger that rap has been missing. The Cool Kids are, hands down, the (sorry) coolest motherfuckers of they year.

7) Los Campesnion! - Hold On Now, Youngster (Wichita)

The achievements of Los Camp in 2008 cannot be overstated. Anyone can release two albums in the same year, but it takes a truly special band to put out two albums of consistently quality music. Taking cues from the twee rockers like Love is All and Architecture in Helsinki, as well as indie classics like Sonic Youth, both Hold On Now, Youngster and Doomed are thick with songs supported by sharp wit, kitchen sink arrangements, and unadulterated youthful good will. Los Camp are well on the way to being your new favorite band.

6) The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Vagrant)
America's best rock band are beginning to grey. Stay Positive is full of top notch songs about kids in America being kids in America, but its overall theme is that of aging. In my original review of this album, I heralded this album as the beginning of the end for the Hold Steady. As long as they keep making literate and powerful bar rock along the lines of "Sequestered in Memphis" and " Lord I Am Discouraged," we won't have to worry about these old lions.

5) Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (XL)
What can be said about Vampire Weekend that hasen't already been screamed from the mouths of collegiate party girls across the country? By tapping into a world-music-meets-pop sound not touched since Paul Simon, Vampire Weekend's self titled album became one of the most popular pop records of the year, full of songs good for the beach, the doorm room, the car stereo, and anywhere in between.

4) Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III (Cash Money)

Lil Wayne is out of his goddamn mind and he is more than happy to let us in on it. So little of what Wayne says on Tha Carter III makes sense that one has to assume it is the work of a genius. In a way it is, as the connections and wordplay Weezy tosses about on this album is so playful and simple sounding that it has to be the work of a pro. Considering how much Lil Wayne used to suck, watching his rise to prominence and superstardome has been extremly fun. Almost as fun as trying to following the twisting alleyways of this album.

3) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig! Lazarus! Dig! (Mute)

DLD is a record of reckless self destruction, abuse, torture, blasphemy and fear. The Bad Seeds play like hell's personal house band, layering guitars and bass over demon keys to make noises that couldn't possibly come from a ritious man. At the eye of this storm is Cave, a wolf in a dinner jacket, preaching from a pile of broken women, slain enemies, and self destructive tendencies. These songs are the opposite of love, these songs are little wars on women, on death and on God himself. Satire is never this violent, self abuse is never this public.

2) Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman)

Named after Shakespeare's most violent and amateur of plays, Titus Andronicus are the embodiment of anger, impotence and loss. The Airing of Grievances is an album of punk songs that take aim at everything, literaly everything, with an intent to burn this inconsistent world to the ground. The real magic, however, is how much fun the end sounds. Part Neutral Milk Hotel, part Against Me!, part Bruce Spingsteen, part Connor Oberst, Titus Andronicus have established themselves as the last real punk band, an entity that stands in opposition to absolutely everything. Your life is over, good times are here again.

1) The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (4AD)

After years of operating as a solo low-fi tape guru, John Darniell has finally learned how to play with others, writing his first completely successful rock album. That aside, the glory and pull of the Mountain Goats has always been in Darniell's simple and elegant writing, and that is very much the case here. Darniell sings about solders coming home with blood in their mouths, a man buying a switchblade in defense of some faceless disaster coming soon, a swamp creature looking for love, a man perched on a throne of human skulls, and (most beautifully) a man dragged from his home to be buried alive, a smile fixed on his face. While these things have little implication in real life, it's amazing how Darniells abstracts can be so easily and seamlessly attached to real life.

Heretic Pride
is the first Mountain Goats album in some time that is not about Darniell's relationship with his abusive step father. It's clear listening to his record that the man is finally free of his shackles, free of his captor. We are all the better for it. The real beauty is that, within the man's simple lyrics, there is the magic to free us, as well.

Tuesday, December 23

top 25 Albums of the Year: 25 - 16

Welcome to LOTD's top 25 of 2008 album countdown! Tonight we unleash the first half on y'all suckers, with 15 - 1 coming on Christmas Day! Merry Christmas!

25) J.Fox – We're Happy To Be Here! (Self Released)
While not a gem from start to finish, the stream-of-conscious surf punk that J. Fox creates on We're Happy To Be Here! yields more catchy songs than one would expect from a low-fi Modest Mouse-inspired rock band. The album's duds will fade from memory while hits like “Brooklyn,” “Oysters,” and “Basement Rock” will hang around for weeks.

24) Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple (Downtown / Atlantic)
While this duo of unlikely hitmakers' second album is not as good as their first, Gnarls Barkley's sophomore release is a dark and mature album full of stormy pop songs about mental illness, isolation and various other off-kilter topics one would not expect to bump in the club. Thank god Cee-lo Green's soulful howls and Danger Mouse's inspired production sound so good together that it doesn't matter what the songs are about.


23) Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs (Atlantic / WEA)
While no means a departure for the soft-spoken emo rockers (Gibbard is still a sad sack after all), the group's focus on making rock music thick with groove-heavy bass lines and upstart guitar licks is a welcome departure from their more sterile major label work. “Long Division” and “No Sunrise” are as close to “rock” as this band has gotten in some time, while their 8 minute long single “I Will Posses Your Heart” still punches as hard as it did this past summer.

22) Algernon Cadwallader – Some Kind of Cadwallader (Be Happy / Sars)
Sure, Algernon Cadwallader sounds exactly like a combination of Cap 'n Jazz and American Football, but more bands should have gone that route. The playful guitars, intelligible vocals that act as the fourth instrument and never-say-die hooks of Some Kind of Cadwallader make this album more refreshing than some “original” bands on the scene. More on Algernon in my top 30 songs post (coming Friday).

21) Nada Surf – Lucky (Barsuk)
Sometimes, in the search for the next big avant-garde art band to blow away the tight-jeans-wearing mind of hipsters everywhere, a man needs to unwind with some simple, straightforward, well written pop rock. Lucky was that album for me. The story of a band that crested on popularity before plunging into obscurity only to rise again as indie darlings isn't to shabby an angle, either.

20) Man Man – Rabbit Habbits (Anti)
If Six Demon Bag was a breakup album, the sound of a man destroyed at the loss of his love, Rabbit Habbits is that same man hitting the town, getting drunk, and sleeping with any woman he can find. Confident, crazy, and masculine while still maintaining their air of manic desperation, Man Man's latest is as fine a victory lap as any band has put out in some time.

19) Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual (We*Are*Free)
Imagine a punk band fronted by a teenage Karen-O, more concerned with candy than boys. Imagine that same band with a sever ADD problem and the musical chops of a 70s prog band. Now put that band in a recording studio with nothing but Pixie Stix and Mountain Dew. The resulting album could not be more fun and frantic than Ice Cream Spiritual, an album that is matched only by Spiderman of the Rings in its playfulness.

18) Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (Wichita)
See the second half of the list.




17) The Wombats – The Wombats Proudly Present a Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation (14th Floor)
Considering the amount of worrying that went into this list, I'm as surprised as anyone to find the Wombats making an appearance in my year-end list. Be that as it may, one would be hard pressed to find a more concise and well-crafted collection of tongue-in-cheek brit pop that the tunes offered on this album.

16) Girl Talk – Feed The Animals (Illegal Art)
The mash-up man is back with another audio experiment that crams pop, soul, hip-hop and rock into a blender and sets it to “Puree.” High notes this time around include the Jay-Z / Radiohead collision and an especially excellent mix of Temple of the Dog and Birdman. A great album for an ADD themed party or an all night coke binge.

Check back tomorrow for 15 - 1

Tuesday, December 16

Live in Philly: Ted Leo, 12/15

Just want to draw everyone's attention to a review of Ted Leo's solo show at the Barbary the other night in Philly. I was at this same show and regardless of any slight disagreements I may have with the review, it serves as such an accurate retelling of the event that Joe Pelone has eliminated all need for me to cover it myself. I'll leave you with a link to his blog (always entertaining) and a video of T-Lo (also always entertaining).


Monday, December 15

Tut Tut is Stuck in a Rutt

Artist: Japanther
Album: Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt

Comments: Considering how catchy and fun Japanther's low-fi, telephone and casiotone pop punk was on last year's Skuffed Up My Huffy, Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt is as disappointing a follow-up as one could expect from the Brooklyn drum-and-bass duo.

On the bright side, all of the band's salient elements are intact. The dudes are still big on using movie and TV samples in their songs, a quirk that looks kind of odd on paper but comes off charming in practice. The songs are still stripped down affairs, using telephones for vocals, simple rhythms, fuzzy bass lines and casiotone melodies. "Bumpin' Rap Tapes" and "Bloated Corpse" are fun little pop punk numbers that would sound good even without all the artsty nonsense.

Sadly, Tut Tut is sick with too many bad ideas and restraint to make the album worth much while. The record is 11 tracks long, but four of those tracks are rambling spoken word nonsense not worth even one listen (and two of these monstrosities are over nine minutes long). Another issue is in the albums production, as one of Skuffed's big charms was its rushed and sloppy sound. It's hard to say how a band that plays in basements and sings through spiral chord telephones could have a low-fi album with sheen, but they've somehow managed to pull it off. "Slick" is not the word, but things are mixed just a little too well here, pushing forth a sound that doesn't really suit the band's reckless punk styling.

Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt provides a few catchy numbers and helps establish the band's prolific reputation. However, considering that I was once ready to call this band the new hipster Ramones, the album leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and only reminds me how much better Skuffed was. Experiments in dance ("The Windex") and outright rap ("Radical Businessman") are neat, but ultimately this album is a disappointment.

I couldn't find a video from the new album, so here's one of my favorite tracks from Skuffed Up My Huffy.



Rating: 5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Bumpin' Rap Tapes, Radical Businessman, The Dirge

Buy, Steal, Skip: Skip

Thursday, December 11

Five Card Draw #5: Well, We Were Bound to Hear Bright Eyes Eventually

Five Card Draw: In which we'll have a friend of LOTD put their ipod on shuffle and write about the first five songs that play. One skip is allowed, so use it wisely. This idea is pretty much the exact same thing as something the City Paper does, so any and all credit should go to them. This week, LOTD's official scientist Tara Favazza gets down with some 8 minute ballads and some mopey music.

1) Neutral Milk Hotel - Oh Comely (In an Areoplane Over The Sea, 1998) Very sad, wicked long, and c'mon, you either liked Neutral Milk Hotel or you wished fervently that Jeff Mangum would learn to sing on key. Beautiful/horrible imagery and alliteration, but I will admit to skipping a good chunk of the 8 minutes and 18 seconds of it more often than not.



2) Stephen Page - Live With It Every Day
Though the song has the same peppy feeling you'd expect from the guys who penned "One Week", the subject matter is pretty dark. You wouldn't think accidental homicide by an 11 year old kid with a BB gun would be good subject matter for a catchy tune, but somehow they pull it off. You'll find yourself singing along with "We were almost 12 but we looked 13/He had baby blue eyes that I shot him between" and not feeling bad about it at all.


3) Bright Eyes - Haligh Haligh A Lie Haligh (Fevers and Mirrors 2000)
You just got cheated on/dumped/rejected and you want to wallow in self pity for awhile. Misery loves company, and you'll find no better than Bright Eyes, who's crying along with you. You'll lose interest in his heart-wrenching tales of woe once you've polished off that 3rd pint of Ben & Jerry's and come out from under the covers, but until then you have someone who totally gets what you're going through.

4) Moxy Früvous and Da Vinci's Notebook - Shoehorn With Teeth (appears originally on Bendy's Law 2000) Two goofy bands doing a cover of a goofy song from an even goofier band. Featuring fake British accents, a baby giggling, and what sounds like a human kazoo. Oh, and it's a cappella too, because it wasn't quite kitschy enough.

5) Skybox - Caravan Cabaret (Arcos Iris)
Honky-tonk piano, toe-tapping beat, and fun lyrics touting the benefits going out and seeing this big wide country of ours. "Well let's get on a train and out, baby/Go wherever it may/We don't need no destination/We just got to get away." Great song to rev up that road trip.

Tuesday, December 9

Breaking Up is Better With Love is All

Artist: Love is All
Album: A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night

Comments:
Forget Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Forget the Cold War Kids. Forget Tapes n' Tapes. The only blog band that is currently pushing consistently good tunes is Love is All. The Swedish dance-popper's second album A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night picks up right where Nine Times The Same Song left off, with this album looking at the darker side of love: The break up.

There are problems with Love is All. Their quirky lady lead singer has a voice that will entice some and be a deal breaker for others, as she does have a tendency to push herself into screech mode from time to time. Like Nine Times, A Hundred Things does have a tendency to run together from song to song, especially on the back end. With no slower ballads like "Turn the Radio off," the album also suffers from no change in tempo.

That being said, few bands are making fuzzy pop as well as this. A Hundred Things is an album for girls in boys left in the lurch and bitter, a dark disco album for people who want to scorn their exes by hitting the clubs, dancing like a madman and fucking the first person they see. The album is the definition of sexy self destruction.

Perhaps Love is All's greatest strength is their ability to mix genres. Their warm fuzzy production is distinctly lo-fi, their saxophone and drum beats give them a hipster dance sound that skinny kids in bad scarves can bump to, all while maintain their pop edge. "Last Choice" and "Give it Back" especially showcase this three headed music monster, as either song would sound super fresh on the dance floor or the basement party drinking PBR.

Scathing and clever, these are songs to recover to. "Sea Sick" and "Movie Romance" are especially bitter, rejecting notions of true love and adolescent lust in favor of more realistic, albeit more tragic, views on human emotion. Which is just a really pretentious way of saying that the songs are mature at best and jaded at worst.

But who cares if the tunes are jaded? A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night is the kind of album that can be appreciated on both a visceral and intellectual level. Love is All looked the sophomore slump in the face and forced it to dance, and established themselves as one of the bands to watch in the coming years.


Rating:
8 out of 10

Key Tracks:
Give it Back, Last Choice, When Giants Fall, Movie Romance

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Buy

Monday, December 8

Tom Gable's Heart Burns, Needs Antacids

Artist: Tom Gable
Album: Heart Burns

Comments: "I don't care what they hear / I know the way it sounds to me."

There is always friction when an artist rises from obscurity to prominence. There's nothing fans hate more than having to share their hot little secret with the rest of the world, and few artists understand this more than Tom Gable. Since his emergence on the punk scene in Against Me!, each of his band's albums has been released to the gnashing of fan-boy teeth and the "sellout" lamentations of the one-time faithful. Gable, for his part, has largely ignored the cries of his fans and continued to push his music forward.

On Heart Burns, however, it's almost like Gable wants people to freak out. The EPs first two cuts "Random Hearts" and "Conceptual Paths" as about as far away from Against Me! as anything the man has ever done. Both tracks are over-produced pop songs, heavy on keyboard drums and goofy 80s synth. I don't want to say the songs suck, but they are definitely the two weakest tracks on the album.

Not surprisingly, the strongest moments on the EP are when Gable sticks to his folk-punk bread and butter. "Harsh Realms" and "Anna is a Stool Pigeon" are classic Gable, the kind of songs that are right in his wheelhouse and will sound most appealing to Against Me! fans. "Anna" is especially good, served well by the crisp production and the hilariously tragic story of an activist that falls in love with an FBI informant.

The rest of the EP progresses without much fanfare. "Cowards Sing at Night" sounds kind of like a George Michael song, and "100 Years of War" is political song that gets a little bit too preachy, a problem that Gable has had a lot in the past.

Heart Burns is not bad. It's the kind of EP that hardcore fans will buy, but won't appeal to the casual listener. Parts of it seem a little self indulgent in their blatant effort to distance themselves from Against Me!'s cannon, and parts of it are as catchy and visceral as anything Gable has done. In time, this EP will be remember as little more than something fun for Gable to do between Against Me! albums, but considering how much flack the man has taken, it's hard to hold blowing off a little steam against him.


Rating:
5.5 out of 10

Key Tracks: Random Hearts, Anna is a Stool Pigeon, Harsh Realms

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Steal

Friday, December 5

Lazy Video Friday

Sorry, no update today. Here's what is on tap for the coming weeks:

The Killers
Tom Gable
Parts and Labor
Love is All
Los Campesinos!
Kieser Chiefs
Rivers Cuomo

...and many more!

In the mean time, here's a couple of my favorite silly videos to idly waste the day away with. Enjoy, and I'll see you on Monday.









Thursday, December 4

Kanye Gets Lonely, Bums People Out, Gets Closer To Greatness

Artist: Kanye West
Album: 808s and Heartbreaks

Comments:
The songs on 808s and Heartbreak themselves are not particularly interesting. As advertised, the majority of the album is nothing more than Kanye West's auto-tuned voice over some above average R&B production. The only song really worth bringing up is the first single "Love Lockdown," which boasts a super-catchy hook and the kind of thumping percussion that only top notch hip hop production is capable of producing.

No, what's interesting about this album is not the songs as much as what this album means in the Kanye West legacy.

West, partially through his own self promotion but mostly through his skills, will be remembered as one of the landmark artists of our generation. If I'm right, West will not only be remembered as an innovator but as the catalyst responsible for sparking hip hop's second coming. However, up until this point, West showed no signs of being anything more. What 808s and Heartbreaks represents is his shift from generational icon to universal music deity, a giant upon which future generations will stand on.

Ok, a crappy R&B album doesn't exactly vault him to those levels, but it puts him on the right track. See, for an artist to truly transcend, he or she has to try new things and explore all possibilities of their persona. I don't mean try new things in a "lets use the auto tuner" sense, but in a "let's push my music forward and see if I can't create something" sense. This idea is paramount to what is redeemable about the album. West as always hinted at his weaknesses, but 808s and Heartbreaks is the first album in which he drops his over-confident persona and shows a different side of himself. This album represents a desire to grow, a need to change.

Forget history for a moment: I'm still glad West put out this album, a deeply personal and dark collection of songs about dealing with loss. West has had a rough year, what with the loss of both his mother and his fiance. This album is his way of dealing with these tragedies. No doubt he'll carry these scars for life, but by focusing an entire album on them he is able to get it out of his system, in a sense, and get back to the business of making the world dance.

History will do doubt look back on this album much more kindly than I look on it now. By then, Kanye West will be a more significant version of Prince, an artist who created something new by taking piece of the old and cobbling them together with bravado and fresh ideas. As a confessional, as a farewell, 808s and Heartbreaks is a fine album. While this is his first totally unnecessary album on a song by song level, an album for fanatics only, what it represents is far more important.

Seriously, wait for the drums to kick in. I mean, goddamn that shit is catchy.



Rating:
4 out of 10

Key Tracks: Love Lockdown

Buy, Steal, Skip: It's worth buying only to say " I was there when..." If you aren't an archivist audiophile, don't bother.

Wednesday, December 3

Still Waiting to be Blown Away by Brilliant Band

Artist: TV on the Radio
Album: Dear Science

Comments: Taking a break from writing, I left my room and watched Law and Order with one of my roommates. As we watched Dick Wolf's latest tale of crime and punishment, I asked my friend for some guidance.

"Have you ever listened to TV on the Radio?"

"No," he replied. "I never have."

"I'm trying to review them right now, and it's giving me so much trouble that I've already written two separate reviews (this being the 3rd). I know that these songs are awesome. I should be in love with this band, but I just can't seem to get there."

His eyes never left the TV, but he gave me a very sound piece of advice. "Well then, it's not awesome."

This album is over a month old, and the odds of me bringing anything new to the discussion about this band are slim to none. By now, if you've got an interest in TV on the Radio, you've already bought this album and decided it was one of the best of the year.

You aren't wrong. Dear Science is full of catchy, sexy songs that do things to rock music no one has done since David Bowie. Tacks like "Halfway Home," "Golden Age," and "Red Dress" are fantastic works of rhythm, steeped with soul and feeling. "DLZ" and "Dancing Choose" are rock cuts that sound good here and will sound even better when the band tears into them live. The whole album is catchy, smart, fun, and brilliantly constructed. This should be my new favorite record.

And yet, it isn't. Maybe it's because of the production which feels fuzzed out and distant, or maybe it's because the songs seem to exist in a vacuum in which they are catchy, but only as long as the album is on. With the exception of a few tracks, Dear Science is a paradox, both brilliant and forgettable.

Of course this has to be a problem with me. Any sane person can hear this is their best album, and one of the best of the year, hands down. Its also worth mentioning that I had similar feelings about Return to Cookie Mountain, the bands last album, equally brilliant and forgettable. Maybe in a few more weeks I'll figure out what the problem is.

For now, Dear Science is an album that I'll put on and enjoy immensely from start to finish. The only trouble is that once it's over, I will have forgotten about it within minutes. Very good album, just not awesome.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Key Tracks:
Halfway Home, Golden Age, Red Dress, Lover's Day

Buy, Steal or Skip:
Buy

Tuesday, December 2

The Streets Get Happy, Lame

Artist: The Streets
Album: Everything is Borrowed

Comments:
After seven years and four albums, Mike Skinner is finally happy. He seemingly has no more inner turmoil to push against, no more struggles to deconstruct, no more sorrows to document, and no more stories to tell. Considering that the mastermind behind the Streets has made his bread by reliving personal confrontations with inspired story-telling, it's no surprise that Everything is Borrowed, the album that finds him most content, is his least satisfying album.

Every storyteller needs a conflict to explain, and Skinner is most assuredly a story teller, quite possibly one of the best of his time. His modern day love-loss-redemption parable A Grand Don't Come For Free should rank among the most compelling and exciting albums of this still-young millennium. However, Borrowed finds Skinner in good spirits for the first time. He's over the drugs, over his complexes, comfortable with his family and managing his fame and personal life just fine, thanks. The result is an album with pockets of inspired production and mid-level rhymes in a sea of vague prose about the benefits of feeling good.

Not that Skinner hasn't tried to bring up some problems. "The Way of the Dodo" is a take on global warming and "Heaven for the Weather" and "Alleged Legends" are looks at the christian myths of morality, heaven and hell. The problem is that these topics don't seem to interest Skinner as much. The man admits as much on "Dodo" with his proclamation that he's "just too caught up breathing air.../ to worry about how breathable air is."

Some songs do thrive in this brave new sunshine world that Skinner has created. The album's title track is every bit as triumphant as the horn-heavy production suggests, creating a song that sounds like the first blast of sunlight after a particularly bad rainstorm. Also good on both lyrical and production ends is "On The Edge of a Cliff," Skinner's anti-suicide song. It's a winning track despite the asinine chorus which is both too long and too dumb to reprint here.

Perhaps the best song on the album is "The Strongest Person I Know," in which Skinner describes his hero / love interest with a simple story about dealing with people in a calm manner. Told over a simple melody and nothing more, the song is both moving and true. The same can't be said of "The Escapist," which boats an awesome hook and some really interesting production, but is too unfocused lyrically to be a keeper.

It's a terrible thing to say, but listening to Everything is Borrowed, one can't help but wish things weren't going so well in Skinner's life. When the man has something holding him back, something to push against, he is as captivating and brilliant a story teller as any author. However, with his life all sunshine and kitten smooches, the Streets really are, finally, nothing more than some interesting production and a goofy accent.

Rating:
4.5

Key Tracks:
Everything is Borrowed, The Strongest Person I Know, The Edge of a Cliff

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Skip

Saturday, November 29

Iceland: A Nation of Nap Musicians

Artist: Johann Johannsson
Album: Fordladia

Comments:
I'll be the first to admit that my last few reviews haven't really been up to snuff. A big part of it is my personal lethargy, combined with a fear of losing my fastball and the lingering effects of some crippling self consciousness issues. A smaller part of it is the natural aging process, specifically the fear of losing touch.

You have to understand, it's a daily struggle not to be wretched.

I'm trying to combat this by keeping tabs on whats going on, doing whatever I can to stay ahead of the curve. I check the blogs. I ask my colleagues what they're listening to. I scan release sheets. A big resource is metacritic.com, a fantastic location for anyone who likes to quantify pop culture at large.

It was this at this media nexus that I came across Johann Johannsson and Fordlandia, his album of classically arranged atmosphere music.

(Between Johannsson and Sigur Ros, Iceland has the market cornered on dramatic orchestral music. I'm not exactly sure what it is about that country that makes people want to craft epic background music, but after watching that Sigur Ros DVD, I'm not surprised. 10 minutes of landscape still shots and I'm ready to pick up a cello and find a woodwind section.)

It's hard for me to give Fordlandia a proper review. I am not classically trained. I'm know very little about music theory. I'm just some loudmouth in a sea of loudmouths all spouting the same opinions. I am barely a journalist. I can't comment much more on Fordlandia other than I enjoy having it on while I'm doing something else.

Maybe I'm just a philistine, but I have a hard time engaging classical music. I understand that Beethoven and Bach and Schumer and Mozart were brilliant geniuses who wrote indispensable music, but I'm never just putting them on to listen to them. I put them on to write or talk or snuggle, but the music is always secondary to what I'm doing.

Does Johannsson's blend of modern classical deserve to be mentioned with the past greats? Probably not. But the point is that I can't tell, so I can't really review this album properly.

Johannsson's latest album (his 6th) falls into this category. Fordlandia is a lush, pretty album that will pass the time while you write a paper or an email and I'm fully open to the possibility of this totally consuming the right person. Both the song titles and the musical arrangements suggest that Johannsson has a story to tell, but for a low class brat like me, the best stories are told with words. The hype has this being one of the years best album, but in my ears, its just a pretty soundtrack the mundane.

If you are interested, Allmusic.com has a pretty good breakdown of Fordlandia. Just in case, you know, ACTUAL reviews are your thing.

Wednesday, November 26

Five Card Draw #4: Sub-par Rap and Guitar All Over The Place

Five Card Draw: In which we'll have a friend of LOTD put their ipod on shuffle and write about the first five songs that play. One skip is allowed, so use it wisely. This idea is pretty much the exact same thing as something the City Paper does, so any and all credit should go to them. This week, the man behind Johnny Business and lead singer of The Percentages Johnny O gets his brit-rock on.

1) Stereophonics - I Miss You Now (You Gotta Go There to Come Back, 2003)
Slow and sexy, Kelly Jones' raspy voice, accompanied by a repetitive cymbal tap and cool rock organ, makes for a pretty cool track. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at either.






2) The Arctic Monkeys - A Certain Romance (Beneath the Boardwalk, appears originally on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, 2006)
Catchy and fun, textbook Arctic Monkeys. Kudos for good lyrics and a rather unorthodox melody.





3) The Strokes - What Ever Happened? (Room on Fire, 2003)
Underrated track off of an underrated album, the monotony of the opening guitar riff is perfect. Great guitar breakdown as well….hell, just great guitar all over this song.







4) Gorillaz - All Alone (Demon Days, 2006)
A rare crappy track by Gorillaz, especially since Demon Days is practically flawless. The Donald Duck-esque voice is creepy and the track doesn't really go anymore. The rap is also sub -par. Boo.







5) The Wombats - Kill The Director (A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation, 2007)
Shameless Britpop is my Achilles heel, so naturally I love this song. Ridiculous but charming lyrics nestled between choppy guitar riffs and a thumping kick drum make for a tune all can dance too. Say what you want about The Wombats, but this track is just plain fun.

Tuesday, November 25

Bad Cars and Women : More in Common Than You Think

Artist: Women
Album: Women

Comments:
Recently, I rented a PT Cruiser for a 300+ mile trip from Philadelphia, PA, to Rochester, NY. After spending over four hours with the damned machine, I am confident when I say that the PT Cruiser is the worst fucking car I've ever driven.

Released by Chysler in 2000, then again in 05, the Cruiser was launched as a retro style wagon for a new age, a modern reinterpretation of a classic. Upon their release, the hype along was enough to generate interest in the car buying public, with resulted in a lot of people driving these monstrosities and regretting it for the rest of their lives (or so I assume).

It's not that the car itself is especially terrible. Its not an altogether a dysfunctional machine. It will get you from A to B. It's the little things that ruin this car and make it a disaster.

Here 's a laundry list of design problems, just off the top of my head. The lack of cruse control. The window controls being located on the radio console (this little foible had be groping around the car like a thumb-less teenager dealing with a bra strap when it came to pay the tolls.) The interior light gauge is located on the steering column, making it impossible to change brightness without flashing the turn signals. The headlights are weak. The car as downright laughable acceleration. The mirrors are adjusted with little sticks on either side of the car, so god help you if you are driving alone and want to change your right-hand mirror.

The point (which took me four paragraphs to get to) is that the PT Cruiser can get you around if you are willing to put up with a lot of nonsense that will just remind you of other, better cars.

I mention all of this because I feel the same way about Women's self titled debut album. The Calgary four-pieces' album is a throwback to sixties touchstones like The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd with a modern low-fi production similar to bands like No Age and Japanther, and while poppy, psychedelic low-fi might sound good on paper, Women falls short at every turn.

The album is a reminder of other bands who are doing the same thing better. Women is full of watered down moments from other bands who have perfected the craft that Women are stumbling to create. Echoes of Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Liars, Brian Wilson era Smile and the aforementioned 60s psych-pop are littered throughout the album, but never with the strenght or the success of the source material.

Women's sole successful moment comes on the one minute album opener "Cameras," which is able to combine low-fi surf pop, rich with cavern-deep drums and ghostly vocal melodies, with slight dashes of experimentation and psych. The song is a 60 second joy, excellent for the first track as it excites the listener and makes them want more. Sadly, it's all down hill from there.

Like the PT Cruiser, Women will get you from A to B, but with so many better options, so many better ways to enjoy the ride, the only real thing that will carry either is hype.

Rating:
4 out of 10

Key Tracks: Cameras

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Skip


Monday, November 24

Bloc Party Continue to Attempt to be The Cure, Get Intimate

Artist: Bloc Party
Album: Intimacy

Comments:
Few bands understand the pressure to produce like Bloc Party. After Silent Alarm, a legitimately good album that got blown out of proportion by expectations and the passage of time, people began a clamor for them to repeat that has not stopped since. The flawed, underlying equation behind this idea looks like this: If Album X was this good, then album Y will be even better. No one likes to think that their first work is their best work, however the release of Intimacy seems to suggest that Bloc Party's best days might be behind them.

Not to say that this is a bad album. Intimacy is leaps and bounds better than the band's sophomore release, A Weekend in the City, which was sick with ill-advised production, nickel-and-dime love songs and new-wave leanings. Ironically, where Weekend was more of a bedroom album, Intimacy is a rock album that looks to strike the same rocking post-punk chord that the band achieved on their first album.

And at times, the album succeeds. "Zephyrus," "One Month Off" and "Ares" are some of the bands more rocking numbers, falling in line with tracks like "She's Hearing Voices" and "Luno," although the former never really reach the breakout recklessness of the latter two. "Ares" is especially interesting. The song scurvies on the band's standard of zip lock tight percussion and angular guitar work despite having no real chorus to speak of and a rather unimpressive lyrical output from Kele Okereke (turns out he's not a fan of war).

A big part of Silent Alarm's success was its production. The music on that album was obviously rooted in modern music technology without being overt about it. Sure, there were loop machines, moogs, modulators, overdubbing and any other number of studio tricks but the songs were never reliant on them. Despite all of the wizardry, there was still an impression that this was rock music first, studio experimentation second. The music came first, then the fuzz. Intimacy continues the band's love affair with production, but in a more overt and less satisfying way. Lead single "Mercury" is a good example, with its heavily over-dubbed vocals. Sure, you can loop that sort of thing live, but there's no romance in it, no heart.

For a band like Bloc Party, a group that made their beds by playing stirring, grandiose post punk, having no heart is a big problem. There's nothing here to rival the band's best anthems save for last track "Ion Square," which is a good song despite its overproduction that creates a separation between the listener and the song. "Signs" shoots for "Modern Love" 2.0, but lands closer to Sigur Ros than anything else, and "Biko" would be a lot better if it didn't feature some shockingly cheesy canned drums.

Intimacy is a rock record that looks to wash away the unsatisfying taste of Weekend, and in that respect it is a success. It makes a much more satisfying follow up to Silent Alarm, and is much more listenable than their actual sophomore album. The band's key elements (attacking drums, exciting guitar work, charismatic vocals) are still intact. However, the hints of new wave that marred Weekend, along with the shift away from any kind of anthem that mixes the band's softer side with their angular roots means that precious few tracks will stick to the ribs. Two albums later, the pressure is still on for Bloc Party to repeat. Sadly, it's starting to look like they might not be able to.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Key Tracks: Ares, One Month Off, Ion Square

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Tuesday, November 18

Haiku Reviews #3

It's been a long time since this dusty 'ol claptrap of a blog got some loving. In the interest of catching up and getting back into the swing of things, here's a blast of house cleaning haikus.

Artist: N.E.R.D
Album: Seeing Sounds

Occasional funk.
Mainstream club and soul dance tracks.
Creative, clumsy.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Tracks: Everyone Nose, Yeah You



Artist:
T.I
Album: Paper Trail

Going to prison,
T.I's reflective tracks sound best
"Numa" sample sucks

Rating: 6 out of 10
Tracks: Ready for Whatever, On Top Of The World, No Matter What, Whatever You Like.


Artist: The Clash
Album: Live At Shea Stadium

Open for the Who.
Triumphant, friendly and strong,
Band on top of world.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Tracks: London Calling, Guns of Brixton, Clampdown



Artist: Don Caballero
Album: Punkgasm

Percussion surrounds
Dark math rock, little humor
Good listen, background music.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Tracks: The Loudest Shop Vac in the World, Bulk Eye



Artist: Mates of State
Album: Re-Arrange Us

Candy-sweet pop songs.
Love fest, goes down too easy,
Nice songs to hug to.

Rating:
5.5 out of 10
Tracks: The Re-Arranger, Get Better, You Are Free



Artist: My Morning Jacket
Album: Evil Urges

Mountain man jam rock,
Z part two. Real strong album,
Track three, worst of year.

Rating: 8 out of 10
Tracks: Evil Urges, I'm Amazed, Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Part 2


Artist: Okkervil River
Album: The Stand-Ins

Literate folk rock.
Does not grab like Stage Names did,
Strong songs from "It" band.

Rating: 8 out of 10
Tracks: Lost Coastlines, Singer Songwriter, Pop Lie

Tuesday, October 7

Kings of Leon Like Writing Songs About Screwing

Artist: Kings of Leon
Album: Only By The Night

Comments: As an aspiring music dude, I do my best not to read anything about a given album until I've passed my own judgments on it. Sadly, due to my unemployment and my roommate's subscription to Spin, that kind of went out the window with Only By The Night, the latest from the Kings of Leon.

The big point of the article, which was a well done feature about the band, is that the Kings hope that this album will finally establish themselves in America. The dudes have long been popular in the UK, but have yet to make a splash in the red, white and blue. And while Only By The Night is a solid rock album , it would be a cheat to the American people if this is the album that grabs their attention, especially concidering how the band's back cateloge trumps this, their weakest record.

Night picks up where last year's excellent Because of The Times left off. The group is continuing their movement towards studio largeness and U2 inspired southern rock atmospheric anthems. Where as Times mixed these anthems with grittier tracks, this album is nothing but bigness, with almost none of the punch of earlier albums.

Considering this is an album full of anthems, a surprising number of them fall on their faces. The first two tracks are both forgettable duds of workmanlike rock music, while the majority of the album is "pleasant" at best. The album really begins with first single and most rocking song "Sex on Fire." What "Sex" lacks in rhythm and dance-readiness, it more than makes up for with its catchy chorus and infectious guitar work. "Use Somebody" "Revelry" and "Cold Desert" are all worth the price of admission. Each one is a grand effort full of echo-y guitars, the Kings signature quiet-calm rhythm section and engaging (if not always brilliant) vocals with "Cold Desert" taking the first prize for best anthem on the album.

The Kings have caught a lot of flack in the past for their subject matter, which is more or less entirely made up of songs about fucking. Considering one of there songs is about banging a 17 year old, I don't expect this album will dispel those concerns. While this kind of single mindedness usually turns me off, in the case of the Kings, the lyrics have always been secondary to the vocals, which are used more as an instrument of melody more than anything else.

So what do we have? We have an album of anthems about sex that occasionally float and occasionally fall on their faces. The biggest problem with Only By The Night is that, for all it's success, its just not as fun as past albums. Theres almost nothing to dance to, nothing to rock to, and for all their talk of coitus, I would sooner nap than screw to this album. I hope the Kings of Leon catch on in America, but I wish they could do it on a better album.

-Mr Dogg

Rating:
6 out of 10

Key Tracks: Sex on Fire, Use Somebody, Cold Desert

Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal

Monday, October 6

Rise Against Rights Wretched Wrongs (Look, Guys! Alliteration!)

Artist: Rise Against
Album: Appeal to Reason
Myspace

Comments:
Lets get something straight right off the bat. I used to love Rise Against. Back in my young punk days, The Unraveling and Revolutions Per Minute were my bread and butter, both played so often that I burned through multiple copies of each (did you know you can break CDs by playing them too much? What a gyp, right?). These records were fast, brash, reminiscent of Bad Religion or 88 Fingers Louie on steroids, and were powerful mission statements that established the band as a group of dudes not to be fucked with (especially Revolutions, which is a personal and perennial favorite).

I even stuck around through the "Swing Life Away" years, brought on by the major label blunting of Siren Song Of The Counter Culture. Once the band released the despicable The Sufferer and The Witness, a further exercises in neutering a once raging band, I fully expected to never care about them again.

Appeal to Reason, their fifth studio album, doesn't make up for all their past transgressions and can't make me feel 16 again, but it is as good a record as the Chicago hardcore outfit has released in five years.

Rise Against's strongest tracks always occurred when the band could find quiet pop moments within their hardcore anthems. Sure, the songs were fast, loud, throaty and sometimes brutal, but they also occasionally had sharp hooks and catchy choruses that stood out just as clearly as the howling. The big problem with Siren Song and Sufferer is that they pushed to hard on the pop side of the band, not giving them a chance to stretch their legs and display their hardcore chops. Appeal to Reason doesn't make the same mistake, and the result is the best album of their major label run.

"Collapse (Post-Amerika)," besides possessing a Mr. Dogg worthy misspelling, opens the album with a gunshot. Sounding like the best song Bad Religion never wrote, the track rips with buzz saw fast guitars and the trademark vague politicking of lead dude Tim McIlrath. Not too pop heavy, the track plays like Revolutions era Rise Against. An anthem, call-to-arms that actually holds water.

Of course, this is a major label effort so the entire album can't be hardcore classic. However, unlike on past releases where the songs lacked any sort of fire or teeth, even the radio-ready cuts on Appeal could serve as a skull smashing mosh pit soundtrack. Especially spin-worthy are "The Dirt Whisperer" and "Savior," the latter of which is occasionally lyrically embarrassing, but consistently excellent regardless.

The whole thing isn't kittens and rainbows. Some tracks still have the flaccid weak major label feel. McIlrath's muse is still politics, but his words occasionally repetitious and border on self parody. And there is the profoundly stinky acoustic anti-war ballad "Hero of War," which makes "Swing Life Away" sound like an old classic. Leave the acoustic protest songs to The Nightwatchman, dudes.

With all its flaws, Appeal to Reason is still a solid record of pop-minded hardcore that I would recommends to anyone who likes screaming and raging against the machine, but still just wants a big hug at the end of the day. While the band hasn't hopped into the time machine, they've defiantly rejuvenated themselves and found some spirit. If they don't watch out, they might just come out of this mess on the other side smelling pretty as flowers.

Also, quick note to Tim McIlrath: Start screaming again, please?-Mr Dogg

Rating: 7 out of 10

Tracks:
Collapse (Post-Amerika), Savior, The Dirt Whisperer

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Eh......steal. But I'm not happy about it.