Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup

One of the things I truly miss about the days before music was digital is how each new album in a collection felt special. It was an event to get a new record and as a result, that record got played many times over the next several weeks even if it wasn't so great. Now it's easy to simply delete or move onto the next album. Lately I've tried resisting that urge by only loading a couple of albums per week. I did that this week to mixed results. But even though I didn't love some of the choices, I decided to live with them until it was time to review them. Of course, the opposite was true as well and a few discoveries were amazing. Enjoy.

Tom Waits - Bad As Me: The devilish howler's first studio album in ages, and first non-live album since 2006's outstanding three disc collection Orphans, this record has naturally received a lot of attention since its release late last month. Despite hearing the rave reviews, I went into it a bit skeptical. Artists that have been around as long as Tom, and who are as worshipped as him, tend to get undue praise when they do anything new. I worried that would be the case here, but how wrong I was. From the opening to the ending, this album is phenomenal. Musically and lyrically, it is what Tom has always done best, creating nightmarish tunes accompanied by his irresistible growl. Easily one of the albums on my short-list for best of the year.
Soft Machine - Volume Two: Released in 1969, this is the Canterbury progressive rock band's second album after the previous year's self-titled album. For the past year or so, I've been enthralled with the debut album and was excited to finally get my hands on this one. In the short time between the records, the band's mood shifted slightly away from rock to jazz fusion. The result makes for a less powerful record in my opinion, but equally as interesting. I feel like this album loses focus at moments, but I believe that's intentional as they try to expand what can be done within the context of the music. Not my favorite album, but a fascinating listen nonetheless.

Gwar - America Must Be Destroyed: From afar, I've had a fascination with this band since the early '90s. I love the concept of a fictional band of demons and knowing the songs are the voices of characters. That said, I never explored their music, always dismissing them as something of a comical sideshow until I recently heard one of their songs and realized they could really play. I decided to begin with this 1992 album, the band's third, and was quite blown away. As a metal album, it does everything it needs to. But beyond the driving riffs, there is also a lot of other kinds of musical influences that can be heard and are incorporated perfectly. On top of that, Oderous Urungus has an incredibly diverse voice. "Gilded Lily," "Ham on the Bone," and "Have You Seen Me" are stand out tracks. Look for many more Gwar albums to make this roundup in the future.

Spank Rock - Everything is Boring...: Released two months ago, this is the long awaited follow-up to 2006's YoYoYoYoYo and one of the most frustrating albums I've heard in a long time. The record opens with the stellar "Ta Da," one of the best electro hip-hop songs in ages, complete with grimy beats and Spank Rock's clever delivery. However, the album is downhill from there with each song getting progressively worse. By the end, it was nearly unlistenable and I wouldn't even review it here except that "Ta Da" is so excellent. I'm really not sure what happened here. Perhaps too much time was spent trying to make it perfect and the life was eventually sucked out of it. Hopefully the next album will be a return to form.

Esben and the Witch - Hexagons EP: The Brighton trio follow-up this spring's full length Violet Cries with this EP consisting of a twenty minute song divided into six parts. It's atmospheric dream wave type stuff that feels like a story told on a dreary winter day. I listened to this several times this week and though it's done quite well, it never really grabbed me. It seemed to pay too much attention to mood and by the time it was over, it felt as if it never played. Stick with the full length album unless you're a true shoegazer die hard.

Ruby Throat - The Ventriloquist: This is an album I've owned since it's release in 2007 and which I've returned to over the past few months, listening to it nearly every other day. One of my favorite albums when it came out, it is still a perfect album in my opinion. Katie Jane Garside (of Daisy Chainsaw and Queenadreena) delves into a folkish style on this album, but a haunting folk album as dark and twisted as any fairy tale. "House of Thieves," "Naked Ruby," and "Happy Now" are standouts on an album of flawless songs. Absolutely brilliant in every way, shape, and form.

Black Sabbath - 1969 Demo: The last of my Sabbath haul from a few weeks ago is this four song demo the band made before being signed. The songs on here never made it onto their albums, though parts of certain songs, especially the epic "Thomas James," would later morph into Sabbath tunes. These tracks showcase the band's blues roots. "When I Came Down," and "The Rebel" are both quite good, though the guys would show significant improvement on their debut release a year later. Definitely something every fan should have.

Nina Simone - At Town Hall: Released in 1959, at the very beginning of her long, legendary recording career, this concert album features many traditional songs like "Summertime" and "Black is the Color." Nina's voice is exceptional as always. The piano accompaniment is subtle and severs the vocal performance well. The album has a very intimate feeling, which isn't surprising given the venue, which still hosts concerts today. A solid effort by a performer who would go one to bigger and better things. Sometimes it's nice to hear where it all began though.

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