Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekend Music Roundup

As Thanksgiving weekend comes to an end and the Christmas season gets into full swing, it's just about time for all of those holiday gift sets to hit the market, which generally means a slow down in new releases that will last into the winter months. This week I listened to quite a few new releases, two of which I'd been eagerly anticipating. I also continued my exploration into the endless wealth of CDs that clutter my home and plucked out a few more interesting pieces to share. All in all, I'm pretty damned thankful for the year in music so far, and the many years that have come before, and all of those that will come after. Enjoy.

The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What a Beautiful World: It's been four years since the Portland indie band released an album, which is just about four years too long. While Colin Meloy was finishing his children's literature masterpiece, the band was on a kind of hiatus, but as this record due out in January proves, the time was put to good use. They've moved away from the country folk of their previous record and return to the more quirky aspects of their earlier work, which is nice to hear again on songs like "Philomena." There are also soft and sad moments that fit with their recent work, like on "A Beginning Song." "Make You Better," "The Singer Addresses His Audience," and "Carolina Low" are standout tracks on another fantastic album by one of my favorite bands. 

Wu Tang Clan - A Better Tomorrow: This week we see the return of the Wu when the Shaolin crew releases their long awaited new album. Though they've remained active recently, they haven't released a proper album, with all members working together in over five years. The first thing that makes a Wu Tang album standout is RZA's beats, which are always identifiable, but he's always advancing his art and bringing new stylings to hip hop. This album is helped by the fact that two of the group's superstars, Method Man and the Chef, seem to be back on top of their game. Like most hip-hop albums, I found this one to be a little uneven. More than most genres, it really seems like a singles driven area and even the Wu are not immune. "Ruckus in B Minor," "Ron O'Neal," "Keep Watch," and "Mistaken Identity" are my favorite tracks.

The Dirtbombs - Ultraglide in Black: This amazing soul revival record is the second album from the Detroit band. Released in 2001 among a wealth of other great records coming out of the Motor City at the time, this album is a throwback to to the old Motown sound, but with a garage rock edge to it. I've owned this album since it came out and have always loved it. Whenever I put it on, it never fails to put me in a good moon. I once had tickets to see them play the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, but after a few too many drinks and a turn of circumstances, I ended giving my tickets to the actor Kevin Corrigan on the sidewalk.  "Chains of Love," "If You Can Want," and "Livin' for the City" are highlights.

Toy - Join the Dots: The second album from the London based psychedelic shoegaze band was released at the tail end of last year. I first heard about them a few weeks ago when they were mentioned with a handful of other bands I've been into recently. On this album, the sounds spin into dizzy patterns making it quite hypnotic at times. It's really a nice play on the shoegaze sound, bringing intensity to it, elevating it from the element of boredom that often comes with the genre. Kind of like a fuzzed out version of Tame Impala, this is definitely an enjoyable listen and a band to follow.

Jerusalem - Black Horses: Originally formed in the early '70s, this UK hard prog rock band released their debut in '72 and toured with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep. They broke up that same year over creative differences, only to reform thirty years later to release their second album in 2009. This month they delivered this, their third album, one that is part throwback, with roots firmly in '70s classics, and part contemporary heavier prog. For the most part, the combination works well, creating an interesting and enjoyable listen. There are a few tracks where it falters, but all in all, a solid record with "Puppet King," "The Albatross," "Smokestack Ammunition," and "Surfing from Sydney to Marrakech" being the highlights.

Gray Matter - Thog: Released in 1992, this is an album I bought when I was 16 and absolutely loved the high energy post hardcore vibe on this Dischord Records release. The band is from D.C. and released only one other album, way back in 1985, which was definitely more of a legitimate hardcore record. This album has a much bigger sound, incorporating the still underground 90's alternative into traditional hardcore, a combination that would later develop into what we know as emo. Having not listened to this in over a decade, I dusted off the disc, put it on, and thoroughly enjoyed. It brought me right back to the carefree angst of my youth. "Second Guess," "The Disinclined," and their cover of "I've Just Seen a Face" are standout tracks.

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