Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Tia Carrera - The Quintessential

Label: Small Stone Records

Released: October 27, 2009

Over the course of just a few releases, Tia Carrera has proven not only to be among the best of the modern stoner psych bands, but also one that has paved its own path through the influences that permeate the genre.

Their latest album (and first for stoner haven Small Stone Records), The Quintessential, may seem like they have perhaps mellowed a bit, shying away from the heavy helpings of Black Flag free punk that gave their earlier releases an explosiveness that can elude the stoner set. A good listen though, shows that this "mellowing" doesn't mean less intensity, only a different intensity.

Any concerns about this slight shift in direction are quickly allayed by "Home," the album's opener. Waves of the spaciest space rock easily take the album to new destinations. Heavier, bluesy acid rock takes hold on "The Unnamed Whole" where driving rhythms and exploding riffs both elevate and ground the 20+ minutes of psychedelic exploration. The albums other expansive jam, "New Orleans," walks, runs and wanders in that space between Zeppelin and Hendrix, where so many great rock songs have taken root, exploring both the mellow and the manic fringes of sanity. The phased vocals and acoustic guitars of "Hazy Winter" let the album down easy, but it's another kind of easy that you've ever experienced.

The Quintessential isn't quite as overtly crazy as Tia Carrera's earlier work, particularly the mind-boggling You Are the War 7", but to say that it takes a step back to sanity misses the point. The spacey madness of the record simmers more than boils, but in the end, you're head will feel just as cooked. Be careful listening to this one, because it's such a trip that the DEA might come knocking on your door when Tia Carrera is declared a controlled substance.

Satriani: 8/10
Zappa: 7/10
Dylan: 7/10
Aretha: 8/10
Overall: 8/10



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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Paul McCartney - Good Evening New York City

Label: Hear Music

Released: November 17, 2009

In this decade, Paul McCartney has released as many live albums as he has studio albums. Even packaged with a DVD, Good Evening New York City, his third live release since 2002's Back in the US, begs the question, "Why another live album?" It doesn't take the album long to answer though.

Despite McCartney's late-career studio renaissance, his live albums have remained lackluster. Good Evening New York City finally rights that wrong with a live document as fresh as his recent material and as new as the venue itself (this was Citi Field's first concert). The set is very Beatles-heavy (nearly two-thirds of the material comes from the Fab Four days), but also includes a fair helping of recent material (including "Sing the Changes" from his Fireman side-project). What's happily missing is the saccharine sap that made up much of Macca's career from the mid-70s through the late 80s. You got it, no "Silly Love Songs," no "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," no "Coming Up." (Okay, "My Love" made the cut, but nothing's perfect, right?) Though the Beatles' classics need no overhaul, McCartney re-energizes them with fresh arrangements and youthful enthusiasm. That makes all the difference being playing old songs and playing songs like an old man. McCartney chooses the former and all these years later, both he and the songs can still get me excited. Fantastic!

Satriani: 8/10
Zappa: 7/10
Dylan: 9/10
Aretha: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

DVD: Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready?

Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment

Released: November 10, 2009

Are You Ready? finds the great Thin Lizzy in 1981, on tour for the less-than-great Renegade album. It also features guitarist Snowy White who, by his own admission, never felt suited to Thin Lizzy's hard rock sound and lifestyle. One would think this would add up to a disjointed and/or disenchanted performance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever ills they suffered in the studio, they had exorcised them in the live show, sinking their teeth into old and new songs alike. Perhaps the band's best trait is their ability to understand and convey the energy of their songs, whether high-energy rockers or lower-key ballads, and it's completely evident here.

The concert was originally filmed for German television and the resulting video quality isn't the best (think second generation VHS copy), but the audio is fantastic. It's a perfect mix of fidelity and energy that meets the standards of the best live recordings. Sonically at least, that's what Thin Lizzy deserves and what this DVD delivers.

Rating: 8/10

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of 2009

1. Pomegranates - Everybody, Come Outside!
From the first few seconds, it was clear that this was the album where Pomegranates went from promising to amazing.

2. Grant Hart - Hot Wax
Knowingly or not, Grant Hart went back and explored the influences that he poured into his work with Hüsker Dü. The results are astounding.

3. Rachel Taylor Brown - Susan Storm's Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes
Rachel Taylor Brown discusses righteousness, asceticism and joy in a way that goes straight to the soul.

4. Dead Weather - Horehound
How is it that Jack White can have move in so many artistic directions and never stumble? He and Alison Mossheart are a natural fit.

5. The Slits - Trapped Animal
Reunion albums are tricky at best, but the Slits return to form as if they'd never been away.

6. Shirock - Everything Burns
On the surface, this one might seem a little too much like a mix of U2, alt rock and emo. However, there is a love here that elevates the album from being good to being a blessing.

7. Paul McCartney - Good Evening New York City
McCartney has done some of his best post_Beatles work late in his career, but he's yet to release a live album that captures the energy and excitement of his current work as well as past classics...until now. The track selection is Beatle-heavy, but he mixes things up with fresh arrangements and newer songs that make this a really fantastic live release.

8. Admiral Browning - Magic Elixir
Without abandoning the essential slow, heaviness of stoner rock, Admiral Browning find a way to make it dynamic in a way that only the very best in the genre do.

9. Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Elvis Costello has the unique ability to insert himself into any genre seamlessly while still maintaining his own very unique identity. Here, he works with distinctly American folk, country and bluegrass to make his best album in years.

10. Elin Palmer - Postcards
Few albums tell a story this well in the lyrics, but Elin Palmer does it with the music.

11. The Mars Volta - Octahedron
It's not TMV's best effort, but still makes the top ten. At very least, I really respect how they don't just do what's expected even if I would have loved another album in the vein of Amputechture and Bedlam in Goliath.

12. Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - What It Takes to Move Forward
Strange as it may seem, one of emo's best records came out just when you thought the genre was dead.

13. Girl in a Coma - Trio BC
Girl in a Coma draw on a much broader set of influences for their sophomore album and open up limitless possibilities.

14. Sepultura - A-Lex
Now Cavalera-less, Sepultura still show they have both bold artisitc goals and tons of energy.

15. Latin for Truth - We Are Sick of Not Having The Courage To Be Absolute Nobodies
These three songs have great melodies, wild rhythms and more heart that you hold onto.

16. The Cold Beat/Movers & Shakers split 7"
Two fine, organic punkish tunes from each band make for a nice EP. Movers & Shakers channel early Elvis Costello.

17. Incite - The Slaughter
Being fronted by Max Cavalera's stepson, Incite are inevitably forced into the daunting task of surviving Sepultura comparisons, but they perform admirably.

18. Tia Carrera - The Quintessential
This isn't quite as heavy as their past material, but Tia Carrera keeps just enough control of their psychedelic meanderings to keep the FDA from classifying the album as a controlled substance.

19. Carcrashlander - Where to Swim
How can an album be this stylistically diverse and yet so cohesive? Cory Gray once again finds a way. Amazing.

20. Rapid Cities - Machinery Saints
This is mathy post-hardcore played with such abandon that its source is more in the heart than the head.

21. The Reptilian - Boys' Life
Quirky and clever, The Reptilian's brand of post-hardcore makes no compromise in intensity.

22. JFA - To All Our Friends
While their name (Jody Foster's Army) might be lost on those too young to remember the Reagan years, their high-energy skate rock can still connect with any age.

23. Victor! Fix The Sun - Person Place or Thing
Victor! Fix the Sun takes post-punk to wider vistas as they explore genres near and far along the way.

24. Thieves and Liars - American Rock n Roll
Less bold artistically than their debut, Thieves and Liars' second offering is a more concise hard rock album that walks on the path of the righteous.

25. Brian Bond - Fire & Gold
Folk for punks? Punk for folkies? Either way, it's a fine record.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best of the 2000s

Well, these are kinda, sorta in order. Well, after the top 20 or so, you can probably take the order with a grain of salt actually. The point, though, is that these are all albums from the last ten years that are worth hearing.

1. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism (2003)
2. The Velvet Teen - Elysium (2004)
3. Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound (2008)
4. Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows (2008)
5. Frontier Folk Nebraska - The Devil's Tree (2007)
6. Bedouin Soundclash - Street Gospels (2007)
7. Pomegranates = Everybody, Come Outside! (2009)
8. TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004)
9. The Decemberists - Picaresque (2005)
10. Rum Diary - We're Afraid of Heights Tonight (2006)
11. The Drift - Noumena (2005)
12. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade (2007)
13. The Baseball Project - Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails (2008)
14. The Mars Volta - Amputechture (2006)
15. Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Tyranny of Distance (2001)
16. Twilight Hotel - Highway Prayer (2008)
17. Fu Manchu - King of the Road (2000)
18. White Stripes - Elephant (2003)
19. Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (2000)
20. Chuck Ragan - The Blueprint Sessions 7" club (2006-2007)
21. Kimya Dawson - Knock, Knock Who (2004)
22. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O. (2002)
23. Various Artists - Down Home Saturday Night (2007)
24. Tippy Canoe and the Paddlemen - Parasols and Pekingese (2008)
25. Grant Hart - Hot Wax (2009)
26. The Clash - Live at Shea Stadium (2008)
27. Tanya Tagaq - Auk ~ Blood (2008)
28. Robert Plant - Dreamland (2002)
29. Against Me - Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy (2003)
30. Papermoons - s/t 7" (2007)
31. J Church - Society is a Carnivorous Flower (2004)
32. De Novo Dahl - Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound (2008)
33. Spitfire - Cult Fiction (2008)
34. Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around (2003)
35. Pama International - Float Like a Butterfly (2005)
36. Tia Carerra - You Are the War 7" (2007)
37. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (2004)
38. Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
39. Avett Brothers - Emotionalism (2007)
40. Dag Nasty - Minority of One (2002)
41. They and the Children - Home (2008)
42. Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - What It Takes to Move Forward (2009)
43. Growing - Color Wheel (2006)
44. Thrice - Alchemy Index Vols I-IV (2007-2008)
45. Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
46. Mad Tea Party - Found a Reason (2008)
47. Caleb Klauder - Dangerous Me's and Poisonous You's (2007)
48. Common Rider - This is Unity Music (2003)
49. Mighty High - Drops a Deuce (2009)
50. Hanoi Rocks - Street Poetry (2007)
51. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - Diamonds in the Dark (2007)
52. Chuck Dukowski Sextet - Reverse the Polarity (2007)
53. Led Zeppelin - How the West Was Won (2003)
54. The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
55. Mudhoney - Since We've Become Translucent (2002)
56. Logan Whitehurst and the Junior Science Club - Goodbye, My 4-Track (2003)
57. The Evens - s/t (2005)
58. Birmingham Sunlights - In the Garden (2004)
59. The Tim Version - Floribraska (2003)
60. Rumbleseat - Is Dead (2005)
61. This Bike is a Pipe Bomb - Three Way Tie for a Fifth (2005)
62. Boy Hits Car - s/t (2001)
63. Detroit Cobras - Life, Love and Leaving (2001)
64. Fall of Troy - Doppelganger (2005)
65. The Kills - No Wow (2005)
66. Report Suspicious Activity - s/t (2005)
67. Heterogene - am-pm (2006)
68. Thee More Shallows - More Deep Cuts (2005)
69. Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone (2007)
70. Turnbull ACs - Small Town Parade (2007)
71. Towers of Hanoi - Paranoia for the New Year (2007)
72. Strangers Die Every Day - Aperture for Departure (2008)
73. Shirock - Everything Burns (2009)
74. Titan - A Raining Sun of Light and Love for You and You and You (2007)
75. The Kingdom - Unitas (2005)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Video: Dustin Kensrue - This Is War



Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Review: WASP - Babylon

Label: Demolition Records

Released: October 13, 2009

Are you sick of the 80s? I certainly am. Having the synthpop of my youth sold back to me as if it's a new thing is bad enough, but the more egregious offenders are the old hair metal dinosaurs who not only want to resell their corporate sound, but also the mindless, superficial party mentality of the Reagan years. While that stuff was a musical mixed bag, it was, with few exceptions, an emotional void.

So, one would think that perhaps the latest offering from Blackie Lawless and WASP, the band who gave us the deep and heavy "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" as well as a drunken Chris Holmes monologue in Decline of Western Civilization Part 2, would be no different, but closer examination of the band's career says otherwise. Even the stupidity of songs like "Animal" had a darkness that WASP's peers only pretended to understand and it wasn't long before WASP began expanding on that. By 1992's The Crimson Idol, Lawless, who essentially is WASP, began using his music to take an introspective journey. By 2004, he offered up the social commentary of the Neon God two part concept album. The point is that there's a little bit more to WASP than perhaps meets the eye and to lump them in with the other nonsense that's been held over from the 80s hard rock scene is unfair.

That brings us to WASP's latest release, Babylon. Musically, it isn't a real musical departure from their sound two decades ago. Some tracks lean toward hook-heavy hard rock. They're memorable and easy to fall into, but also suffer from that sense that there isn't much behind the veneer and that's where Lawless' sense of searching that underscores the album really helps out, providing substance rather than just smoke and mirrors. Much of the album leans more toward the heavier 80s metal sound and while these tracks benefit from the album's spiritual/emotional undercurrent, they don't require it. Babylon is solid today, but would have held up back in the genre's prime as well.

Overall, if you can't take 80s hard rock and heavy metal, Babylon won't change that. However, if the music is basically up your alley, but you've grown sick of its stagnation and stupidity, this might be the album that restores your faith that someone is playing your song without playing in your past. If you still wish it was 1988, you'll love Babylon and hopefully its sense of growth will rub off on you, because you need it.

Satriani: 8/10
Zappa: 5/10
Dylan: 7/10
Aretha: 7/10
Overall: 7/10


If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.

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