Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: The Weather Station - The Line

Label: self-released (distributed by Fontana North/Universal)

Released: April 28, 2009

Terms like lo-fi and DIY have become quite commonplace these days. Unfortunately, these terms are often applied to music that could also be described as contrived or just rotten. The Weather Station is certainly the epitome of both of those common terms, but not of the descriptions which often destroy them.

The Weather Station is both a band and not a band at the same time. Really, it is self-taught multi-instrumentalist Tamara Lindeman with a revolving cast of characters (including her live band). Recorded in bedrooms and living rooms rather than studios and on equipment Lindeman was learning how to use as she went, the album is raw and often quite sparse. However, it's rawness doesn't overshadow a strong sense of both tradition and experimentation. On one hand, The Line is folk music as it's been played in living rooms and on front porches for decades. It captures the primal need we have to make music, to explore and expose the darkness. The album is sparse and dark to the point of being difficult, yet is carried by the honesty of those very same qualities.

At the same time, Lindeman's arrangements push the limits of what folk music can be. Droning strings, Moog, household items and "found sound" all contribute to its boldness and create tension between what folk music has long been and what it could become. As much as she pushes these songs to their limits, they are still as natural as being uncomfortable in one's own skin. Her innovations are not merely a veneer on top of traditional folk either. Instead, experimentation and tradition intertwine throughout the album to create something entirely unique.

The Line is by no means an easy listen, but then neither is any true human story. At times, it is incredibly low-key and then something, a guitar, some random noise, will pierce the lull. Likewise, there is anger and pain here, but beauty also pierces through that. It is both the confusion and the affirmation of being alive.

mp3: "East"

Satriani: 6/10
Zappa: 8/10
Dylan: 7/10
Aretha: 9/10
Overall: 8/10



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

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: One Win Choice - Define/Redefine

Label: Jump Start Records

Released: February 16, 2009

Hardcore has struggled on and off for years with the concept of melody. When bands in late 70s and early 80s first decided to abandon traditional songwriting and simply go for broke at near light speed, a lot was lost despite the opening of a new avenue. Over time, bands began to rediscover that old sense of melody (especially in DC with the likes of Dag Nasty and Rites of Spring), because it is, after all, music, not just random noise. No matter how angry or passionate, the emotion is still being conveyed by song. Otherwise, it's just a lot of yelling, right? This isn't to say that being very melodic is essential, but it helps, particularly in the absence of any musical elements to replace it.

One Win Choice is a band that understands this. Their brand of hardcore can hold its own with the angriest of them. Their raw passion is paralleled by few. Yet, they still realize that these factors mean little unless music is at the core of what they do. These aren't shallow hooks, mind you, and that's what makes these songs special. Their melodic nature makes them digestible, memorable even, yet they avoid any saccharine hooks that might derail their purpose. It is what Dag Nasty's Can I Say proved and yet 25 years later, few bands can do it. One Win Choice just happens to be one of the ones that can.

Define/Redefine is available as a five song CDEP at shows or as a three song clear vinyl 7" from Jump Start (which includes a free mp3 download of all five tracks).

Satriani: 6/10
Zappa: 6/10
Dylan: 6/10
Aretha: 10/10
Overall: 8/10


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

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Pomegranates - Everybody, Come Outside!

Label: Lujo Records

Released: April 14, 2009

It's not unusual to hear a new record and think, "Here's a band to keep an eye on. This is really good, but the next one could be amazing." What is unusual is for that potential to actually pan out. Considering the frequency of this scenario, there is surely a lot of ground to cover between potentially great and actually great. But don't ask Pomegranates about the unlikelihood of making good on the promise of their previous recordings, because they clearly don't know. Both their debut Two Eyes EP as well as last year's Everything is Alive full-length set high hopes. They were excellent albums, yet they didn't quite break free of their moorings. But now they offer Everybody, Come Outside! which finds them free and open and seemingly limitless.

The album is experimental. It has tremendous movement over the course of its 45+ minutes. From the big echoey chords that kick it off to the the 13 minutes of folkiness and ambient sound that close it, one thing is clear: This is not just a collection of songs. It is a single work, a musical story. To be sure, any track could stand on its own and no one is like another. Yet, the album is far more cohesive than any formula could produce and its wild energy comes from experimentation in not just the music, but the soul.

Most bands are contained by the genres from which the draw their influences. Pomegranates effortlessly ingest guitar pop, walls of jangle, sweet indie pop, punk aggitation, gentle folk, mathy precision and wild psychedelia, yet the album is so big that it contains these rather than being contained by them. Likewise, the musicianship is amazing on Everybody, Come Outside!, yet that is easily lost in the work itself, because each note, each passage serves the bigger picture. As with all great art, the work takes precedence over the artist, despite the work's artistic ambition.

Like many bands, Pomegranates made a promise with their first two releases. What makes them such a rare find is that they fulfill that promise on Everybody, Come Outside!. In fact, they exceed it. It strives and yearns, is desperate and joyous and is huge and personal. Oh yeah, and it rocks!

mp3: Corriander

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


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

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Video: Anarbor - The Brightest Green

Here's the first video from Anarbor's forthcoming Free Your Mind EP which comes out tomorrow. You can pre-order it at iTunes or Smartpunk.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Review: Exciter

Label: Magnetic Air

Released: January 20, 2009

I didn't pay close attention to Exciter back in the 80s, but looking back, I've wondered why they weren't considered at least in that second tier of speedmetal bands with the likes of Overkill, Testament, etc. They were early adopters of that happy marriage between speed and heaviness...and yet they're so often forgotten. Why?

The answer can be found on their 1986 self-titled album (now re-issued again on Magnetic Air). After flirting with thrash success over the course of four albums, the band decided to change course a bit with Chuck Beehler focusing on drums and Rob Malnati taking over vocal duties. In addition to this personnel shake up, they also took much of the speed (and therefore the excitement) out of their music. Malnati at times fancies himself a cross between metal giants Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford. He isn't as terrible a singer in his own right as he seems in comparison to these two, but his voice just can't carry the load he attempts to put upon it. To boot, the underlying music doesn't help the cause either. At its best, it's derivative Judas Priest pandering. At its worst, well...let's not even go there.

Exciter is now being issued for the fifth time (two of those on Megaforce as OTT), yet isn't essential listening for anyone. For those who missed Exciter the first time around, there are four albums that beg the question, "Why are they forgotten?" Unfortunately, this is the album that answers that question.

Satriani: 4/10
Zappa: 5/10
Dylan: 3/10
Aretha: 3/10
Overall: 3/10

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

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Pearl Jam Ten Game

On March 24, 2009, Epic/Legacy Recordings will release re-issues of Pearl Jam's Ten in four different packages, including a double LP with the album remastered on one record and remixed by Brendan O'Brien on the other. In gearing up for the release, they've created a game that allows you to preview some of the material. It's a little tough to get the hang of, but fairly fun once you get it.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Review: U2 - J Adams Where Are You Now?

Label: PR (or that's what it looks like on the back)

Released: unknown

I picked this bootleg EP up on ebay and thought, "Who is J Adams? I wonder if it's the skater? Nah..." When the record came, I found the following dedication:
Dedicated to: Tony Alva, Shogo Kugo, Jimmy Plummer, Jim Muir & the "Z" boys."
So, what do these pioneers of vertical skateboarding have to do with U2? Beats me, but that makes it even cooler. It's an odd little rarity with a mystery to boot.

The skater connection isn't the only thing that's unique about this little 7". It contains the only public performance of "Womanfish," a song U2 was considering for Joshua Tree that never made it onto a studio record. This, along with "I Trip Thru Your Wires" (as it's titled on the back of the record) makes up the b-side that was recorded January 30, 1986 for the Ga-Ga television show in Ireland. The sound quality is decent, but the live energy is interrupted by bits of the show that sneak into the recording.

The a-side was recorded March 11, 1987 in Dublin and contains strong performance of "Exit" and "In God's Country." The sound quality is nothing to write home about, but is easily listenable and doesn't polish any of the liveness out of either song.

I doubt that J Adams Where Are You Now? is a top-notch U2 collectible. It's too short and the quality is mediocre by the standards of bootleg aficionados. However, it does contain a track not available on any commercial release and an interesting connection to skateboarding that I've yet to discover.

If you're curious about "Womanfish," you can hear it at the U2 Sound Library.

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