Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year End List: Top 10 Albums I Discovered/ Rediscovered This Year

So I always see top 10 lists of people's favorite albums of the year, but I thought I'd change that up a bit (in addition to doing a list like that later), and talk about some albums that didn't come out this year, but that I just heard for the first time this year, or rediscovered in my library and that was played a whole lot this year. I'll do it in alphabetical order this time, but I will try to play favorites on the top 10 albums list of the year coming later.

The Allman Brothers Band- Eat A Peach (1972)
I recently got this album on vinyl for the first time, and rediscovered how amazing the Allman Brothers Band was. It was interesting for me to hear the fade outs on 'Mountain Jam' for the first time, having been used to the CD version. If you're down for some jamtastic southern rock, look no further than this record or their other live record At Fillmore East. The instrumental work and how together the band is on some of these jams is astounding and extremely memorable.

Miles Davis- Sketches of Spain (1960)
I really got into Miles Davis this year, but the record I kept going back to was this one, which I also purchased on vinyl a few months ago. It's really interesting how Miles Davis was just able to bend Spanish classical music to his will and mix it so easily into his sound. The orchestration by Gil Evans is amzing as always, and this record has some of Miles' most passionate horn playing on record. I was thinking about putting some of Miles' 10 inch LPs from the Record Store Day Black Friday box set here, but I haven't listened to them nearly as much as this.

Michael Gira- The Body Lovers/ The Body Haters (2005)

Michael Gira can always manage to leave me completely unsettled, even on an instrumental album. Only on the second track of this double album, I knew I'd be listening to this for a long time. It is the darkest ambient there can possibly be. The crying woman laid over some sparse instrumentation was one of the creepiest things I'll ever hear, and yet for some reason I kept coming back. Michael Gira is infinitely fascinating, and the fact that none of his projects sound the same really gives one the opportunity to hear the full scope of the disturbing content he has to offer.

King Crimson- In The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
I rediscovered this album in a big way this year. I was always a fan of '21st Century Schizoid Man', in which the unison passage still amaze me, but I really got into the song 'I Talk To The Wind' this year. Something about its atmosphere, vocal blending and melody was very comforting, and I found it very difficult to get out of my head. The entire record is pure gold, and there are few who will argue with that, but sometimes you can listen to something one thousand times, but then that thousand and first time will show you great new things about a great record.

Manic Street Preachers- The Holy Bible (1994)

"The Holy Bible" in capital letters in black print with "Manic Street Preachers" in capital letters below, smaller, at the top of the image in front of a white background. In the middle of the image is a rectangular triptych painting of an obese woman in her underwear – the first image capturing her from the right side, the next image from front on and the last capturing her from the left side. Below this, at the bottom of the page in front of a white background are the track titles listed from one to thirteen.
Richey Edwards was an amazing lyricist, and this album was his crowning achievement. The Manics never really made it over here in the states, and that is a shame, because their oeuvre is vast and extremely interesting. I was actually first turned on to them this year, and this album is by far my favorite from them, mostly due to the extremely dark subject matter that Edwards touches on here. The band went Britpop after this, most likely due to the disappearance of Edwards before the completion of their next record. I am really interested to know what their next record would have sounded like had Edwards not disappeared. "Nine Inch Nails meets Pantera meets Scremadelica" sounds pretty interesting to me.

Pat Martino- Joyous Lake (1976)

In a book I read earlier in the year, it listed Pat Martino as one of music's most underrated guitarists. It also outlined his brain tumor and his subsequent surgery to remove it, after which he forgot how to play and relearned how to play guitar. This sounded very interesting to me, so I checked out a few of his records and I was floored. I was able to pick up this record and Starbright, and both records are great. I prefer his  jazzfusion stuff to some of his earlier material, which is more rooted in bop. The book is not wrong. Martino was and is (he's still recording and touring) an amazing and unique guitarist, whose work is as complex as it is brilliant.

Maximum the Hormone- Bu-ikikaesu (2007)

I've never really been a metalhead, but I can definitely vibe with this. Maximum the Hormone is a Japanese alternative metal band that mixes a lot of flavors into its sound, including metalcore, rap, funk, and J pop. This changes in sound happen so seamlessly, and you'd think that blending genres this divers would be a daunting task, but they make it seem so easy. I honestly have no idea what they're singing about, but maybe that's part of its charm for me. If you're a fan of metal, Japanese music, or are interested in some really genre bending music, this is definitely worth a listen.

Armand Schaubroeck Steals- A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck... Dead (1972)

Before moving to Pittsburgh, I took one last look through my father's record collection and found this gem. The pet project of a nearby town's record store owner, this album (a triple album debut), is the weirdest thing I think anyone will ever hear. Imagine if Lou Reed, Iggy Pop,and Frank Zappa were thrown in a blender and the result sang blues rock or did spoken word vignettes about prison. This whole album is one long story arc of the main character's incarceration in maximum security prison, based on Armand Schaubroeck's own stay in Elmira for a long string of robberies in his youth. I honestly hope the material was only lightly based on those experiences, for his own sake (you'll get it if you listen, or even look at his paintings in the gatefold). This began my quest to track down everyone of his records, and he just released a single this Record Store Day for his upcoming album, his first since 1978. Really excited to see how his warped mind follows up his other records.

Sigur Rós- Von (1997)

I have some massive gaps in my musical knowledge and freely admit it. The first experience I had with this Icelandic post rock outfit happened this year, and began oddly enough from some dialogue about their Hopelandic imaginary language in an old episode of Portlandia. Needless to say, I checked them out, as I was intrigued, and loved what I heard. The band had not developed Hopelandic by this point, but I think I like this record the most. It has some creepy atmospheres, along with some beautiful textures and soundscapes, along with some great falsetto singing and melodies. This is another one of those records where I have no idea what is being said, but I really don't need to know. The beauty speaks for itself.

The Smashing Pumpkins- Siamese Dream [Deluxe Edition] (2011)

It took my a while to get my hands on the remaster of the album, but it is one of my favorite albums, so I knew it was only a matter of time (the remaster of Mellon Collie will probably be on this list years from now once I can afford its hefty price tag). There's not much I can say about this album that has not already been said. It is one of the best albums of the '90s, and its guitar sound, lyrical content, and mood have been a massive influence on my life. I really got into the songs 'Quiet' and 'Soma' this year, and the many bonus tracks that come with the reissue are actually worth listening to, unlike the tracks that are attached to a lot of reissues these days. If you have not heard this album in any form yet, that needs to change.

So, those are some albums I got into this year. I'll be posting my top ten favorite albums of the year, as well as a list of my anticipated albums later in the week.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: D'Angelo- Black Messiah

After almost fifteen years, D'Angelo has returned with a killer new album. D'Angelo is an American artist known for popularizing the neo-soul movement in the mid '90s to early 2000s, with critical successes of albums like Brown Sugar and Voodoo under his belt. He has also become known for his reclusive nature, and there were countless delays, legal troubles and mental breakdowns on the way to this album. The fame D'Angelo experienced after Voodoo was released, as well as the video for 'Untitled (How Does It Feel?)' (you know the one), caused him to retreat for the spotlight for a while, and I kind of wondered whether I'd ever hear anything from him again. I'm glad D'Angelo was able to make a recovery and put out another instant classic.

Listening to the album, it's hard to believe that D'Angelo was ever out of the game, since he sounds just as fresh as when he left. This album somehow more than lives up to the fifteen years of hype, which you'd think would be all but impossible. However, he came back with a set of groove heavy, well constructed, soul gems that reinforce how stagnant current R&B is. The grooves here are ridiculously easy to get lost in, the sounds you hear on the record are extremely varied, unlike most R&B production, and the subject matter is also varied as well (not all R&B has to be about sex, guys. There are other things to write about.) In short, it's a D'Angelo album, which is a seal of quality among soul albums.

D'Angelo learned to play guitar between albums, which I have to say is pretty awesome if all the guitar on this album is him. The instrumentation here is pretty plentiful here (is that a sitar on 'The Charade'?) and there is definitely a groove feel, but definitely some experimental and psychedelic sounds as well. ?uestlove supplies drums on the album, so that's awesome as well.
And I can not praise D'Angelo's vocal performances enough. He sounds amazing here, and his delivery is almost as varied as the rest of the sounds of the album.

All in all, this is definitely the best, most ambitious and experimental soul record I've hear in a while, and put a lot of modern acts to shame. For a soul or D'Angelo fan, this is a must listen. For anyone else, I'd still recommend it, since it shows there's still some creativity even in a genre a stagnant as R&B. Somehow this was worth the wait, but I hope I don't have to wait as long to hear from him again. Now, I'm off to re-edit my year end top ten albums, because this project threw that waaaaaay off.

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: kigo- never knowing (single)

Kigo has done it again.For those who did not see my initial post on Kigo, in which I reviewed the last EP, Close (Enough To Kiss), I really dug the band (Dwayne Pearce, this time accompanied by M.L. McDonald on vocals) and their amazing shoe gaze sound. This time around, Pearce has dropped a single from an upcoming 2015 release (super excited btw), and my real favorite part of this release is Pearce as a producer.

With 'Never Knowing', the fuzz on the guitars is pulled back just a little bit, which lets the other voices in the mix shine. I love the drums and vocals here, and the dial down on the guitars may even enhance the palpable dreamlike and hazy textures. I love the consistent guitar chord pattern to this song, which is very calming and meditative, yet has some drive and momentum as well. It's this duplicity that really makes the track stand out; it has that calming effect, and yet it has such a presence that it can't be ignored.

'Not So (Now)' is this single's b-side (do they still call those that if it's a digital single?), and the fuzzed out sound here is more consistent with what we've heard from Kigo in the past. The guitar stabs here are pretty amazing, and contrast really well with the very hypnotic and beautiful vocal melody. Again, I have to hand it to Pearce's mixing here. The sound here just seems so full, without sacrificing the dreamy yet noisy quality that this style of music.

Without a doubt, I am extremely happy that I discovered Kigo, as well as Dwayne Pearce's other project, Afterwalker (kind of a black metal nu gaze sound) You should really check that out as well, because their behemoth of a new album was pretty great. They've had a pretty big impact on my perception of music and my life in general, especially within this blog. Mr. Pearce actually shared my post on his previous EP, which I thought was just so amazing and inconceivable. The fact that I was able to reach him and let him know that his music is appreciated was just so great, and really inspired me to keep writing. Also, his post on World Mental Health Day really struck a chord with me. As a fellow individual that suffers from a lot of self doubt and anxiety, I thought it was great of him to speak up for people who deal with these sorts of issues and found it inspirational. I hope this post reaches him as well, so he can know how much I appreciate his art, and to let him know that he matters.

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:

Congratulations on the release of your new single, Dwayne, and thank you for the music. As an American, I'll probably never meet you, but you've been a force for good for me, and probably countless others, and we appreciate that.

Check in later for my year end lists. I'll most likely be doing a top 10 of my favorite albums of the year, a list of projects I'm looking forward to for 2015, as well as a top 10 albums list of projects that I was turned on to this year, or just happened to rediscover in my own collection, and that I couldn't stop listening to for long stretches of time.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: The Smashing Pumpkins- Monuments To An Elegy

Way back when the Teargarden by Kaleidoscope project first began, I was amazingly excited. 'A Song for a Son' was and is a pretty amazing song, and it set the bar pretty high for what was to come. And I thought that the other releases from the Pumpkins on the EPs and Oceania were pretty solid. I hardly thought they were up to snuff with the heyday iteration of the band's material, but I thought it was an improvement upon Machina I and a lot of Zeitgeist. I liked how the new stuff built upon the old, and that the songs still had that Pumpkins feel to them.

Monuments to an Elegy on the other hand is a pretty radical departure from the traditional Pumpkins formula. I once saw an interview where Billy Corgan said something along the lines of ,"people kept asking me why we didn't play these 3 minute pop songs. Uh, because we don't?" Somewhere along the line that changed, because a lot of this album, which clocks in at a very slim run time, seems very compact. I have seen reviews praising this album for its short run time, calling it the easiest Pumpkins album to digest. Is that necessarily a good thing? I kind of like my music on the more complex side, with songs that won't show all their secrets within the first listen. I feel like my major gripe with this album is that the scope of it is very narrow, with heavy guitars, some synths and basic drumming (courtesy of Tommy Lee, no I don't really have a strong opinion) dominating the album. There's not a lot of room for these songs to expand in the short time that each one takes up, and the lack of any dynamic shifts, unexpected chord progressions, or even guitar solos makes the songs a little formulaic.

It's this kind of stuff that really makes me wonder where this fits in with the rest of Teargarden by Kaleidoscope, the project that this album supposedly is a part of. The rest of the project may have had some weak moments, but there was a lot more atmosphere, dynamic and overall variety to the sounds. As for the lyrical substance here, there are some weak moments, but I also find there to be some compelling lyrical quips here and there.

This review may make it sound like this album is absolutely terrible, which is not the case in the slightest. I simply hold the Pumpkins to an extremely high standard (I mean, Corgan and his rotating crew have put out some amazing records and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is one of my favorite albums of all time), and the kind of mediocre set I heard here was pretty disappointing. There are some great moments on this album, but I feel like this album is a little too "easy" for a Pumpkins record, if that makes any sense. There has been talk that the follow up and final chapter to the project, Day for Night, will be more experimental, and I really hope for that, because if the experiment here was to make a middle of the road album, they definitely succeeded.

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:

What did you think of the album? Check back in for my opinions on the new single by kigo, "never knowing". I'll also be doing some year end lists at the end of the month.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: Ghostface Killah- 36 Seasons

Ghostface Killah has been widely hailed as one of hip-hop’s greatest story tellers, weaving intricate stories in a good deal of his songs. His previous effort, Twelve Reasons to Die, was a fully formed concept album, or rap opera (hip-hopera? Maybe). Tony Starks continues this dedication to storytelling in his newest album.

From what I can divulge from the first few listens (Ghostface is known for taking a while to decode), Ghostface Killah aka Tony Starks went away to prison for 9 years (36 seasons) to return to a whole new world. His girlfriend has moved on and neighborhood has been overrun by crime. Ghostface takes the law into his own hands and begins clearing the streets out vigilante style. Ultimately, Starks is betrayed by his partner in justice, and is horribly injured as a result. Through surgery, Ghostface is rehabilitated, but must wear a mask to breathe. He then continues his vigilante justice, adding to the body count all the way. In the end, Tony gets his girl back in this action movie/ love story epic.

I thought it was a great idea for the features on this album to play all separate characters, making it a lot easier to follow the story. One problem I had with the rock opera by the Decemberists is that Colin Meloy sang all the male parts, so it was hard to tell when he was supposed to be a different character. Ghostface and company are in top form, and their raps are spirited, intricate, and infinitely interesting. The live instrumentation provided by the Revelations is fantastic as well; a kind of retro soul/ blaxploitation soundtrack to an unmade b-movie. The production here is a whole lot better than it was on the album by the whole Wu-Tang Clan, A Better Tomorrow.

I found this album to be so much more listenable than the Clan’s latest album, mainly due to its cohesiveness with the narrative, its better music and production, and for its amped up energy and lively delivery of infinitely more interesting lyrics. This album, along with albums like Run the Jewels 2 and Open Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy, are really examples of what hip-hop can be when people just take their creativity and run with it. I wish modern hip-hop had a few more Ghostface Killahs in its cast of players. The soundscape would be so much more intriguing. 

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:

Check back later for my thoughts on the new album by the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as the new single from kigo.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: The Wu-Tang Clan- A Better Tomorrow

The Wu-Tang Clan were one of the pioneering groups of East Coast hip hop in the early '90s, mixing their strength by numbers rap attack with gritty production consisting of soul and kung fu movie samples. The raps were straight lyricism; aggressive and confrontational with a story telling ability that has rarely been rivaled. This union also acted as a spring board for the solo careers of the original nine clan members, all who have gone on to have some success in that regard.

A little over 20 years later, you can tell a few things have changed. For one, Ol' Dirty Bastard is no longer with us, though he does have a few sound bytes on the record. I was a little curious as to whether he would make an appearance and whether any more archival material of him existed. Another thing that is obvious is that some of the members are no longer on the same page. Where as in the beginning it seemed every member had something to prove, and showed this through the most aggressive means possible, it seems the fire has died a little bit. The production here is very rarely like the classic Wu-Tang sound, and it seems a little too sappy and nostalgic for rap group that is usually quite hard hitting. 'Miracle' is the most excruciating example of this, with a chorus that had to be a joke.

As for lyrics here, there are moments of greatness here, mostly from Method Man and Ghostface Killah, though there is an air of disinterest in some of this material. I always feel like if you're not particularly interested in a project, there's nobody forcing you to make it. Except for this case of course, in which RZA literally forced Raekwon into the studio to finish the album. I feel like a Wu-Tang reunion was something RZA thought the people wanted, and we did, but you don't do something because your fans want it; you as a group need to want it too, because we can tell when you're truly invested in a project and all working towards the same goals, and when the group is a little splintered. And that's really what I'm hearing here. Still excited about the new Ghostface though. Maybe with eight less personalities to deal with, he can deliver his next classic album.

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:

What do you think of the album? Feel free to let me know. Check in later, as I look at the aforementioned project, 36 Seasons, as well as the new album by the Smashing Pumpkins, Monument to an Elegy.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."