The Weekend Review: January 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-05-15 23:30:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the first Weekend Review of the new year.  I hope you’ll enjoy our new monthly format, optimized for ease of use with the hope that you’ll be able to turn to LaptopSessions.com for new music news in 2011.  Hurry back next weekend for the February report!

The King is Dead
The DecemberistsProducer:
Tucker Martine

Released:
January 14, 2011

Rating:
4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Rox in the Box” & “Rise to Me”

After the impressive – and yet distracting – complexity of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists return to kick off 2011 with what may very possibly be the best album of the year.  The King is Dead, referred to as a “barn album” by band members in the deluxe edition doc Pendarvia, is an album of simple and yet profound beauty.While, to be fair, it lacks the mind-blowing scale of recent previous efforts, there is something to be said for a cohesive and eminently listenable collection of tracks.

Think of it as an acoustic rock masterpiece, headlined by the soaring “Rox in the Box” and the sing-along anthem waiting to happen “This is Why We Fight.”  Even the fully acoustic, balladic tracks like “Dear Avery” are gorgeous to such an extent that you won’t be able to skip the track, even if you’re on the road looking for a rock song.  Although the lead single, “Down By the Water,” lacks something of the “x factor” that makes songs truly great, it is still a tightly packaged, catchy tune indicative of the best of the King is Dead sound.  Oh, and if you think “Calamity Song” sounds like an aural love-child of R.E.M., you won’t be surprised to learn that it actually features Peter Buck on lead guitar.

Good, good stuff, and a high bar to be set this early in the year.

 

Mine is Yours
Cold War KidsProducer:
Jacquire King

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Royal Blue” & “Flying Upside Down”

2008’s Loyalty to Loyaltywas the album that introduced me to and left me in awe of the Cold War Kids.  Their unique sound and keen sense for mixing the slow and off-center with the straightforward and single-worthy led me to high expectations for their next release.Well, as is often the case with high expectations, the reality rarely compares.

Whether my reaction is due to what I had expected to find on Mine is Yours is honestly too early to say, but what I’ve heard here is a collection of underwhelming tracks, many of which seem to promise more than they deliver and are often longer than they deserve to be.  Tracks like “Royal Blue,” “Sensitive Kid,” and “Flying Upside Down” stand out as excellent without need of qualification, but others like “Broken Open,” “Louder Than Ever,” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” beg for more consideration, more development, in order to reach the heights established on the previous record.

This is not to say that it should be like a sequel to Loyalty to Loyalty, but the songs of Mine is Yours should at least be as interesting.  While I was initially turned off by the slicker production values, I’ve entirely come around on that, which makes me wish that more attention to detail had been paid.

 

The Party
Ain’t Over

Wanda JacksonProducer:
Jack White

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Shakin’ All Over” & “Nervous Breakdown”

Slogans like “The Queen of Rockabilly” don’t typically entice me to purchase music, but in this case, it was bookended by Jack White’s name in the production credits and a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”In short, I couldn’t resist at least one listen.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Party Ain’t Over holds up to repeated listens, fronted by the outstanding “Shakin’ All Over,” a track that aptly blends the gritty alternative sound for which White is so well known with the sonic signature of 50s rock and, I suppose, rockabilly.  Here, as on the rest of the record, riffs abound and Jackson’s ragged voice establishes her in my mind as the female equivalent of a contemporary Dylan, in vocal delivery if not in lyricism, craftsmanship, etc.  In the area of originality, it is clear she doesn’t hold a candle to aforementioned Bard, but her choice of covers is impeccably fitting: a devastating take on “Busted” (see: Johnny Cash), the closest anyone has come to covering a 2000s Dylan track without earning a sneer from me, and a redefining arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good.”

Even the latter half tracks are enjoyable, foot-tappers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dust on the Bible,” as well as slower tunes such as “Blue Yodel #6” (not to be confused with #4, or my personal favorite, #9).  All in all, for an impulse purchase out of raw curiosity, The Party Ain’t Over is a testament to Jack White’s capabilities as producer and studio musician; it may not be the best album of 2011, but it bears a certain quality and strength of arrangement (both within tracks and across the album) that it deserves to be noticed.

The Weekend Review: June 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-12-29 20:40:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

June was a quiet month, and I didn’t initially appreciate some of the great work that is represented below.  This is one of the only benefits to posting these reviews so belatedly this year: that my criticism has had months to percolate and develop.  I think that is revealed below…

 

Suck It And See (Arctic Monkeys)

Producer: James Ford

Released: June 6, 2011

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “She’s Thunderstorms” & “Piledriver Waltz”

With so many individually excellent songs – the opening electric barrage of “She’s Thunderstorms” and the gorgeously  Suck It And See should be an instant classic.  There’s something lacking, though: predominantly, a sense of momentum.  Individual songs achieve momentum relative to themselves, but there just isn’t a sense of ever-mounting energy as the tracks continue.  Still, the retro-rock/punk groove of tracks like “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” is undeniably catchy, and the Arctic Monkeys certainly haven’t lost their range, one which runs from the mean distortion of “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” to the placid ballad “Love is a Laserquest.”


Alpocalypse (“Weird Al” Yankovic)

Producer: “Weird Al” Yankovic

Released: June 21, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “CNR” & “Skipper Dan”

With Poodle Hat (2003) and Straight Outta Lynwood (2006), Weird Al raised the bar considerably, and it would seem to be a setup for failure to compare all future work by the watermark of discs like these.  Still, Alpocalypse rises to the occasion: there’s the dual-layered parody of “Born This Way” and Lady Gaga in the opener “Perform This Way,” style parodies of Weezer (“Skipper Dan”) and the White Stripes (“CNR”) that will stand up to his best work, and of course, a wittily titled polka medley (“Polka Face”).  Weird Al even manages to make the catchiness of that celebratory, patriotic Miley Cyrus tune accessible to the rest of us in “Party in the CIA.”  With Alpocalypse, Yankovic has also caught up on a few items that, in retrospect, I’m surprised haven’t fallen under his radar previously:  “Craigslist,” performed in perfect Doors/Jim Morrison fashion, and the appropriately faux-epic “Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me.”

 

Is For Karaoke EP (Relient K)

Released: June 28, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Surf Wax America” (originally performed by Weezer) & “Baby” (originally performed by Justin Bieber)

While I usually cannot condone an album of covers, much less an EP, and especially from a band that has only recently put out some of the most mature and masterful original material of their career, Relient K’s Is For Karaoke EP is actually quite good.  In seven brief songs, they span the decades, from as recent as last year and stretching all the way back to April 1980 with an impressively spot-on take of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Here Comes My Girl,” not forgetting the nineties in between, particularly with their not to Weezer in “Surf Wax America,” an excellent choice of band as well as song.  Frontman Matt Thiessen shows off his vocal range on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Relient K renders another annoying track listenable in their cover of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” a resuscitation of a cover that can only be compared with Fountains of Wayne’s version of Britney Spear’s “Baby… One More Time.”  Overall, a masterful little EP, and not bad at all to tide us over until their follow-up to 2009’s outstanding Forget and Not Slow Down, my pick for number one album of that year.

 

Rave On Buddy Holly (Various Artists)

Producer: Randall Poster & Gelya Robb

Released: June 28, 2011

Rating: 3/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” (Cee Lo Green) & “Changing All Those Changes” (Nick Lowe)

As with all tribute albums, the quality is uneven throughout.  And, buyer beware, there are some real clunkers here (Lou Reed’s distortion-drowned “Peggy Sue,” to name only one of several).  However, there are also some gems, and some hail from surprising corners.  Cee Lo Green’s take on “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” is easily the best track on the record, followed quickly by a plethora of pleasing yet unsurprising covers by an admittedly impressive array of artists, from Paul McCartney to Modest Mouse and Fiona Apple to the Black Keys.  There are too many strong tracks here to write Rave On Buddy Holly off, yet there are too many forgettable (at best) flunkers to offer up too much praise too easily.

The Weekend Review: September 2011 Report

Originally posted 2012-01-01 16:00:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

September was, for me, the slowest new music month of the year thus far, but if the only music released in a thirty day span is a brand new Wilco studio album, you’ll find me a happy camper each time.  Jeff Tweedy and company have yet to disappoint me, and regarding The Whole Love specifically, Wilco has rarely impressed and entertained me so greatly (probably only once before; can you guess on which record?).  Read on…

The Whole Love (Wilco)

Producer: Jeff Tweedy, Pat Sansone, and Tom Schick

Released: September 27, 2011

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Born Alone” & “Dawned on Me”

From start to finish, The Whole Love exemplifies the Wilco experience: traces of what you’ve come to love, unexpected turns (particularly, this time around, in “Capital City”), and a careful sequencing that unites twelve distinct songs along a single thread.  Bookended by relatively lengthy experimentation in the distortion-drenched, feedback-fueled romp “Art of Almost” and the pleasant acoustic twelve-minute narrative “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” the majority of the tracks on The Whole Love are concise efforts, ranging from the retro-stomp of “I Might” to the lush acoustic production of “Black Moon.”  On most tracks, it becomes clear that it is not so much that Wilco is an experimental band so much that they are innovative in their arrangements, in their seemingly instinctive sense of how to blend movements in songs, which instruments to bring high in the mix when, and how best to (subtly) layer in beds of synthesized sound for atmosphere.  From start to finish, The Whole Love is a striking effort: one of those albums that yields up new revelations with successive listens, one that begs to be left alone when the twelfth minute of track twelve fades and cycles back into to the first tentative moments of “Art of Almost.”  If you hear only one new album this year, I would posit that Wilco’s latest disc is the most expansive, complete, fully rendered of them all; a true must-listen.

The Weekend Review: August 2011 Report

Originally posted 2012-01-01 12:41:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

 

Tripper (The Fruit Bats)

Released: August 2, 2011

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Tangie and Ray” & “You’re Too Weird”

On Tripper, quirky, folksy retro rockers the Fruit Bats fall into a comfortable groove, kicking off with the drug-induced experiences of the alliterative “Tony the Tripper,” following up two tracks later with the tale of “Tangie and Ray,” and later adding “Dolly” into the mix.  The Fruit Bats spin a veritable world across the eleven tracks on Tripper, adding bird sounds and what could be a stream to “The Banishment Song,” laying down warm, (dare I say it?) trippy atmospherics throughout.  Thought the album falters a bit near the end, it is overall true to their form.  It doesn’t have the same concision or catchiness as 2009’s The Ruminant Band, but it is, all together, a strong fifth effort from the band.

 

I’m With You (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Producer: Rick Rubin

Released: August 26, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Factory of Faith” & “Police Station”

This was a good year for rock, in quality if not in quantity.  Earlier this year, I held up the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light as one of the best rock albums in years.  I’m With You doesn’t quite ascend to that mark, but it is an outstanding rock album all the same: killer guitar, great bass, and all-around passionate performances.  From the well-arranged “Monarchy of Roses” at the start of the album to the standout tracks placed deep in the track listing, I’m With You delivers fourteen strong rock tracks, incorporating a range of sounds developed throughout the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ career.  “Factory of Faith” is catchy with punchy vocals, “Brendan’s Death Song” tempers a heartfelt lead vocal and guitar while caressing the eventual buildup beautifully, and even a less exceptional track like “Ethiopia” brandishes impressively expansive production qualities.  And this is only to comment on the first four tracks, never mind the true standouts: the gorgeous production and energy on “Police Station” and the epic quality of “Even You Brutus?,” to name only a couple.