The Weekend Review: November 2011

Originally posted 2012-01-02 14:00:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

The SMiLE Sessions (The Beach Boys)

Producer: Brian Wilson, Mark Linett, Alan Boyd, and Dennis Wolfe

Released: November 1, 2011

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Surf’s Up” & “Our Prayer ‘Dialog’”

I’ll keep this one brief, as there’s already been so, so, so much written about SMiLE, that infamous, legendary album that almost was, then wasn’t, then in 2004 pretty much was, and finally in 2011 finally is.  Well, it “is” in the best, closest manner it could ever have been, as The SMiLE Sessions are compiled from what Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys managed to finish before it all fell apart, nothing new added.  So, the Sessions lack the polish and finality of 2004’s Brian Wilson Presents… SMiLE!, afforded it by modern recording equipment and, no less significantly, Wilson’s healthier state of mind.  Inversely, the 2004 version lacked the spark, the elusive x factor presented by the Beach Boys’ voices.  When blended, there simply has never been another group quite like Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston.  Accordingly, I would first recommend you hear Pet Sounds (1966).  If you’ve already heard that, you might be ready for SMiLE.  If you are, judge the version of the Sessions you’ll buy relative to how hardcore a fan you are (I had to go for the full 5-disc boxset, but you might not).  If you’re not, try out Sunflower (1970) or The Beach Boys Today! (1965) first.  But don’t forget to make it back to the greatest album that never was.  And also don’t forget to check back for more Beach Boys cover songs here on the music blog!

 

Camp (Childish Gambino)

Producer: Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson

Released: November 15, 2011

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Fire Fly” & “Hold You Down”

Camp is an imperfect album, with flares of talent and inspiration tempered with stretches of less notable work.  Being that this is Childish Gambino’s first studio album proper, this is all to be expected, particularly of an up and coming talent, and there is much evidence here to suggest that he is.  His attitude toward achieving success, especially in light of past experiences being ignored by girls and others, is explored across multiple tracks, the best of which is “Fire Fly,” truly the standout track for its incisive catchiness.  Childish Gambino has all the necessary bravado, as well as a unique personality and willingness to let his guard down; although I’ve heard it argued that his beats are derivative (I’m far from an authority on this front), his lyrics have an interesting blend between those typical of contemporary rap and those drastically different from the normal.

(#31-50) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2009-12-30 23:30:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

With only two days remaining in this decade, I’ve finally completed The Weekend Review’s take on the fifty best albums of the past ten years.  I’ve added the modifier “Rock” albums in order to purposely separate out the other genres currently taking up spaces on many of the end of decade lists.  The albums you will see here stretch across a wide range — from acoustic rock to alternative/indie rock to grunge rock and many shades in between – but what these works all have in common is that basic rock sensibility, namely a songwriter or band with guitars, bass, drums, and words and music of their own creation.

I had originally planned to post a top thirty list, but there were just too many (as you’ll see below) great albums that deserve ranking.  And indeed, this has been a difficult — but enjoyable — task, pouring through my iPod selections and stacks upon stacks of CDs from the decade.  I greatly enjoyed discussing and debating where certain albums should fall, and I was introduced and reminded of not a few by my close friends.  Perhaps the most difficult part was attempting to remove my bias, wherever possible, from my final rankings.  I even had to add the honorable mentions note, highlighting two albums that I could not in good faith rank higher than even one on the list above them and yet felt strongly about their quality.

With that, I enthusiastically thank those people who humored my desires to discuss and debate the greatest music of the decade, and I hope you will enjoy this first installment of the list.  Check back tomorrow for the next ten, with annotations included for each album.  And, of course, please leave your comments, criticisms, and even your own lists — I’d love to read and consider them!

31) Get Behind Me Satan – The White Stripes

32) Binaural – Pearl Jam

33) The Thorns – The Thorns

34) Rebel, Sweetheart – The Wallflowers

35) In Rainbows – Radiohead

36) Little by Little… – Harvey Danger

37) Reptile – Eric Clapton

38) On and On – Jack Johnson

39) Elephant – The White Stripes

40) American IV: The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash

41) A Ghost is Born – Wilco

42) Riot Act – Pearl Jam

43) The Wind – Warren Zevon

44) Songs for Silverman – Ben Folds

45) The Ruminant Band – The Fruit Bats

46) (Breach) – The Wallflowers

47) Snacktime – Barenaked Ladies

48) More Than You Think You Are – Matchbox Twenty

49) Wildflower – Sheryl Crow

50) Sea Change – Beck

Honorable Mention

51) Here & Now – America

52) Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie

The Weekend Review: July 2011 Report

Originally posted 2012-01-01 11:03:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

 

The Grand Theatre: Volume 2 (Old 97’s)

Producer: Salim Nourallah

Released: July 5, 2011

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Manhattan (I’m Done)” & “Brown Haired Daughter”

Oddly enough, it is my pleasure to report on the rockin’ mediocrity of The Grand Theatre: Volume 2.  I do, though, need to revise a previous statement.  In my Weekend Review of Volume 1, I posited two questions: “Are the best songs being split between both records?  If so, then why not make some difficult decisions on the chopping block and release one album that will be the best possible Old 97′s record?  If not, then will Volume Two emerge as a sort of b-sides and unreleased tracks compilation that is destined to disappoint in the shadow of Volume One?”  In retrospect, I should have added a third question to account for another possibility: that Volume 2 would be an enjoyable record, but with an entirely different feel than Volume 1.  Unlike the Barenaked Ladies double-album Are Me/Are Men (which had a united feel throughout both records and the best recordings split between the volumes), the Old 97’s recorded this music during the same set of sessions yet clearly divvied up between two distinct categories: songs that are polished, more artistically rendered and songs that are fun, with a “live” sound.  For my personal preference, Volume 1 will always stand out, but Volume 2 is a solid record.  I, thus, go on the record as saying that this was the perfect release strategy for this body of music.

 

All of You (Colbie Caillat)

Producer: Greg Wells, Ken Caillat, Ryan Tedder, Toby Gad, Jason Reeves, & Rick Nowels

Released: July 11, 2011

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Shadow” & “What If”

In All of You, we find yet another case of Wings syndrome, a condition found predominantly in singer/songwriters who are exceedingly happy in their personal lives.  These artists seem to have lost the link to the real world, floating into the blissful ether of cheesy lines and upbeat music untempered by frustration, disappointment, or any other clues to suggest the music is being written by a human being.  I have nothing against a good happy song, but for any album to be nothing but pleasant  — and simply so – can be oddly grating.  It leads an average person to wonder about the writer vaguely burying trouble in “Think Good Thoughts” and optimistically addressing existence in “Dream Life, Life.”  What boundaries are there to the dream life?  Without some fleshing out of those details, the overall effect falls short.  After being introduced to outstanding previous Caillat work, notably “Fallin’ For You,” I was disappointed in the quality of All of You.  The trick to beautiful, happy music has always seemed to lie in the subtle artistry.  The best, happiest Jack Johnson music, for instance, has always suggested a wink around the corner, a clever grin waiting to happen, sometimes even a regret or an irritation.  In much of Caillat’s previous work, there has been a sense of beautiful possibilities on the verge of coming true; on All of You, it seems the fairy tale has taken over.  (Though, to be fair, the closing track “Make It Rain” serves as a reminder of her emotional range.)

 

Sky Full of Holes (Fountains of Wayne)

Released: July 20, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” & “Acela”

For the first time in eight years, since 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, I can honestly return to Fountains of Wayne without shaking my head.  It is a testament to the backsliding inherent in Traffic & Weather (2007) that I haven’t been excited about anything from Fountains of Wayne since I heard it.  When I have returned to Welcome Interstate Managers, I’ve been instantly drawn back into its dynamic magnetism.  That being said, I’ve all but ignored their back catalog, haven’t even heard Traffic & Weather all the way through, and was not excited about this year’s Sky Full of Holes in the least.  For some reason, though, I did buy it.  (I’ll go on record here, though, as saying I don’t and have never owned a copy of Traffic.)  So strong was this distaste for their previous record that I’ve only recently grown to fully appreciate Sky Full of Holes: the folksy charm, the range apparent in the instrumentation and even the lyricism.  The same characteristic Fountains of Wayne wit and voice are maintained throughout, yet there is a sense of returning to roots and to rock here in the best sense: embracing the acoustic guitar, lacing the best tracks with guitar solos and lush vocals.  In short, Sky Full of Holes isn’t so much a return to form as it is a step forward in their career.  Does it match the peaks of their 2003 masterpiece?  Not quite.  But it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

 

Rabbits on the Run (Vanessa Carlton)

Producer: Steve Osborne

Released: July 26, 2011

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” & “Dear California”

Though she can probably best be described, from the public view at least, as a one-hit wonder, Vanessa Carlton continues to labor artistically, successfully in relative obscurity.  To be certain, there are echoes of her previous work here on Rabbits on the Run, but there is also a vitality, an authenticity to her delivery that was probably lacking on her early work.  As the cover would suggest, her new album is simple effort: ten tracks that rely most heavily on the gorgeous triad of vocals, piano (and other real instruments), and lyrics.  Guitars are used to great effect throughout, particularly on a standout like “Dear California,” a track that cleverly employs the “Surfin’” lineup of guitar, bass, and simple drums, with some Carlton-tinged piano thrown in to color the recording to fit her work, immediately flowing back into her characteristic cross between upbeat and murky, soaring and haunting, in “Tall Tales for Spring.”  The pinnacle, though, comes early in “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride,” a sparsely arranged statement of standing apart from societal and family expectations in confidence of one’s self and one’s relationship, expressing an independence from institutions and documents in favor of the abstract concepts purportedly expressed in the aforementioned conventions.

 

Back Pages (America)

Released: July 26, 2011

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Caroline No” & “A Road Song”

Nothing smells quite so stale as an album of covers billed as a “new studio album,” released over four and a half years after the previous studio album.  In America’s case, Back Pages is hardly a quality follow-up to the heights of 2007’s excellent, modern-feeling Here & Now or their album before that, 1998’s Human Nature.  I suppose, considering their previous two releases, it should come as no surprise that any album would have a difficult time living up to recent memory.  But a covers album?  Back Pages didn’t stand a chance.  For the true fan, there are obvious high points: particularly on their sweet, sublime rendition of Pet Sounds alum “Caroline No” and in the obligatory “America” cover, which was truly a nice touch.  Probably the best track on the album is “A Road Song,” in the sense that it sounds vital, new… probably because it is: America released this Fountains of Wayne cover a matter of days before they released their recording.  That is what is perhaps most disappointing about Back Pages: it only serves as a reminder of the uniquely excellent work that has come before and the promise of what might be yet to come.  If I wanted to hear an excellent New Radicals cover, I would’ve turned to Hall and Oates.  However, I expect more from an America release.

Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (2002) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2009-12-27 23:57:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

** This is the fourth in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009. On January 2nd, 2010, the #1 album will be revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade. **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

There are those albums that are easily inserted into categories, labeled by genre.  Then, there are those albums which do not, those veritable square pegs hovering above round holes.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot belongs to the latter.

Being that this is one of the most written-about albums of the decade, there have been just as many genre classifications as there have been reviewers.  Regardless of the fact that much of Wilco was formed from ex-Uncle Tupelo members, it is certainly not alt-country, although the trademark rough edges are present in all the right places.  It is not the country-tinged folk rock of Wilco’s debut release, A.M., although Tweedy’s leads sometimes attain that same wonderful raw quality that was so prominent on their first album.  It is not the acoustic rock of Being There, though the acoustic guitars are still quite prominent in the mixes.

Indeed, Summerteeth, their third album, can now be viewed as the proving grounds and a stepping stone to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — in a sense, as the Today! to their Pet Sounds, the Highway 61 Revisited to their Blonde on Blonde.

It is the clarity of overall vision and focus, as well as the variety of sounds and styles on this record that makes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot one of the best rock albums of the decade.  In many ways, Wilco’s previous recordings were all leading up to this masterpiece, an album that yielded a slew of alternate takes, arrangements, outtakes, and additional mixes.  They poured all they knew about songwriting, performing, and recording into this album, and that is what is most apparent in the tight, finely crafted tunes, every bit as much as it is evident across the sprawling, chaotic landscapes of songs like the opening track.

It has become somewhat difficult to separate the music of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot from the controversy that surrounded it at the time of its release.  Certainly, when they set out to record their fourth studio album, they couldn’t have predicted the poor reception of the record label that would lead to them being dropped from their contract.  They couldn’t have envisioned breaking ground on the now-standard practice of streaming their album in full before its official release.  They couldn’t have known that the story around the album would sell so many copies and overnight transform their band’s image from a fairly obscure alt-country band to the folk/alternative rock trendsetters that they are known as today.  And yet, all the same, these things came to pass, filmed every step of the way by Sam Jones for the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco.

Moreso than ever, this is an album that now needs to be taken, at least initially, on its own merits.  Nine years after it was recorded and eight years after the controversy and hype have subsided, we are left with the task of locating Yankee Hotel Foxtrot among the greatest albums of the decade, and perhaps of all-time.

Thankfully, it has stood the test of time.

Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002)

The Weekend Review's pick for the #2 album of the decade, 2000-2009, is Wilco's 2002 release, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."

Listening to this album is an entertaining, sobering, and all-around interesting experience from the fade in on track one to the fade out on track eleven.  “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is, of course, the flagship song of the record, establishing both the tone and the mood for the other ten tracks to come.  On the one hand, it is a song with such a simple chord progression and melody that it could be — and has been — easily translated to a solo acoustic performance.  Still, something is lost without, on the other hand, the reluctant bass lines, synthesized sounds, and haphazard yet steady drums.  The sum total of the instruments and vocals introduces a narrator who sounds decidedly detached, inviting us into a realm where we imagine and remember our saddest moments, the conflicts that have defined our romantic lives.

After the final burst of distortion, the second song, “Kamera,” wastes no time in laying out a much more polished folk-rock sound, describing uncertainty as to “which lies I have been hiding, and which echoes belong.”  Tweedy continues, “I’ve counted out days to see how far I’ve driven in the dark with echoes in my heart.”  It is a pretty song; it is a catchy song.  My only reservation here is lyrically — for instance, why spell the title with a “K” rather than a “C”?  As Robert Christgau seemed to point out in his own review of the album, any major concerns about the album’s quality will most likely be focused around the lyrical quality.  While I think he is, as per usual, deaf to the quality of this excellent album, I will admit that I vacillate as to the meaningfulness of some of the lyrics.

Overall, the album speaks to me, and yet, some of the songs may be found shaky on an individual inspection.

But this should be for you to decide as you listen.

“Radio Cure” is next, bringing the pace down to a crawl, expounding on the effects of distance on love.  It is followed by “War on War,” a protest song of sorts that seems to attack simple-mindedness with simplicity.  If nothing else, Tweedy cries the universal truth that, “You have to learn how to die if you wanna be alive…”  One can suppose that this is not necessarily meant as a commentary on physical violence, but moreso in the context of the romantic relationship in shambles that is described throughout the album.

In “Jesus Etc.” and “Ashes of American Flags,” the lyrics rely on allusions to Christianity and the American dream, respectively.  In the former, the singer attempts to reassure a Christ-like lover who is set on leaving, “last cigarettes” being all she can get before she sets about “turning your orbit around.”  The mournful quality of the latter is unsurpassed, particularly as Tweedy repeats the chorus: “All my lies are only wishes; I know I would die if I could come back new.”  Again, there is the Christian — or perhaps Buddhist — metaphor of a death leading to a rebirth.  We can assume that this relationship being referred to is dying or already dead, and the question, of course, remains: what will be reborn in its place?  The song ends with the singer “saluting” the ashes of American flags, “and all the fallen leaves filling up shopping bags.”

Anyone who has gone through a breakup after a meaningful relationship has undoubtedly undergone this phase of the healing process.

The seventh and eighth tracks sidestep a bit, the first — “Heavy Metal Drummer” — taking a nostalgic and upbeat flashback to memories of past summers filled with rock concerts and parties and the second — “I’m the Man Who Loves You” — coming across as a manic return to the present, the singer declaring, “If I could, you know I would just hold your hand and you’d understand: I’m the man who loves you!”

Subsequently, we learn that the singer’s declaration of love has not had the desired effect.  Indeed, “Pot Kettle Black” is an important transition point on the record as Tweedy sings of coming to terms with the realities of the relationship that exists between these two people.  Its abstract lyrics are no attempt to dodge specificity; rather, this is a great case study for how the mind perceives the breakdown of something so dear.

The final two tracks provide another excellent couplet in this eleven line album.  “Poor Places” establishes itself as an anthem for isolation, with the singer ultimately decreeing, “It’s hot in the poor places tonight; I’m not going outside.”  This is not an entirely unexpected turn of events.  After all, the album has covered a lot of melancholy ground, including what can arguably be construed as failed attempts at jump-starting a broken relationship.

When the final track arrives, it is somewhat of an enigma.  “Reservations” is one of the simplest, saddest, and most sincere love songs in the Wilco catalog.  The refrain, “I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you,” can be interpreted in several different ways — as a final attempt at reconciliation, as a statement after having reunited with the person (although there is less evidence for this), or perhaps most directly as parting words.  Judging from the ominous silence that follows, complete with sounds that can only be compared to a violent wind, the final interpretation seems the most likely.

From beginning to end, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of those rare albums that connects on both mental and emotional levels, calling on the listener to think in order to deconstruct meaning from the songs and utilizing all the right sounds to convey all the right feelings.  This was the album that singlehandedly led me into a breakup, nursed me through the depression that followed, and brought me back to the love of my life. (“What was I thinking when I let go of you?…”)

As the disclaimers read in those lovely commercials about diet pills, my results may not be typical, but my life is better for having experienced this album.  I hope — and have faith — that this album will have even half the effect on you that it did on me.