Best Packaging of 2012: A Weekend Review Special Edition

Originally posted 2013-02-11 23:25:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

The BEST PACKAGING of 2012

 

For this year, I’ll reserve my perennial rant on the decay of the album as an art form and the loss that is represented by the turn to digital delivery of music.  Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to point out three special albums this year that embraced the possibilities that are available for expanding the vision of the album to a more total view, including the physical representation of the themes and images of the music and lyrics.  The highlight of the year was Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel…, which presents drawings and handwritten lyrics which give the sense of flipping through a writer’s notebook.   Go Fly A Kite can be  fitted into place as a 3-D diorama, which is unique at the very least, not to mention that the lyrics include chords.  Finally, The Sound of the Life of the Mind is brilliantly designed, but for the fact that far too much space is taken up by names of fans who bought into the project as sponsors, particularly considering that there are no lyrics in the CD version, which is a shame based on how artful they are.

 

1)  The Idler Wheel… – Fiona Apple

2)  Go Fly A Kite – Ben Kweller

3)  The Sound of the Life of the Mind – Ben Folds Five

Ringo Starr’s “Y Not” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-01-17 22:46:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  2.5 / 5 stars

Although Ringo’s past several albums have been billed as solo records, they have actually been songwriting and performance collaborations with a core of talented singer/songwriters better known as the Roundheads.  They have been musically and lyrically interesting and, at times, even ambitious.

Well, there is no question that Y Not is a true Ringo Starr solo release.

Whereas the collaborations on his past records could be traced through the liner notes and behind-the-scenes documentaries, it is clear that any collaborative efforts on this album are directed by Ringo himself.  Ownership is the key word for Y Not, as his fifteenth studio album finds him producing his own material for the first time in his considerably decorated career.

The result?  This is a fun record, one that Ringo and his assorted guests obviously enjoyed recording.  As the title implies, there is a generally carefree attitude ringing forth from these tracks, an attitude which Ringo has carefully cultivated over a lifetime’s worth of recording and performing.  As early as “Peace Dream,” his positive worldview is sung with as much emotion and sincerity as ever before, followed by the blunt honesty and autobiography of “The Other Side of Liverpool.”  The latter is different from many of his previously autobiographical tracks — think: “Liverpool 8” — in that it covers some darker realms of his past, but it does so with that same air of confidence and cool attitude that we have come to know and expect from the famous drummer for the Beatles.

Ringo Starr's "Y Not" (2010)

Ringo Starr's "Y Not" (2010)

There are many positive comments to be made about Y Not, to be certain, and yet the unfortunate flip side of the “ownership” coin is that this most recent Ringo release comes across as somewhat flat compared to his previous albums.  Anyone who has heard his recent work — Ringo Rama (2003), Choose Love (2005), even as far back as Time Takes Time (1992) — will note the diminished effect of this record.

Even from the outside looking in, Y Not is a black and white, one-fold booklet release with a minimum of effort put into design and packaging.  The advertisement label, never mind the album cover, looks like something I could have designed on Windows 98 and printed out on an inkjet printer manufactured a decade ago.  The advertisement sticker itself seems like an afterthought, placed on the bottom rear of the CD case.

But these are only superficial observations; obviously, an album should be judged first and foremost on the quality of the material contained on the CD or downloaded from Internet.

And this is where the true inconsistencies of the album begin.

There are some truly outstanding songs — the funky, uplifting “Time” and the aforementioned “Peace Dream” to name two.  Then there are some fun if mediocre tracks like the repetitive “Everyone Wins,” the somewhat phoned-in (pun intended) “Fill in the Blanks,” and the title track, which frankly borders on annoying, especially by the time the Indian-influenced middle section arrives. “Walk With You” narrowly avoids falling into this category by virtue of the fact that Ringo’s duet with Paul McCartney elevates it to “gem” status.  There is a reason why these two men were members of what was arguably the best rock band of all time.

Finally, there is a track which will make you shake your head, and not in a good way.  Consider the album closer “Who’s Your Daddy” which is every bit as embarrassing as it sounds.  This is essentially a Joss Stone song with Ringo Starr guest-dueting on the chorus, laying down the anchor phrase “Who’s your daddy?” amidst her lead vocal.

The review essentially boils down to this: Y Not is a disappointment if you’re looking for material to compete with the best material of his career, or even his recent career.  (If you think too long about the title, that’s an oddity and perhaps a disappointment in and of itself — IM shorthand?  Really?)

If you’re simply looking for some fun rock and roll to kick off your 2010 soundtrack, then give this one a try.  Even for all my criticism, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend an artist or band who can so consistently provide such fun, upbeat, positive rock music as Ringo always has and continues to produce.  And, really, between the excellent and embarrassing songs, there are some wonderful tracks like the oh-so-obviously Richard Marx co-written song “Mystery of the Night” and the one Roundhead throw-back “Can’t Do It Wrong,” both of which are more than up to snuff, earning a place alongside some of Ringo’s best album tracks.

The final verdict is that I’m sad to see the Roundheads disband, but I’m happy to have Ringo carry on and take more personal responsibility for his music than ever before.

And yes, embarrassing as it may be, I’ll be singing along with Ringo on “Who’s Your Daddy” just about every time…

The Weekend Review: May 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-12-29 13:51:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It has recently come to my attention that the “box” format I’ve used on all my Weekend Review posts thus far this year is somewhat incompatible with at least the iPhone Safari browser, possibly with other smart phone interfaces as well.  What was intended to provide organization and aesthetic pleasure actually ended up cutting off my words from clear view on many devices.  So, my thanks to those who pointed that out, and rest assured I’m already brainstorming a format for next year.

As it is, my Weekend Reviews have fallen by the wayside in a year that has seen a significant format change — a blending, as it were, of my full-length reviews (which were, admittedly, perhaps too long) and my “Yes, No, Maybe So” one-sentence reviews (which started out simpler, but ended up having much of the complexity of my five star scale in the full-length reviews; I also pushed the definition of “one-sentence” to the extreme).

I’m excited for the new year to come for me to rededicate myself to the new music reviews in a more manageable manner and on a more regular schedule, yet I couldn’t let the latter two-thirds of the year’s new music slip by without comment.  So, without further ado, here’s my reviews (and many they are!) for May 2011, and I’ll be back soon to squeeze in the remaining months before the end of 2011.  As you can tell, brevity is a virtue as I rush to meet the 1/1/2012 deadline, and I am all the more excited for my end-of-the-year lists, which will be unveiled throughout the first weeks of January 2012.

 

The Schnozzle Sessions (Mike Fusco)

Producer: Mike Fusco

Released: (limited edition)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Adore You” & “Do You Have a Sister”

Simply put, The Schnozzle Sessions oozes potential and makes a listener anxious for the blend of catchy tunes, clever and poetic lyricism, and passionate vocalizing that will surely be highlighted on Fusco’s next full studio album, a promise already made good on the “Modern-Day Pocahontas” single released this summer.

 

Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes)

Producer: Phil Ek and Fleet Foxes

Released: May 3, 2011

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Helplessness Blues” & “Blue Spotted Tail”

I don’t think the Fleet Foxes are bad, I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.  I don’t understand the Beach Boys comparisons they’ve been drawing since their breakthrough to the mainstream, a likeness clearly supportable in their lush, gorgeous multi-layered vocals, yet undeserved on the level of the song as a whole.  Fleet Foxes, like many recent bands, seem content to develop sections and lines – what Brian Wilson might have referred to as “feels” in the mid-sixties – and yet to develop no further.  There seems to be little of the creativity in composition that Wilson demonstrated early.  Of course, it was this quest for artistic development and perhaps even perfection that likely drove Wilson off the deep end, so Fleet Foxes are probably smart to keep to their formula, breaking out here and there in standouts like the poetic urgency of the title track and the understated, emotive beauty of songs like “Blue Spotted Tail.”  One might take “The Shrine / An Argument” as sign of greater aspirations, so there is indeed reason to pay hopeful attention for future developments…

I Am Very Far (Okkervil River)

Producer: Will Sheff

Released: May 10, 2011

Rating: 2/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “The Rise” & “Piratess”

There is something about the overall composition of I Am Very Far that smacks of two sticks struck together only a bit too slowly or at a slightly incorrect angle to achieve a spark.  Okkervil River is unsurprisingly strong in their lyricism here, very ambitious and coherent in their instrumentation, and yet something falls flat.  There is passion, but it fails to translate.  In too many places, the album falls into a march and trudges forward, having failed to achieve authentic momentum.  Still, the haunting aura of the album closer “The Rise” hangs over the whole as it fades, leaving an echo of what is possible.

 

Move Like This (The Cars)

Producer: Jacknife Lee & the Cars

Released: May 10, 2011

Rating: 4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Too Late” & “Sad Song”

Having picked up this album as a passing fancy, feeling badly for how few units seemed to have moved before I found it on the CD store racks, the consistent quality of Move Like This was a pleasant surprise, a shock even.  In an odd way, the synthetic soundscape that the Cars not only rode but also helped to define over two decades ago has resurfaced and provided for this album to be released years after the band’s prime yet still sound remarkably fresh and modern.  The production quality is clear and crisp, the band keeps a fast pace, and Ric Ocasek (returning for the first time since 1988) sounds as vital as ever.

 

Give Till It’s Gone (Ben Harper)

Released: May 10, 2011

Rating: 2/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Don’t Give Up on Me Now” & “I Will Not Be Broken”

If anyone has been guilty of dragging out too little for too long, it is Ben Harper on this album.  Following his significant contribution to last year’s masterful Fistful of Mercy debut, Harper opens with “Don’t Give Up on Me Now,” easily the top track of the release.  However, much of the music that follows is emotive yet more than one track suffers from not knowing when to quit (“Get There From Here,” “Dirty Little Lover”), others from a whiff of autopilot (“Rock N’ Roll is Free,” “Pray That Our Love Sees the Dawn”), most from a feeling of drifting between the patterns of blues and its close relatives and an urge to be more.

 

Rome: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi)

Producer: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi

Released: May 16, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Season’s Trees” & “Two Against One”

As a soundtrack, this album is held to a slightly different standard, one which is frankly difficult for me to calibrate, particularly without having seen the film for which it was designed.  As I had hoped for and expected, Danger Mouse’s presence is clearly felt and the songs with vocals are true gems, particularly “Season’s Trees” and “Two Against One.”  The choice of collaborators is ideal, Norah Jones taking lead on the former and ex-White Strip Jack White on the latter – both provide their unique vocal sound and distinct presence to their respective tracks, which serve to elevate Rome above background music — wonderfully quirky though that background music may otherwise be.

 

The Graduation Ceremony (Joseph Arthur)

Producer: John Alagia & Joseph Arthur

Released: May 23, 2011

Rating: 4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Face in the Crowd” & “This is Still My World”

Particularly in this solo release, it becomes clear just how much Joseph Arthur’s presence was felt on last year’s excellent Fistful of Mercy debut release.  Unlike his bandmate Ben Harper, who seems to delight in a mixture of electric distortion and melancholia, Arthur captures an even deeper sense of loss on this album with a much more finely wrought sense of layering that results in an apparent mastery of mood.  There is a warm, personal atmosphere about this record, one not often achieved outside a live venue, and one that benefits from a multi-layered manipulation of the studio.  The ultimate result, on superbly rendered tracks like “Horses,” is of some pleasing middle ground being achieved between the simple and the overproduced.  Adding a quasi-rock romp like “Midwest” three quarters of the way in is just one of the many winks Arthur makes, hinting at his potential while remaining in the bounds of his project, his sound.

 

Demolished Thoughts (Thurston Moore)

Producer: Beck

Released: May 24, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Benediction” & “Illuminine”

Beck’s presence in the producer’s slot should come as no surprise given the feel and sound of Demolished Thoughts, though leading off with what are arguably the two strongest tracks somehow seems a frantic, freshman move.  Still, on these two tracks alone, and certainly throughout the record, Moore makes good on the laurels he has earned as guitarist for Sonic Youth, among other side projects.  His use of orchestration to accompany him throughout creates a beautifully murky mood and often works as an intricate counterpoint to his acoustic guitar.  Still, the brilliance of “Benediction” and Illuminine” are rarely achieved again, perhaps only fully in “Mina Loy” and “January” at the close of the album.

 

Codes and Keys (Death Cab for Cutie)

Producer: Chris Walla

Released: May 31, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “You Are A Tourist” & “Stay Young, Go Dancing”

While it is pretty much par for the course for me to hate on Death Cab for Cutie, most often via less than cleverly concealed observations of their mediocrity with relation to the praise they invariably receive, and while I initially lumped Codes and Keys in with the bulk of their catalog, I would be remiss if I did not admit that this latest album has softened my typical stance.  There is a certain mastery of atmosphere, a blend of guitars, still prominent in the mixes, with the other, more typical keyboard-based instrumentation of experimentation.  Perhaps their strongest product since Transatlanticism, Codes and Keys consistently maintains a clarity of purpose that is admirable, each track contributing to a sort of unity of effect.  You won’t find me helping to hoist it onto the “Best Album” bandwagon, but I won’t be kicking it off into the ditch either.

 

Ukulele Songs (Eddie Vedder)

Producer: Adam Kasper & Eddie Vedder

Released: May 31, 2011

Rating: 3/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:

Allow me to begin by expounding on my respect for Eddie Vedder both as a performer and as a presence.  If anyone can pull off an album of solo ukulele songs, it is Eddie Vedder.  Of course, had anyone predicted twenty years ago that he would actually put out such a record, most would have laughed.  Or spat.  However, here we are two decades post-Ten and scanning through a 16-track, one-man-ukulele-band album heavily weighted with Vedder-penned tracks, and hardly a Pearl Jam cover among them.  While there was a sort of artistry to the Into the Wild soundtrack, Vedder’s first solo release, that is lacking here, there is also a sense of ownership lacking from that effort that oozes forth here.  It’s hardly the first disc that comes to mind when I get in the car, Ukulele Songs is a stark yet striking effort that fits in just right in the fading twilight of a weekend evening.

The BEST ALBUM COVERS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-01-21 20:00:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Even with digital releases, there are album covers.  This seems to be the final facet of the artistry of the album that will survive into the next generation of music consumers, especially considering just how much we like colorful displays on our technology.  Still, there’s something so much more gorgeous about a CD booklet or, even better, a vinyl LP.  The five selections below – with an honorable mention thrown in because I couldn’t ignore it – are examples of the artists who still give attention to the complete package of their albums.  It was a tight contest between the top three, and these are all albums worth checking out the next time you’re in a store that offers records, even if you’re only going to take a glance.

1) Sky Full of Holes – Fountains of Wayne

2) The King of Limbs – Radiohead

3) Cloud Maintenance – Kevin Hearn

4) The Valley – Eisley

5) The Whole Love – Wilco

 

Honorable Mention:

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes