Your New Music Report! (May 2010)

By Chris Moore:

Well, it seems that I won’t be able to post the set-list for tonight’s Pearl Jam concert in real-time after all, due to either issues with the site or my WordPress app or both.

Instead, let’s talk new music!

It’s been two weeks since the first third of the year flashed by, and it’s been quite a year for new music.  Perhaps my surprise and excitement is due to the fact that I didn’t have high hopes for this year.  After all, nearly all of my favorite bands have put out music very recently (i.e. the past two years).  And yet there have been more than enough new releases to pick from these past four months.

Some artists, like Ringo Starr and Jakob Dylan, continue to put out music that lives in the shadow of their greater efforts of the past.  Others, like the Barenaked Ladies and Spoon, have somehow managed to create some of the best music of their lengthy careers.  Still others, such as She & Him and Broken Bells, are creating music and casting the shadows that future efforts will need to live up to.

This year has certainly had its hits and its misses, and it got off to an eclectic but ho-hum start, but I have already been hooked by five outstanding records.  Now, only one of these has received my five-star stamp of approval (All in Good Time), but the other four are a full four stars without question (Broken Bells, Volume Two, Heaven is Whenever, & Sea of Cowards).

The latter four albums represent an interesting range of sounds and influences.  Broken Bells have found a compelling sound by blending the rock basics with some more experimental, synthesized sounds.  She & Him give you the eery feeling that you’ve stepped into the past without actually sounding dated.  The Hold Steady have put together the best all-out rock and roll album of the year, to be sure.  And the Dead Weather present an out of control frenzy of rock, this time around with more single-worthy songs and considerably better continuity as an album.

In the midst of the outstanding and the forgettable are some interesting records.  Take American VI: Ain’t No Grave, Johnny Cash’s final posthumous release of new material.  It certainly doesn’t stand up to IV or even V, but it is such a beautiful that includes a perfect closing track for his long and storied career.  Steven Page’s first solo effort incited extreme reactions from most fans and critics, divisions in both categories respectively hating it for being so unlike his other music and loving it for… well, the same reason, I suppose.  As for me, I’ve very much enjoyed A Singer Must Die, although I rarely listen to it in the car and I’m very anxious to hear his first solo album proper, which should arrive later this year.  (And, to be fair, I downgraded it from four to three and a half stars in deference to what a full four stars should really represent.)

If you haven’t been listening to the first albums of the new decade, then you’ve been missing some real gems.  And, if you’ve missed my reviews along the way, I’ve compiled them below for your reference.  I’ve even translated my “Yes, No, or Maybe So” reviews to the standard five star system for your ease.   I’ve been listening constantly to the four listed as “coming soon” — between rounds of BnL, She & Him, and the Wallflowers, that is — and I’ll have those reviews posted throughout the next two weeks.

New Albums, 2010:

Y Not (Ringo Starr) – 2.5 stars

Transference (Spoon) – 3.5 stars

Realism (Magnetic Fields) – 2.5 stars

Heligoland (Massive Attack) – 2 stars

A Singer Must Die (Steven Page with the Art of Time Ensemble) – 3.5 stars

American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Johnny Cash) – 3 stars

Broken Bells (Broken Bells) – 4 stars

All in Good Time (Barenaked Ladies) – 5 stars

Volume Two (She & Him) – 4 stars

Women & Country (Jakob Dylan) – 2.5 stars

Forgiveness Rock Record (Broken Social Scene) – coming soon!

Court Yard Hounds (Court Yard Hounds) – coming soon!

Heaven is Whenever (The Hold Steady) – 4 stars

Sea of Cowards (The Dead Weather) – 4 stars

High Violet (The National) – 3.5 stars

The Top Ten Albums of 2008

For the 2008 “Yes, No, or Maybe So” one-sentence reviews, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

At long last, here it is…

My top ten list of the best albums of 2008.

Top Ten Albums of 2008

1.  Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – The Counting Crows
2.  That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson
3.  Viva La Vida – Coldplay
4.  Accelerate – R.E.M.
5.  Modern Guilt – Beck
6.  Snacktime – Barenaked Ladies
7.  A Hundred Million Suns – Snow Patrol
8.  Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs
9.  The Red Album – Weezer
10. Loyalty to Loyalty – Cold War Kids

Honorable Mention:

Liverpool 8 – Ringo Starr
Momofuku – Elvis Costello

Yes, No, or Maybe So: One-Sentence Reviews of 2008 Albums

(Arranged in alphabetical order by band)

With so many albums being released every week, what are they all like?  Which are worth your time?  These one-sentence reviews are the answers to those questions!

Snacktime (Barenaked Ladies) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Fun and even educational for kids, yet substantive and musically interesting for adults – don’t let this be the one Barenaked Ladies album missing from your shelf!

Top Two Tracks:  “7 8 9” – “Pollywog in a Bog”

Modern Guilt (Beck) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Beck’s unique voice is the anchor of this rock album that successfully integrates both loops and modern effects with the simplest acoustic, electric guitar, and keyboard sounds front and center in the mix.

Top Two Tracks:  “Gamma Ray” – “Modern Guilt”

Way To Normal (Ben Folds) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  While this is a great breakup album with some typically provocative Ben Folds lyrics and strong instrumental work, there are simply too many disposable tracks and a general feeling throughout much of the album that we’ve been here before.

Top Two Tracks:  “Bitch Went Nuts” – “Brainwascht”

That Lucky Old Sun (Brian Wilson) – YES

Review:  This is Wilson’s modern masterpiece for the summer months, offering more punch than a fresh cup of coffee (“Morning Beat”), piano ballads for the ages (“Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” and “Midnight’s Another Day”), and spoken word transition tracks (lyrics by SMiLE collaborator Van Dyke Parks) that won’t disappoint, all in a thoughtfully ordered and nicely blended track listing.

Top Two Tracks:  “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” – “Live Let Live”

11 (Bryan Adams) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  This is pretty much what you would expect, which doesn’t mean it can’t be great fun – clichéd, cheesy lines notwithstanding.

Top Two Tracks:  “I Ain’t Losin’ the Fight” – “Oxygen”

Loyalty to Loyalty (Cold War Kids) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The Cold War Kids’ breakthrough album (#21 on the Billboard 200) further establishes their strong, unique sound – Willett’s vocals and Russell’s guitar work being their strongest assets, set against the driving force of Maust’s bass and Aveiro’s drums – aside from perhaps a couple disposable tracks, the album is a stand out.

Top Two Tracks:  “Against Privacy” – “Mexican Dogs”

Prospekt’s March EP (Coldplay) – NO

Review:  Okay, Coldplay, it’s time to step up to the plate a la Wilco: release these tracks (only 3 or 4 are really worth the listen, anyway) on the next reissue of Viva La Vida AND offer them as a free download to anyone who has already bought the album; none of this shameful EP garbage for one of the most wildly successful bands in the world!

Top Two Tracks:  “Life in Technicolor II” – “Glass of Water”

Viva La Vida (Coldplay) – YES

Review:  Coldplay has finally hit an album-worthy home run, complete with beautiful instrumental bookends, richly explored thematic elements, big pop-radio worthy singles, and multi-movement tracks; this is the album that will help them begin living up to the hype that has surrounded the band for years.

Top Two Tracks:  “42” – “Violet Hill”

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (Counting Crows) – YES

Review:  The concept album of the year, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings’ songs are aptly split between those that address the primal side of human nature, making decisions by instinct and engaging in debauchery, and the more reflective side of the psyche, reconsidering past decisions, experiences, and even dream images in the early light of Sunday morning.

Top Two Tracks:  “Insignificant” – “You Can’t Count On Me”

Momofuku (Elvis Costello) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Named for the inventor of instant ramen noodles, Momofuku may have been recorded at a breakneck pace, but there are some quality songs here: interesting arrangements, heartfelt performances, and of course, clever and poetic lyrics.

Top Two Tracks:  “American Gangster Time” – “Flutter and Wow”

Electric Argument (The Fireman) – NO

Review:  The guise of the Fireman may allow Paul McCartney the opportunity to relax, experiment, and otherwise stretch out, but a fully realized album that lives up to his vastly impressive recent work this is not.

Top Two Tracks:  “Sing the Changes” – “Dance ‘Til We’re High”

Sleep Through the Static (Jack Johnson) – NO

Review:  Filled with peaceful songs recorded in very clear sound quality… that will most likely put you to sleep – not even close to what you would expect from the follow-up to In Between Dreams.

Top Two Tracks:  “What You Thought You Need” – “Go On”

The Glass Passenger (Jack’s Mannequin) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  With their most recent release, Jack’s Mannequin has cracked the top ten of the Billboard 200 and found a bright, clean, and upbeat sound while addressing a number of serious topics; if some of the songs didn’t sound so similar and if McMahon’s vocals didn’t strain and reverberate oddly at times, this would be a great album.

Top Two Tracks:  “Crashin’” – “Bloodshot”

Seeing Things (Jakob Dylan) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Jakob Dylan finds some soothing and rootsy acoustic sounds on his debut solo album… now, let’s just hope he uses it to return with more force and feeling to a full band next time!

Top Two Tracks:  “Valley of the Low Sun” – “War is Kind”

Greenlight (Jeff Copperthite) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The first solo album from one half of the late nineties rock band Quilt, Greenlight is all you could hope for from a debut release – a range of songs that demonstrate Copperthite’s considerable instrumental abilities, including a couple standouts that will make listeners look forward to the next solo release.

Top Two Tracks:  “Home” – “Aware”

Perfectly Clear (Jewel) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  The latest phase for this folk singer turned dance/big band star turned country artist, Perfectly Clear is a well executed country album – nothing less, but not much more.

Top Two Tracks:  “Love is a Garden” – “Till It Feels Like Cheating”

Insides Out (Jordan Zevon) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  Bitingly witty at times, helplessly romantic at others, and always in-your-face realistic, Jordan Zevon’s debut release boasts finely crafted – if predictable – vocals and strong – although standard – instrumentation; he’s on his way to a great album, but hasn’t quite made it this time.

Top Two Tracks:  “The Joke’s On Me” – “Payday”

Mudcrutch (Mudcrutch) – MAYBE SO

Review:  An instantly likeable album with a classic sound that is somehow still unique and infectious, the power of Mudcrutch’s debut release – much like the faded face on its cover – tends to dissipate over time; as with many releases this year, it’s not bad for a start and is perhaps the best debut album (and one of the best new bands) of 2008.

Top Two Tracks:  “Orphan of the Storm” – “Lover of the Bayou”

Home Before Dark (Neil Diamond) – NO

Review:  An album of enjoyable three minute songs… that drag on redundantly for six minutes.

Top Two Tracks:  “Pretty Amazing Grace” – “The Power of Two”

The Slip (Nine Inch Nails) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The landscape of The Slip is that of violence and corruption, but even more acutely of the impact upon and influence of the individual in a society that is taking turns for the worse – add in Trent Reznor’s supplying this album for free online, taking intricate care to provide track (not just album) artwork and typed-in lyrics, and you’ve got a strong release.

Top Two Tracks:  “1,000,000” – “Discipline”

Break Up the Concrete (The Pretenders) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  While there’s nothing particularly remarkable here, Break Up the Concrete is a surprisingly strong release from Chrissie Hynde and company, nicely blending acoustic and electric rock with a rockabilly sensibility peeking through intermittently.

Top Two Tracks:  “Love’s A Mystery” – “The Last Ride”

Accelerate (R.E.M.) – YES

Review:  From the first notes of distorted electric guitar to the final “yeah” voiced by frontman Michael Stipe, Accelerate is a non-stop rock’n roll joy ride punctuated by numerous standout tracks, instrumental moments, and some of the strongest lyrics from Stipe in years; this R.E.M. album more than lives up to what its title implies about the pacing.

Top Two Tracks:  “Living Well is the Best Revenge” – “Supernatural Superserious”

Consolers of the Lonely (The Raconteurs) – MAYBE SO

Review:  For anyone who claims there are no new bands making great rock music, here come the tremendous Raconteurs to tell stories with urgent vocals, infectious guitar licks, plenty of distortion while maintaining a healthy respect for the acoustic guitar, horns, and so much more as traces of classic rock and modern rock are inseparably mixed.

Top Two Tracks:  “Top Yourself” – “Many Shades of Black”

The Bird and the Bee Sides (Relient K) – MAYBE SO

Review:  In and of itself, The Nashville Tennis EP is a generally middle of the road affair with a handful of standout tracks and several disposable songs; however, when combined with The Bird and the Bee Sides, it boasts new material as well as enough rare tracks to fill the gaps in any Relient K fan’s collection – never mind that 13 songs add up to a generous “EP,” clocking in for a total of 26 songs on this single disc release.

Top Two Tracks (“The Bird”):  “At Least We Made It This Far” – “I Just Want You To Know”

Top Two Tracks (“The Bee Sides”):  “Up and Up (Acoustic)” – “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been (Acoustic)”

Liverpool 8 (Ringo Starr) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Even though Starr split with longtime collaborator Mark Hudson during the making of Liverpool 8, this album is a worthy addition to his recent catalog, and although it may not be the strongest of the Roundhead records, it’s a must-hear for Ringo and rock fans alike.

Top Two Tracks:  “Liverpool 8” – “If It’s Love That You Want”

Detours (Sheryl Crow) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  This album is a bit of a mess, as some songs (“God Bless This Mess,” “Love is All There Is”) are heartfelt standouts and others (“Love is Free,” “Peace Be Upon Us”) seem phoned-in and generally distract from the great material this album has to offer.

Top Two Tracks:  “Shine Over Babylon” – “Detours”

A Hundred Million Suns (Snow Patrol) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Don’t let the inferior first single “Take Back the City” fool you: A Hundred Million Suns is the long-awaited next step in Snow Patrol’s evolution, offering up much to enjoy hearing and feeling and even more to interpret – and, thankfully, AHMS is a vast improvement over Eyes Open, and a worthy follow-up to Final Straw.

Top Two Tracks:  “Crack the Shutters” – “The Planets Bend Between Us”

The Red Album (Weezer) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The Red Album is something of an enigma – several tracks (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” “Everybody Get Dangerous”) are among the quirkiest, most original and inventive work ever to grace a Weezer release, yet the album gets sidetracked in material that is easy on the ear, but overly simplistic (think “Heart Songs” and “Dreamin’”) – but it’s an interesting one; it is difficult to determine whether the first ever contributions from the other band members provides an exciting boost or simply more confusion to the album.  (And why no “Miss Sweeney” on the main album release?)

Top Two Tracks:  “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” – “Thought I Knew”

A/V corner: A review of the LG 32LH30 LCD TV

By Jeff:

Welcome to a title I just made up.  The world is always a good place when you show your versatility!  It’s quite obvious that Jim, Chris, and myself have a world of interests.

I would like to point out that I didn’t have a very good day today.  However, it isn’t because something bad happened to me.  But rather, someone’s senselessness caused my friend to have a bad day.  Seriously, if you need money, get a frickin job – leave people’s property alone.  Also, can the email at my school work consistently?  I’m tired of telling my students “email me if you have questions” only to find that the night before they have a test I can’t access my email.

But I digress.

Tonight I am reviewing the TV I just bought.  This follows the death of my previous TV.  I had a Samsung tube HDTV that I bought in 2004.  I mean, it looked fine and had two component inputs and allowed me to play my gamecube/wii, ps2, and TV all in the best possible resolution.

Then one morning I was watching Sportscenter and right in the middle of Stuart Scott’s next highlight, I looked up and saw nothing.  I still heard his voice coming through the stereo speakers.  I then smelled an electrical appliance burning, which means “unplug that tv”.  The fried TV made it to the recycling center a few days later, and my living room was without a TV.

The funniest thing is about two weeks before the old TV blew up (as I say it), I had said to my wife “I think it’s time we bought a new TV”.

Granted, the other TV’s in this house are at least 10 years old, and they work just fine.  So it’s a bit sad that this one lasted a mere 5 years.

So of course, I ordered a new TV on  I love ordering things from that site due to the credit card rewards that give me gift cards for money spent.  So this TV was almost an entire $25 gift card.  Plus, I also received free shipping.

Well anyway, I got the TV on a Saturday morning via Fedex and had it set up in an hour.  I went shopping for a few cables (namely an HDMI cable) and fired it up.

The LG 32LH30 LCD TV is a 32 inch wide screen HDMI ready viewing machine.  Soon as I fired it up I loved it.  The screen is so so much brighter than a CRT TV.  The fact that I can now actually see the HD channels I get in their native widescreen is tremendous.

The setup on the TV is tailored to HDMI.  The back of the set includes 3 HDMI inputs (one on the side, two on the back), 1 component input, 2 composite inputs, optical in/out, and a standard cable input.  I would rather it have came with a 2nd component input simply because there’s a lot of devices that do not have HDMI out that people still use.  Yes many people still have only component outputs (and still others only composite/s-video), so the sole input makes hooking up all your devices simultaneously a bit trickier.  Most people will have to buy a video switcher.

Just to give you an idea of what I have in my setup – I have a Wii, HDMI cable box, PS2, DVD player, Sony receiver, and a 200 CD changer (that’s on its last legs).  Of course, the Wii and PS2 are component able, so I lucked out that I can hook them into my receiver, and use it as a video switcher, and hook a third set of cables into the TV.

The bad news is that, when I change video sources, I have to change them both on my TV and on my receiver.  So again, if you can deal like me, then that isn’t a big deal.

The picture set up mode is something i’m still tweaking with.  A beginner to picture setup can easily set up their TV to an acceptable picture by using the Tv’s “Picture Wizard”.  What it does is basically take the user through a series of images that look different depending on the TV’s settings, which includes an “optimal” image that you should try to obtain.  With each setting change, the TV’s settings change without the user needing to bother with “What the hell does the contrast do?”  I tried it the first try, but again since i’m aware of what these are, I didn’t find it necessary to use.  However, I did note that the interface is sort of idiot proof.

For those that don’t need a safety net, the LG 32LH30 offers a tremendous array of picture tweaks.  There are presets for “Cinema”, “Sports”, and “Game”.  For my video games, I find the “Sports” setting to be quite nice – especially for the Wii games.  But if presets still aren’t enough tweaking, there are 6 zoom functions, and a up to 20 level scalable “cinema zoom”, which takes letterboxed DVD’s and stretches them vertically as much or as little as you want.  There’s also a setup option that allows you to use the TV as an audio pass through instead of a monitor – that is, you can turn off the video, but keep the audio.  This is perfect if you want to put on the music channels most cable companies provide, but don’t need to see the facts on the screen about the music.  You can also disable the onboard TV speakers (recommended if you have a receiver like most techies).

The coolest thing i’ve found so far is the extra HDMI inputs allow me to hook my laptop up to the TV.  It’s perfect for me because my DVD player can play DVDs in a very high resolution on my laptop, and I can now send that to the TV!  The computer screen on the TV is a bit too “fine” for my needs, but it is perfect if you’re watching a bunch of Youtube videos or, as mentioned, a DVD.  I can also play SOME of my computer games on it, and they look really really good.

There aren’t too many drawbacks other than the ones already mentioned.  The thing I don’t like is that the provided TV stand is very basic.  It allows you to tilt the TV horizontally +/- 20 degrees, but there is no vertical tilt.  There also is no vertical height adjustment (sorry Dr. K) allowed, so I had to get a few very thick phone books that were of the same height (harder than it looks!) and drape a black towel over them just to raise the TV to a height I want.  In my setup, I was able to put the center speaker on top of the old CRT, but that’s not possible with an LCD.  The only options are to put it right below the TV or on a shelf above the TV for optimal sound quality.  The speaker I own would block the bottom portion if I didn’t raise the height of it.

Also, the buttons for the TV are located on the side of the TV which is fine, but the one I use the most is the power button.  At the very least, a power button should’ve been included on the front of the screen.  If you’re like most people, your TV is already in a tight fitting area, and it is a minor inconvenience to reach back behind the TV to turn it off if I don’t want to use the remote.

But for the money I spent for it, this TV is all that I could want and more.  If I get another video source, I have space to hook it up to the HDMI connection.  The digital out to my amplifier ensures that if there is a Dolby Digital soundtrack or better that my receiver will make it sound the best it can.  And while it is certainly geared to today’s HDMI devices, again make sure you buy a video switcher if you have multiple component video sources like I do (or be lucky with your receiver being a good switcher on its own).

And if you are in the market to buy a flat screen, LCD TV’s prices are much much better and more affordable now.  I can safely recommend this one to you.  If you can splurge a little bit (i.e. more than $300), then this TV is worth it.