Old and new albums of the month: May 2017

Pure Comedy by Father John Misty (2017)
Rol at My Top Ten would possibly enjoy this album better than I did, with its wit, anti-Trump message, and elaborate lyrical content. Granted the song Ballad of the Dying Man is a highpoint, but the rest didn’t grab me as music.

In fact I prefer the video from XPN Festival in which he talks to an audience about his views on society, which is more straight-forward than what he is presenting in the lyrics. Here’s a summation:
Entertainment is making us stupid and making us make bad choices, by picking a stupid president who is just entertaining us.

Favorite lyric, from the track The Memo:
“Oh, caffeine in the morning, alcohol at night
Cameras to record you and mirrors to recognize
And as the world is getting smaller, small things take up all your time
Narcissus would have had a field day if he could have got online
And friends it's not self-love that kills you
It's when those who hate you are allowed
To sell you that you're a glorious shit
The entire world revolves around
And that you're the eater, no not the eaten
But that your hunger will only cease
If you come binge on radiant blandness
At the disposable feast”

Windswept by Johnny Jewel (2017)
It's atmospheric and dreamy, paying homage to the Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks soundtracks of the early 90s. I like the jazzy tracks Windswept, The Crimson Kiss, Motel, and The Flame, even if doesn't have the emotion and impact of Badalamenti. An album that could fit nicely with Season 3 of Twin Peaks.

Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan (1962)
His debut album. You can't tell what he's thinking on that sleeve. Many of his album covers have a sense of mystery.
A sign of things to come, Dylan's folk style, harmonica and guitar skill, giving you a glimpse into his songwriting potential. Many are covers. Dylan's high-pitched vocal is unusual on "Freight Train Blues".
The most interesting are his self-penned Song To Woody (dedicated to Woody Guthrie who was a friend and inspiration) and Talkin' New York. According to the sleeve the latter is "with a certain sarcastic bite, very much in the Guthrie vein", "a comment on his reception in New York", "satirizes his troubles in gaining recognition", "a diary note set to music".

Please Please Me by The Beatles (1963)
Debut album. I wouldn’t listen to this often, hasn’t aged as well as their mid-to-late 60s releases. The lyrics don’t appeal to me on an emotional level, I find the writing a bit cheesy and dated. However as I was told by a couple of commenters on my blog, The Beatles were considered groundbreaking in the early 60s compared to what other groups were doing.
I Saw Her Standing There, Please Please Me, Love Me Do, and Twist and Shout (cover) are Beatles classics and timeless for the pop melodies.

With The Beatles by The Beatles (1963)
Like their debut, a collection of original compositions and covers. All My Loving is the stand out.
Lesser known highlights: Don't Bother Me (George Harrison), and You Really Got a Hold on Me (Smokey Robinson cover)

White Album by The Beatles (1968)
I want to rate White Album higher, but it's bloated and lacking the cohesiveness of Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper. Maybe the experimentation and genre-confusion is part of its charm?
The second disc is definitely weaker. That said, the lesser-known tracks are still better than most contemporary music. Not many records have this many classics. The gold standard for double albums.
Best songs: Dear Prudence, Julia, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, Helter Skelter, Revolution 1, Back in the U.S.S.R.
Lesser known highlights: Birthday, Sexy Sadie

Let It Be by The Beatles (1970)
As with other late-career Beatles albums, there's filler. I Me Mine should have been cut, but we get defining classics Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road, Across the Universe, and Get Back. Lesser known highlights: Two of Us and I've Got a Feeling. The interludes are too short to make a big impact.
I've read Let It Be... Naked (2003) presents the songs "naked" – without Spector's overdubs and without the incidental studio chatter featured between most cuts of the original album.

Past Masters, Volumes One & Two by The Beatles (1988)
A number of these, Hey Jude for example, were stand-alone singles and not featured on the studio albums, although I was familiar with many because they are so ingrained in our culture.
A highlight on disc 1 is the melody of I Feel Fine. The Ballad of John and Yoko was a great discovery on disc 2.
Across the Universe is a beautiful song but I find this version to be a weak vocal performance by Lennon. Volume Two of this 2-disc compilation has the most replay value.

Dear Catastrophe Waitress by Belle and Sebastian (2003)
Arguably the most beloved UK indie band since The Smiths. Plenty of strong melodies, especially the first half, and the closer.
Best songs: Stay Loose, Step Into My Office Baby, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, If She Wants Me, Piazza New York Catcher

Push Barman to Open Old Wounds by Belle and Sebastian (2005)
2-disc compilation that includes seven of their EPs. There's a lot of good-but-not great material, but even on the lesser tracks I enjoy the lyrics.
Most memorable melodies: Dog on Wheels, I'm Waking Up to Us, Marx and Engels. Judy Is a Dick Slap is a nice instrumental.

The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)
Among the most acclaimed Pink Floyd albums. The artwork is iconic. The only track I disliked is On The Run, which is why it doesn't achieve a perfect score. Definitely has me curious to listen to the rest of their discography.

The Doobie Brothers, albums reviewed 1974-1978 (see seperate post)
Slowdive, albums reviewed 1991-2017 (see seperate post)

Phoenix, the albums, and top 10 songs (upcoming post to tie in with new album in June)

What do you think? As always comments are welcome

The music of Slowdive

A band I've been recommended and who were a key part of the shoegazing scene that emerged in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. With the news of their new album getting a release this spring, I decided to look into Slowdive's discography. Below are my brief thoughts on the four studio albums.

Just for a Day by Slowdive (1991)
Atmospheric shoegaze you can get lost in. For the heart rather than the intellect. The openers Spanish Air and Celi’s Dream pull you in with their beauty and bring back memories of The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration and the ethereal production of 1980s Cocteau Twins. The noisy Catch The Breeze is too jarring for my ears.  Ballad of Sister Sue and Erik’s Song are very melancholic.
The overall production impresses, while the dual vocal is less distinctive. There aren’t any big hits, and no really weak moments. All of a similar quality. A cohesive set, albeit a bit samey.
I've read the real standout here is disc 2 on the reissue, which brings together Slowdive's first 3 EPs. I'm not counting those EPs in this review.

Souvlaki by Slowdive (1993) 
Has more variation than their debut. Machine Gun has a pop song struture, which some listeners may feel is selling out. Album highlight When the Sun Hits is very powerful.
Here She Comes and the three closers don't hit me as hard. Definitely an album that demands investment and multiple spins for it to reveal its layers. I'm convinced the entire album may prove to be valuable with further listens.
Best tracks: When the Sun Hits, Sing, Souvlaki Space Station, 40 Days, Machine Gun

Pygmalion by Slowdive (1995)
Have to be in the right mood to sit down and listen to Pygmalion. Very different to Just for a Day and Souvlaki. Hardly sounds like the same band, goes in an unexpected post-Rock/ambient direction, similar to what Talk Talk did in the late 80s and early 90s. A divisive, risky, non-commercial album. Tracks 1-4 are especially haunting. The Blue Skied an' Clear might be the best song and a definite highlight of the second half.

Slowdive by Slowdive (2017)
We exist in a revival/homage era designed to please the fans. This self-titled return after a 22 year absence is for me their weakest, although it has been praised by critics.
Star Roving, Don't Know Why, and Sugar for the Pill stand out, but the album doesn't give me chills which their 90s albums did.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome 

The Doobie Brothers 70s albums (ranked)

Certain band's fit nicely into a specific decade. The Doobie Brothers is such a band, whose most revered albums were released 1971-1978. In 2004, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and many believe they should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for their contributions to music.

Most agree on the decline began in the 80s. One Step Closer (1980) is a bland album which I barely remember. Michael McDonald decided to pursue a solo career in 1982 (which I haven't listened to so can't comment on). The Doobies didn't make another LP until 1989.

This post is about the 1970s, which is generally considered the heyday of The Doobie Brothers. Similar to what happened with Genesis, the Doobie Brothers went from rock to pop. That's oversimplifying their music though, which I will elaborate on in the mini-reviews below.

Michael McDonald’s vocal (from 1976-1980) is more distinctive than Tom Johnston's, who was forced to take a break from singing in the mid 70s due to heal issues.
The McDonald era is pleasant, but some argue is a bit tasteless, with the occasional catchy radio hit standing out. There are fans of both eras, I prefer the earlier rockier stuff.

The Doobie Brothers by The Doobie Brothers (1971)
Yacht Rock / Country Rock. A harmless debut from their pre-Michael McDonald days. Passable entertainment. Not much variety, but a few good tracks such as Nobody, Travelin' Man, and my personal favorite Greenwood Creek.

Toulouse Street by The Doobie Brothers (1972)
More ambitious than their 1971 debut. There's quite a nice variation throughout the album with genre detours, and faster and slower tracks. The two openers Listen to the Music and Rockin' Down the Highway get a lot of love, but I find them too similar back-to-back.
Of the two, Rockin' Down the Highway I prefer, which is suitable for a road trip compilation.
Mamaloi goes in a surprising reggae-styled direction. The title track Toulouse Street is vocally Cat Stevens-esque, which I like for the horn midway. Don't Start Me to Talkin' is very bluesy. Jesus Is Just Alright is the album highlight, with its catchy foot-tapping melody and sing-along lyrics. Also enjoyed Disciple, a long-ish jam with an infectious riff.

The Captain and Me (1973) by The Doobie Brothers 
Considered their best album. You can’t fault the musicianship, nothing is out of place and the players work very well together. Long Train Runnin' and China Grove are two Doobie Brothers classics which still get radio play. The album has plenty of replay potential and is more cohesive in its rock sound than the experimental Toulouse Street (1972).

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974) by The Doobie Brothers
Not instantly accessible and less commercial than The Captain and Me (1973). Black Water has the catchiest chorus, while Road Angel is strong for the guitar work. Some of these songs, such as Eyes of Silver, want to be hits, but don't quite get there.
The quality dips a bit in the middle with the trio of songs, You Just Can't Stop It , Tell Me What You Want, and Down in the Track.
Another Park Another Sunday and Daughters of the Sea are a step up. As with other Doobie Brothers albums, the lyrics are probably the least interesting aspect. Not a perfect record, but more potent than the albums that would follow.

Stampede (1975) by The Doobie Brothers
Goes in a country-rock direction. Their weakest so far. The somber outlaw ballad I Cheat the Hangman is quite haunting, but most tracks are unremarkable. There's a burst of energy towards the end with I Been Workin' on You.

Takin' It to the Streets (1976) by The Doobie Brothers
A transitional album, with Michael McDonald stepping in as vocalist. Would mark the beginning of their pop direction. The singles Takin' It to the Streets, It Keeps You Runnin' and especially Wheels of Fortune are the highlights. The non-singles disappoint and are forgettable.

Livin' on the Fault Line (1977) by The Doobie Brothers
Surprisingly, the opening three tracks are the worst. Gets better, and probably my favorite of the Michael McDonald albums. The enigmatic sleeve has a hint of mystery.
Best songs: You Belong to Me, Livin' on the Fault Line (an adventurous jam), Chinatown

Minute by Minute (1978) by The Doobie Brothers
What a Fool Believes is catchy and the Doobies biggest hit. The album won four Grammy's.
Best songs: What a Fool Believes, Dependin' on You

The Captain and Me (1973)  8.5/10
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)   8/10
Toulouse Street (1972)  8/10
Livin' on the Fault Line (1977)  7/10
The Doobie Brothers (1971)  6/10
Minute by Minute (1978)   6/10
Takin' It to the Streets (1976)  5/10
Stampede (1975)  4/10

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Favorite discoveries from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack

I should preface by admitting I have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so I can't discuss how the music fits with the movie. In this post, I'm only including new-to-me song discoveries and won't talk about the movie.

Lake Shore Drive by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah (1971)
The piano really stands out. A lesser known gem by a band whom I had honestly never heard of before. The title alludes to the drug LSD, although I've read it's named after the Chicago lakefront roadway.

Southern Nights by Glen Campbell (1977)
Written and recorded by Allen Toussaint, from his 1975 album Southern Nights, and later becoming a chart-topping hit for country music singer Glen Campbell. The lyrics of Southern Nights were inspired by childhood memories Allen Toussaint had of visiting relatives in the Louisiana backwoods, which often entailed storytelling under star-filled nighttime skies. So I guess you could say it's technically a song about Louisiana. Might come in handy for Alyson's An American Odyssey In Song series.

Surrender by Cheap Trick (1978)
About the relations between the narrator and his parents. A warning about STD's. Those who grew up with the song in the late 1970s are probably on the other side now with kids of their own.  Rolling Stone deemed it "the ultimate Seventies teen anthem" and ranked it #471 on its list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"

Films of the month: April

The Handmaiden (2016) (Chan-wook Park)
Directed by talented filmmaker Chan-wook Park and inspired by Sarah Waters‘ Victorian Era crime novel Fingersmith. The Handmaiden is a stylishly shot Korean 1930s re-imagining. Deserves praise for the beautiful costumes, lighting, production design and cinematography. But if I’m honest, it’s style over substance. A film about love and cold-blooded deception. Memorable sex scenes for the way they are shot, and one of the best twists mid-movie in recent memory, but the story is very long and at times confusing. The non-linear time line makes more sense towards the end.
SPOILERY: Though there is condemnation of perversion in the library scene, you could argue the film is voyeuristic fluff and designed to titillate in the same way as one of Kouzuki’s dirty books. It’s conceivable what Hideko experienced resulted in a hatred of men, making women more desirable to her. Or maybe she was a lesbian to begin with, who knows. 

It's Only the End of the World (2016) (Xavier Dolan)
Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes. Family drama, adapted by Dolan from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. I was sceptical because of the mixed reviews, the low expectations actually are a blessing, and it’s not Dolan’s worst film. 
I love the music video flourishes and use of colors. Held my interest throughout. The character dynamics are intriguing. Antoine’s (Vincent Cassel) hostility and bullying is inappropriate, clearly he has been allowed to get away with this behavior for too long with no consequences. The only excuse he has is the hot weather is driving him nuts. Perhaps the parenting was too soft and his close-ones not firm enough. You kind of understand why Louis got the hell out of Dodge 12 years ago if Antoine was so insufferable. Yet you can also see it from the family’s point of view that Louis has shunned them for years.
Like a Hemingway short story, there are things unsaid beneath the surface, which you can question. Why for instance are Antoine’s and Catherine’s children not at the social gathering? Where is Martine’s husband? Why would Catherine marry such a jerk?
Favorite quote: ”What if I don’t only have words to answer? What if I have words to say”

The Salesman (2016) (Asghar Farhadi)
Winne of the Oscar for Best Foreign language film. Reminiscent of a play. The wife made things difficult for her husband. She didn’t want to report the crime which then made him look neglectful. The neighbour justifies why she kept it from the police as the neighbour predicted the court case would lead to more suffering. The fact the intrusion is never fully revealed adds to the intrigue, and the details become extra important as clues.
I confess I am a little out of my depth in regards to the Death of a Salesman references, those scenes with the husband and wife enacting the play went over my head. Knowing your Arthur Miller may deepen the experience.
I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters, but their predicament was interesting to observe. The visit by the small boy at the hour mark seemed like needless padding, maybe to give some warmth to a rather humourless story. Probably could have been cut by 20 minutes. Sporadically powerful, especially in the last third, and a film I could easily rewatch. In the same vein as A Separation and The Past, with the focus on intense conflict on a domestic scale. 

A Man Called Ove (2015) (Hannes Holm)
Swedish drama/comedy. Nominated for foreign language film this year. There was the occasional amusing moment, for example when he visits the neighbour Rune, and berates the cat for walking on private property. But a lot of the deadpan humor didn’t appeal to me, maybe better to watch together with a packed audience. The wife and neighbours are sweet, albeit too good to be true. The film is mainly about grumpiness, nostalgia and the need to change, giving simplistic reasons for his bitterness. Lacks depth. For a comedy, it's too long.

Things to Come (2016) (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Overpraised French drama with Isabelle Huppert playing a philosophy teacher who faces marital issues and looks after her elderly mother. Well-acted and realistic, but I wouldn’t label it best of the year. The story is rather forgettable and minor. The film doesn’t do anything unique or unconventional and for me fails to stand out from the pack. Although if I had to highlight a favorite scene, the acting by Huppert in the bus was remarkable to watch.
Quote: “I look on all sides and see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing but doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion. If I saw everywhere the signs of a creator, I would remain peacefully in faith”

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind (documentary) (2003) (Susan Lacy)
A career retrospective. Began as a solo sing-songwriter. Mitchell was self-taught, with a unique vocal, and a talent for personal, vulnerable song writing. She would go on to experiment with new sounds on her subsequent albums, altering her vocal delivery, and collaborating with rock and jazz musicians.
Her relationships with musician Graham Nash and drummer John Guerin inspired a number of songs. Joni Mitchell was also a painter and many of her album sleeves reveal her art. You can look at them at this site.
She wrote a song about Woodstock, which many identified with, although she didn’t actually attend, watching the event on TV.
An ongoing conflict in her life is wanting to settle down and longing for love, while desiring independence and following her muse, her art. Also looks at her untidy relationship with her daughter.

Supersonic (2016) (documentary) (Mat Whitecross)
You cannot mention the band Oasis without mentioning Britpop. I’m aware of their hits, but don’t own the albums. Oasis were a pre-internet zeitgeist sensation who reached millions, with their first two albums hailed as modern classics. The Gallagher brothers are depicted as attention-seeking, volatile, arrogant troublemakers, who don’t care how they are perceived. As people, potty-mouthed and anything but gentlemanly, but quite entertaining to follow at a distance. With an attitude, good looks, and a handful of anthemic songs, the group managed to tap into the mid 90s music scene.
If anything, they seem authentic in their lyrics and bad behaviour, although it’s hard to know what is jokey and serious with the duo, and the documentary doesn’t make me any wiser if their attitude is a performance for the cameras. Rather congratulatory, although the film does try and delve into the brothers' family history and reasons to why they are angry. There is the occasional look at the origin of a song, but you have to search elsewhere for an in-depth analysis of their music. The doc focuses on the career peak 1994-96, showing the rise from obscurity, how band members handled fame, but doesn't address the rivalries with other Britpop bands, which was dealt with in the 2003 Britpop documentary Live Forever.

Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop (documentary) (2003) (John Dower)
I decided to give a watch as Pitchfork are celebrating Britpop this March. Landmark moments are included in the documentary such as big songs and important albums, but needed to be longer to dig deeper. There's an emphasis on the hardship of the Thatcher 80s, which fuelled the rise of lad rock. Also touches on the impact of New Labour and how that was linked to Britpop. Jarvis Cocker admits he had dreamed of making it, but fame is "shite" because he can't go out without getting noticed. Delves into the rivalry between Oasis and Blur, although both are very cagey regarding the singles released on the same day. I could have done without the remarks of the Oasis tribute band.

Commando (1985) (Mark L. Lester)
Not as original as Arnie’s other 80s work, but entertaining, quotable, and with non-stop action. Especially the opening hour surprises with its action sequences involving a plane, an airline stewardess, car chases. and the police, while the final 30 min is weaker and too formulaic for the genre.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


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