Old and new albums of the month: June 2017

Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes (2017) 
Disappointing and overpraised third album. The vocal is distinctive, but the melodies are inaccessible and unmemorable. Goes in a progressive-folk/jazzy direction. ”Naiads Cassadies” and ”On Another Ocean” are quite beautiful. Maybe it's a grower.

Room 29 by Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales (2017)
Recommended by Rol at My Top Ten. Inspired by the mystery and history of the Chateau Marmont, Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame in the 90s) has a way with words that conjures images in your mind, such as the opener Room 29 and its lyric:
”Holly has never grown here
Though someone once tried
But it died, almost immediately:
The climate was too dry
Yeah, this whole place is built on a lie
But what a lie:
The kind of lie that has the entire Western world agog
'Cos no one ever got turned on
By the Whole Earth Catalog”.
The song deals with the lie of Hollywood. Holly doesn’t grow there, so right from the start it’s based on a lie. According to Jarvis "a very seductive lie, and we’re still entranced by it."
Tracks like Room 29, Salomé, The Other Side, and A Trick of the Light address television and what it does to us. The latter is the album's longest and my personal favorite. There are also a number of references to the Golden Age of Hollywood. As thequietus wrote: "The hotel is the thematic link that runs throughout the record, with pithy perspectives of events that took place there".
Probably the most memorable of these lounge/piano tunes is Tearjearker, which hints at a soullessness and un-lived-in-ness of hotels: ”These surfaces are shiny. Anything wipes off them. These surfaces are hard. Nothing seems to mark them”.  Yet you could also imagine the surfaces he speaks of are about the human condition, how hard our exterior is to outside influences.
Some listeners may feel the album at times is bordering on boring and non-music, with its spoken-word and minimal instrumentals. I look at it as a welcome change of direction, Jarvis’ vocal suits this low-key collaboration well.
Extracts from interview with JC: "I remembered an ambition I had when I was eight or nine. You know when you’re thinking about what you want to be when you grow up, or how you want your life to pan out. I couldn’t imagine anything better than living in a hotel so you’d never have to worry about washing up, making the bed, anything like that, and having a servant to come in and play all your favourite TV programmes. At the time I was thinking we’d have a projector and he’d set that going so we’d be able to watch Batman and The Monkees whenever I wanted to - they were my two favourite TV programmes. And of course I got to a stage in life where I could make that dream come true if I wanted.(...) And about half way through the second episode ( The Monkees) I realised it wasn’t going to be quite as great as I’d expected."
“I don’t know if I’m totally alone in that ambition. It’s that thing of not wanting to commit to anything, and just wanting to slide through life, without having to pick up your own mess or really get involved too much.
JC: "I remember the first time I went to New York I was disappointed because I walked down to Wall Street where I knew all the skyscrapers were, and I thought, ‘they’re not that tall’. And I think I traced it back to the opening credits of Kojak. On that there was a helicopter shot looking down onto the skyscrapers - and he probably had a wide angle lens or something - so they looked like they were gigantic. Of course it wasn’t like that. In that way films almost improved on reality in a way. You get in a weird situation where the illusion seems to be better than reality."
The Line of Best Fit interview: Everything about the album is constructed to immerse listeners into this fantasised world. The distant whirring of an elevator, the dripping of a tap, the soft scratching of pen on paper… the omnipresent sounds of hotel life can all be heard throughout the record, transporting listeners right into the heart of this vivid setting. "I thought it'd be nice to try and make people feel like if they closed their eyes they could imagine they're in this hotel room with someone playing the piano and someone else stood quite near them singing a song," says Cocker.
Extract from loudandquiet interview: When Jarvis’ father disappeared when he was seven, he says he started to look for clues on how to be a man from his beloved TV that puzzled and thrilled him.
“Which is a terrible place to look,” he notes. “I mean, I was never going to be a cowboy or a rugby player, was I?”
A cautionary tale against placing too much faith in fantasy, the album is a resounding cry for something real. “I have a thing in any hotel I stay in now where I try to unplug the TV and put it in a closet,” says Jarvis. “Or I just put a coat over it. I don’t like it. I feel like I watched so much TV as a kid that I’ve done my time; I don’t need to watch it anymore.”

Home Counties by Saint Etienne (2017) 
There are good songs, but very patchy as an album experience. The first six tracks I found dull, thankfully there are 19 to choose from and does get better. Take It All In has a pleasing retro 60s sound that fits their style. Out Of My Mind, with its nostalgic 80s-era vibe, runs out of steam due to a repetitive lyric. After Hebden is my favorite vocal performance on the record. Heather wants to be moody yet misses the mark with the vocal. Train Drivers in Eyeliner suits Sarah Cracknell's voice much better.
Unopened Fan Mail is worth your time for the melody alone. Sweet Arcadia (a reference to the Arcadia Sweet Shop in Bedford) takes the listener on an intriguing spoken-word trip, reminiscent of album highlight Over the Border from their previous LP, but darker.
There’s an audience for Saint Etienne, otherwise they wouldn’t keep making albums. I couldn’t wholeheartedly get into it, the vocal is often lacking emotional resonance. The wittiness and message was not immediately obvious and maybe takes time to unpack. The group have said the album is about “the love/hate relationship people have with ‘home’ ", which in their case is the UK.

A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie (2017)
The melodies are unremarkable and samey, but scores points for lyrically and vocally depicting the emotional turmoil of loss. The album has a timelessness and honesty.
On a day-to-day basis, it isn't something I would reach for, expect when dealing with the passing of family/friend.

Ti Amo by Phoenix (2017)
A light, summer pop album with Italian disco influences. I've listened a couple of times and plenty of replay potential, containing many pleasant moments. Best songs: Role Model, Goodbye Soleil, J-Boy, Via Veneto, Telefono.
To celebrate the release of the new album, check out a retrospective on their discography and my top 10 Phoenix songs.

Between Darkness & Wonder by Lamb (2003)
Atmospheric and melancholy. Electronic sounds mixed with orchestral instrumentation. I'm surprised Between Darkness & Wonder is among Lamb's lowest rated on RYM. A personal favorite with hardly any weak tracks.
Stronger is an empowering anthem, Angelica a beautiful instrumental. Till the Clouds Clear taps into not being able to let go of thoughts. I wouldn't listen often, but when I'm in the right mood this album hits the spot.

White Blood Cells by The White Stripes (2001)
Garage Rock Revival. The White Stripes' third album and considered their breakthrough. If you want guitar riffs, this is a modern band to seek out. Includes mostly rock with the occasional twee ballad diversion.
Highlights include We're Going to Be Friends, Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, Hotel Yorba,  and Offend in Every Way. The latter is about the pressures of stardom and expectation.

(What's the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis (1995)
Arguably the pinnacle of the Britpop era. The run from tracks 2-5 (Roll With It, Wonderwall, Don't Look Back in Anger & Hey Now!) is incredible,  and also has one of rock's best closing tracks in Champagne Supernova. The lyrics have aged well considering it's 22 years old now.

Ten by Pearl Jam (1991)
The group's most commercially successful LP. Includes Black, arguably one of Pearl Jam's most powerful songs, which surprisingly wasn't a single. Alive and Oceans are other stand outs from their debut. Jeremy I find overrated.
If I'm critical, it's sometimes difficult to hear Eddie Vedder's words, and the album is very loud.

A Kind of Magic by Queen (1986)
I love the intro of Who Wants to Live Forever, and One Vision & A Kind of Magic are also Queen classics. The album is well-produced, but there are some skippable tracks and the lyrics tend towards platitudes at times. Don't Lose Your Head is a lesser known highlight. The Highlander soundtrack, also from 1986, includes a number of overlaps.

Zenyattà Mondatta by The Police (1980)
Despite the Grammy attention and critical praise, I found the album a bit boring. Can't really compare with other Police albums. There are glimpses of experimentation, but mostly plays it safe by sticking to a pop structure. Canary in a Coalmine is a decent attempt at reggae, but I prefer proper reggae artists. The recognizable singles Don't Stand So Close to Me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da I was already familiar with.

The Wall by Pink Floyd (1979)
A thought-provoking work with a handful of classic songs. I love the writing on this LP. Considered among the best double albums. The only weakness I noticed was some repetition of the instrumental sections, but that is hardly a flaw, as it gives the album a cohesiveness. The Trial sounds like it belongs in a West End stage musical.
Best tracks: Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, Hey You, Comfortably Numb, Run Like Hell.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports by Brian Eno (1978) 
A relaxing ambient album. Good as background music for studying. The piano-driven opener 1/1 is beautiful and very tranquil. Tracks 1-3 are too long and repetitive, though this is by design. I find the wordless vocals of 2/1 and 1/2 overly cold and melancholy. 2/2 is a great closer, going in a synth direction with a melody that is harder to pin down.

Another Green World by Brian Eno (1975)
Considered a transitional work that bridges his earlier rock with subsequent ambient direction. I like Brian Eno as a multi-instrumentalist, less as a singer/songwriter.
The lyric "And I'll come running to tie your shoe" becomes annoying, but it's forgivable on an otherwise fascinating album of textures and instrumentals, which is atmospheric and varied. St. Elmo's Fire is probably the most pop-friendly. The trio of songs Golden Hours, Becalmed & Zawinul / Lava are beautiful. An album with lots of detail to unearth.

A Night at the Opera by Queen (1975)
I respect their talent, just wasn't for me. Couldn't stomach the over-the-top-ness and campiness. Only a couple of the songs I connected with emotionally, the masterful single Bohemian Rhapsody and the minor classic You're My Best Friend. Overall I found the album rather uninvolving. My rating is based on enjoyment, not the quality of the music. I might prefer Queen in moderation, a full album is a bit much.

Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones (1969)
The two classics (Gimmie Shelter & You Can't Always Get What You Want) that bookend Let It Bleed don't fit that well with the blues rock which the bulk of the album consists of.
Still, an entertaining listen. There's a feeling tracks highlight a different instrument, the harmonica-driven Midnight Rambler I enjoyed. An album with a lasting value and worth many plays.

The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground (1969)
Expected a rockier album, surprisingly restrained and minimalistic. Half of the songs are classics (Candy Says, What Goes On, Pale Blue Eyes, Beginning to See the Light, After Hours), and the other half are good.

Moving by Peter, Paul and Mary (1963)

Peter, Paul and Mary by Peter, Paul and Mary (1962)

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome


  1. Wow. Lots of stuff I need to go listen to. Thanks for this.

    1. @Wendell: I just published my films of the month, and as you can see by the small number, I was more into albums than movies in June!

  2. When it comes to Pink Floyd, I think everyone has a different favorite but The Wall for me is my favorite for very personal reasons as I first heard it when I was in high school and felt very alone as that was one of several albums that got me through high school.

    Night at the Opera is my favorite Queen album as I just love how diverse it is. Ambient 1 is the first Brian Eno album that I owned and I still love it. I also love Let It Bleed though Sticky Fingers remains my favorite Stones album.

    Ten is an excellent album but it's sad that it's become the template for some of the worst rock music to emerge in the next 20 years. Fortunately, the band would make better albums like Vs., Vitalogy, Yield, and the S/T release.

    (What's the Story)Morning Glory is great but I still prefer Definitely Maybe. I love White Blood Cells though I think Elephant is their best album. I like the Police' singles but I could never really get into their albums as I think they're overrated at times. The Velvets... they will never be overrated.

    As for new music, I've checked out at the moment. I just have no interest at this point.

    1. @thevoid99: Thanks for your thoughts. Night at the Opera just wasn’t for me, except the singles. Ambient 1 by Eno I love the first and last track. Definitely Maybe by Oasis is a high priority.
      Nice to hear The Wall means so much to you, high school I just listened to whatever others played, I remember Ray of Light and Magnolia (soundtrack) were a couple of my faves from that time.

      2017 has been a feeble year for albums so far. In the second half, I have high hopes for Arcade Fire and The National albums, based on the teaser tracks.

  3. I can't remember if I've mentioned this before but the film Highlander came out just when I came to live in the Highlands and it has kind of assumed cult status here -Because of the Queen soundtrack, A Kind of Magic has always been a favourite of mine - probably a 10/10. Like Peter, Paul and Mary for you - interesting!

    1. @Alyson: I love the occasional Queen song, not sure I enjoy 30-60 min of their stuff. A Kind of Magic album is entertaining and has an epicness, but I think it’s let down by the writing and a few skippable tracks. Still, I rate it 7 which I consider a good rating. Maybe if I had grown up with Queen as you did, it would have a bigger appeal.
      Peter, Paul and Mary was background music during my childhood, and has that nostalgia factor, as well as being a great debut from start to finish.


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