Monday, August 31, 2015

The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely (2008)

So I was a little disappointed with The Raconteurs' debut album Broken Boy Soldiers, primarily because I felt that the two lead songwriters, Brendan Benson and Jack White, could come up with a cohesive sound, each track pulling in one direction or another. But hoping that they'd managed to do better, I picked up their 2008 follow up album, Consolers of the Lonely and was actually pleased with the result, the band having found a way to integrate their respective discreet styles into a complete one.

That's not to say that you can't tell which tracks are more led by Benson or White--the former tending more towards power pop and the latter towards blues as they practiced prior to their union in The Raconteurs. However, the support that the two lend each other has gotten better and the songwriting and arrangement has simply just gotten better overall. One of the strongest examples of what the band could do together that they might not have done apart is the rock ballad "Many Shades of Black", which takes a basic pop rock song and gives it some horn ornamentation. And while the song is obviously led by Benson's pop style, the melody clearly has a touch of White's influence and the screaming guitar solo gives the otherwise tempered song an injection of life at the two-thirds mark, Benson himself pushed to sing at greater intensity as the song goes on.

That's not to say that Benson's Beatles influence has gone away, which is apparent on "You Don't Understand Me" on the floating background harmonies, but Benson and White trade off on the verses and the piano helps really fill the arrangement well. This is a great contrast after the more White-directed "Salute Your Solution", which sounds like a cousin of "Blue Orchid" from Get Behind Me Satan, with White going at his verses in non-stop fashion and the guitars and bass ripping in aggressively as Patrick Keeler's drums keep propelling the track along. Another interesting track is the Benson-led "Old Enough" which shows another strong blending of Benson and White's respective styles, taking a bit of their respective melodic tendencies and finding a solid midpoint between them. This is even evident in how the two both frequently sing the lead vocal together in unison and yet pushes a little beyond what either normally does by adding fiddles and organ, giving the track an earthy Americana sound as well.

Even the sequencing is mindful of the band's dynamics, following a White-driven aggressive rocker "Five on the Five" with the Benson-led rock workout "Attention", helping keep the energy of the section unified in as much as the album goes for contrast by placing the aforementioned "You Don't Understand Me" directly after "Salute Your Solution". What's more, the whole listen feels much more fleshed out than its predecessor, running a full fifty six minutes at fourteen tracks and thanks to its developed cohesive diversity, it doesn't feel at all long.

Two years after the enjoyable, but scant and somewhat incongruent Broken Boy Soldiers, The Raconteurs went from a supergroup to a real unified band. Even if the two leaders still maintain their own distinct styles in the listen, it's clear that they have learned how to work with and support each other, as well as write songs that fuse their respective styles into a more coherent one and that's really how the promise of their united talents was fulfilled. The Consolers of the Lonely is exactly the kind of album that one could have hoped for from the lineup of The Raconteurs and I'm glad that they made it. The band seems to have gone into indefinite hiatus since, which is unfortunate after finally finding their sound, but if Consolers of the Lonely is their last musical work together, they ended on a high note. 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Consoler of the Lonely
  2. Salute Your Solution
  3. You Don't Understand Me
  4. Old Enough
  5. The Switch and the Spur
  6. Hold Up
  7. Top Yourself
  8. Many Shades of Black
  9. Five on the Five
  10. Attention
  11. Pull This Blanket Off
  12. Rich Kid Blues
  13. These Stones Will Shout
  14. Carolina Drama

Links:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)

When people talk about the fundamental punk rock bands during the birth of the genre, I've always heard two English bands mentioned: The Clash and the Sex Pistols. Having already checked out the eponymous debuts of the The Clash, I figured it was time to check out the other English band that I heard getting listed. Like their English contemporaries, the Sex Pistols practice a type of punk rock that is loaded with politically charged lyrics and while this particular band was short lived, I can see why Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is considered a highly influential album in the punk genre.

First and foremost, Never Mind the Bollocks is loaded to the brim with snarling attitude and seething opinions, the defiance apparent from both Steve Jones's crackling electric guitar and Johnny Rotten's singing, which flips from singing to talking in the album opener "Holidays in the Sun". Some of the most spectacular antiestablishment tracks include the sarcastic criticism of deference and the Crown in the hook-laden single "God Save the Queen" and the pro-anarchy anthem "Anarchy in the U.K.".

Musically, the band sticks to the fundamentals of punk rock, keeping the tempo brisk, the song structures straightforward, and Jones keeps his guitar solos economical and together the band keeps most of their tracks around the three minute mark, resulting in an album that runs just under forty minutes over twelve tracks. Fortunately, the briskness of each individual track helps keep the album keep moving along given the relative unified sound that Sex Pistols practice.

But it's primarily the band's brash attitude, challenging lyrics, and rude delivery that makes Never Mind the Bollocks so compelling. Granted, some of those with opposed political affiliations will obviously find the material as well as the confrontational approach distasteful, but the Pistols are certainly genuine and honest enough in the combination of their music and lyrics, from their more political lyrics to their self-aware declaration of "I'm a lazy sod" on "Seventeen" that you certainly can't call them posers. It's unfortunate that the band wouldn't last much beyond this studio album, but I think any band would be lucky enough to produce as bristling an album as Never Mind the Bollocks before calling it quits. 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Holidays in the Sun
  2. Bodies
  3. No Feelings
  4. Liar
  5. God Save the Queen
  6. Problems
  7. Seventeen
  8. Anarchy in the U.K.
  9. Submission
  10. Pretty Vacant
  11. New York
  12. EMI

Note: The US version swaps the sequencing of tracks five and six.

Links:

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Righteous Brothers - The Very Best of the Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody (1990)

Before picking up this compilation, The Very Best of the Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody, I had only really ever heard three songs by the titular Righteous Brothers, which were probably among their biggest hits. Recognizing that the duo were probably a singles-oriented act, when I eventually decided I wanted their music on disc, I opted to pick up this single disc compilation and that wasn't a bad choice. You get most of the duo's biggest hits and a few additional lesser or genre hits and no real filler, making for an appreciatively abbreviated overview.

The tracklist appears to put the biggest hits up front and then orders the rest of the tracks in roughly the sequence of size of hit. This means that casual fans just looking for the big hits are going to be satisfied as The Righteous Brothers only had so many tracks charting the top ten, most of which are represented here. The most obvious must haves are here in the first four tracks, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'", "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration", "Unchained Melody", and "Ebb Tide", the former two being Righteous Brothers originals and the latter two being covers. Two of these hits have hit the charts more than once thanks to their inclusion in hit movies like Top Gun and Ghost.

Of course, those four songs alone wouldn't a full compilation make, so we have a handful of lesser hits including top ten maker "Just Once in My Life" and the Righteous Brothers' own Bill Medley penned hits, "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and "Go Ahead and Cry", the former being a rock-and-roll dance floor pusher and the latter a ballad more centered in the duo's standard style.

The rest of the these hits include covers of a straightforward Christian song, "He", and a popular World War II song, "The White Cliffs of Dover". However, the tracklist ends before the duo's solo work and doesn't include their hits from after they got back together in the 1970's. As such, the title is a little misleading since some of their 1970's hits were arguably more popular than some of the tunes represented here, like their cover of "Rock and Roll Heaven". However, seeing that this release was compiled under the label Verve, which the Brothers were signed to until their original dissolution in 1968, it's not surprising as Verve would have had to make another licensing deal outside of their most memorable selection of songs.

Due to the handful of omissions from their later career, you can't really say that The Very Best of the Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody really does hit all of the very best, but it does capture all of their biggest hits from before they first broke up and most who buy this are really only looking for the first four tracks. So the most casual fans will be happy with this, especially as the rest of the included hits are pretty good and the compilation stands up to a full listen well thanks to some variety among the hits. However, those looking to really get all the hits or to get a more serious retrospective on the duo might want to search for a more complete compilation. 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
  2. Unchained Melody
  3. (You're My) Soul and Inspiration
  4. Ebb Tide
  5. Just Once in My Life
  6. The White Cliffs of Dover
  7. He
  8. Hung on You
  9. Little Latin Lupe Lu
  10. Go Ahead and Cry
  11. See That Girl
  12. On This Side of Goodbye

Links:

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Police - Ghost in the Machine (1981)

The Police's Ghost in the Machine marks a stylistic adjustment for the trio. Two instruments of the great 1980's are introduced into the band's post-punk/reggae sound and have quite an impact, either in addition or due to the band's shift in sound from pure genre fusion towards pop, indicating future changes that would come. On top of that, the band finds their music significantly influenced by the titular philosophy of dualism resulting in an almost concept like approach to lyrics with Sting taking the creative reigns for most of the album. This at once makes Ghost in the Machine interesting, but also feeling just a touch overly watered down by Sting's own pop leanings.

None of this is to say that the trio abandon's their primary post-punk and reggae oriented sound, which is evident from the moment the album starts playing its first track, "Spirits in the Material World", but synthesizers take over the guitar in providing the syncopated reggae rhythms as Sting continues with his reggae inflected singing. And this immediately softens the sound of the band and puts Sting's presence up front with little presence of Andy Summers's guitars, giving the track a much more soft-rock and pop feel. At the same time, Sting's exploration into the concept mind-body dualism.

I actually really like the tracks that go deep into the overall album's themes like "Rehumanize Yourself", even with its chorus of saxophones. What's more, the track actually returns to the frenetic pace of some of the band's earlier punk work. Even more Caribbean elements are even brought in for the big single of the album, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", with synths approximating steel drum sounds, even as Sting's songwriting drifts even more pop under layers of bubbling synthesizers. This is again true for "Too Much Information"'s vocal arrangement, expanding more broadly into Caribbean arrangements, with a whole lot of saxophone on top.

Fortunately, the more soft-pop oriented tendencies are kept in check by the embracing of reggae and other Caribbean influences throughout the album. There are a few tracks that lean a bit more to the darker tones of Reggatta de Blanc, particularly with the brooding chants of "Invisible Sun" and the lumbering "Secret Journey".

So while I actually do appreciate the push towards genre and theme that Ghost in the Machine is making, I also feel like the arrangement at times overloads on its new toys, with perhaps too much saxophone and the synths, the latter especially oversoftening some of the tracks that could really benefit from more live instruments. At least the band keeps a lot of the intensity going to help drive the album, Sting managing a surprisingly fierce performance on the album's French language track, "Hungry for You (j'aurais toujours faim de toi)".

Still, I think this album also signals the way that the balance the band previously had between the three members is starting to swing towards bandleader Sting and probably the eventual fracturing the band. Ghost in the Machine is an interesting musical document in that regard, as it is perhaps the greater emergence of Sting that drives the album and those that liked his influence on previous albums will probably appreciate Ghost in the Machine the best. But it's still a fine Police album and fans of the band will still like a lot here, if they can handle the very saxophone loaded arrangements. 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. Spirits in the Material World
  2. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
  3. Invisible Sun
  4. Hungry for You (j'aurais toujours faim de toi)
  5. Demolition Man
  6. Too Much Information
  7. Rehumanize Yourself
  8. One World (Not There)
  9. Ωmegaman
  10. Secret Journey
  11. Darkness

Links:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Morgan - Morgan (2014)

So Glen Check, a group for whom I hold unreserved appreciation, has their own label, The Basement Résistance, and aside being the production label for their own work, they also produce a few other acts. One of the original acts to debut from the label is a band called Morgan, and from video of their live performances, it looks like one or both members of Glen Check are actually a part of the band. Musically, they are a band-oriented offshoot of Glen Check's own sound and consequently, fans of Glen Check are certain to like Morgan.

The self-titled EP opens with an "Introduction" track that lays down their live band with electronic production sound, a wall of fuzzy guitars looping together in some crazy catchy hooks before it's suddenly over. And then it's picked up quickly by the second track, "Sneakers Get Wild", guitar hooks looping over and over as the punchy drums drop and the duo singing and shout-samples appear. It's a fantastic constrast between the falsetto vocals and the more middle-ranged, concrete instruments that adds great dynamism to the track, a grinding electronic breakdown followed by whistling melody towards the end sealing the deal.

The primary guitar hook for "Fuzz-Pop People" that opens the track is highly reminiscent of the guitar hook that drives Michael Jackson's "Black or White" and I admit it's hard to not hear that song when I'm listening to "Fuzz-Pop People", but once the track fills out, the rest of the track becomes engaging enough on its own to leave the comparison behind. Heavy guitars and bass again drive the following track, "Motorcycles & Denim", the band sticking right to their primary sound of duo singing into a sound processor, super catchy '80's style guitars and drums and tons of energy. There's again another programmed synth section towards the end with drum machines that clearly hooks up the sound to Glen Check, who produced the EP.

The final track, "Revolver", opens with thumping drums and slowly builds in the arrangement in layers and is the slowest of the tracks, the drums and bass keeping the whole thing rumbling forward at a steady pace. Like all of the other tracks, the presence of Glen Check is quite strong, Morgan tending towards heavier and more rock-oriented sounds than the duo's more electronics centered sounds, but the choices of samples, the love for '80's style arrangements, and the general energy is quite similar, so much so that it feels like it could be a Glen Check project album.

As such, Morgan is a ton of fun to listen to and if you like Glen Check, then you are almost certain to like Morgan as well. Like with many enjoyable EPs, the listen does feel a bit short, but that might be for the best because each track does hit a lot of the same kinds of sounds and a whole album of this without some greater variation might get exhausting, even as fun as the music is, although "Revolver" does come close to providing a change of pace just in time to wind down the whole effort. Best of all, the EP is free from the band's SoundCloud account, so there's really no reason not to go and get it. Highly enjoyable EP. 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Introduction
  2. Sneakers Get Wild
  3. Fuzz-Pop People
  4. Motorcycles & Denim
  5. Revolver

Links:

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Police - Outlandos d'Amour (1978)

The opening track to The Police's Outlandos d'Amour, "Next to You", is pretty much what anyone needs to convince them to listen to the rest of the album. It's loaded with nervy punk energy, gritty rock vocals from Sting and a catchy sing-along chorus. But the instrumental break after the first minute of the track hints at more to the band than just straightforward rock and roll with Sting's measured bass pressing up against the driving force of Stewart Copeland's drums and Andy Summers's almost bluesy guitar riffs. And then they go right back into the unstoppable energy. Outlandos d'Amour is full of straightforward energetic rock but much of it is more than just punk, incorporating reggae and pushing past the punk that drives their music into something a little more.

The reggae influence is apparent from the second track, "So Lonely", which is built on the tried and true syncopated rhythm, but Sting himself adopts a noticeably different vocal style for this track, going up a register throughout the track. What's more, the track isn't straight reggae as the band shifts to driving rock for the chorus, the speed and tonal difference resulting in quite the dynamic track. Then there's "Roxanne", where Sting keeps the reggae influenced vocals but the band instead puts those vocals in the context of an almost spidery spare rock trackw ith Summers' guitar keeping a hypnotic rhythm and Copeland punctuating on the tom toms. In some ways, the rock style present on Roxanne helps define The Police more than their straightforward rock and reggae sounds, at least tonally.

In some ways, "Born in the 50's" is one of the most interesting tracks on Outlandos d'Amour, sounding a bit more like prototypical 1980's heartland rock, with String's grit-loaded vocals and references to nostalgic and past events. There's also "Be My Girl -- Sally", which isn't far off from other post-punk drives on the album like the infectious "Can't Stand Losing You", but it has a curious bit of poetry in the middle about a blow-up doll companion. It adds a touch of playfulness to what might otherwise be a pretty straightforward album.

You'd think with so much going on, Outlandos d'Amour might feel disjointed or messy, but the band actually manages to keep each track feeling very much a part of the whole, thanks in part to their distinctive arrangement and performances, but also undergirding the various genre stretches with a kind of nervous energy--even more that than the straightforward raucous punk energy that you'd think a punk-influenced album like this would aim to achieve.

Later efforts by the band will also be well remembered, but there's something particularly special about how it all comes together here on Outlandos d'Amour. They band manages to put together the sounds that it wants to, the tension of doing so driving the music in a way that's especially distinctive. It's not only one of The Police's best albums, but I'd certainly say it's a classic of its time. 9/10

Tracklist:

  1. Next to You
  2. So Lonely
  3. Roxanne
  4. Hole in My Life
  5. Peanuts
  6. Can't Stand Losing You
  7. Truth Hits Everybody
  8. Born in the '50's
  9. Be My Girl - Sally
  10. Masoko Tanga

Links:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Younha - Growing Season (2009)

With Younha's Peace Love & Ice Cream being quite the disappointment after the strong Someday and only being a half album, I think I had reason to be concerned that the second half of her third album, Growing Pains, was going to be equally disappointing. Well, it's not. However, in light of its place as half of a complete double album, it doesn't repair all the damage done to her third by Peace Love & Ice Cream, especially as some of the songs here are still a bit weaker. But it is still a recovery.

The album opens up well with the rocker "Say Something" featuring the kind of soaring chorus that suits Younha's talents so well, dynamism added by the measured verses and the topping chorus. This is how you open up a Younha album and it's too bad that the third album didn't start with this half, because it immediately plays to Younha's strengths. Similarly, the third track on the album, "좋아해", is a spunky rocker that Younha manages to deliver with great attitude, although the chorus does feel a touch flat at times compared to what the buildup in the prechorus might suggest. Still, it's a successful enough track that it helps buoy the album.

What kind of drags down the album is the first single, the mopey ballad "오늘 헤어졌어요". Now, while I believe Younha to be a capable singer, straightforward ballads are not one of the places where her vocal attributes shine and this particular song would have probably been better off with a proper balladeer. Even though Younha can execute the high notes, her performance simply seems ill fitting the kind of sensitive introspective sadness demanded by the lyrics and composition. This criticism also holds true with the ballad "스물두 번째 길". However, "편한가봐" fares a little better for Younha, perhaps because it has a rock ballad arrangement. It's still merely an adequate performance, but it does indicate that Younha is capable of handling ballads if they are appropriately designed for her.

The fifth track, "헤어진 후에야 알 수 있는 것", features BSK in duet mode. I'm of mixed opinion on this track, BSK is predictably solid for its rhythm and blues stylings, but it's to the point that he clearly outshines Younha's more pedestrian delivery on the verses. On the other hand, when they are actually singing simultaneously, they complement each other well and Younha even manages some reach adlibs well. All this makes the track more enjoyable as it goes on and Younha ends up singing at the same time as BSK, but that also makes me feel like she's playing backup to BSK on her own track instead of him supporting her and leaves me wondering if putting this on her album was the right call.

Perhaps the one experiment on this whole third album that ends up being actually successful is "LaLaLa", a light jazz pop track. This might be because it's Younha's own composition so she was able to craft it to her own taste and voice. It's not an exceptional track by any means, but it is one of the few light pop tracks that I've heard from Younha that actually manages to be more successful than not, Younha managing to shine on the title call out in the chorus. Her scatting is admittedly rudimentary so Younha's clearly still growing as a singer, but I think this suggests that if she's directing her own growth rather than trying to conform to the compositions of others, she might actually be able to stretch beyond her talents in pop rock.

That said, the place that Growing Season has in Younha's discography is as the second half of her third album, and when paired with Peace Love & Ice Cream, Growing Season is dragged down quite a bit. In the greater overall listen, "Say Something" is a nice shot in the arm after the lackluster eight songs before it, but by then it's largely too late to redeem the overall experience. Furthermore, Growing Season is itself only partially successful with Younha's voice being somewhat ill fit for the ballads featured on it and unbalanced next to BSK on the otherwise good "헤어진 후에야 알 수 있는 것".

But for what actually works on Growing Season, it's actually a fairly pleasant listen. It's too bad that it has to be attached to the millstone of Peace Love & Ice Cream. However, it's fortunately a separate release, so you can listen to it while pretending that it's not at all connected and that makes Growing Season an all right Younha EP. Nowhere near the consistent entertainment of Someday, but its weaker moments are fortunately held up by its better ones, much like her Korean debut, A Perfect Day to Say I Love You. 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. Say Something
  2. 오늘 헤어졌어요
  3. 좋아해
  4. 편한가봐
  5. 헤어진 후에야 알 수 있는 것
  6. LaLaLa
  7. 스물두 번째 길
  8. 오늘 헤어졌어요 (instrumental)
  9. 헤어진 후에야 알 수 있는 것

Links: