Animal Collective - Here Comes The Indian (2003)

Here Comes the Indian is a hodgepodge. This record was crafted before Animal Collective realised how to expertly merge experimental sounds with a pop sensibility. The sole thing keeping this mishmash of noises together is the drum beat, otherwise it’s just a collection of textures.

Avey’s and Panda’s vocal capabilities are wasted on this album. In the middle of “Hey Light” the band resorts to intermittently hand clapping backed by complete silence. We understand fellas, you’re on acid and you’re REALLY soaring.

“Infant Dressing Table” squanders 2 minutes with muted insect sounds. Stretching a texture for 8 minutes might be considered audacious at MoMA, but to listen to is actually just tedious. The song is salvaged somewhat, by vocal howls that long for something (someone?).

“Panic” is muddled and disorientating. Sounds drift in and dissipate over aimless humming. “Two Sails on a Sound” continues with the check-out-this-flow-and-texture-of-noises-that-can’t-be-dismissed-as-trivial inconsequentiality. Is this album actually cerebral? Am I fool? I could just be part of a minority of individuals who do not salivate at the opportunity to listen to squawks and buzzes for 45 minutes.

The 2nd last track, “Slippi”, sounds like the band just woke up, as though they realised they accidentally left the recording equipment on for the past half hour and decided to write a song. Finally, "Too Soon" takes a stab at a tangible listening experience and proves quite delightful.

The artwork is eye-popping, a personal favourite actually. As a record, Here Comes the Indian still proves worth a listen, if only to see where Animal Collective came from, if only to listen with a quizzical expression at the AC incarnation pre-Sung Tongs, pre-perfection.

(50 - SM)
Combined Rating = 49.5

David Bowie - Diamond Dogs (1974)

Part 3 of the glam Bowie trilogy:

After the full-bodied avant-garde flourishes of Aladdin Sane, the wispiness of the production here is a huge disappointment- it’s even more noticeable than on Ziggy. Bowie, handling production duties, gives himself little to work with. A lethargic, substance-ridden corpse vaguely resembling Ziggy Stardust (or the barely re-branded Halloween Jack) had sacked his spiders and decided to play guitar here, and he’s also seemingly decided to stop singing. Efforts to make his bored-sounding vocals at all compelling on the title track include the use of a cheese-grater-esque vocal filter (try singing into moving fan blades- you’ll get much the same effect).

There are some interesting songs here- notably the melancholic “Sweet Thing”, scrapped stage number “1984’”and glam classic “Rebel Rebel”- but the rest of the album is marred by unenergetic performances and just functional guitar work (it has recently become apparent that the album’s one memorable lick- the riff from “Rebel Rebel”- may well have been, to an uncertain extent, appropriated from Jayne County). The flawed humanity of the last two albums has been replaced with a wall of aesthetic and lyrical cynicism (“As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare … Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue”), delivered with little conviction or excitement.

There are bits and pieces to be salvaged here, and opening monologue “Future Legend” is good for a campy sci-fi laugh (Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats/And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes)- but overall this Diamond Dog is a tired old mongrel- time for a signature metamorphosis, David.


Mercy Arms - Mercy Arms (2008)

“Who? Where? When? What? Why? Questions that need answers. Answers that raise more questions. I pick myself up out of the cold, hard, gutter. I usually land on my feet.”

Mercy Arms are as keen as mustard. Drawing from bands like The Smiths and Ride, they fashion sweeping songs for an era in which romance is waning. Thom Moore sings melodiously with a confident falsetto, Kirin J. Callinan wields his guitar like a monstrous noise maker, while bassist Ash and drummer Julian create the basis for Moore’s and Callinan’s talents to blossom.

There’s nothing pompous about their debut, it’s filled with 10 solid pop players. Perhaps the record lacks uniqueness, they follow their influences closely. However, their tuneful and genuine execution offsets this minor quandary.

“Half Right” sounds positively full-bodied. Every instrument is assuredly crisp. Julian Sudek swiftly and succinctly bangs at the percussion, while Callinan’s guitar melodies ring joyously.

Thom Moore’s vocals in “Footsteps” hush sweetly, “I can still hear your footsteps, treading lightly down the corridor”. The chorus is symphonic, bells and drums surge romantically.

Mercy Arms wrote a song for MIX 106.5 called “To Me Now”. “Kilby” quickly restores the record’s quality and thwarts any doubts that Mercy Arms are overflowing with cheese.

“Caroline”’s hushed-vocal/guitar-bellow verse looks something like this in print:
“Take me dooowwn to-ward the shore-line in the night.”
“The sky, she sleeps but for a sin-gle dull light.”
It’s a stark contrast, but it works. The heartbeat drumming is a nice touch too.

“Firing Line” invokes vivid imagery of trenches and warfare, “I often hear the call/ Of the infantry men as they fall/ To the depths of me”. It concludes with an epic guitar solo, grandiose and sprawling.

All's not lost, there are still musicians who endorse romance and uphold sincerity, thankfully.

(78 - SM)
Combined Rating = 77

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique: 20th Anniversary Edition LP (1989)

Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique: 20th Anniversary Edition LP

Paul’s Boutique approaches its second decade with an anniversary edition LP, while proving to be an essential landmark stamp in hip hop history. This sophomore release is definitely one of the most important and criminally underrated albums (it tanked upon its release) in the ever growing hip hop genre. For this release the Dust Brothers were recruited along to craft a staggering amount of angular beats and ironic samples that prove to be clever and cheekily self-referential. Every song indulges with a diverse and rich labyrinth of samples (boasting over 400 samples) that requires immense concentration to pick them all up.

This album acted as a pinnacle in showcasing the ability to combine rap and pop culture together through deliciously referential punch lines. These references range from the Beatles, Bob Marley, James Brown, The Flintstones, Psycho, Sir Isaac Newton, Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, to Dr. Seuss and many more. It’d be impractical to list them all.

The album opens with ‘To All the Girls’, a bluesy ode to all women around the world (assumingly these girls fought, and possibly died for their right to party) which is followed by a stampede of funk force that is ‘Shake Your Rump’ that completely revolutionises their sarcastic party style that was conceived in ‘Licensed to Ill’. The song confirms that they haven’t lost a beat with witty lines like "Sam the butcher, bringing Alice the meat".

In “3-Minute Rule" MCA, Adrock and Mike D boast and claim ridiculous notions such as ‘I've been making records since you were sucking on your mother's limp dick’. While this doesn’t sound very admirable, it should be noted that the boys spit lines out with a hint of sarcasm and sharpness modestly. The final track ‘B-Boy Bouillabaisse’ is a 12 minute opus that shifts from impressively placed beats sampling country, jazz and funk relentlessly. The boys sound comfortable but never relaxed. The last 2 minutes of the song features a live applause and cheering from an audience, it’s so well placed that you feel like returning the favour.

In this Anniversary Edition, every track has been remastered with great precision. The drums sound thicker and warmer while the bass lines ripple through the speakers. Downloadable content is available through this LP with the Beastie Boys providing commentary on each track that is worth a listen. It is apparent 20 years after the 1989 release that we’ll never hear something like this again. As the boys put it themselves in ‘The Sounds of Science’:
“Expanding the horizons, expanding our parameters.”

There's no denying that they changed the face of hip hop.


The Cure - Wild Mood Swings (1996)

Part 1 of “Was that album really that bad?”

Wild Mood Swings by The Cure is pretty universally abhorred. It is a pop album that actually managed to sell less than the preceding gothic dirge of Wish. While Robert Smith has verbally defended the album- actions speak louder than words, and only about two songs from this one seem to ever get played live (and rarely, at that).

One of these songs that Cure fans graciously accept into the canon is opener “Want”- it sounds a lot like the bile-spewing slow-burners like “End” and “Open” that characterised Wish. It’s really not a great track, having fairly obvious lyrics and little to distinguish itself musically. Overall, it is a comfortable song for The Cure to play, and a comforting song for listeners wanting more of the same.

The second track, also not hated by Cure fans, is much more interesting. On “Club America”, Smith whips out an unnaturally low sounding growl as he tackles the American clubbing scene. Over a borrowed Bowie riff (“The Man Who Sold the World”) he denounces those who “So carefully couldn’t care less/You’re really trying very hard to impress”. The conviction is there, and it’s an interesting twist for a band band that could have easily stuck to a very successful formula.

The album is at its best when it sticks to its edgy pop concept- “The 13th” (with more strange singing from Smith) and “Strange Attraction” are great pop tunes written with an almost Ray Davies-esque dedication to the craft. “Jupiter Crash” is a gorgeous adolescent sex ballad with interesting astrological analogies throughout and appropriately spacey production.

There are a lot of songs in the vein of 1992 hit “Friday I’m in Love”, but they all present an interesting enough twist of the formula to justify their existence. All of them, that is, except the actual lead single “Mint Car”- its somewhat forced-sounding happiness grates after about 30 seconds.

There are no true duds here, but some of the fat (notably "Want", “Return” and “Round & Round & Round”) could have been trimmed. Minor issues aside though; it’s hard to see, in retrospect, what’s so bad about this album- it is much less wearying (and more interesting) than the overly-comfortable Wish.

If an attempt to make a great pop album fails to chart then it is a conceptual failure. Just ignore that technicality, because Wild Mood Swings is a truly rewarding listen, both for sugary pop hits and for some interesting lyrics and textures that you won’t hear on any other Cure album. Because, sadly, thanks to the backlash against this record, Smith has never been as daring or vital since- all the albums since this one have been absolutely fine, but he hasn't truly been able to escape the dreaded curse of second-guessing.


Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle (1979)

Gary Numan is a laser. Gary Numan is TRON. Gary Numan is the villain in Terminator 2 who can liquefy, all metallic and silver. The Pleasure Principle suggests that the future was in 1979, so where are we now? This record set the standard for the 80s, when synthesizers were the new plague.

“Airplane” menaces with erratic synths. “Complex” is tender like a lonely robot, each sung syllable succinctly pronounced: “Please/ Keep them aw-ay/ Don’t let them touch me/ Please/ Don’t let them lie/ Don’t let them see me”. “M.E.” has that muddy baseline that was lifted by Basement Jaxx for their hit “Where’s Your Head At?” years ago.

There’s no guitar on the record, just bass and violin. The rest is all electric, fluorescent blue and green and purple.

The Pleasure Principle has endured excellently. It’s technologic, disconnected and cold. It’s the 21st Century. One could argue that the tracks are indistinguishable; 10 songs, all of them synthetically saturated. However, that would be missing the point slightly, this album was produced by a mechanical life form: “And I want your lines/ And I want your time/ And I want your face/ And you can have mine”. There’s nothing human about the repetitious phrasing in “Tracks”, it’s artificial, but purposely so.

“Cars” went to #1 on the UK Charts. How funny that such a large population should embrace their predictable and pedestrian behavior: “Here in my car/ I feel sa-fest of all/ I can lock all my doors/ It’s the only way to live/ In cars.” Maybe in the future future bell towers will be replaced with synthesizers.

You are robot.


Kings of Leon - Only By The Night (2008)

Kings of Leon have always been a band I’ve enjoyed, as they never seemed to take themselves seriously. Sure they had serious songs but they remembered to make ‘fun’ records. Because of the Times was a change of pace as they deconstructed the ‘southern strokes’ tag and created a larger, more pristine sound. While this was a different pace for them, they certainly didn’t ignore their old direction. Only By The Night completely washes away their previous credibility.

It’s sad to say, but this album is packed with generic and instantly forgettable songs. They lack the infectious fun of their first two albums or the originality of their previous one.

“Closer” opens the album and sets the mood with its atmospheric guitar effects and its marching percussion beat. This is the highest point of the record, as the rest of the tracks shift from dull to terrible.

“Sex On Fire” stands out with its embarrassing lyrics and lazy guitar playing that never seems to progress. Afterward, the record loses all credibility because of “Use Somebody”. It plods along like a bad U2 imitation without sounding genuine.

Whether we get monotonous love ballads (“I Want You”) or songs toting pointless sexual confusion (“17”), the album never feels inspired. The problem is that it feels as though it’s filled with leftovers from the previous LP.

Since Because of the Times was a somewhat successful album for them, it’s no surprise then that they wanted to continue with that sound. As they say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

(41 - AI)
Combined Rating = 38

TRAILER: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Peter Bjorn And John - Living Thing (2009)

CONTEXT: Peter, Bjorn And John sit down with their record label. Living Thing has been mixed and just needs the label’s stamp of disapproval.

Exec: “Hey guys, um, great effort. Listen, just one minor quarrel I have with the new record, though I love the artwork by the way. None of the songs, how should I say, um, go anywhere? What I mean is that Living Thing is actually Inconsequential Thing. It’s um, Disaster Thing.”

Peter, Bjorn And John *all at once*: “What?!?!”

Exec: “Now, now, now, I know you guys have done the best record you could but it’s, uhhh, not very good. Don’t worry we’ll still be releasing Hollow Thing-"

Bjorn: “-Living Thing-”

Exec: “-Limp Thing, but I can’t guarantee that the press is going to respond too favourably to the handful of minimalist noises you’ve called songs. But don’t worry, it’s too late now. Maybe with the next record you can take some of the recording equipment out of the water, so you know, the pop melodies don’t drown.”

Peter: “Fuck you, you just want another ‘Young Folks’!”

Bjorn: “Exactly!”

John: “Yeah!”

Exec: “Haha, yeah.”

(45 - SM)
Combined Rating = 43.5

FILM: Don Hertzfeldt - Everything Will Be OK (2008)

Unwittingly, Don Hertzfeldt has become something of a viral internet sensation- there are probably five times as many people who could quote the “My spoon is too big/I am a banana!” gag from Rejected than there are people who actually know who this man is. The fact that Don Hertzfeldt is adamant that computers not be used to create or screen his works is lost in the quick-fire comedy potential of Rejected's many comic segments- seemingly made for sites like YouTube.

Perhaps this mutilation of his first true masterpiece has influenced his return to the long form- not features, mind, but short narrative pieces that are impossible to effectively compartmentalise for YouTube. Everything Will Be OK actually has a protagonist, Bob; and while a clear plot (in the traditional cause-and-effect sense of the word) is hard to discern or explain, it is definitely a work to be viewed in its entirety. It's hard to imagine Bob and his ex-girlfriend's pseudo-philosophical musings about death and space travel having nearly as much impact on YouTube as Rejected's “My anus is bleeding!” segment.

Something to get out of the way from the off- Everything Will Be OK, the first part of a planned trilogy, is better than the award-winning Rejected. It is, unreservedly, the best statement that Hertzfeldt has painstakingly etched frame-by-frame so far- just don't ask me to explain what that statement actually is. His trademark non-sequitur style of humour, perfected in Rejected, is now framed within a very human narrative, an intense downward psychological spiral. The real-world neuroses that he last visited in the overlooked Lily and Jim are painfully blown wide open before your very eyes, utilising even more bizarre hand-made animation effects than Rejected's chaotic final chapter- multiple irises and altered photographs give us a view of a fractured life that is somehow familiar.

It is, mind you, very funny. Not to give any of the gags away- but the deadpan narration is juxtaposed with the stick-figure imagery in many ways that couldn't fail to make you crack a smile. But if Muffassa's death in The Lion King didn't make you cry- the final act of Everything Will Be OK will. A minor animated masterpiece. Bring on part 2.


Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (2006)

In preparation for their new record in June, I felt it appropriate to look at Sonic Youth’s last offering- 2006’s Rather Ripped.

As soon as “Reena” opens this album, there’s something different. While I would never accuse Sonic Youth of using traditional tunings, you could almost swear that either Lee or Thurston is playing a guitar set to EADGBE. What’s more, it opens with a chorus- a melodic one at that! While Gordon isn’t strictly singing in tune, she almost is. There’s no true aggression here, it’s sung like Nico on the first Velvet Underground album. Yet, perplexingly, there are more alt-rock hooks in this song than the band has had on any album since Dirty, and I applaud them- it actually works.

The emotional core to songs like “Incinerate” and “Turquoise Boy” comes through virtually unfiltered- rather than attack their own melodies and tear the songs inside out, the band’s knack for unusual production values is used to support some uncharacteristically honest lyrics. The perfect example of this is the closer “Or”- warm, overexposed bass and low-cut pounding drums provide the soft backdrop for Thurston’s weary, itinerate lyrics; punctuated by very simple strumming and picking. It all comes together to create the sound of 3AM cigarette-warm beer light.

Which isn’t to say they don’t rock out here at all, but when they do- as on “Rats” and “Sleeping Around”- they groove seductively. If this album is laidback, it’s far from lazy- it’s almost as detailed as career-best Daydream Nation- it’s just here they let things breathe. Noise is used sparingly, yet more effectively than it was in the 90s.

This is a mature (but by no means adult) record. Sonic Youth are, almost impossibly, still an energetic and essential force in rock. Here’s hoping The Eternal is even half as good as this.

(75 - SM)
Combined Rating = 81.5

David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)

Part 2 of the Bowie glam reviews:

When we last saw Ziggy, he was contemplating suicide in front of a stage full of admirers. It’s clear now that what he really needed, more than anything, was a trip to the States.

Aladdin Sane or ‘Ziggy Discovers America’ is undeniably weird. Opener “Watch that Man” should be an instant glam classic- but Bowie’s voice is so far down in the mix that, on public transport, it sounds like an instrumental. With jazzy pianos, thick guitar chords and camp backing vocals, this should be triumphant. As it is here, however, it becomes vaguely unsettling. This all makes sense on track two, the avant-lounge piano freak-out that is “Aladdin Sane”. Bowie sung about the dark underbelly of the pop world on Ziggy- but now it sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

Witness the schizophrenic pace changes from thick, sleazy rocker “Cracked Actor” to the slow fade vaudeville mindfuck of “Time”- the pretense of Ziggy disappears as it seems that Bowie himself is, probably for the first time in his career, emoting.

There are mistakes here: the Stones cover “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and remade early Bowie single “The Prettiest Star” are, for this reviewer at least, skippers. All is almost forgiven however, with Bowie’s two best glam singles- “Drive in Saturday” and the crunchy R&B anthem “The Jean Genie”.

Weird, dark and uncomfortable- this is something of an overlooked (outside of its iconic cover art) classic. Bowie makes being all over the place sound compelling and seductive- it’s hard to see how he could keep it up (here’s a clue for the next review- he couldn’t).

(84 - AI)
Combined Rating = 87

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (2009)

Grizzly Bear conjure up folk songs to envelop. Think blankets, canopies and slivers of light. The tracks swathe listeners and reproduce the sensory equivalent of a midnight walk through a dense forest. Veckatimest wants to soundtrack your autumn. Named after a remote island, Veckatimest expertly crafts the sound of solitude. There’s less variation in the songs than on 2006’s Yellow House, though the latest offering is certainly more concise.

“Southern Point” opens the record with a quiet-loud, hushed-bombastic alertness, while “Two Weeks” champions a marching band with playful harmonies. “Fine For Now” insists that “There is time, so much time”, while exploiting what sounds like a forest choir. Contrary to these words sung throughout, the chorus rollickingly rips open and cymbals are attacked, suggesting there is little or no time. Grizzly Bear are engaging in musical dish-smashing. The beginning vocals on “Dory” are ghostly. All four musicians are expelling what haunts them.

In the body of the album, Veckatimest falters somewhat. Atmosphere drops substantially with directionless songs “About Face” and “Hold Still”. These sketches are more suited to inclusion as B-Sides on a single, rather than an LP.

Fortunately, “While You Wait For Others”, ensures that the record is injected with renewed intensity, while “I Live With You” has a thrilling and thunderous conclusion.

“Foreground” complies with the convention of most records, in saving the most graceful song to close the curtain. It echoes with an irrepressible emotional weight, before retreating from ear shot. With ripped jeans and a dirty face, you’ve found your way out of the forest.


My Disco - Paradise (2008)

Paradise is full of many contradictions, the most obvious one being that as a listening experience, it’s a great deal closer to hell. The album artwork is befitting of the noise. These songs are desolate, sparse and unforgiving. The desert is uninterrupted and repetitive in its terrain, so too are the 10 beatings which populate Paradise, where chord changes cease to exist. The album was produced by Steve Albini, whose polished production makes for a sharper listen than 2006’s Cancer.

The bass lines in Paradise assault. They force themselves upon the listener repetitively and with bludgeoning precision. Every so often a guitar will flourish, disrupting the drum and bass lines that were exacting a hypnotization.

“You Came To Me Like A Cancer Lain Dormant Until It Blossomed Like A Rose” commences in an almost danceable manner with drum and bass line punches, before battering listeners with an excruciating guitar bellow midway. It operates as a preparation for what’s to come, an album which is merciless, simply and completely.

The album’s centerpiece, “An Even Sun”, stretches for 9 minutes. It’s akin to being strung up. At the conclusion of the song the guitar slows, now you’re phasing out on Rohypnol. There’s an uncertainty and loss of control at this point, the guitars resonate at a leisurely pace.

Paradise is repetitious, unsettlingly so. The record ends with “Land”, a sluggish number which marks the listener’s surrender to the landscape. You were probably hungry for a chord change. Paradise is a record replete with starvation.

An aural rape.

(78 - SM)
Combined Rating = 82

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (2008)

Crystal Castles are a Hugh Grant movie, enjoyable sure, but about as enduring as yo-yos.

“Untrust Us” sounds as lethargic as its creators. It unsuccessfully attempts to lift a vocal sample, also seen on Death From Above 1979’s Heads Up EP, over an unfitting tempo, Not-iN*SYNC.

“Alice Practice” bleeps and bubbles with synthesizers haphazardly. Alice Glass yells emotively about something not entirely clear (being misunderstood?!). This song is also a false promise, it’s the album’s angsty highlight and it’s all too fleeting. Here, the sizeable difference between what Crystal Castles wish they were and what they are is not so noticeable.

The “Crimewave” mash up with HEALTH bobs along with a sexy I’m-so-detached-from-existence-you-want-to-be-me swagger. Momentum garnered from these 3 previous electr-ongs is quickly thwarted however, with the agonizingly repetitive “Magic Spells”. It plods along at a glacial pace for 6 minutes and reaches no peaks, nor troughs. It’s fashion runway ready.

The debut also suffers from tracklist sequencing. “XXZXCUZX Me” has hammering synthesizers which could easily induce a frenzy in first time listeners, this energizer should have been first. “Vanished” has an infectiously spooky melody, complete with Van She vocals.

“Tell Me What to Swallow” (Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow – Yeah Yeah Yeahs anyone?) wraps up the debut from these misfits who, because of this song, are actually clearly sensitive beings (misunderstood?!).

Crystal Castles are(n’t) better than you. They hold parties and you’ll never been invited. That said, Crystal Castles is one guest list that I’m only so happy to be left off.

I’ve never played the Crystal Castles game released by Atari, but I wonder how many lives you’re granted before it’s game over.

(58 - SM, 49 - MF)
Combined Rating = 54.3

Boredoms - Super æ (1998)

Boredoms conceive music in a blender. Ingredients are thrown in by a blind chef, who has the fortune of often producing something digestible, but only for the courageous consumer.

If listening to a cauldron of interrupted tempos and cut-and-paste melodies sounds like an excusable way to spend an hour, then Super æ is the record for you.

Opener, “Super You” is restlessness. Actually, Super æ is restlessness. Sounds are forever fluctuating. They’re impatient with any typical time structures, blipping here, spewing there.

Boredoms sound allergic to convention. Super æ frequently skirts predictability with the charm of an Attention Deficit Disorder patient.

“Super Are” falsely lulls before erupting in trademark Boredoms’ drum cacophonies. Hear that? It’s your ear drums enjoying a Fear and Loathing-style bender. There are bats in the sky, only this time they’re being heard. There is a reprieve in the form of “Super Going”, which is infused with sunny riffs and punchy vocals. By this time, your acid trip should be well and truly in its hallucinatory phase.

In the last quarter, “Super Shine” shows signs of exhaustion before snorting some tribal speed. It proceeds to hop colourfully and relentlessly for the remaining 4 minutes of its duration.

Finally, “Super Good” flutters out of earshot with a watery charm, the sun is ascending.

In 2006 experimentalists, Liars, claimed Drum’s Not Dead. They were right too. Drum is very much alive. And Boredoms have left a legacy of load-blowing thunder to prove it.

(85 - SM)
Combined Rating = 86.5