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Sunday, May 31, 2009

29 in 2009 - The Velvet Underground: "The Velvet Underground & Nico"

The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico
Originally Released: March 12, 1967
Genres: Rock, Experimental Rock
Rating: 3 out of 10

Well folks, according to the clock on my wall, there's less than 4 hours left in the month of May. No better time to squeeze out another update in my 29 in 2009 series. This one will be brief, and it will be a bit out of character for me. The simple fact of it is that I absolutely abhor this album. Having listened to it off an on for the entire month of May, that is the only thing I can say with absolute certainty.

The first thing I think about when I start listening to a song, any song, on this album is that I would much rather be listening to something else. The music to me is absolutely un-gripping, mediocre (amateur, even), overrated, and bad. Lyrically, it's hit or miss. Songs like "There She Goes Again" show just how simplistic and predictable the band's lyrics can be, while others such as "Heroin" show an unparalleled introspection. The songs themselves are almost all boring, the best ones being when Lou Reed doesn't open his mouth and Nico takes over vocals.

At that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my write-up for this album. I want nothing more than to start the month of June with a clean slate, and having this album still on my to-do list would not be the best way to start. It gets the amount of attention from me that I think it deserves. No more no less.

Pretty terrible considering that of all the albums that have been chosen for the list so far, THIS was the album I was most excited to hear. No joke. Oh well...

Verdict: Classically Bad

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

29 in 2009: The Final 9 - Nominations

It's only May, and by all accounts, I'm nowhere near finishing this 29 in 2009 series. Despite that, I'm fulfilling a promise I made to you guys back in February that I would let you decide what the final albums on the list would be. That process starts today:

Step 1: Take a look at the list of albums that have already been selected to be a part of this series.
  1. Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  2. King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King
  3. The Who: Tommy
  4. Nick Drake: Pink Moon
  5. Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
  6. Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers
  7. Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland
  8. Buddy Holly: Buddy Holly
  9. Jethro Tull: Aqualung
  10. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground and Nico
  11. The Doors: The Doors
  12. The Clash: London Calling
  13. The Allman Brothers: Eat a Peach
  14. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
  15. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  16. The Smiths: The Queen is Dead
  17. R.E.M.: Murmur
  18. Joni Mitchell: Blue
  19. Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
  20. Led Zepplin: House of the Holy
Step 2: Take a look at the following list of albums that have already been nominated by readers like yourself.

  1. Pink Floyd: Wish You Were here
  2. Rush: Hemispheres
  3. George Harrison: All Things Must Pass
  4. Bob Marley: Legend
  5. Cream: Fresh Cream
  6. Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
  7. Pink Floyd: Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  8. Frank Zappa: Apostrophe
  9. Frank Zappa: Over-Nite Sensation
  10. The Doors: Self-Titled
  11. David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust
  12. Van Morrison: Astral Weeks
  13. Elvis Costello: This Year's Model
  14. Television: Marquee Moon
  15. Tom Waits: Rain Dogs
  16. Janis Joplin: Pearl
  17. Iggy Pop: Lust for Life
  18. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

Step 3: If there is an album that you'd like to see be a part of the 29 in 2009 series but do not see on either list, nominate it by leaving a comment. Note: No nominations will be accepted by artists who have already been selected (i.e. No Quadrophenia, sorry Who fans).

Step 4: Wait and watch. After a sufficient number of albums have been nominated, I'll post them all to the site in a poll format to allow all readers to have a say on the final 9 albums.

Thanks for participating, and as always, for reading.


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29 in 2009 - Serge Gainsbourg: "Histoire de Melody Nelson"

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
Originally Released: 1971
Genres: French Rock, Spoken Word, Concept Album
Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

My sincerest apologies to anyone who expected to see The Velvet Underground as my next album in this series. It'll come soon enough. Meanwhile, I've added a few of my own personal choices to list of albums which you can view by visiting the introduction page. These albums will be reviewed as I get to them, when I feel I've given them enough attention.

Histoire de Melody Nelson is the first of these albums. I've had the pleasure of listening to it for the last two months or so, and I'm still getting songs stuck in my head. Now usually, that's not such a huge deal, but when the lyrics are in French and the majority of the album is pretty much spoken, that's saying quite a lot.

For the uninitiated, Melody Nelson is considered to be the late Gainsbourg's greatest achievement in music. If you want to read people rant and rave about it, go ahead and click here. Almost any music critic who has ever come into contact with it has nothing but positive things to say about it (probably because the know they're supposed to), so I won't spend too much time dissecting the greatness of it. I initially listened to it because of these perfect review scores, not to mention due somewhat to my familiarity with his daughter Charlotte (Actress - 21 Grams, The Science of Sleep / Singer - 5:55).

Simply put, it's a strangely attractive album that is both haunting and endearing. Clocking in at under 28 minutes in length, Gainsbourg does a wonderful job of creating a mood with his deep, thudding bass and freewheeling guitars. Perhaps even more notable are the lush string compositions courtesy of his producer, Jean-Claude Vannier. On any album, these instruments would almost certainly clash, but on Melody Nelson they complement each other perfectly.

The album is a concept album, telling the Lolita-esque story of how Gainsbourg hits a teenager (named Melody Nelson, of course) with his Rolls Royce and how that leads to a love affair between the two - only moderately creepy considering the artist was over 40 at this point, but such is the territory. While really lacking in a forward-moving plot, the storytelling of Melody Nelson is made fantastic by Gainsbourg's poetic imagery. Again, it's all in French, so what I'm about to give you is a translation that I found online. Read it. It's perfect.

"A little animal, that Melody Nelson/ An adorable little girl and such a delicious child/ Who I only knew for an instant"

"Oh! My Melody/ My Melody Nelson/ Lovable little idiot"

"Among these naked slaves carved from ebony who will be the silent witnesses to this scene/ While above the mirror reflects us, slowly I embrace Melody"

Ultimately their love affair is cut short, tragically some would say, but there's enough cool stuff going on on this album to keep you coming back to it again and again. If there were one negative to the whole album, it would be the song titled, "En Melody" (yes, it means "In Melody"). It's an instrumental, save for some speaking at the end, meant to represent the two main characters doing the naughty in a hotel room. The only terrible thing about the song (and the album) is Jane Birkin's horrid, shrill laugh that goes on for far too long. Birkin voices the character of Nelson on the album, and aside from this scene, she does a wonderful job.

So yeah, it's a pretty cool album, and one that was recently re-released in the United States. It's totally worth listening to on repeat, and it's so short that you'll probably listen to it a couple times before you even realize you're listening to the same songs over again. Required listening? No, not for everyone. For the indie crowd, probably.

Verdict: Classic

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

This Used To Be A Weekly Thing...

Don't believe me? Here's a logo to prove it!

Anyhow, I just couldn't pass up the chance to show you guys the video for St. Vincent's newest single, "Actor Out of Work" from some album that a really cool person reviewed recently. If you're a real nerd, you probably caught this video 2 weeks ago when it first showed up (guilty). For those of you who don't quite fit into that mold, here it is in all its glory!

The video starts out rather strangely and, well, continues down that path throughout its entirety. I just think it's oddly enjoyable to watch Annie Clark be equal parts creepy-as-hell and lovely. The real climax of the video comes in the last 25 seconds or so, so stick around for that.

Leave your comments after the break!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

St. Vincent: "Actor"

Annie Clark's 2007 debut as St. Vincent is (still), in my opinion, the best debut album from a female solo artist in the last decade. In it, she introduced herself as a charismatic, talented artist with a beautiful voice and an absolute skill for crafting charming pop songs. On Actor, her sophomore release, Clark is content to not retread old grounds entirely while simultaneously expanding on the sound that made her so endearing in the first place. The result is an album that is not near as solid as its predecessor, but portrays Annie Clark as a person who is capable of more than pretty little pop songs.

Actor, first and foremost, is a much heavier, denser album than Marry Me; more Shara Worden than Regina Spektor. Clark's guitar skills are not as apparent on this album, but they have their loud, obtrusive moments. "The Strangers," opens the album on a light, bouncy note as Clark sings "Paint the black hole blacker," over some lovely instrumentation. It's not until the instrumental bridge that we witness the darkness of which she sings - an incredibly distorted electric guitar, bursting through the mix to accelerate the song and, consequently, the album as well. Keep that in mind. It's not the last time it'll pop up on Actor.

The album's biggest flaw is its lack of many catchy hooks. That sounds kind of shallow, but it's something the Marry Me had - that made it so relentlessly listenable - that Actor does not. "Actor Out of Work" and "Marrow" are the most notable exceptions to this comment, the former being the album's first single and most radio-friendly tune. "Marrow," on the other hand, is just an awesome example of Clark's "WTF-ness." One second she's singing softly of some ghoulish synth choirs and the next she's singing "H-E-L-P/Help me!/ Help me!" over a consortium of distorted guitars, drums, and a saxophone (among others, I'm sure). On my first run-through of Actor, it was the first track to stand out and give me a "whoah" moment. It remains my favorite even now and is a must-listen for any fan that would like to hear Annie's take on "acid pop."

What Actor lacks in catchiness, it more than makes up for with dramatic flair. The instrumentation on this album makes Marry Me sound anemic in comparison. It was a very vocally-driven album. Actor undoubtedly proves that Annie Clark is capable of more than just a pretty voice, and she deserves all the credit in the world for arranging this album in its entirety. "Black Rainbow" has a simple eighth-note syncopation that builds and builds until it finally erupts into a 1 1/2 minute evil freakout that will absolutely blow your mind! On "Just the Same but Brand New," her vocals are a side note to the stunning composition that is going on around her. That's made all the more impressive when you consider that the lyrics on the song are one of the album's best!

As far as songs on the album that are "bad," there are none (just like last time), but there are a few that just don't do it for me. "Save Me From What I Want" has a really cool bass and drum line, but the chorus is lacking in everything an effective hook needs. Likewise "The Sequel," while beautifully composed, has forgettable vocals and is too fleeting to not be skipped over, while "The Party" starts out well enough but squanders it on a 2-minute outro that is neither interesting nor necessary. The thing you'll notice about all three of those critiques is that each of them has something positive to say about the song, as well as negative. That's the thing about Actor. For every moment that may feel misguided or flat, there's something that either completely negates it or takes your mind off of it. So even on songs that aren't my favorites, there are still things that I like about it, that keep me coming back. Who knows, maybe a month from now I will have listened to them enough to see them in a different light.

I once read an interview with Annie, describing the process of making Marry Me. She described it as a long process; a collection of songs written, rewritten, tweaked, and polished over the course of several years until it was perfect. It was that "first" album that every great artist makes. The challenge, of course, is following it up with something as deserving of praise and admiration. Actor is that album. Annie Clark has been careful to make a record that doesn't just pick up where she left off. Here, she blazes a new trail; one that is not as strong as its predecessor, but still full of beauty, darkness, and wonder. Actor is an album that will not soon be forgotten or pushed aside. It is something that will leave an impression long after the last note fades out. In that way, I suppose it's much like Marry Me.

Key Tracks:
1. "Actor Out of Work"
2. "Black Rainbow"
3. "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood"
4. "Marrow"
5. "Just the Same but Brand New"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Friday, May 01, 2009

29 in 2009 - Jethro Tull: "Aqualung"

Jethro Tull: Aqualung
Originally Released: March 19, 1971
Genres: Rock, Progressive Rock
Rating: 7 out of 10

What do I know about Jethro Tull? Well, prior to the release of Rock Band 2, I knew that Jethro Tull was some English farmer who is wrongly credited for the invention of the seed drill (or hell, some agricultural invention). Then Rock Band 2 came out, featured the song "Aqualung" and I was blown away! That's partially why when I wrote the introduction for the 29 in 2009 series, I made sure to mention that I was unfamiliar with Tull. I really wanted to hear the rest of this album!

Hearing the whole thing really makes Ron Burgundy's jazz flute solo in Anchorman so much more hilarious than it was before. Hell, the flutes are pretty much the coolest thing this album has going for it (aside from "Aqualung's" legendary guitar solo). Every time a flute solo pops up, I can't help but smile at what I'm hearing. It's a different musical experience than I'm used to to say the least!

Aqualung is a strange album. Divided into two parts, the first contains multiple character portraits (such as the homeless, despicable title character) while the second takes on a much more religious, or anti-religion theme. Each side of the album is equally as unbalanced, with great songs mixed with throwaways. On side one, the obvious hit is "Aqualung," while "Cross-Eyed Mary" shows the flaws of Ian Anderson's otherwise beautiful voice. I can't even listen to it now. It's too much for me. On side two, I've found myself particularly impressed with "Wind Up" while "My God" once again finds Anderson making a fool of himself.

Anderson is at his best when his voice is less grating and more smooth. The fabulous "Mother Goose" is a pretty decent example of this, though his best vocal work is on the 3 short acoustic songs on the album; "Cheap Day Return," "Wond'ring Aloud," and "Slipstream." These songs are way too good to be this short (all are under 2 minutes), and deserved to be fleshed out more, in my opinion. Minor gripes aside though, Aqualung is still a pretty solid album; even exciting at times. The guitars, the lyrics, the moods, and yes, the flute all make for an album that you simply can't forget! After all this 29 in 2009 business is over, I wouldn't be surprised if I checked out some of their other works. If you guys know any good ones, let me know.

Rating: Classic

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