Archive for November, 2008

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Depeche Mode – Violator

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Violator (1990)

Violator (1990)

Violator is a somewhat famous album released in 1990 by synth-pop band Depeche Mode. It is fairly unique for an album that has enjoyed so much mainstream success. Even eighteen years after its release, it still sounds fresh. This is part of what makes the album so memorable. Good music lasts.

But more than its longevity, Violator is also very groovy and fun. From the first notes of “World in My Eyes,” I was hooked by the Depeche Mode’s catchy synth-pop beats. The song didn’t really stick out to me at first, but with more rotations, I couldn’t get enough of it. Depeche Mode’s sound is amazingly unique for a band so mainstream. It is bands like them which make me believe that people once had better taste in music.

But mainstream is a relative term. Many don’t know this wonderful band and the footprint they’ve made on the musical world. After listening to this album, I could see where Muse got their inspiration for Black Holes and Revelations, an album not even a tenth as good as Violator. The music video for Coldplay’s recently released “Viva la Vida” actually mimics the music video of “Enjoy the Silence” off this ablum. Without a doubt, Depeche Mode were pioneers in the synth-pop sound that influenced many artists.

Depeche Mode’s strength lies in their mastery of crafting a catchy yet unique song. This almost seems like a contradiction in terms. But an example of Violator’s duality of catchiness and uniqueness can be heard in track two, “Sweetest Perfection.” The song is dark, brooding, and passionate, and yet, strangely captivating. The twelve-eight time signature gives it a swing feel, and the accompanying strings, which can sometimes be cheesy and misplaced in other music, work well in this song.

The most rocking and famous song off Violator is track three, “Personal Jesus. ”Surprisingly, I find this song to be one of the weaker ones. Yet I still like it — perhaps I’ve listened to it too much to appreciate it much anymore. But people who have never heard it will instantly fall in love with its driving simplicity.

Track five, “Waiting for the Night,” displays Depeche Mode’s softer side. The song has an almost childlike simplicity. I don’t cry often listening to music, and this holds true for this song as well, but I can see this song as being one people would cry to. Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is soft and tender.

And now, with track six, we have my favorite song on the album, “Enjoy the Silence.” It is a beautiful song with a beautiful message, about how words can often ruin a perfect moment between lovers. Sometimes we just need to learn how to shut up and enjoy the silence. The words of the chorus are pure poetry: “All I ever wanted, All I ever needed is here in my arms / Words are very unnecessary / They can only do harm.”

“Enjoy the Silence” has been covered by numerous bands, and for good reason. It is amazing, end of story. It is the crowning jewel of one of the best albums of 1990. Even if you don’t think Violator is up your alley, at least find this song.

The only other song worthy of mention on Violator is “Policy of Truth.” It has the same catchy synth-pop thing going for it that makes their more upbeat tracks so great.

Unfortunately, the album lags in quality following “Policy of Truth.” Don’t get me wrong; the songs are good. They are just not great. But to end my examination ofViolator’s tunes on a positive note, the first seven tracks are amazing enough to counterbalance the three so-so ones at the end.

Violator is a fun and unique album. You do not even have to even be fan of synth-pop to enjoy it – I certainly wasn’t when I bought it. Actually, it is hard to imagine anyone not liking the album after giving it a shot. Despite the uniqueness of the band, Depeche Mode is also highly accessible and they definitely grow on you.

And better yet, practically every song on the album is danceable. That is, if you don’t mind taking a trip back to 1990. But in the case of Violator, that is a trip you will be willing to take fairly often. 

Four and a half out of five stars.

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The Tossers – The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Monday, November 24, 2008

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death (2005)

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death (2005)

The Tossers are one of the best bands you may have never heard of.  Take my word for it and grab a copy of The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which was released in 2005 by Victory Records.  This Celtic punk rock band from Chicago has punched out quality tunes since the early 90’s yet is not as well known as their Celtic counterparts Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys.

This album is no different, as it starts off with a catchy tune called “Goodmornin’ Da.”  This track sets the stage for the energy that pervades the album.  But The Tossers also show their diversity in “The Crock of Gold,” which starts off slow and speeds up into yet another catchy, bouncy tune.  The catchy melodies continue pretty much all the way up until the final track, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.”  This song is a slow mournful sounding track that finishes off the album rather nicely.

Unlike other popular Celtic punk bands, the Tossers prominently feature the mandolin.  Songs like “Preab San Ol” proudly demonstrate frontman Tony Duggins’ mandolin majesty.  The CD also prominently features the fiddle, which drives many of the melodies that The Tossers so perfectly integrate into their songs.

Instrumentally, The Tossers cling strongly to their ancestral roots.  Every song on the CD presents that distinctly Irish dynamic.  It helps that the band incorporates traditional instruments, such as the mandolin, tin whistle, and accordion.  The band also features a banjo.  All in all, they are a great collection of musicians.  They really know their stuff and it shows.  The Tossers are a good blend of traditional Irish and punk rock.  They fall somewhere in the middle, which I find to be a pretty good medium.  The Valley of the Shadow of Death blends the best of both the Celtic and punk worlds into one electric, melodious sound.

Lyrically, the album speaks to its Irish heritage.  “Preab San Ol” is a traditional Irish drinking song.  Half the song is in Irish (yes, they have their own language) and the other half is in English.  References to The Tossers’ ancestral homeland can be found throughout the album in several songs such as “Goodmornin’ Da,” “The Crock of Gold” and “Out on the Road” among others.

And of course, The Tossers never shy away from the subject of alcohol, as one can tell by the title of the track “No Loot, No Booze, No Fun.”  The subject is very much alluded to throughout the CD.  They also have a couple songs of rebellion, which they also, not surprisingly, blame at least partially on the alcohol.

I had to order this CD off the Internet because I couldn’t find a copy in any stores.  But it was worth the shipping cost to get my hands on this.  If you’re interested in Irish music or punk rock, The Tossers are a good place to start.  Or if you’re simply looking to expand your Celtic collection, give this album a look.  And learn some Irish while you’re at it!

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Catch-22 – Keasbey Nights

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

 

Keasby Nights (1997)

Keasby Nights (1998)

Keasbey Nights was released in 1998 on Victory records by a little-known band from New Jersey. But since then, the CD has grown to represent the entire third-wave ska movement.  After giving it a listen, I’d say its reputation is definitely justified.  While the band has made several lineup changes and style changes since then, this album lives on.

This CD was a high-energy, high-volume, super-fast joyride from the moment I turned it on to the moment the last track ended.  The whole time, I kept waiting to see what would happen next.  If nothing else, it always kept me on my toes.

Filled with manic guitar rhythms and bouncy horn melodies, this CD is nonstop action.  It’s no wonder many call it the best third-wave ska album ever made.  It’s not THE best in my opinion, but it’s in the top three.  The best way to describe it is a musical sugar high without the bad aftereffects.  I have no trouble saying that I have played this CD alone in my room and simply jumped around because it was so full of energy.

While the tone of the CD is always upbeat, there are moments where the band does change styles.  While frontman Tomas Kalnoky is known for his fast vocals and manic writing style, a few songs go off on different tangents.  “Walking Away” is a departure from typical third-wave ska songs in that it has a swing feel to it.  I think it hints at jazz and swing while maintaining Catch-22’s ska-punk style.  Similarly, “Kristina” is not a radical departure from Kalnoky’s style, but it definitely slows things down a bit.  I got a hint of his softer side, but the song still maintained his personality.

As a ska-punk band, Catch-22 also shows a bit of their punk side.  The song “Giving Up Giving In” is just everyone playing their instruments as fast as they can.  To me, it’s still entertaining and I like to see that side of the group.

The instrumental, titled “Riding the Fourth Wave,” is a fun piece where pretty much every brass instrument gets a solo.  When this CD was released, the band consisted of a trombone, trumpet, and saxophone in addition to all the traditional rock instruments with one exception.  The bass player used a fretless bass, which gives the songs a certain feel that few ska bands can match.  It definitely stuck out to me in “Walking Away.”

Another thing that makes this CD so neat is the way the CD ends.  After the last song plays, the beat and bass line keep playing and all the band members do all their special thanks on the CD.  They just recorded and started talking and it wasn’t always perfect, which made it funny.

All in all, this CD is definitely worth whatever money you pay for it.  It’s probably hard to find in places other than used bookstores, but if at all possible, I think everyone should get their hands on it.

 

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Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Washing Machine (1995)

Washing Machine (1995)

I’ve always considered Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine, released in 1995, to be their best post-Daydream Nation album. Here’s why.

One of the reasons is due to memory. I bought Washing Machine last summer. I listened to it constantly in my car on my way to a local community college, thirty minutes each way. Every time I listen to it now, the memories of that time come flooding back – a rainy day before a test, a trip with a friend to Panda Express, the hot Oklahoma interstate. All of these time, Washing Machine was blaring. Because of Washing Machine, I can reflect on this time of my life just by popping the CD in.

But back to the album itself. I’ve read some reviews of Washing Machine that faulted the album for having no particular sound. Balderdash. The fuzzy, reverby, and even watery sound is present throughout the entire album. Sonic Youth excels on Washing Machine just as much as they have in past in creating a unique sound for a album never attempted by any other artist, with the possible exception of Dirty in 1992 for its grunge influences.

It starts of solid with “Becuz.” “Becuz” is a mixture between traditional, noisy Sonic Youth with the breakdown in the middle, and more melodic strains explored thoroughly in previous albums. Like Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth find a way to blend their chaotic, noisy past with the demands of the mainstream, only in an entirely different way. In this respect, Washing Machine has done what the much more famous Daydream Nation has also done, only from a different perspective.

Track three, “Saucer-Like,” has an amazing intro. Thurston sounds like he’s singing underwater here, as did Kim Gordon in “Becuz.” All of the songs have the peculiar quality – perhaps something to do with the production. Track four, “Washing Machine,” is one of Gordon’s greatest successes.

In fact, this album is a large testament to her creativity, as she stars in most of the album’s most successful moments.  “Washing Machine” is an eight minute epic. “Epic” might not be the right word. But the sonic effects created by the band here are extraordinary, especially around minute six towrads the end.

Track five, “Unwind,” is suitably named – it is relaxing, soft, yet somehow off-putting. A strange combination of words, I know, but Sonic youth can do things with their instruments and lyrics that make those words blend together like the strains of their music.

A definite highlight on the album comes with track six, “Little Trouble Girl,” a duet between Kim Gordon and Kim Deal, the latter the bassist from The Pixies guest singing for the song. Two Kims, two bassists, two girls, from two high influential alternative acts – who could ask for more? The song itself is strange, haunting, and beautiful. I am enthralled with this track and Sonic Youth’s ability to create such a moody atmosphere that almost defies words to describe. Put side by side, Deal is the stronger singer, but people don’t listen to Sonic Youth for the singing. It goes beyond that.

Following “Little Trouble Girl” is “No Queen Blues,” the hardest rocking song on the album. Thurston Moore destroys on this track. The bluesy feel it showcases is not often attempted by Sonic Youth. But blended with their noise, Sonic youth take blues to a whole other level. And of course, the complete noise breakdown towards the end is classic.

The rest of the songs are not really worth mention. Except one.

“The Diamond Sea.” Ahh, yes. This song is often pointed to as Sonic Youth’s last hurrah during their relatively mainstream stint from Goo in 1990 to Washing Machine in 1995.  Now this is a song which could deservedly be called epic! The lyrics are sung in Thruston’s husky, pleading voice about what seems to be a marriage or relationship gone awry and based on deceit and selfishness.

The mood Sonic Youth creates with their music perfectly reflects the lyrics, “Look into his eyes and you will see / that men are not alone on the diamond sea / sail into the heart of a lonely storm / and tell her you’ll love her eternally.” The relationship is one in which the couple cannot be honest with one another, so while one is beset with loneliness and the other has image problems, they are both too self-centered to meet each others needs or accept one another. There are other themes, of course, which I will leave to you, the listener, to discover on your own.

Washing Machine is an absolute must for anyone claiming to be a Sonic Youth fan. Washing Machine is an absolute must for anyone interested in Sonic Youth. Lastly, Washing Machine is an absolute must for anyone claiming to be a fan of music. That might be too far, but that is my humble opinion.