Archive for February, 2009

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Shotakovich – Symphony No. 5

Saturday, February 28, 2009
Symphony No. 5 (1937)

Symphony No. 5 (1937)

I’m not a huge fan of classical. Not that I don’t like it, I just don’t know that much, outside Bach, Beethoven, Mozart…you know, the standard stuff.

Shostakovich though is probably my favorite classical composer. He is Russian and therefore dark (yes, therefore). He wrote during the communist era (mostly) when there were strict limits on what Soviet music could express.

Though he wrote to the state’s specifications, underneath was obvious criticism and discontent with life in the Soviet Union. Instead of being allowed to freely express himself, he was censored.

Symphony No. 5 was Shostakovich’s compromise with the state – he wrote what he personally wanted as far as the state would allow. The symphony itself was redeemed s by the “positive” fourth movement, played in F Major, but it’s probably more accurate to say it sounds more like its in d minor, a very sad key.

Shotstakovich’s 5th is among the most powerful music ever written. I particularly love the 1st, 3rd, and 4th movements. The tension built up in the first, when it is finally released around minute ten or so, almost never fails to give me chills.  The 3rd movement is perhaps one the saddest pieces of music ever composed – true despair without any hope. Shostakovich masterfully conjures this nightmare. I’ve heard that during the premier the entire audience was moved to tears.

The fourth movement, “Allegro non troppo,” is considered to be Shotakovich’s magnus opus by many. For good reason – it’s just downright amazing. Conductor Larry Livingston once said that Shotakovich was the rock and roll of the classical world. Nowhere is this more evident than this movement.

Anyone looking for something classical, but not the cliche kind that’s really happy and relaxing sounding, something heavy and brooding, darker and colder than a Russian winter, with plenty of bass and dissonant chords while retaining eerie melodies, you couldn’t find a better place to start than here.

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Muse – Origin of Symmetry

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Origin of Symmetry (2001)

Origin of Symmetry (2001)

Just to start, “Origin of Symmetry” is a really cool name for an album.

This is Muse at their most racauous and space rocky prime. Way back in the day I was really obsessed with Muse I listened to this album all the time, and listening to it today I still catch the feeling of older times, where everything seemed a lot more simple… sigh.

Anyway, since I can’t go back, I can still always pick a song off this album and go back in my mind. Not saying I do that often, just when the mood strikes.

Muse are one of the best bands out there that can rock really hard but be very catchy. Origin of Symmetry is Muse at their best. The sound here is a little rougher than anything else they’ve done, but that’s what makes Origin of Symmetry so great to me. The first seven tracks up to “Micro Cuts” is an absoulte rollercoaster. “New Born,” “Bliss,” “Space Dementia,” “Hyper Music,” Plug-In Baby,” “Citizen Erased,” (woot!), and finally “Micro Cuts.”

From there, admittedly, the album goes a bit downhill, but the songs are still good, “Megalomania” probably topping the second half as the best.

This album plays to Muse’s greatest strengths: Matthew Bellamy’s jaw-dropping falsetto on “Micro Cuts,” the sheer epicness of “Citizen Erased,” the pop masterpiece that is “Plug in Baby,” the higly experiemental, Rachominoff-inspred “Space Dementia,” this album is just “wow” all the way through.

I’m sort of sad about Muse in a way. I listened to them way too much (overdosed, if you will), and now they are not as interesting and fun as they used to be to me. Same goes for Radiohead and Explosions in the Sky, along with some other bands I’m sure.

Origin of Symmetry is an important album to me. Lots of good memories are tied into its notes.

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Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Monday, February 23, 2009
Daydream Nation (1988)

Daydream Nation (1988)

I admit lately that I’ve been having a slight fetish for the classics. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Alright, if you’re reading this review and you’ve never heard of Sonic Youth, I’m jealous of you. Why, you ask? Because you have an oppurtunity I don’t have anymore, and that’s discovering this wonderful band. Yeah, that’s right; I’m jealous of you!

If you want to know more about the musicality and themese of this album then this post probably isn’t the place to read. Try the sum of all human knowledge.

I alluded to this album barely in my review of maudlin of the Well’s My Fruit Psychobells, saying something along the lines that Sonic Youth was one of those more chaotic bands that defined my music taste a little over a year ago. For the time, Sonic Youth certainly were chaotic, but I guess by today’s “noise” standards, they’re pretty melodic.

Daydream Nation is a happy medium between Sonic Youth’s chaotic, noiseful past and their more melodic future, which probably peaked from Goo in 1990 to Washing Machine in 1995. 

I didn’t really know all that at the time. I just heard that Sonic Youth were a neat band. Luckily, I was willing to give them a little patience. Being a noise rock virgin, I think that was a necessity. As such, I gradually immersed myself into Daydream Nation, first listening to it as I fell asleep, then picking choice songs on my way to class. Finally, I was listening to the album back to back quite often, leading me to buy Sister, Goo, and Dirty.

Sonic Youth and Daydream Nation are definitely growers. 

“Silver Rocket” is absolutely killer. “Teenage Riot” sucked me into liking the band. “Cross the Breeze,” track four…wow. Amaaazing. “Total Trash,” Candle,” and the “Trilogy” also deserve honorable mentions.

Great video below, uber intense stuff.

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Jeff Buckley – Grace

Sunday, February 22, 2009
Grace (1994)

Grace (1994)

Right now I need a break. I’ve been writing a paper that’s due tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m., and I’ve only seriously begun to research it a couple hours ago. I almost have enough quotes and info to begin the paper (about tactics during the First Crusade, in case you’re interested, though you’re probably not).

Right now, I’m listening to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible for the first time and I’m really digging it. Review material sometime in the next two weeks.

Modest Mouse show coming ever closer – hopefully I’m not let down and they remember to play some of the oldies!

Anyway, I would like to take a look at Grace by Jeff Buckley. If you’re reading this review, then chances are you already know and love Jeff Buckley. His only album, Grace, is hailed by many to be a nineties classic. For good reason – it is a nineties classic, and no knowledge of nineties music is complete without at least listening to Grace at least once, recognizing it’s importance.

Though Grace is Buckley’s only album, he probably influenced more artists than anyone else in the nineties. Matt Bellamy of Muse cites his falsetto to be inspired by Buckley. Thom Yorke of Radiohead made the recording for “Fake Plastic Trees,” possibly Radiohead’s saddest song, after hearing Jeff Buckley live. Chris Cornell was close friends with Buckley, and they gave inpsiration to each other. Many other artists cite Grace as a top 5 desert island album.

Then there are some who say it’s highly overrated – that Jeff Buckley had little songwriting ability and had to cover others’ songs, adding his particular flavor with his legendary voice. Bullocks to that. Buckley’s Grace is chocked full of his great original stuff – “Grace,” “Last Goodbye,” “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, “Eternal Life,” and “Dream Brother.” Each of these songs stands on its own as Buckely’s genius songcraft.

Probably what Grace is most famous for is Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This is just one of those songs (when sung by Buckley) where you just have to stop and listen, because you are completely powerless not to. I reamember buying Grace and skipping to this track immediately. After one listen, it was over – I put it on repeat and listened to it over and over for a good two hours.

By the time “Hallelujah” had about 30 plays on my iTunes, I decided to expand to the rest of the album, and each of the songs slowly built their play counts to rival “Hallelujah.”

As you can see, Grace shouldn’t just be listened to because it’s important. It is that, but it’s so much more. It’s amazing music, period. It’s a straight-up rock album for the most part, but the songs are highly complicated, using unconvential chords for pop music while retaining a powerful sense of melody. The lyrics are usually deep and sensitive, and though I’m not a girl, the lyrics to “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” are almost enough to make me swoon.

Songwriting aside, the main trademark of this album is Buckley’s angelic voice (and I don’t say angelic lightly).  It is literally the most beautiful and perfect voice to grace the world of music. It was a shame he died so young.

Grace should be in anyone’s collection. I cannot see anyone not liking this album (even though they’re likely out there).

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Echo and the Bunnymen – Ocean Rain

Saturday, February 21, 2009
Ocean Rain (1984)

Ocean Rain (1984)

How can Magic Albums possibly be a music review blog without a review of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain? My sincerest apologies for not having yet reviewed this gem!

I’m a big fan of eighties music – I mean, the birth of alternative, come on! I love post-punk acts such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Television, Talking Heads, etc.

Ocean Rain obviously comes straight out of the eighties. It has “that sound” to it, but it is unique enough in its own right to be a classic of eighties music.

Echo and the Bunnymen have a certain lushness to their music, despite the minimalism, especially on Ocean Rain. Strings arrangements pepper the album and really add intricacy. Ian McCulloch’s soaring vocals remind me of another Ian, the lead singer of Joy Division. The difference is Echo and the Bunnymen can leave you with a good mood, which is a plus if you don’t feel depressed.

There really aren’t bad songs on this album. But the ones that stick out to me are “Silver,” “Nocturnal Me,” Crystal Days,” “The Killing Moon,” and the title track, “Ocean Rain.”

In conclusion, a very fun album, good for driving, albeit by yourself  (in my opinion at least).

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maudlin of the Well – My Fruit Psychobells…A Seed Combustible

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustible (1999)

My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustible (1999)

Alright, this is the last album by these guys I have yet to review. After this, I promise not to talk about them until they release their new album this year (or something newsworthy happens).

My Fruit Psychobells…A Seed Combustible was my very first maudlin album. I ordered the re-issue via Amazon a little over a year ago.

Up to this point, I hadn’t listened to anything so freakishly strange as maudlin of the Well. I lived in Iowa City, IA, where I attended the University of Iowa. I had recently transferred from the University of Oklahoma and was starting from scratch – no friends, no family, no life.

So, I turned to music, in a way.

This era of my life was defined by two bands – Sonic Youth, and maudlin of the Well. The chaotic and often beautiful music of both seemed a suiting metaphor for my life at the time.

It wouldn’t be until the following summer that my mind would be graced with the sheer majesty and epicness of Bath and Leaving Your Body Map. Consequently, it was this album I listened to constantly when I needed my maudlin fix.

Though this album is not as great as the other two, it is still worthy a full five out of five stars. “Ferocious Weights” begins the album strong. Slow and methodical, it reaches high trying to grasp at whatever it’s trying to attain, seeming to fall flat at the end (in a good and fitting way, if that makes sense). “A Conception Pathetic” starts strong and takes some interesting twists and turns along the way. As I was listening to this for the first time on a walk through downtown Iowa City, the part where the song sort of turns into a demented circus orgy of sorts made me think, “what am I listening to?” maudlin of the Well. Duh. They do crazy stuffs sometimes.

The first truly memorable track comes with “Undine and Underwater Flowers.” This is one of the few maudlin songs that follows a verse/chorus/verse pattern. The outro at the end is wonderful. Very desperate sounding.

“The Ocean, The Kingdom, The Temptation.” Epic. This is the greatest song on the CD, no doubt. It has that underwater quality to it that literally transports you to some fantastical realm – the music maudlin conjures bears you away to places which can only exist in dreams. This song is the epitome of a dreamscape – the tension holds throughout until the nightmare unfolds around minute four or so. Very cool song.

“Pondering a Wall”… meh.

“Catharsis of Sea-Sleep and Dreaming Shrines” is really high up there, second place to “The Ocean.” The intro is just so killer. Killer might not be the right word…the majority of the song and album is very relaxing, like you’re floating on a vast, glass-still ocean under a canopy of stars, drifting towards the line where consciousness ends and sleep begins.

While nothing on the album really sticks out, such as on Bath and Leaving Your Body Map, the songs work really well together, more cohesively, I daresay, than their other two. The lyrics, as in all maudlin songs, are absolutely poetic and destroy 99 percent of other bands do.

For what it’s worth, I recommend this album without reservation to anyone who’s interested in the slightest. Perhaps you might be better off starting with Bath, but if you start with My Fruit Psychobells…, you’ll likely not go wrong.

This album isn’t for anyone who’s just going to listen to it once or twice. I’m convinced it’s impossible to truly appreciate this album unless you’ve had it for months. It’s so complicated that you could never “get it” on the first or second go-around.

So, as in both other maudlin of the Well albums, be patient, be kind, and be loving, and it will duly return the favor.

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Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Jar of Flies (1994)

Jar of Flies (1994)

To me, Jar of Flies marks the apex of Alice in Chains’s career, though excellent cases can be made for all three of their studio albums.

Only Jar of Flies is an EP. Released a couple years after the band’s most successful CD, Dirt, AiC’s Jar of Flies paints the same themetic picture, only is softer ones. Though Dirt was loud and angry, it still had some measure of hope. Jar of Flies is the surrender, the junkie’s dying whisper. Layne seems to know here that his addiction has bested him.

Though writing about drugs is somewhat cliche in the music world, Layne has a way of turning that cliche on its head. First, AiC’s music is about the despair drugs cause. You need go no farther than “Nutshell,” track two on Jar of Flies, to know what I’m talking about: “And yet I find / yet I find repeating in my head / If I can’t be my own / I’d feel better dead.”

Instead of glorifying drugs, Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains’s music condemn them by the harsh realities they depict. If you’ve listened to Alice in Chains as much as I have (mostly when I was  younger), then you know that as you listen to each album progressively, it’s tells a story, from the band’s rise to fame with Facelift in 1990 to their legendary MTV Unplugged peformance in 1996, where Staley looked almost like an emaciated scarecrow. You knew then, if you had any doubts before, how he’d meet his end (which he did in 2002).

Despite the sad story, the music is important. Not only is Jar of Flies beautiful and heartfelt, it serves as a warning to anyone willing to listen closely. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I would say this message is a great part of Layne’s legacy.

This EP is such an experience. It flows like no other – from “Rotten Apple” to “Don’t Follow”… wow. It is something (though I’m not a fan of the closer). Still, Jar of Flies is the greatest EP of the nineties.