Posts Tagged ‘Alternative Rock’

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Soundgarden – King Animal

Monday, November 19, 2012
King Animal (2012)

King Animal (2012)

We live in a time where it’s rare to see a straight up “rock” album recorded. We live in the era of space rock, indie rock, folk rock, electro-rock, etc…

That’s what King Animal is: a straight-up, no frills rock album – guitar, bass, drums, and heavy, heavy riffage. In a way, it’s refreshing in simplicity…but in another way, I kind of wish Soundgarden had pushed the envelope.

I was nervous about this for good reason. Soundgarden’s first album in 15-16 years. I had no idea what to expect, and artists are notorious for going to seed in old age. I could see King Animal going one of two ways: Soundgarden sticking to their signature sound of grungy, doomy riffage, or completely surprising everyone with something off the wall.

They decided to go the safe route. This album is a time capsule. Any of these songs could have fit on any of Soundgarden’s other albums. It’s good, it rocks, don’t get me wrong…clearly Kim Thayil hasn’t lost his touch (even if Cornell’s voice is noticeably weaker). But King Animal doesn’t stand out from the rest of their discography. I was really, really interested to see if any more modern music influenced their sound. From the few listens I’ve had, I would say no.

After all, these guys have had sixteen years to learn, grow, and listen to new stuff that might have influenced their current sound. But then again, perhaps the homage they paid to their old sound was a conscious decision. I read somewhere that there was a lot of disappointment with the release Down on the Upside because of a departure from their signature riffage.

Which would be an understandable decision. If fans have been demanding a new Soundgarden album, how cheated would many have felt if they got something un-Soundgarden-esque?

King Animal is a decent album. I just get this inkling that it could have been so much more. Then again, maybe I should just let Soundgarden be Soundgarden, and enjoy what they have offered up – a great rock album and a fitting tribute to their legacy.

Highlights: “Been Away Too Long”, “Blood on the Valley Floor”, “Black Saturday”, “Rowing”

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PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love

Monday, November 19, 2012
To Bring You My Love (1995)

To Bring You My Love (1995)

Until a couple months ago, had never listened to PJ Harvey and honestly had no plans to. I gave Let England Shake a listen when it first came out because of the hype, and wasn’t ready for something so experimental.

Since that time two months ago, PJ has really started to grow on me – especially with her 1995 album, To Bring You My Love.

I was completely blown away the first time I listened. For those who are tired of frilly, vapid, girlish pop music that now permeates the music scene, PJ Harvey is the adequate cure. She goes to dark gritty places in her lyrics, and the voice and timbre of the instrumentation perfectly compliments themes of God and Hell and sex and the perverse.

It is clear that I and PJ (may I call her that?) have been strangers for way too long. She easily one of the most talented and versatile songwriters of recent times, and her vocal range, especially the lows, are very impressive. Her singing style is frantic and suffocating, and it works so well on this album and sets her apart from others.

It is easy to see why she is beloved by so many: she has followed her own path and made the music that she wanted to make, convention be damned. So far, of the four albums I’ve listened to this one is my favorite. This is one of those albums that goes deep enough to warrant many listens.

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Sonic Youth – EVOL

Friday, August 19, 2011

EVOL (1986)

Sonic Youth is the only band I’ve driven over three hours to see, by myself. I hate driving, and I hate being by myself, so that speaks volumes for how much I adore this band. I waited anxiously for the band to begin – I was going crazy with no one to talk to. Just as I started to wonder if I had made a mistake, the band came on. The first few strains of “Tom Violence” shook the entire room, all doubt was dispelled. Seeing Sonic Youth live was a treat – especially when they closed with “Cross the Breeze.”

I can’t exactly remember the first time I listened to EVOL. I must have been a sophomore or junior in college. It didn’t strike me immediately, as did Daydream Nation or Sister. It was definitely a grower. But this is a psychotic and edgy trip. It’s like Sister, but rawer.  The lyrics are just as fascinating as the perfect blend of melody and noise. They could just be read for their own sake=. As the album title suggests,  a sense of foreboding and doom hangs over the whole album,  like there’s a horror movie going on in your mind, like an eighteen wheeler bearing down on you, but your frozen in place, like a vampire hypnotizing you before it bites into your neck. This album is a storm.

Every song on the album is good and worth listening to. “Shadow of a Doubt” is an absolute masterpiece, a bipolar trip that shifts between chilling guitar plucking and piano to a release of screaming and guitar riffage. “In the Kingdom” completely defies me to explain – it would probably take me another two hours to just write two sentences that can somewhat accurately describe the song.

There are so many intricate details that you could listen to this forty times and still pick out something new – and that, at least, is what has kept me coming back, much like all of Sonic Youth’s stuff I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

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Radiohead – The Bends

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The Bends (1995)

The Bends (1995)

I think of a lot a words at the mention of The Bends. Nostalgia is one of them. Old friends I don’t really see anymore (sad face). Angst? I don’t know. Maybe that’s too cliche and teenagery. But one thing’s for sure – it was (and is)  an album that was (and is) really important to me, especially during my freshman year of college. All of Radiohead was like that for me in that pivotal time in life, when I was discovering a lot of different things, including a more mature taste in music.

I know I’ve reviewed Radiohead to death on this site, but there’s a reason for that. I listened to this band so much my freshman year of college (and a lot beyond as well) that I’m sure they have become a permanent part of my soul. I don’t know how healthy that is, but that sounds about right to me. It’s even to the point that you can quote one line from just about any of their songs (exluding B-sides) and I would probably be able to tell you not only what song it is, but a lot about that particular song and what exactly it means to me. Each song or album evokes a very distinct feeling/thought process within me and makes me all misty-eyed if I don’t stop myself. It’s kind of weird, and even freaks me out a bit writing about it.

But anyway, tangent. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this album. Well over a hundred. And listening to each song evokes a certain feeling of sadness in me, for some reason. Something  sublime and completely indescribable. This is Radiohead beginning at their best. The sadness, I guess, comes from such bleak lyrics as “Everything is/broken, Everyone is/broken,” “I want to live, breathe, I want to be part of the human race.” And those are just the first two songs. I don’t want to say it’s depressing. Unlike other music that truly is depressing, Radiohead somehow transcends that. I really don’t know what magic allows it do that, and if I did, I guess it really wouldn’t be magic.

And of course, there’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” “My Iron Lung,” and “Street Spirit,” the latter being one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar. “Immerse your soul in love,” to this day, has to be one of my all time favorite song lyrics, and also a very good philosophy on life.

Well, I haven’t written on this blog for a while, so my writing feels a bit sloppy. But oh well. I love this band. I love this album. The end. Get it now if you don’t have it.

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Muse – Showbiz

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Showbiz (1999)

This is early Muse. Muse, before they delved into the dancey depths of despair, known as Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance.

Now Showbiz isn’t Muse’s greatest effort, either. But it is a great effort. From “Sunburn” to “Unintended,” this album is pretty solid. That unfortunately is the extent of the good tracks on here (although I’m partial to “Escape”).

For Muse fans who are only turned on to their later output, or have figured this one isn’t worth picking up, hopefully I can change your mind. Muse is just a fun band, whatever era of theirs you pick. Even though I just bashed their last two releases, there’s still much to like about them.

The best moments of Showbiz soar into a stunning fusion of masterful piano and progressive alternative. Also soaring is Matthew Bellamy’s falsetto – which is entertaining in itself to listen to, although I’ve heard of people who find it very annoying.

Though good, Showbiz is far from being the most interesting Muse album. What interest it does hold only lasts for a short while. There are a few stellar tracks – “Sunburn,” “Muscle Museum,” “Cave,” and “Showbiz” come to mind – the last more for its extreme passion, intensity, and lack of control than anything else, which is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

But Muse at this time is a band of great potential, still finding their voice and niche. They eventually found that it in Origin of Symmetry. But in Showbiz, you can catch shadows of the greatness to come. On the better tracks, you’ll be rocking as hard as you would to either “Citizen Erased,” “Micro Cuts,” or “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Well, almost as hard. Showbiz is a debut, after all, and it’s rare for a band to knock it out of the park on the first try. Or if they do knock it out of the park, they end up striking out every other time. But for a debut, Showbiz is great, hinting that the best was yet to come.

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Nirvana – Nevermind

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nevermind (1991)

This is the most redundant review ever. But whatever.

I never really got into Nirvana. Of the Seattle Four (Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam), they probably rank third, after Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. But they are an interesting group, if only for the drama itself.

Only being 22, I don’t have the memories of the Grunge Age like people a decade older than me.  So I could never understand this band fully, or the influence and obsession associated with them.

But what I do understand are the melodies.

Not since the Beatles have I heard so many melodies on one album kept so simple yet so unique. That was one of the Beatles’ strength, and this was definitely Nirvana’s strength. The music is instantly recognizable and enjoyable, and, like the Beatles, will be listened to twenty or thirty years from now. It only takes one listen to understand emotionally somewhere where we’ve all been, even if we can’t understand it in our minds.

Because at one time we were all young. Most of us had that undirected anger and angst. At least, I did. I think Nirvana exemplified that understanding, singing feelings we couldn’t put into words.

Maybe I’m just trying to encourage the cliche of connecting Nevermind to teenage angst in a review. After all, no review of this album would be complete without it.

So that’s what this album is to me. It’s angry, it’s sorrowful, and instantly relatable. I don’t know what it taps into that gives it such a following, but perhaps it’s these feelings. I’m no psychologist, so I’ll stop trying to be one. I guess for me, it will always be the melodies of Nevermind that I’ll remember.

I’ll remember that famous opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I’ll remember the mocking tone of “In Bloom.” I’ll remember the bounce of “Come As You Are,” the reckless abandon of “Territorial Pissings,” the haunting sorrow of “Something in the Way,” among others.

This is apparently the album of Generation X. But to me, it’s not really that, because I wasn’t there. To me, it’s just music with a catchy melody that just so happened to change the world.

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Like a wide blue sky, Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is relaxing and spacious. Also like a blue sky, when stared at too long, it gets to be a little boring.

Though long, Sky Blue Sky has some great tracks – especially impressive are the lead guitarirst’s almost progressive solos on the likes of “Impossible Germany” and “Side With the Seeds.”

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth, however, are definitely better. A Ghost is Born also seems better, but that doesn’t mean Sky Blue Sky is bad, it’s just not as good as those other two albums. While Summerteeth is an alt-country pop marvel, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a perfect blending of alt-country and sonic experimentation, and A Ghost is Born really ups the ante on experimentation, Sky Blue Sky returns to the pop format which makes Wilco so great in the first place. Though they are good at experimenting, they are even better at not going overboard and keeping the songs catchy.

But Sky Blue Sky has the misfortune of being front-loaded, and being long, it makes the whole album difficult to listen though in one sitting. After “Hate it Here,” it goes slowly downhill. The songs are still good, but it just seems gets old quickly. Maybe if I listened to each song individually, then I wouldn’t be so hard on the second side of the album.

Nevertheless, Wilco have done a good job with his album. I didn’t really get into them until about two years ago, and I guess when compared to other choice albums, I sometimes have to force myself to listen to this, hoping that someday, it will speak to me in the way other albums have. 

I get to see them in concert June 16, which will be fun!