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Posted : 9 years, 2 months ago on 1 October 2009 04:51 (A review of Suicide)

Suicide’s self-titled first album, from the vantage point of 2009 when I first heard it, sounds so hugely influential that it's hard to believe there was ever a time that this was looked at curiously. The synth-punk/dark electro-alternative rock of the entire affair sounds exactly like something straight off the radio. Where would Nine Inch Nails be without the dark drum-and-synth notes of “Ghost Rider”?

It’s amazing to hear how many different and contradictory genres and influences crop-up in their ominous minimalism. “Johnny” sounds like a long lost rockabilly Sun single gone techno. “Cheree,” in both the normal and remixed versions, has a simple almost Stooges-like drum beat, but sounds more pop-orientated than anything The Stooges ever turned out. “Rocket U.S.A.” has the chilling nihilism of anything the punk era ever cooked up, but it’s given a synth-pop sheen that wouldn’t become the norm in New Wave/punk until about six or seven years later.

But nothing can prepare you for the Velvet Underground-esque noise-rock assault of “Frank Teardrop.” In the horrify story about a man who goes insane under the soul-crushing banality of suburban American life, Suicide practically invents the industrial rock genre. The drum-loops and synthesizers sound unsettling before Alan Vega starts his almost primal scream therapy-like wails, yelps and moans. His screaming was a rhythmic device on the album. The first time I listened to this album – at roughly two in the morning – I was freaked out and totally scared by the ten-and-a-half minute opus that I wanted to run for cover from it. I do not recommend others to discover this track in that way.

This is one of my favorite records – from the street art/graffiti looking album artwork to the last dark moment of the synths and drum programming – and I can’t believe just how often I have heard new bands sound exactly like this. Case in point, She Wants Revenge must have listened to this record on repeat before recording anything of theirs. DOWNLOAD: “Frankie Teardrop”

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Trans-Europe Express

Posted : 9 years, 2 months ago on 1 October 2009 04:50 (A review of Trans-Europe Express)

This is one of my all-time favorite albums. The proto-New Wave, vaguely early industrial rock and Euro-obsessed robotic nature of the entire album intrigues me. From the beginning notes of “Europe Endless” to the machine-like stomps and crunches of “Metal on Metal,” this is a great headphones album.

The sonic landscapes and textures are perfectly constructed things of beauty. The repetition and bloops sound like nothing a human could have possibly constructed – they’re repeated too perfectly and segue too smoothly into new and richer sounds. Quite a few of the songs are instrumental only. The best of the instrumental tracks is the harmonious and gorgeous “Franz Schubert.” It borrows elements from “Europe Endless” and “Trans-Europe Express,” but contains its own repeated set of tingling keyboard notes which can only be described as classical music played by a computer. Which says nothing of the practically inhuman and cyborg-like vocals. If a speak-and-spell could record an album, a better reference for today’s kids – the speech function on your Mac, this is what the vocal tracks would have sounded like. Spacious and airy or deep and troubling depending on how the vocal tricks were needed. This is perfect midnight listening if synth-pop fills your heart with joy and electronic music has always intrigued you.

This stuff wasn’t just weird and wonderful for the time period, this stuff was hugely influential. With their minimalist approach (yes, minimalist) to creating robotic and electronic based music, Kraftwerk blew the door wide open for the army of New Wavers who came with synth-orientated singles and robo-posturing. More than that, before there was a Daft Punk, and their entire Euro-disco/eletroclash/club scene, there was Kraftwerk. DOWNLOAD: “Europe Endless”

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Posted : 9 years, 2 months ago on 25 September 2009 07:57 (A review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006))

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is the kind of trash you’d watch at three in the morning on HBO when you’ve got a bad case of insomnia, which is what I did. You watch junk-food movies like this for the clever kills, and this was such a disappointment on that front. Basically, it’s about an hour and fifteen minutes worth of watching the four main characters getting tortured and then all of them get stabbed to death with the chainsaw in the closing final minutes. Oh, and every so often a random character shows up long enough to get shot, beat to death with a hammer or cut in half with the chainsaw because they fell on it. Yawn. Luckily, there were two good things – gorgeous looking cinematography and Matt Bomer, who is one exquisite looking man. Pity he gets his face cut off, but there’s always that shirtless swimming pool scene at the beginning to remind and watch. Even as trash this fails.

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Everything in Time

Posted : 9 years, 2 months ago on 24 September 2009 08:16 (A review of Everything in Time)

No Doubt, much like Garbage, have got a great collection of rarities and b-sides. Why wasn’t “New Friend” shoved onto Rock Steady? Its twitchy New Wave-meets-ragga beat would have slipped right in perfectly between “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Start the Fire.” Why didn’t “You’re So Foxy” get included on Return of Saturn? Its Blondie-esque disco-rock would have lightened up the second half of that album’s gloomy ballad-heavy string of songs. They only could have improved already great albums.

The b-sides and three of the rarities are familiar to hardcore No Doubters, but they should be a welcome listen to people just now discovering them. The dubbed out “Sailin’ On” and skater-brat take on “Oi to the World” prove that the band has always moved between reggae, punk and New Wave with ease. They’re also great covers of Bad Brains and The Vandals, respectively. “Cellophane Boy,” “Under Construction” and “Beauty Contest” feature some of Gwen’s best lyrics, and the band expands their musical styles far and wide while digging deep into their influences. Elvis Costello even pops up for the previously soundtrack-only song “I Throw My Toys Around.” Costello's production and song writing brings out the warmth and humor in Stefani's voice with aplomb. 

The new songs though are the real treats: “Panic,” both versions of “Everything in Time” and the above mentioned “You’re So Foxy” and “New Friend” all showcase the band’s ability to fuss together their main genres of choice. Not every track is successful though. Though the three remixes tacked onto the end lose me. I’d rather have heard the demo versions of “Sushi Experience” or “It's a Fight,” a Timbaland track, or the Dr. Dre produced "Wicked Day". The latter two were dropped because their hip-hop inflected beats clashed with the rest of the album, allegedly. What would Dr. Dre/Timbaland and No Doubt have cooked up? Who knows. But I’d trade in the Ms. Dynamite and Sweetie Irie remixes to hear them. Same goes for the ridiculously long "New & Approved Remix" which doesn't build the song in any interesting new direction.

Like practically any rarities or b-sides album, this aims mostly at the hardcore fans. And as one, I absolutely adore it. But there’s enough interesting and good material for the curious and uninitiated to give it a listen. DOWNLOAD: “You’re So Foxy,” “Oi to the World,” “New Friend”

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Sounds of Summer

Posted : 9 years, 2 months ago on 24 September 2009 08:15 (A review of Sounds of Summer: Very Best of The Beach Boys)

Thirty tracks worth of Beach Boys is amazingly not enough. Numerous songs off of Sunflower or Surf’s Up, especially the title track, should have been included, but what is here tells enough of the story for the uninitiated to fall in love with their beautiful harmonies and even more beautiful songs. Even the fluff like “Be True to Your School” or “Surfin’ Safari.” sounds glorious once they start to harmonize and put layer upon layer of their vocals over the chorus.

While the album is presented in non-chronological order that doesn’t deter from the song choices, the presentation works. In fact, since they’re grouped by themes, it improves them greatly. You get a small section of surfing songs, the singles from Pet Sounds, songs about cars and teenage good times – it’s like a mini-playlist. It’s shocking to hear how far and deep they experimented with synthesizers and keyboards on songs like “Do It Again” and “Wild Honey.” They never stopped being strange and trying to make like Phil Spector in the post-Pet Sounds world. The 70’s album get a new context with these songs – often albums like Sunflower are said to have been so wildly experimental because they were looking for a new identity – but I think that they just kept on experimenting for the hell of it.

And what can you say about the songs? “Good Vibrations” is one of the most beautiful songs to have been written. There is no argument. The way that the different levels of the chorus slowly build before finally giving way to the extended Theremin, keyboard and who-knows-what-else solos sound like nothing before it or since. The classics speak for themselves: “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B,” “Do You Wanna Dance?”

You need to have a few Beach Boys albums: Pet Sounds since it’s one of the most extraordinarily beautiful albums of all time, Today!, Sunflower and this greatest hits collection to fill in the gaps. DOWNLOAD: “Good Vibrations,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Don’t Worry Baby”

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Spring Session M

Posted : 9 years, 2 months ago on 24 September 2009 08:13 (A review of Spring Session M)

Missing Persons were the most plastic of the Los Angeles New Wavers. With their layers and layers of keyboards and synthesizers, they could create glorious sonic confections. The problems arose with the lyrics and vocals. Often pedestrian and simple minded, the lyrics were never the strongest selling point for the band. Dale Bozzio’s hiccupping Kewpie doll vocals are a part of the band’s charm, but her limited vocal range and tendency to try to over-sing and over-work her vocals grates after a while. Unlike Berlin’s Terri Nunn, who had a bigger voice, Bozzio doesn’t know when to reign it in and lay off the cutesy mannerisms. The first half of the album is solid New Wave, the second half is where the filler creeps in, “U.S. Drag” is the crème of the crap. The singles really make the album. “Words” and “Destination Unknown” are classics, but nothing tops “Walking in L.A.” as far as pure infectiousness. Spring Session M isn’t a bad album, but it’s not a Los Angeles New Waver classic like Oingo Boingo’s Only a Lad or The Go-go’s Beauty & the Beat. DOWNLOAD: “Walking in L.A.”

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Living in America

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:15 (A review of Living in America)

The Sounds’ debut album is a fun piece of knock-off fluff. They pose and dress just like a modern day Blondie, but they sound just as plastic and chirpy as Missing Persons. They often sound like a cover-band, but the specific songs they sound like they’re covering are hard to point out (although the title track does dance dangerously close to “Kids in America”). They’re a lot of fun, even if unoriginal. And nowadays, what more can we ask from our guitar-based bands? With bands being signed because of the number of plays on their MySpace pages, it’s nice to see a band that can actually write, play and perform live all of their songs. It’s a manic forty minute set that sounds straight out of 1985. I played this a lot when I was in high school. Mostly to prove to my classmates that I did, in fact, listen to modern bands.

“Living in America”

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The Heart of Saturday Night

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:14 (A review of Heart of Saturday Night)

Before Tom Waits created albums full of percussive instruments that sounded like plastic tubs and trash cans, he was Beat poet giving his jagged croon to jazz-like numbers. The Heart of Saturday Night is a fantastic album for a rained out, slightly depressing Saturday night, preferably if it’s in the middle of the night. These songs might not all be depressing, but they sound subdued and melancholic.

“Drunk On the Moon” is one of the many fantastic songs on the album. It features the Jack Kerouackian lyrics that pervade the album and has the soft jazz-like percussion throughout. And no Waits album is complete without one spoken-word piece. This album has two: “Diamonds On My Windshield” and the closing “Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleon’s Pizza House).” “Ghosts” is particularly startling since it appears to be done with the barest of instrumentation. It’s mostly just Waits’ voice. But it’s imagery that will really get to you. Listen to his albums with your headphones on and really pay attention to his Beat-hipster poeticisms. They’re just as great as anything the actual Beats produced on an off day. DOWNLOAD: “(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night”

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Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:12 (A review of Candy-O)

Candy-O is not as winning as The Cars debut album, but it’s a solid follow-up full of hit singles and great album cuts. While every song on the debut sounded radio ready, and most of them did, Candy-O sees them exploring arty territory. The title track hits as many dark and ominous nerves as “Warm Leatherette,” which the songs bares a slight resemblance to. It has always been my favorite cut from The Cars. “Let’s Go” was the big hit, and with good reason. It’s a solid track from top-to-bottom. The more alternative sound suites the band, and it would have been exciting to hear them explore the darker sounds and textures they try out on this album. Even if they don’t always work out (“Shoo Bee Doo” is a better concept than song). And any New Wave band worth their influence knows the power of a great album cover image. Candy-O has one of the best. DOWNLOAD: “Candy-O”

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The Brothers Bloom

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 13 September 2009 08:12 (A review of The Brothers Bloom (2008))

The Brother Bloom is one thing and one thing only: a very fun film. It’s not perfect, but you can tell from every performance in the film that they were having a good time. And it’s really the performances that make the film. Rachel Wiesz’s delivery of “I think you’re constipated in your fucking soul” is a classic piece of comedic timing. If you’re not laughing to the point of tears during that exchange then something is seriously wrong with you. I consider Mark Ruffalo is very solid character actor, always reliable in some indie film, but here he really ups his game and brings his best. How could he not when surrounded by four Academy Award nominees/winner? Adrien Brody stops the brooding young man long enough to crack wise and act elegantly tortured. And Rinko Kikuchi is quickly becoming an actress that I admire. Her performance in Babel was amazing, and her performance here (just as silent, not as serious) is hilarious. She has one line, and it’s one of the biggest laughs in the film. Look for it. Who knew a film about grifters could be so amusing, charming and fun?

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