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Sonic Youth – Sonic Nurse

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Geffen Records, 2004

Well, this was automatic.  I’m not a gargantuan Sonic Youth fan, but for some reason whenever I see a record of theirs lying around I always consider picking it up.  They are consistently inventive and, though I can’t say I know of too many of their records I enjoy playing front to back, they always have at least a really good tune or two on every release.  I imagine they’ll never get tiresome to spend some time with, so when “Sonic Nurse” was found on heavy discount I had to take it home for a few spins.

If one hasn’t listened to Sonic Youth since, say, “Dirty”, then let me tell you something about the veteran Sonic Youth crew: they have mellowed.  On this album, at least, many of the songs take a gradual pace that force you to listen for an average of five minutes.  If one listens closely, one can hear a multitude of effects and sound clashes that find their way into songs whether in the foreground, background or the way-way-background.   It is apparent that Sonic Youth are a listening experience rather than a band that is concerned about quick singles and ideas.

As much as I like Thurston Moore’s accessible vocals, Kim Gordon’s voice can be a real treat on songs that feature it.  Well, maybe when it’s not straining too hard.  A good example of the soothing aspect of her voice is “Dude Ranch Nurse”, which keeps a breathy Gordon behind some of the noise.  Her voice seems to help settle the song when the guitars get particularly anxious.

A more typical Kim Gordon-sung track is the excellent “Pattern Recognition”.  Here she balances her comforting low tones with her hoarse outbursts of “You’re the one!” during the tense, guitar-driven moments.  What has made her voice fitting for many Sonic Youth songs is that she can immerse herself well during anything loud and clamoring that the band wishes to carry on with.  That said, “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” is a reminder that Gordon can be just as abrasive as pretty when the music requires it.

A song that is a fine pick up amidst some quiet tunes is “New Hampshire”, which also gets a smile from me since I’m originally from the place.  Granted, the lyrics are bizarre and apparently about Aerosmith.  Hmm … good song though.  The last track, “Peace Attack”, is not the mangled blast out that one might think ends every Sonic Youth record.  It turns out to be another fine, pensive long-player that Sonic Youth put on this record.  I have to admit that, along with a decent dose of the crazy in various places, I kind of like this mellow Sonic Youth.

Sonic Youth can be found in many places, but they’ll always be found on their website, their MySpace page, and at Last.fm.

Gotta give props to this guy, who I not only lifted the album art picture from but also has a lot more invested in this album from back when it came out.  He wrote a pretty cool ‘game changing’ high school story about Sonic Youth, which probably has to top my Aerosmith and Alice In Chains one.  Since they have got a lengthy discography, it’s tough to say whether this is a must grab for those thinking of getting into Sonic Youth.  I would say it’s a pretty good way to start, for the songs aren’t too crazy to turn anyone off but there is just enough to give one an idea that Sonic Youth are not a typical rock band.  If one can’t find a copy of “Daydream Nation” or “Goo” handy, “Sonic Nurse” is a solid option.

As everyone knows, Sonic Youth are still putting out music in their own style and at their own pace.  One may not know what they come up with from record to record, but it’s practically certain that the quartet will release something new eventually.  I have yet to see these guys live and will kick myself if I don’t get around to it.  In an age where longevity is sometimes paused and reunions are common, I would hate to take Sonic Youth for granted and think they’ll be around forever.  That’d be too much to ask for, eh?

KaitO – You’ve Seen Us… You Must Have Seen Us…

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Devil in the Woods, 2001

Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking a guess.  The cover to KaitO’s debut record gives nothing away in regards to its musical intent, so for an affordable amount of money it was worth a shot.  I looked up what “kaito” means and apparently it’s a popular Japanese name for a boy.  Thus, my sleuthing skills have deduced that either this was going to be a bunch of manga-themed music or a sumo wrestling soundtrack.  Well, it turned out to be neither, but if anyone DOES know of a sumo wrestling soundtrack please drop me a line.

Unlike the Pulps and Libertines that tend to meld together coming from the island of tea and crumpets, these British rockers aim to make sure their sound isn’t anything too close to typical.  KaitO has elements that remind one of the louder side of the Breeders, but that may be mainly due to the slightly muffled, nasally voice of Nikki Colk.   With electronic screeches and samples KaitO isn’t going anywhere near “Last Splash”, but there are many songs here that give off a lot of pop groove.

The opener of “Thwipside” combines a light bounce while nearly overwhelming Colk’s doubled up vocals.  “Go” exuberantly continues “Thwipside”s continuous hook but showcases midway through the method of KaitO’s variety.  Just as one gets into the groove the weird sonic sounds make their way onto one’s internal dance party like a person with two left feet.  I, for one, wouldn’t mind if they just weren’t invited.  By ending the song with repeated shouts of “stop!” (ha ha .. ahem) it all just culminates in a lot of head scratching.

After a bumpy start, mainly due to acclimation of musical style, the Flaming Lips-like “Bow Wow” starts up the good beats.  Lots of feedback, cheerful hooks, and Colk’s comfortingly soft voice makes this a fine poppy endeavor.  The best track, “Catnap”, follows with its exceptionally catchy opening guitar riff and light hand claps.  Yeah I know … hand claps.  I usually hate that stuff, but they seem to work here as accents that end each riff.  Along with the song’s strong verses and consistent bridge rock outs, it really is the stand out track of the album.

As one might expect from KaitO, with the palatable comes the nervously jagged.  “Shoot Shoot” bounces between driving chorus and awkward sound collages, which might intrigue some with its variance but upset others who wish for more appeal.  After a bludgeoning, messy affair in “Povarina”, the band decides to end the album by exacting all their might into the repetitively annoying “Manual Speed”.  The song did manage to provide a slight headache after awhile.  (sigh)  With all their punkiness and bombast, KaitO doesn’t always come across as consistently enjoyable.

Nine years later and they’ve still got a website and MySpace page, yet one may find that they haven’t been updated in awhile.  Hmmm … that could only mean …

KaitO is no longer with us as they split up way back in 2006.  Although I can’t say I’m terribly shocked (if the following isn’t there, it isn’t there), it is a pity that a band that was courageous in its sound choices isn’t still around to challenge music listeners.  Solid rock bands are tough to come by these days anyway, so even the off-kilter groups are a welcome choice.  We’re gonna need more KaitO-like bands soon.  Gotta think that Sonic Youth can’t keep playing forever, right?

Beulah – The Coast Is Never Clear

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Velocette Records, 2001

When the price is right and the artwork doesn’t look terribly standoffish, one can really take a chance on anything. It also helps when a band qualifies at the lowest rung of recognition, like “I have vaguely heard of Beulah”. Since, indeed, I may have run across their name in passing reading some sort of blog late at night this was an affordable grab worth grabbin’. Whatever they sounded like, I knew that I could at least longingly gaze at the album cover during an inevitable winter episode here in New England. As long as that’s not the island from “Lost” (and that is not a sea of blood) I am so there when the sleet rolls in.

Extremely bright and poppy, Beulah’s third record is heavily construed as an optimistic venture. Depending on who you are, it might be too optimistic … if you cant believe that. “A Good Man is Easy to Kill” lays on a really peppy flute while the horns drive the bouncy tune along for four minutes.  It might give the impression that Beulah is trying much too hard to provoke a happy atmosphere and, if that’s not your thing, you could be turned off by it.  I think it’s the flute’s fault.

Second song aside, the album does grow on you.  It is upbeat and catchy but not enough to make you gag.  Picture the Dandy Warhols if they consistently delivered pop winners and you’d have Beulah.  By the time one gets to “Gravity’s Bringing Us Down (har har har! … okay, I added this)” one is fully in the throes of Beulah’s engaging sound.  On this track they actually get a little heavier than what has transpired previously, so it is conceivable that Beulah could have been a true rock band if they had wanted to.

The casual attitude that Beulah invokes with every song really settles in after awhile, and as each song strolls by one can find their stress ebb away.  For instance, even with the empowering horns and a nicely toned guitar solo, “Hey Brother” emits a sound that makes you think they’re playing music from their couches.  It’s a real kick-back kind of song, which helps soften any mood.  Along with a few more tunes in a similar vein, as well as a few pleasantly slower tunes to round out the pop bursts, it’s apparent to me that Beulah put together a really solid record.

Beulah has a few interesting sounds and interviews on their simply attractive website but also, of course, can be found on MySpace.

There is a place for Beulah in today’s music, which would be pop rock that doesn’t make you knaw on your fingers because it’s overproduced and in every damn commercial.  Unfortunately Beulah only made one other record before disbanding in 2004, so despite some critical success from their record output they weren’t able to keep it going.  Just as well … they’d have to battle with the evil Train for pop overload status, and I wouldn’t want to see them go that way.  For the time they were around, it’s nice to know that Beulah did manage to put together some very enjoyable pop music that still sounds pretty good after half a decade.

Jackson Browne – The Pretender

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Elektra Records, 1976

Ever since I saw Jackson Browne open for Tom Petty I’ve been intrigued with what he might sound like on record.  If you’ve been an avid reader (skimmer … passerby … garbage tosser?) of my blog here you probably have caught on that I mostly spin rock, punk, and more rock.  However, I have always found Browne’s voice to be considerably relaxed and relaxing.  Obviously, given my penchant for spending nearly zilch, I just haven’t gotten around to buying any of his stuff.  Lucky for me this record was only a quarter!  Definitely worth checking out even if “Doctor My Eyes” and “Running On empty” aren’t on this one.  By the way, if all my reviews start getting softer and seventies-based from here on out, you’ll know Browne got to me.

“The Pretender” came out during the height of Browne’s early career, which many of you likely weren’t around for. Think Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and the folk rock side of Neil Young. Given that, one might expect that every song on “The Pretender” would have a cooling sensation, but Browne doesn’t hesitate to turn up the volume a small notch early on. On “The Fuse” you have Browne working his introspective magic in lyrics that describe his wish to make the most of his time on this earth. It carries on as a typical even-tempered Browne tune but then builds rather powerfully at the end. Quite a start! Then, of course, Browne settles down and sings a few softies like “Your Bright Baby Blues” and “Linda Paloma”. Well, it had to be expected.

“Here Comes Those Tears Again” is an excellent title for a tune that defies the prediction that it would be an absolute momentum drag. It actually is an upbeat track about that old back-and-forth relationship break up story, but Browne comes off as a bit casual about it. I suppose there’s only so many times one can be morose and try to carry it for more than three minutes, so Browne opts for a little pep. “Daddy’s Tune” has an air of optimism, yet I feel it was stuck on the album to break up an otherwise low key affair. Sure, it has got horns and spirited guitar play, but it sticks out as one of the few songs that dates this record in my mind. Thankfully “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” and the classic title track end the record wonderfully. And yeah, when I say “wonderfully” I mean low-key Jackson Browne vocals all over the place. Oh so nice.

Jackson Browne can be found aplenty at dusty vinyl record stores and flea markets everywhere, but I suppose if you want to go digital you could check out a large collection of his videos on this fan’s MySpace page.  His website is also not too bad either.

Jackson Browne is, of course, still putting out records with a stunningly similar voice that rivals his seventies sound.  As for “The Pretender”, I still can’t believe I got it for only a quarter.  Whether I continue with my dabbling of softer music during a time that I was not even born is up for debate, but I can certainly see why people were big into Jackson Browne at the time.  Ah well, I suppose I should get back to bands like Trapped By Mormons now, eh? Here comes those punk rock tunes again…

Halfcocked – The Last Star

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Megatronic Records, 2001

Oh the overload.  Unlike other records covers where you can find a moment of blank space to take a visual break if you need it, Halfcocked believes in no breaks.  You WILL experience this band or else, dammit!  This cover is full of rock out looks, action guitar shots, and a shot of someone who might be a crazy purple-haired princess.  The best shot is in the lower right, where the singer gives you a look that either is trying to entice you or frighten you.  Of course, crazy purple-haired princess can’t be bothered and is staring at a peculiar light.  It’s clear from the cover that the band wants to be in your face, so for a quarter (yeah that’s right) I got ready to experience this band or else … dammit.

This is actually the third record from the Boston-based Halfcocked, which surprised me.  Usually this kind of image flaunting is a debut sort of thing to do, but I guess the group wanted its major label debut to stand out amongst all the other flamboyant and artsy covers of its time.  Honestly, they could’ve squashed most of the competition by simply using the inside cover that showed two of the three female band members with their exposed midriffs.  Well hello!  I should’ve been in marketing.

Like the album’s cover, every song has an implied edge to it.  All songs have some sort of guitar solo and none of them ever come off limp and lacking energy.  “I Lied” starts off the album with a pretty good, heavily riffed tune about a backhanded break up.  It is four minutes long and, truthfully, it does get a little tiresome towards the end when the band gets temporarily quiet (oooh).  However, it encapsulates the forceful blow that Halfcocked wish to deliver for the rest of the album.  Since the momentum doesn’t stop for an even quicker “Always” or a flaming “Drive Away”, it is quickly apparent that Halfcocked never plan on taking a break.

As with any rock ‘n roll album that wants to deliver a savage pop in every track, there is the risk of sounding redundant.  If one doesn’t stop to pick apart the instrumental choices made by the band, “Drive Away”, “All By Myself” and “Held Under” could all sound like a big mush of rapid drumming and heavy riffs.  The album does get a little better and more varied later on (see “Thanks for the Ride”) but it is this early period that can make one easily write off the group.  That said, if all one is interested in is straight up attitude rock then hey, one may not care less for all the similarities throughout the record.

The best aspect of Halfcocked, aside from some of the leads that Johnny Rock blares throughout most of the songs, is Sarah “Starr” Reitkopp’s vocals.  I was ready to pile on the laughter before listening to this disc given the ultra-serious looks Starr has emblazoned in every photo included with the album.  However, her voice really carries the sweeping “Over”, which doubles up her voice to give the track a little more power.  Given that most tracks make every effort to get in your face, the slightly slower “Sell Out” showcases how well she can sound in a softer tone.  Say what one will about some of the repetitive compositions of these tracks, but one can’t fault Reitkopp’s vocals too much.

Unfortunately, since the group disbanded soon after this album released there isn’t much to find on the web regarding their music. They do still have a MySpace page up so you can hear a few tunes from this record.

Looking around on Amazon I did notice that this record was appreciated by a few listeners, so it was likely a let down for some that the group called it quits.  Despite the fact that the group never managed to make it big after moving to Los Angeles it is good to know that at least they gave super stardom a shot.  I’m just glad I don’t have to move out to L.A. to become a superstar music blogger, because I am already rolling in the fame.