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Holly Miranda – Self-Titled

July 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Dangerbird Records, 2015hollyMiranda

I am not usually one to pick up a solo artist in a dollar bin, and I have tried to figure out exactly why.  Perhaps it’s because I’d be more inclined to believe that if a band put an album together, that means more than one influence is involved.  A solo artist is declaring that they are the feature, not the band, which sometimes gets their vocals featured more prominently than the music.  Something about this album’s black and white photo, as well as the one on the back cover with Miranda standing in all black amidst a cloudy sky, made me think this album was going to be a rocker.  For a dollar it was worth a spin to see if I was right.

Throughout Miranda’s self-titled album, one gets the feeling that she is putting her toes in the mainstream waters to see where it gets her.  Her jazzy, sultry voice actually reminds me of KT Tunstall … which pretty much put a damper on this album for me after catching on during the first few songs.  Speaking of which, the songs are solid enough and have moments of interest, but there is no hint of that edgy look that came across on the album art, unfortunately.

I was optimistic on the opening soft guitar notes of “Mark My Words”, which reminded me of an Interpol song I’ve liked in the past.  It nicely picks up halfway through and, after four minutes have passed, the guitar really kicks into gear… but then it quickly ends.  “All I Want Is to Be Your Girl” is that kind of mainstream song that grates on the listener given how saccharine it is, for it’s almost begging one to singalong to the wistful lyrics.  It’s not surprising that it was the single from the album, which is telling.

By the way, this is the action-packed part of the album if one can call it that. After “Come On”, the fifth track on the album that starts off slow but then rewards the patient listener with spots of peppiness, the album nosedives into soft tunes. From the heavy piano sprees of “The Only One” and “Heavy Heart” to the prominently repetitive finger-picking of “Until Now”, it is clear that Miranda wants listeners to completely embrace the lyrics and vocals. “Hymnal” actually eliminates the band entirely and features Miranda singing by herself at a piano for barely over a minute. The last lyric is “So don’t be prey, hallelujah”, which unfortunately made me think of the album art again. Prey, indeed.

I think, of all the songs on the album, “Mark My Words” probably ended up as the most interesting. Give it a listen if you’d like.

This is not a terrible album, but it’s also not particularly memorable.  All the songs sound like they’ve been done before, but to some extent perhaps that’s enough for some people because they just want something pleasant to listen to.  Holly Miranda is still putting out music and just released a record this year (“Mutual Horse”), so if her sound is to your interest perhaps give that one a spin to see if the music has gotten a little more interesting.

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Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites – The Rise and Fall Of…

April 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Sony Music, 2006butchWalker_300

It had me at “The Rise and Fall Of”, which is the opening album words from one of my favorite albums of all time.  David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” came to me late but I was immediately drawn into the tales of starmen and stardust, so with those words as well as an amusing back up group called the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites, I figured this was a must listen.  I was also curious about the parental advisory sticker for ‘sexual content’ on the front cover, which I wouldn’t have expected from a group that looks like it’s just having a good time.  Okay, perhaps the leg featured on the front was enough of a clue, but come on, how much sexual content could be featured on a record to earn such a tag? Given that it’s 2018, I doubted that this was the second coming of Rocky Horror.

The band doesn’t waste any time getting started, as one immediately believes that Butch Walker and his crew are a glam band, as “Hot Girls in Good Moods” just oozes T.Rex all over the place with purring vocals, heavy guitar riff, and swinging chorus.  At least the inclusion of this song will satisfy any David Bowie nuts that pick up this album thinking it’s a … ahem.  “Ladies and Gentleman… ‘The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites” and “Bethamphetamine (Pretty Pretty)” continue the buoyant mood and tales of people having a very good time.  “Too Famous To Get Fully Dressed” almost speaks for itself, for if you’ve ever woken up still at last night’s party and you need to go get breakfast without looking like a total wreck, this song’s for you.

“Dominoes” shows up at about the right time for a quiet, piano and strings ballad to break up the bedlam.  I’m usually not one to give much credence to soft tunes out of the blue, but I think Walker put together a particularly poignant song about the memories of a wife long gone.  How this fits into the album’s theme after songs about girls and parties is beyond me, but I liked it anyway.  Of course, once “Dominoes” is over it’s right into the blitzkrieg of “Paid to Get Excited” and rest of the boisterous record.  Momentary pause in the whirlwind apparently over!

The second half of the record finishes at a slightly less urgent pace as the first half, with “The Taste of Red” posing as a light pop tune including violins and an imagined summer breeze.  “Rich People Die Unhappy” is more of a country song while “This is the Sweetest Little Song” completely draws things down enough such that one gets the hint that the bar is closing on this formerly raucous record.  The album finishes with “When Canyons Ruled the City” and its nearly two minute wordless sing-along that has just enough pep to end well on the middle ground.

Check out a live version of “Bethamphetamine”, with go-go dancers and plenty of splendor:  Bethamphetamine (live).  Butch Walker also has a website where you can listen to some of his music and catch up on things: Butch Walker

Though this record didn’t end up as Ziggy and the Spiders returned, it did turn out to be a very good, entertaining album that never got too dull or rote.  There are enough catchy tunes on here that make it worth a repeated listen, especially “Hot Girls…” and “Bethamphetamine”.  Some of the songs near the end of the record lost that early spark, but I suppose one can’t keep churning out the sugar for the ears the entire 40+ minutes.

Butch Walker is still putting out music twelve years later, though of course he looks more grizzled and mature compared to the spiky haired guy in that “Bethamphetamine” video.  It’s impressive how much output he’s produced since 2002 (9 records, 2 live albums, 5 EPs) given that I, er, unfortunately hadn’t heard of him before picking up this record.  Although his recent stuff is more tempered and resembles modern rock that sounds like it wants to be on a TV show, his youthful voice has held up very well since he put out “Rise and Fall…”.  And so, regarding that particular record, for a good pop rock pick-me-up consider giving this record a spin.

Burd Early – Leveler

April 4, 2018 Leave a comment

Western Vinyl Records, 2003 leveler

It’s hard to ignore a nearly completely orange cover, and one way to make someone pay particular attention to it is to make sure one’s name and album title are difficult enough to read that one has to either squint or let the eyes go blurry.  By the time one actually gets to read who put this music together, one is trapped into buying the album.  That has to be one of those unsaid marketing ploys, where the longer a music buyer holds something in his/her hands, the more likely he/she ends up buying it because it’s just that much harder to put down.  Hello, this is me and why I now own this album.

Like the comfortable haze of the cover, Burd Early is a fine, laid back acoustic guitarist that has a wilting, wounded voice for pretty much every song.  Truly, it only takes a few seconds into the first track, “Screening”, to get how this record is going to go for the next eight tracks.  Lots of quiet guitar, low and kind of bored vocals, and some sparse support.  Early actually sounds a bit like Evan Dando on his more low key Lemonheads songs, which appeals to the ear in that Early’s voice is not abrasive, wound up or unpleasant.  Like the music, Early’s vocal delivery comforts.

It takes a few tracks before something that resembles upbeat tempo arrives in “Tangent”.  It has a jangly hook throughout it amidst drum rolls and piano notes, so one could conceivably consider it the ‘go for a walk’ exercise track instead of the usual ‘up for a nap’ collection.  It’s an epic one at seven plus minutes, which just edges out the next track (“Here We Go Again”) that completely annihilates any sort of momentum achieved from the previous track.  No vocals, no pulse … just a plinking of the guitar that I guess is supposed to ground the listener.  As if bored of his own musical choice, Early actually puts together a few minutes of rock five or so minutes in, but by that time most listeners have likely skipped on.  The rest of the album is much like the first few tracks, with “Casual Listener” finishing things off by wiping away any consciousness the listener is possibly still clinging onto.

Here’s “Tangent” for your listening pleasure.  For the record I was the fifth and sixth view!

Burd Early – Tangent

Burd Early only put out one more album after this one, so perhaps he ran out of pensive, mumbly songs to write.  Unfortunately, apart from the usual discography and music streaming sites, there isn’t a website that I could find dedicated to Early, so I’m not sure what he is up to these days fifteen years after making this album.  Three records in four years is a solid accomplishment, though, so if you like the kind of music you can put on in the background and relax to a bit, consider picking up a Burd Early album.

 

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So I Found This Box of Discs…

March 4, 2018 1 comment

Hello again, everyone.  It’s been five years since my last post, which was right around the time when family life started and, thus, free time departed.  It’s not that there’s all sorts of free time now by any means, but through a little cajoling by a few folk I thought it’d be fun to start up the blog again and see if I can get some more reviews posted.  With some fine writing assistance by David and Tim, hopefully readers can discover some good music through our efforts of scrounging around through dollar bins of CDs!

Categories: Uncategorized

Putting the Discs in Boxes … For Now

June 12, 2013 Leave a comment

discsInBox

Though I have not been writing for this blog during the past few months I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit, so I wanted to chip in with a note.  Unfortunately, due to life events and a curbing of some musical appetite, I am going to put the blog on hiatus (as if it wasn’t already).  I have really enjoyed writing music reviews over the past few years and do hope to return sometime soon when there’s a free half hour or so lying around.  If you’ve been reading some reviews of mine, thanks for your time and comments.  I hope you found some new/old cheap music to listen to when looking into any of the bands covered here.  Remember, just because an album isn’t hyped, popular, or even heard of doesn’t mean it isn’t any good.  Keep searching out new music without the glossy cover or the stylish look and you’re sure to unearth an affordably good band!

Categories: Author blabber

Spencer Dickinson – The Man Who Lives For Love

January 4, 2013 1 comment

YepRoc Records, 2006

The man on the cover is flashing me the ace of hearts, so you know what that means!  He lives for love, for he is the man who lives for love.  He also apparently lives for chubby keyboardists, speeding tickets, and shootouts at gas stations according to the illustrations behind the late stage Jim Morrison look-alike.  Along with the retro design and songs like “Zigaboo” and “(Chug Chug) It’s Not OK”, this looked to be a record worth a spin just to see what kind of colorful tale I’d get wrapped up in.  Of course, if the background illustrations showed puppies sleeping, a few math equations and Christopher Walken, I’d probably still buy the record.  I’m pretty easy to impress.

Spencer Dickinson is actually a side project for Jon Spencer (of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion) and Luther & Cody Dickinson (of the North Mississippi All-Stars), so these guys bring a solid background of rock and blues with them.  At nineteen tracks, this concocted group apparently had a lot to get on record that couldn’t be done with their usual bands, which is quickly apparent given the eclectic mix of style throughout the album.  Some of the songs could be placed with either group, but some are just completely out there.  I guess that’s what side projects are for, right?

“That’s a Drag” begins the album with a powerful blues guitar chug, with Spencer singing as if in personal pain.  If one had to think of what an Explosion/All-Stars song would sound like, this gritty and straightforward rocker is it.  With “I’m Not Ready” following in a similar vein, one may begin to think that Spencer Dickinson is just another predictably enjoyable blues rock album (sort of like the Black Keys and every record they have ever released).  But no, as “Zigaboo”s jilting changes in tempo and addition of organ attests, these guys didn’t get together to pass the usual time.  Spencer Dickinson’s momentum from the first two strong tracks takes a heavy sedative with the lulling slide guitar on “Body (My Only Friend)”.  Spencer has even lost all of that early punch as he mumbles and whines his lyrics in this five minute journey.

And so it goes.  With every tune that sounds like it’s a solid blues rock moment, there is one that causes one to rub one’s eyes.  “Primitive” sounds like a trucker on a CB radio losing his mind over the course of the song.   Can’t understand a word Spencer’s mumbling or screaming over the fuzz, can’t get past the jolting guitar pops, and can’t find a bit of replayability in the tune itself.  That song couldn’t get over with fast enough, though I do know what to play if someone asks me to a recommend them a song that would devolve them into madness.  “Flood (The Awful Truth, the Living End)” is collision of singing and shouting that culminates in a dismal screech-a-rific ending.

I suppose when nineteen tracks are compiled there are going to be duds, but there are a few particularly fun ones.  “Sat Morn Cartoons” is two minutes of guitar solo aggression while “Love Without a Smile” is definitely a toe-tapper with its excellently peppy pace near the middle of the song.  The funky title track has the lyric “I wanna mashed potato/down on my knees”, which illuminates the light-hearted feel that Spencer Dickinson delivers on the tune.  Truly, if the guys just shaved off seven or so iffy tracks this would be a very strong album with all the good music on the record.  I am not sure if that goal was really on their mind when Spencer Dickinson put this album together, though.

Since this is a side project that defines the term ‘off and on’, there isn’t a whole lot to go to on the Internet for them.  However, you can listen to a few tracks by Spencer Dickinson on Last.fm.

The group that is Spencer Dickinson has only put out two records, with this one in 2006 and the previous one in 2001.  Since nearly seven years passed after “The Man Who Lives For Love”, the slide guitar on this side act may have been put away.  That may be even more evident with the fact that Jon Spencer’s main act has ended their lengthy hiatus (begun two years before this record), so one half of this side project may not feel that itch to dabble with the Dickinsons for awhile.  Then again, if the point of Spencer Dickinson is to just be something to do when the main players want to get nonsensical and crazy, they might bring back the man and his ace of hearts.  However, if they wait too long they’ll have to name the new album “The Man Who Lives For the Early Bird Special” or “The Man Who Lives For Grandkids”.  Everybody, start brainstorming ideas for that fetching album cover…

The Victoria Lucas – Self-titled

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

No No No Records, 2006victoriaLucas

When presented with the opportunity to buy a brand new, unwrapped record for less than a dollar, there are a few things that may pass through your mind.  For instance, you may get some kind of inner seizure when the phrases “new album” and “one dollar” collide.  Wha-a-a-a-t?!  If you somehow can ignore your impulsive buying habits, you may also catch that the album is swathed in colorful art that features houses and people in berets.  Forget that the phrase “The Victoria Lucas Hit the Ground Running Fast” is manically scratched across the album cover, or that the band comes from a foreboding record label; this is an album that demands one to take a chance on it.  Okay, maybe I’m the one.  The only one.  Fine.

Based out of Brooklyn, this quintet has a fine, digestible pop rock sound.  Early songs like “Tucson” and “Back to Junk” remind me a lot of some mid-to-late nineties indie rock.  I hear a lot of Breeders in “Back to Junk” with the quivering main guitar lick, while “Tucson” just sounds like a collection of low key, jangling guitar types of bands from those days.  The guitar riff from “Allegheny/Monogahela”, as well as the combination of Juan Stacey’s and Kathy Horne’s unflashy vocals, give an air of earlier Pavement.  Note that these three songs, aside from a bit of strings, are pretty much straightforward pop rock.  I like that these tunes don’t try to get too quirky for the sake of being different, which topples most rock efforts with the ‘trying too hard’ label.

The record rolls along very nicely before it runs into its first skippable tune of “Wheels of Commerce”, which qualifies as such mainly because it is overly long and strays away from that easygoing guitar sound by incorporating noisy horns and a prolonged ending.  I know that eventually a band feels the need to mix things up a little, but man, it was going so well up to this point.   Thankfully the following tune, “Finely Street Hooker Song” , has the upbeat pep of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner”, which probably has something to do with the inclusion of a bouncing organ sound.  The ending guitar bit tears it up excellently.  “Narcissus”, the last track, eases out the record like Pavement might during one of their ‘fast’ songs during “Wowee Zowee” (which is to say, not fast at all but with enough energy to move it along well).  I’m glad the Victoria Lucas decided not to get too mushy in the end, which usually makes for a dull impression after an otherwise exuberant effort.

Despite not being able to find anything about these guys on the Internet aside from a minimal bit at Allmusic, the Victoria Lucas still have a MySpace page to hear some of their music.  Also, check out their charming video about their busted van and Pep Boys.

The Victoria Lucas have proved that at a mere dollar one can hear a very good pop album from an obscure band.  I knew it could happen!  Sure, it takes a lot of gambles, but I found that nearly every track on this record is worthy of a spin at least once.  It’s too bad that despite the glut of pop rock acts already out there that no one has heard (or heard of) the Victoria Lucas.  It might be partially due in fact that these guys were finished after one record, but if they bothered to make a follow up I think that with their abilities they would have made a blip in a few people’s minds.  Maybe they found that there was a better career in album cover art …