Thursday, April 30, 2009

House of Pain - House of Pain (CD, 1992)

I love House of Pain.

I know they've become a bit of punchline over the years, but these dudes put together some great records in the 90's, and they deserve more credit than they've received. I've never listened to any of Everlast's solo stuff (except for his horrible pre-House of Pain album when he was with Rhyme Syndicate), and I don't care to. He doesn't seem like the same dude to me anymore, which doesn't make much sense, I know, but that's the way it goes. I may check out La Coka Nostra (the new "supergroup" featuring the HOP dudes), but probably not. That bandana over the face shit is retarded. Anyway. We'll always have the original House of Pain albums, and I'm fine with that.

This is their debut, and their best effort. I'll get to why the next two aren't nearly as bad as everyone thinks they are, but for now, let's talk about why this was one of the best hip hop records of the 90's.

When you've got DJ Muggs helping you out with production (and it's the 90's), you know you're set. He and Lethal divided this one up a bit, but it feels like a Muggs record overall. So the beats here are fantastic. There's not a bad song on this record, and the sequencing is spot-on as well. The intro is classic, they get "Jump Around" out of the way early, and then the shit really starts. "Top o' the Morning to Ya" and "House and the Rising Sun" are both more than solid, and "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" should have been as big as "Jump Around."

Though their Irish schtick wears thin pretty quick, they use it to their advantage on "Danny Boy, Danny Boy," one of the best songs on the record, and a rare track where Danny Boy O'Connor gets ample time to do his thing. I always thought it odd that Everlast did the "Guess Who's Back" track when his solo career had never really gone anywhere. Whatever, still a good song.

This is a pretty long disc, and they keep it going throughout. I always forget about "Feel It," one of the more random tracks at the end, but it's a good one. Everlast was a damn fine rapper, and his referential style is certainly one I enjoy. I still love it when he says "Gimme a break like Nell Carter."

Sadly, these guys (and this record) will be remembered by most people for "Jump Around," and that's a shame. There is so much more to enjoy on this album than just that ubiquitous single. So put on your shit kickers and kick some shit.

"Shamrocks and Shenanigans"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Went to a Show: Grand Duchy at The Space (April 29, 2009)

Frank Black–excuse me, Black Francis–living in Oregon has once again paid off for me, Salem style. After seeing him play acoustic at Guitar Castle about three years ago, and seeing him at a semi-secret show with his new not-the-Catholics rock band about two years ago (both shows were in Salem), I got to witness the unveiling of his new band, Grand Duchy, tonight. Grand Duchy is FBF (that's the easiest thing to call him) and his wife, Violet, though they had a few other folks playing with them tonight.

This was another semi-secret show, so I just learned about it a few days ago. I was able to score a couple tickets, and me and the lady (along with what felt like about two hundred other sweaty people) went and checked it out. I've heard the duo's new record, though only a few times, so I sort of knew what to expect. It's more Violet than FBF, so, y'know, there you go.

Salem locals LeNUNES opened the show, and they did a bang-up job. Their drummer is an ass-kicker, and as soon as the trio opened the show with the two frontpeople both playing basses, I was intrigued. They went on to switch up the instrumentation quite a bit between the two of them, and it made for a nice set.

Grand Duchy took the stage next, and the place was packed. Seeing FBF in such close quarters is always a treat, and on the few occasions where he let his yowl out, the scream was just phenomenal. I could listen to that all day. But, like I said, his wife does a lot of the singing in the group. I could still admire his guitar playing from across the room.

The band is an odd one: it doesn't sound like anything FBF's done before, but I get the vibe his wife is doing a lot of the songwriting, so that stands to reason. The songs are all markedly different from one another, which is fine, but there's really not much that holds them together. Maybe I just don't get it yet. Maybe...

I feel like I have some negative things I want to say about the show, but I'm not going to because it seems petty at the moment. I got to see one of my musical heroes in a tiny little venue, and I'm thankful for that. And really, I had a great time. I hadn't been packed in like a sardine at a rock show in a while, and it was good to be back in those sweaty quarters.

There were people there with video cameras, so I'm sure there'll be something up on YouTube soon. If you want to hear Grand Duchy (which is pronounced Dutch-y, btw), you can check out their MySpace page here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hot Hot Heat - Elevator (CD, 2005)

These are the things I discover when I comb through my music collection one piece at a time. I completely forgot I owned this CD, to the point that I almost asked my girlfriend if it was hers. Then I remembered: I liked Hot Hot Heat for like, a week in 2005. That must have been when I purchased this.

My girlfriend at the time had a copy of Make Up the Breakdown, the group's Sub Pop debut, and while she and I didn't always see eye to eye on music, I recall liking that disc quite a bit. I made a note to look out for their next one, and when I heard "Middle of Nowhere" from it, I loved it. That must have encouraged me to take the plunge. This is what I'm assuming; I literally have no recollection of actually buying this.

I've been listening to it for the past few days, and I quickly remembered what I liked about this CD, and what I didn't/don't. "Middle of Nowhere" is still a great track, and so is "Running Out of Time." But I have a hard time getting on board with songs like "Goodnight, Goodnight" and "Pickin' It Up"–they're just trying too hard, looking for Elvis Costello and not finding him. And at times the pop is slathered on so thick that the tracks lose any identity.

Still, overall, it ain't bad. I'll probably just put it back on the shelf and forget about it again.

"Middle of Nowhere"

Monday, April 27, 2009

Buddy Holly and The Crickets - 20 Golden Greats (LP, 1978)

I don't remember exactly when I bought this record, though I remember its purchase being the result of feeling terrible that I didn't own any of Buddy Holly's music. I must have watched a documentary where they mentioned him, or read a book, or something. Anyway, I made it my mission that weekend to rectify the situation, and I think it cost me about three bucks.

I don't listen to this record more than very occasionally, but it's really good to have around. I do love every song on here, and it's probably one of the more "pleasant" LPs I own. I always forget how many great songs Buddy Holly recorded in his short career until I put this on and realize I know almost all of them. We all know "Peggy Sue" (which is a phenomenal little song) and "That'll Be the Day," but tracks like "Maybe Baby" and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" always slip my memory.

Yeah, I don't listen to this one a lot, but I'll always hold onto it. It's a solid collection, and Buddy Holly is the kind of artist who I don't mind going down the best-of road for. I'd never search out his original LPs or anything, so I'm simply happy to have the songs themselves.

Though they are all frustratingly short. 20 songs in 45 minutes. Way to crank 'em out, Buddy.

"Maybe Baby"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hip Hop Wieners - All Beef, No Chicken (CD, 2002)

Without delving too deep into the history of John Smith and Pipi Skid, I'll just say that when my brother and I heard the pair was teaming up for an album, we were excited. When we heard they were calling themselves Hip Hop Wieners, our anticipation levels reached a boiling point. Thankfully, the two Canadian MCs did not disappoint.

All Beef, No Chicken is one of my favorite independent hip hop albums of the aughties, a wordfest that has gone sorely unrecognized (as far as I know; maybe they're huge up North). It's a damn shame, because I feel like if folks knew what these two dudes had to offer, they might become lifelong fans. Peanuts & Corn (their label) consistently churns out quality hip hop (see Break Bread), keeping the family tight and the rhymes tighter. This album feels like a lifetime of rapping reaching its peak, with two rappers with distinct styles playing off each other and creating some ultra-dope tracks.

"We 2 Rappers" is a brilliant leadoff cut, as well as a nice introduction to both of the rappers. The beat is rough with the drums but delicate with the music, and it works well in backing up both dudes. And Pipi declaring "I'm too old for rap" and Smitty saying "You rhyme shit with shit? I ain't your homie" are both highlights.

Things just get hotter from there. "Hard Rimes" is pure dopeness, a song that mixes up tempos and gets the dudes into spitfire mode. "Brains and Brawn" has a smooth little bounce to it, and features Smith sounding as pissed as ever. "Studio Time" gets the P&C posse together and packs a gang of raps into an almost six-minute song. "Ain't That Hard to Bite" and "Audio Cassette" make for a nice little combo towards the end, with each song being under three minutes.

The bravely titled "Suge Knight" is the penultimate and longest cut on the disc, and features a "Fuck you, pay me" hook that seems out of place but is pretty damn fun to listen to. For some reason, when these guys flex tough, it works. I wish I knew how they did that.

I could go on, but I ain't gonna. If you're looking for some new hip hop, you should really check this out. It's guaranteed to please.

Looks like you can listen to some samples here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The High & Mighty - Home Field Advantage (CD, 1999)

I've never been a full-on Rawkus Records fanboy, but in the late-90's, they made it hard to resist. I was late to the game on this one (shocking, I know), and it's still been growing on me for the last few years.

At first, I was more interested in the guest spots than the actual group, but I've found a lot to like here. There are still sections that rub me the wrong way ("Dick Starbuck 'Porno Detective'" is dumb), but ultimately there's more good than bad. The beats are solid across the board, and the sequencing and flow of the record are well executed.

Honestly, I probably latched onto this initially because of "The Last Hit," one of my favorite '99-era Eminem guest spots, back when he was still a the funnest MC in the world to listen to. (Note to Em: as soon as you lost your sense of humor, you started going downhill quick. That new single of his is awful.) I can't believe I actually miss Eminem rapping about drugs: "I'm flabbergasted off two tabs of acid/ Threw my baby's mother in a hatchback and latched it." I get misty thinking about the good ol' days.

For some reason, I always feel a small bit of poseurism running through this record, but that's probably just my own delusion. I think I just hate to hear the word "honky" on record; it rarely comes across well. Anyway, that's my cross to bear.

If you see this record for a few bucks, it's well worth it.

"B-Boy Document '99"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jimi Hendrix - Kiss the Sky (CD, 1984)

Every generation gets their own repackaged versions of Hendrix, and this was one of the 80's ones. See, they gave him that paint-splattered sort of effect. Now he's 80's Hendrix!

Anyway, I don't know why I have this. I think someone lent it to me and never asked for it back like 15 years ago. Because I know I didn't buy it. I already have all these songs from the original albums they were on and I really hate lazy best-of collections like this.

Yep, might be time to purge myself of this rookie-ish compilation. Oh yeah, I called this compilation rookie-ish.

"Stepping Stone"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Vinyl (2000)

The Jackpot Film Festival was this past week, and though I had hoped to make it to both Wednesday and Thursdays showings, work piled up on me and I could only make to one, so I chose Thursday and saw Alan Zwieg's Vinyl, a semi-obscure documentary about record collecting, and more specifically, record collectors.

Before I talk about the film, I must say that the Jackpot Film Fest is awesome. It's free, they have it at the Hollywood Theatre which is a great place, and they sell cheap records in the lobby before and after the showings. It really is very cool. And, as you can tell, they show great movies. We (the lady and I) went two years ago (I don't know how we missed it last year) and saw an hour of old obscure rap videos followed by an hour of a rare b/w Stax showcase that featured Booker T. & the MGs, Sam & Dave, and of course, Otis Redding. It was sweet to see on the big screen. Anyway.

Vinyl was fantastic. It's very low-budget and very homemade feeling, but it's the sort of movie where that only adds to the charm. Zwieg narrates the film through a series of mirrored confessionals, and tells his own personal story along with those of the people he visits. It never really ends up being a linear tale, but he tries.

The real stars of the movie are the collectors. There's the lawyer who lives amongst towering stacks of records and has to move things around to sit down or go to sleep; the man who claims he owns a million albums and has made it his goal to collect every song ever; the two men who moved in together as roommates after they found a common interest in their huge LP collections. Zwieg does a fine job of painting these folks as weirdos and antisocials, and most of them are. For some, it seems more like a hoarding thing than a collecting thing. (The lawyer leaves his records all over the floor but almost starts crying when Zwieg steps on one of them. Odd.)

Each collector had their own story, and as you would expect, each one had their own genres or artists they collected. The story of the man who threw out his entire collection because he had nowhere to put it and couldn't handle the idea of someone else touching his records was fantastic. Extreme (and crazy, if you ask me), but I'd be lying if I said I didn't understand how he felt.

Overall, it made me feel like my record collection is tiny, but also that there are people out there who are way more "addictive" about it than me. To the point where it gets in the way of their lives and becomes a problem financially or space-wise. It's a pretty fascinating look at the lives of some of these folks. I would have liked more talk about specific records and possibly a scene of one of the guys showing off his prized possessions, but there was none of that. My only complaint.

The movie has never been released on DVD, but you can watch it online if you look around. Here's the first few minutes on YouTube.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jimi Hendrix - The Cry of Love (LP, 1971)

The first in what would become a shit-ton of posthumous Hendrix releases, this is apparently some of the stuff Hendrix was planning to put on his next solo record. Sadly, it sounds more exciting than it is. Not that this is a bad record, and in fact, it gets away from some of the bluesy stuff he was tinkering with, but it's just never caught on with me.

And I don't really know why, because the songs are all quite fine. I think a lot of it is just too mellow for me, or maybe it's that it's just different. The tracks are way more produced, and it seems that Jimi's guitar is running through effects that seem out of step with his usual raw sound. A track like "Ezy Rider" is certainly not without some really tremendous parts, but the slick treatment it gets just mutes the feeling more than anything.

The same thing happens, though to a lesser extent, on "Night Bird Flying." Hendrix's solos are mean, but they often get tucked behind a weird wall of indecipherable sounds. I've often wondered if the songs weren't quite finished, or if this was really the direction Hendrix was taking his music in. Again, they're not bad, but for some reason they just don't get to me like some of his other stuff.

The key tracks here are "Friends," a playful track that is great simply for its laid-back approach, and the wonderfully titled "Belly Button Window," reportedly the last song Hendrix "finished" before he died. It's very personal feeling, lyrically simple, but slyly beautiful. If that's the one he went out on, it's a good one.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival (LP, 1970)

This is a split between Hendrix and Otis Redding, so here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to talk about the Hendrix side here, and I'll wait to do the Otis side when we get to his stuff (I'm already looking forward to that).

So yeah, these are four songs from The Jimi Hendrix Experience's legendary set at Monterery. Why they waited until three years after the festival to release this is anyone's guess, but I think it ended up being the last official Hendrix release before he died, so that's something.

Of the four tracks here, only one is a Hendrix original, a rowdy version of "Can You See Me," a track that was only released on the UK version of the group's debut. So, that's a solid selection, if not a bit of a strange one. Jimi's takes on "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Wild Thing" have never been favorites of mine, but these versions do have more appeal considering the importance of the performance.

The real winner here, and easily the best song of the four, is the group's version of "Rock Me Baby," a blues number that's been recorded a million times, but never like this. Hendrix sounds so out of it when he's introducing the number, but as soon as he wrenches into the opening riff, he's perfect. If you ever wonder why people worship Jimi like he was a god, check out that song. It's one I'll never get tired of.

"Rock Me Baby"

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jimi Hendrix - Band of Gypsys (LP, 1970)

It's easy to forget that Hendrix only released three studio albums during his lifetime (not counting a few compilations). This live record is one of the only other albums that saw release before his death, and it was only because of a contractual obligation that it was released at all.

After dropping the Experience, Hendrix teamed up with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox to form the Band of Gypsys, and the trio recorded a series of live shows at the literal very-end of the 60's, on New Year's Eve (and New Year's Day) 1969/1970. The six tracks here are from those shows.

While the recording on this record isn't fantastic, the songs are. Hendrix all of a sudden seems a lot more bluesy, a lot more black, and a lot looser. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose. The first side is comprised of only two songs, the ten-minute "Who Knows" and the almost 13-minute "Machine Gun." Both are brilliant, and though they do seem long, the jams are oddly hypnotic and rarely wanky.

The second side isn't quite as strong, with two solid Hendrix compositions sandwiched between a couple of Buddy Miles-penned tunes that don't seem to carry the same weight. Of course, Hendrix steps it up, but it's his solo on his own "Message of Love" that is the highlight of the whole side.

As a historical document, this record is incredible. As a full-on jam, it's great as well. If you're looking for the controlled tenacity of some of Hendrix's more succinct songwriting, it ain't here. But I've listened to this album hundreds of times, and I always find plenty to like on it. Especially on those first two incredible songs.

"Machine Gun"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland (CD, 1968)

First off, let me say that this is a fantastic record. It's probably my least favorite of the albums Hendrix released during his lifetime, but c'mon: it's Electric Ladyland, for cryin' out loud.

Having said that, I've always had to be in right frame of mind, with some serious time on my hands, to really take this one all the way in. And even then, sometimes it proves to be too much for me. Part of this can be contributed to the two ultra-long jams it contains ("Voodoo Chile" and "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)"), and part of it might be that I have always felt this album was sequenced strangely. Of course, this was in the days of vinyl-only, so when you have songs that are 13-minutes-plus, it limits your options in fitting songs on sides of records. Anyway.

This record also contains some of my favorite Hendrix songs. "Crosstown Traffic" is classic Hendrix, and so is "Gyspy Eyes." But the more Jimi leads the band towards blues, the more I lose interest. That's just personal preference, and I realize it's a bit ridiculous. But I've always felt like that. I had a copy of this when I was younger (I just re-bought the CD), and I recall feeling the same way. It just never had the same flow for me as his previous two records.

Of course, tracks like "Long Hot Summer Night" and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" still sound fantastic. And while I could do without "All Along the Watchtower" (I have always maintained a senseless aversion to that song, in all its forms), closing the record with "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" is impossible to deny. It's a jam that never gets old.

Again, I'm in no way attempting to be critical of this record. It's just never been the first one I reach for when I want to hear some Jimi. So, there you go.

"Burning of the Midnight Lamp"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold as Love (LP, 1968)

This is Hendrix's best record.

I'm just going to put that out there right away. While you could argue that Are You Experienced was more important (and I'd probably agree with you), this, to me, is Hendrix at his finest. Created quickly after their debut (and released in the same year overseas), this record features a Jimi who's still out to prove himself; a man who learned a few things from his first record and made the little tweaks necessary to crank out an album that is a knockout from start to finish.

While parts of his debut sound a bit rushed (I'm not knocking that record at all, I'm just sayin'), and Electric Ladyland is at times too sprawling and hints at Hendrix indulging himself and possibly losing sight of his original concept (we'll talk more about that), Axis: Bold as Love is concise, unbelievably brilliant, and essentially flawless. Maybe it's because I'm just as fond as Jimi the songwriter as I am Jimi the guitar player. Maybe it's because I think "One Rainy Wish" is an absolutely perfect song in every way. Maybe it's because I had spent a lot of time in my youth listening to the first record, convincing myself that it couldn't possibly get any better than that, and when it did, I became convinced Hendrix wasn't from this planet.

Fittingly, the spaced-out intro to this record, "EXP" (which must have sent many an acid tripper either into the stars or contemplating reality in way they had never hoped to), starts off with a surreal interview on the topic of UFO's, and sets the stage nicely for a record that feels very above-the-earth. The swirling feedback of that song is so fantastic, a quick-building chaos that is both frightening and pretty.

When it settles and the shuffle of "Up from the Skies" starts up, it's a mix of calm and surreality, with Hendrix's vocals sounding as smooth and sincere as they ever did. It's followed by the drum-heavy (and everything-heavy, really) boldness of "Spanish Castle Magic," a track that features some mean guitar work (no shit?). "Wait Until Tomorrow" might be a bit poppy for some, but the one-two punch of that track and "Ain't No Telling" has always been a favorite combo of mine.

"Little Wing" is a Hendrix classic, a song that is contained to two-and-a-half minutes here, which must have been a struggle. The first side closes with "If 6 Was 9," a bluesy track that thrives on some enthused vocals from Hendrix, as well as some great lyrics. When you're a teenager, this is a great song to choose as your personal anthem. I'm sure I did for a day or two.

The second side opens with some more of Jimi in pop mode, with "You Got Me Floating." I will concede that this track comes off as one of his most formulaic, but his guitar playing completely makes up for it. "Castles Made of Sand" is probably my least favorite track on this record, but I think that's because it was one of my favorites 15 years ago. "She's So Fine" is one of the odd Experience songs with Noel Redding on vocals, and I've always liked it. His voice sounds wiry thin compared to Hendrix's, but this song is well put together.

"One Rainy Wish" reminds me a bit of "May This Be Love," but only in its light tones. It's hard to say which I like better, but it doesn't matter. "One Rainy Wish" is perfect, sounding as spaced-out as the rest of the record, but also very "together." It's followed by "Little Miss Lover," a track that is maybe the least notable of the bunch, but still solid. Of course.

"Bold As Love" kicks in abruptly, with Jimi sounding abrasive in the opening lines, than calming considerably. This is clearly Hendrix imitating Dylan, but that's fine, because he always did Dylan better than Dylan could ever had hoped to. And here, he's written an anthemic number that sums up the preceding tracks in one four-minute stroke. It may be slightly nonsensical, but fuck it: it's tremendous.

So, there you go. My favorite Hendrix record. And I say that with confidence.

"Up from the Skies"

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced (LP, 1967)

Previously, I had mentioned that there were three LPs that served as my earliest introductions to rock music. The Beatles' Hey Jude was the first, The Doors' eponymous debut was the second. This one represents the last piece of the trilogy.

I have to say, I was pretty lucky to be turned on to these three records at such an early age. While my parents had a bunch of other records (not a huge collection, but a varied selection), these were the ones I was drawn to, from as early as I can remember. I spent my youngest years listening to Elvis records, and though that's technically my earliest memory of hearing rock music, it was these three albums that I continued to listen to as I grew older. And I'll always have 'em.

Hendrix, along with The Doors, was initially too much for my prepubescent mind to handle. While The Beatles were easy to enjoy (the fact that Hey Jude was a compilation containing some of their early material helped), Hendrix and The Doors were obviously a part of something I had no understanding of. The first time I heard "The End" by The Doors, it startled me, enough so that I didn't listen to the LP (or at least that song) for a while after that. With The Jimi Hendrix Experience, it was a complete overload.

I remember being very young and seeing the LP cover for Are You Experienced every time it found it's way to the front of our horizontal, steel record rack, staring hard at me whenever I walked past it. Between the afros, the confusing outfits, and the fish-eye lens used to take the famous portrait on the front, it scared the shit out of me. I mean, it really creeped me out. I remember asking my mom what it sounded like, if she thought I would like it. She told me it would probably be too loud for me, or something to that effect. I was probably seven, maybe younger. I was feeling brave. I strapped the huge, cover-your-whole-ears Pioneer headphones on, and told her I was ready.

As soon as the first crunch of "Purple Haze" struck my ears, I realized I wasn't ready. It was like I wasn't able to process it, or didn't want to. I'm not trying to mystify Hendrix more than he already has been here; this is just what happened. I left the record on the shelf for years after that.

But, of course, like many young dudes, with my teen years fast approaching, the classic rock was right there waiting for me. (Do kids today still go through their Led Zeppelin phase? I'm so out of touch.) When I was finally ready to listen to Are You Experienced, I began to slowly understand it. And I began to love it. This is probably not my favorite Hendrix record, but it will always be "special" to me in a way that very few records are. I understand why it initially scared me ("Purple Haze" is quite jarring in the opening), and I understand fully why I wrapped myself up in it in my teen years ("May This Be Love" is arguably one of the most beautiful songs in the history of rock music).

People will always remember this record for "Purple Haze" and the few other classic rock radio staples, but it's the deeper cuts here that are the most mind-blowing. "I Don't Live Today" is incredible in both its scope and simplicity. "Third Stone from the Sun" is so far ahead of its time that it could have easily been a hit 25 or 30 years later.

There's not much to say about an album like this that hasn't already been said, so I'll leave it at that. I pray that you listened to this in your teenage years. It's really the best time for it. I still love this record, but when I was 14–holy crap.

"Hey Joe"/"Purple Haze"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Helmet - Meantime (CD, 1992)

Given, I'm a 90's fanboy. But the fact that a band like Helmet could be legitimately popular (like, mainstream popular) is a tremendous testament to what a great time it was. In fact, it gets better every time I blindly romanticize it, so I will continue to do so.

This record isn't quite metal, not quite rock...I've really never known what to call Helmet. But if you like to get bludgeoned by your music, they're the band for you. I have no recollection of buying this CD. I feel like my brother had the cassette when it came out, and I know we definitely used to listen to it quite a bit. My CD is completely thrashed, which makes me think that someone either gave it to me, or I bought it for a buck because it seemed like something I should have. And I should have it, so I'm glad it's in my collection.

I saw Helmet open for Nirvana in the summer of 1992. Mudhoney had originally been slated to play, but after the show was rescheduled, they apparently couldn't make it. Helmet took their spot. I don't remember much about their set, except that Paige Hamilton was playing a hot pink guitar and he seemed to be in a half-crouched, almost basketball-defense stance the entire time, rocking back and forth and screaming, more towards the microphone than into it.

I remember thinking it was a great show, and I was happy to see them. "Unsung" will always be a quintessential 90's song to me, a track that all the new shit-rock bands have tried to replicate over and over and failed miserably. That song works the loud-quiet-loud technique to amazing effect, and it's rendered even more brutally brilliant by Hamilton's inimitable vocal style. Same with the rest of this record.

You have to be in the mood for it, but if you are, this is some fine, fine rockin'.

"In the Meantime"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 2 (Expanded Edition) (2xCD, 1988/2006)

I just bought this CD, so bear with me. I've had a copy of Part 1 since Christmas (sorry, Helloween!), but bought my own copy, along with this one, last night (you're welcome, Helloween!).

This album has a similar intro to Part 1, though this time it's called "Invitation" instead of "Initiation." Same thing, though: it breaks right into a blast of a first song, though this time it's "Eagle Fly Free," a song with some incredibly sweet lyrics:
Hey, we think so supersonic
And we make our bombs atomic
Or the better quite neutronic
But the poor dont see a dime

Nowadays the airs polluted
Ancient people persecuted
Thats what mankind contributed
To create a better time
Helloween, getting political.

This record, at least from my initial impression (I've listened to it twice now), really does seem like the second part of the album that preceded it. Not much has changed, and that's fine. They're still tearing through the solos, going crazy from the speed of the riffs, and if anything, the vocals are bigger on this one.

"Dr. Stein" seems to the radio-friendly (ish) single on this one, and it's a pretty badass song. "March of Time" features some more sweet lyrics and some incredible (duh) guitar work. "I Want Out" is an early favorite of mine, a relentless song about being pissed that is reminiscent of "I'm Alive."

The title track here is the epic (13 minutes), a song that starts with (gasp!) acoustic guitar and builds into eventual dual-guitar-soloing awesomeness. Where Part 1 ended semi-quietly after the "long song," this one goes out with energy: "Save Us" is as cripplingly fast as any of the songs that preceded it.

This one is a two-disc set, and though the second CD is only a little over a half-hour long, it features some cool shit: three era-appropriate b-sides and remixes of "Dr. Stein" and "Keeper of the Seven Keys" that add some kick to the originals (from what I can tell).

I'm looking forward to getting to know this one much, much better.

"I Want Out"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1 (Expanded Edition) (CD, 1987/2006)

Here's the deal on Helloween: they're awesome.

A few things led me to purchasing this CD, as well as the one in the next entry.

I am an avid watcher of VH1 Classic. (Actually, I was. I had to get rid of the channel in order to "save money." It's torture. Anyway...) And while I like most of the station's programming, I have always considered Metal Mania far and above my favorite block of videos they offer. If you've never sat in the dark watching W.A.S.P. videos at 4AM on a Wednesday morning, you're just not living right. And while I like the standard 80's metal they often show (I'm actually a bit partial to thrash, as well), it's always been the Power Metal videos that I enjoy the most.

They're few and far between (especially if you don't classify Iron Maiden as such), but well worth the wait. My brother and I were watching VH1 Classic in the middle of the night last year, marveling at the beauty that is Metal Mania, when the video for Helloween's "Halloween" came on. I think we were about two and a half minutes into the video when we both looked at each other and said, "Well, this rules."

Now, it's not like I had never heard of Helloween. While I'm not a metal expert, I don't consider myself a complete slouch. It also helps that part of my job entails listening to metal music. And again, the power metal (usually the stuff that's a bit lighter on the symphonics) is inevitably the music I dig the most. A lot of the bands I discovered through my job compared themselves to Helloween, and from there, it just kept clicking. I read their Wikipedia page, began to familiarize myself with their different lineups and eras, and became more and more intrigued.

It all came together with the purchase of this CD for my brother as a Christmas gift. I was looking for an early album, and I figured the one with "Halloween" on it would be a good way to go. We had a bit of a chuckle during the exchange, but it was understood that we were both dying to hear what the album contained. We would not be disappointed.

After the aptly titled and eerily foreboding "Initiation," a short intro that merely hints at what the band is capable of, they segue seamlessly into "I'm Alive," a propulsive track that wastes no time getting into the immense chorus. It's an incredible track, both in composition and execution. There's a short second of silence between this song and "A Little Time," which is, for better or for worse, the most accessible track on the record. The "power" is scaled back for four minutes and the band take a more straightforward route. Not why I bought this CD, but I actually like it quite a bit.

Any radio-friendliness is wiped immediately clean by the onslaught of the wonderfully titled "Twilight of the Gods," a furious track that features a creepy dude lurking over the top reciting things I don't understand ("Insania 20 16"?). "A Tale That Wasn't Right" would be, for a standard metal band, the song about some chick. Helloween has no time for that shit. Instead, vocalist Michael Kiske wails away about pain and loneliness. It's followed by "Future World," a track that stands out as one of my favorites, both lyrically and guitar-wise. It's incredible.

But the real madness lies in the album version of "Halloween," which becomes a 13-minute epic that is almost incomprehensible in both structure and ambition. It's one of the most insane guitar-wielding experiments of sound I've ever heard. The album proper ends with the next track, the comedown that is "Follow the Sign." Seems more like a bridge to the next record than anything. Still, it's creepy-awesome.

The bonus tracks here are a mixed bag, but only in their origins. They're all definitely worthy of being included here. "Victim of Fate" is a seven-minute b-side from this era, and while you can see why they left it off the record, it ain't too shabby. There's also a remix of "Starlight" from their first record (apparently it was a b-side to the "Future World" single, so that's why it's included on this collection), a shorter, rougher version of "A Little Time," and the video edit of "Halloween" (nice to have, I guess).

This band is quickly becoming my new favorite thing. It's never too late, people.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Heavy D & The Boyz - Big Tyme (CD, 1989)

I had a K-Tel cassette rap compilation when I was in my early teens that had the seventh track from this record, "Gyrlz, They Love Me," on it. I thought it was the shit. Looking back, I have no idea why. It's a pretty weak track. Though, in the throes of puberty, I was a sucker for any song about chicks putting out, especially one that played it a little blue.

So, there's that. I didn't pick up this CD until recently, and I've listened to it more times than I thought I would. Hev's not the greatest rapper (it was always way more impressive to watch his fat ass do the Running Man), but he holds his own. "We Got Our Own Thang" is a solid upbeat opener, and "You Ain't Heard Nuttin Yet" follows it up on the mellow tip.

But from there, Heavy falls prey to the 80's rap formulas. "Somebody for Me" is the peppy song about relationships; "Mood for Love" is the ragga track on which Heavy exploits his Jamaican roots and embarrasses himself. "A Better Land" is the let's-get-our-shit-togther-and-make-a-better-nation jam, and "More Bounce" is the dance number. Actually, I like that song. And the two that follow it are solid, too ("Big Tyme," "Flexin'"). "Here We Go Again, Y'all" and "Let it Flow" round the whole thing out with some more dance-worthy beats.

So yeah, it ain't bad, but it'd be much better if I could watch Heavy doing his dance moves in that huge yellow suit.

"Gyrlz, They Love Me"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hazel - Airiana (LP, 1997)

I'm not sure exactly what happened in the aftermath of Are You Going to Eat That, but by 1997 the band was no longer on Sub Pop and I don't remember even being sure that they were still together. So when this EP popped up, I was incredibly happy that they had decided to release some new music. The presence of only five songs made it painfully clear that this was to be the end of the band, but we were all thankful that they decided to release one more proper record (aside from all the 7"'s they put out over the years).

Airiana sounds like Hazel, but it doesn't sound much like their previous LPs. "Airiana" is their only song to feature Jody (without Pete) on lead vocals, and while it was initially hard for me to accept (I'm finicky like that), I've learned to love it. "Title Track" is one of Pete Kreb's finest moments, a song that instantly erases all the blatant instability of their previous record and gets back to some solid ambiguity. It also features some of the best lyrics he ever wrote for the band.

The second side continues what feels like an amended version of a Hazel record, with two terrific tracks that feature Jody and Pete intertwining their vocals with more abandon then ever before. "Ohio Player" feels like it could have been left over from the Are You Going to Eat That sessions, and "Mr. Magazine Man" is a scathing criticism of rock journalism (I think) that finds Pete and Jody singing distinctly separate parts that often cross paths in the most chaotic and crafty of ways. It's awesome.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Hazel record without the slow, wandering closer, and this time Pete comes up with a song that is part "Everybody's Best Friend" and also a telling harbinger of where he was going to take his music next–it's audibly twangier and more traditionally structured than anything he'd done previously.

And it makes a great track to end the Hazel legacy on. If you don't listen to this band, I don't know what to tell you. You're missing out.

"Ohio Player"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hazel - Are You Going to Eat That (LP, 1995)

A few things happened between Hazel's first and second records: First, there was a mild backlash against the band, perhaps culminating in readers of The Rocket voting the group "Most Overrated Band" in one of their reader's polls (Biff: look this up for me). In the fickle mid-90's, folks were quick to poo-poo a band that everyone loved so much. And, given that Hazel's live shows were so unpredictable, they must have left some first-time concertgoers wondering what all the hype was about.

The second, and vastly more important event, was Pete Krebs getting dumped. Now, I'm no expert on the guy's personal life, but after listening to this record, it not only becomes clear that he's viciously lovelorn, but so much so that you'll wonder how he got out of bed to record it. In the insensibly understudied world of sophomore albums, and specifically those that can be denoted as "breakup records," this is one that ranks right up there with Pond's The Practice of Joy Before Death and 764-HERO's We're Solids. That may mean nothing to you, but trust me: it's huge where I come from.

There are 13 tracks on this LP, and by my count, nine of them deal directly with the breakup. Of the remaining four, one was written by bass player Brady Smith, one is about their dancer Fred, and the other two ("Chasing After James" and "A Perfect Pot") could be about the breakup; maybe I'm just not reading into them enough. So, what you've got here is an odd mix: the same frenetic pop that Hazel concocted on their first record, mixed with some of the most helpless, confused, and borderline suicidal lyrics ever committed to wax. (If you ever wondered why Pete and Elliott Smith were such good friends, now you know.)

Sound like a bummer? It ain't. This record is arguably better than their first (most people will tell you it isn't, but they're clueless), featuring a stone-faced Krebs who seems constantly on the verge of both crying and screaming. On tracks like "Lazy H" and "Blank Florida" he sounds so eerily calm that you almost look past the fact that he's singing lines like "As long as I forget to die/ I'm fortunate," and "I'll daydream failures in my room/ And bust apart all my chances." Clearly, this is a man who has lost most of his will to live, and I mean that in all seriousness.

Is it wrong that I'm glad it made for such a good record? Eh, it's been almost 15 years; I think it's fine to look back fondly on his pain. Clearly Krebs doesn't look back too fondly on this record–in the few instances when Hazel has reunited in the last decade, the only song they ever play from Are You Going to Eat That is "King Twist," the song about Fred. I'm pretty sure I saw him play "Ringing In My Ears" a few times solo about eight years ago, but I could be making that up.

I've never been able to decide if this is the best or worst album to listen to after a bad breakup. It's worked both ways for me after some less-than-amicable splits. I don't want to say I've welled up while listening to "Green Eyes," but let's just say I thought about it. When Pete sings "I'm a mess without you/ I lost the best friend I ever had," it still makes me cringe, bringing back memories of a time when I identified with his pain all too well.

And really, isn't that what a great record is supposed to do?

"Quick Jerk"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hazel - Toreador of Love (LP, 1993)

I feel like I saw Hazel opening for the Supersuckers in 1992, but I could be making that up. I'm fairly certain I saw them live before I ever heard this album, but that could be wrong, too. Either way, Hazel was a band that created a lot of buzz around the NW rock scene in the early 90's, not only for their music, but for their live show.

Drummer Jody Bleyle had been known to take her shirt off onstage (I never saw her do this), and while I'm sure there was some message behind it, it was certainly wasted on the teenage boys in the audience. But it got the dudes talking. Couple this with official fourth member Fred Nemo, their extravagant (I'll leave it at that–taking the time to actually explain Fred's shape-shifting maneuvers would take up too much space) dancer, and you've got yourself one of those "omigod-have-you-seen-them-yet?" bands that everyone in the "scene" was rumbling about. Oh, and they wrote really good songs. So, that didn't hurt, either.

Toreador of Love was their full-length debut after a Cavity Search-released 7" (and maybe another one...?), and I ate it up. When I think of NW 90's rock–the real shit, without the "grunge" label–this record is quick to pop into my head, and with good reason. I listened to it excessively. During the 90's, you wanted to hate the bands that everyone was praising so highly, but it was impossible not to like this. It's over 15 years later, and I still get off on hearing "J. Hell" and "Big Fatty."

Pete Krebs was an unassuming frontman for the band, a guy who almost looked the part (he wore a flannel shirt, but kept his hair short and wore wire-rimmed Lennon-esque glasses), played the sensitive role really well, but was also capable of coming across as direly pissed/frustrated in his singing and guitar playing. In fairness, it seemed like all the members of the band hated each other (especially Pete and Jody), so maybe he was just mad at the group and tired of the infighting. They were definitely one of those groups where you never knew what you were going to get; it ran the gamut between brilliance and train wreck.

This record is nothing short of brilliant, a collection of some really fine noisy pop songs that incorporate tried-and-true elements of songwriting (ba-ba's and doo-doo's) and methods your aren't likely to see anywhere else (including a propulsive instrumental about Boog Powell). Kreb's strength, as with many a good songwriter, lies both in his lyrics and his crazy knack for melody. Some of these songs are instantly catchy, but a good many of them are ones that take a while to grow inside your head. And as we all know, those are the songs that stick with you.

The band toggles between hope ("She's Supersonic," "Cosmic Allison") and acceptance ("Day Glo," "Everybody's Best Friend") with such fluidity that there manages to be little incongruity between the songs. Though it's odd: I've always thought of this record as a bit sad, or maybe skeptical is a better word for it. There's an undercurrent of doubt that gets glazed over a bit by the incredibly catchy melodies, but it's there. Kreb's lyrics aren't conspicuously complex, but they're more multifaceted than he lets on. Maybe that's why I've been able to listen to this record a jillion times.

"Truly" is a feat unto itself, a huge closer that throws everything that the band had previously played on the record out the window, instead opting for peaks-and-valleys approach that works insanely well. When you're 16 and you're in your bedroom alone, that's the go-to track.

I could go on forever. This is essential 90's rock, and it's always floored me that more people don't realize how important this band (and this record) is.

"Day Glo"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hash - Hash (CD, 1993)

Ah, one of the great overlooked gems of early-90's rock.

I was just reading some reviews of this CD on Amazon, and folks seem as confused as me on the subject of why this album wasn't better received and why there's virtually no information available on the web about it. One reviewer suggests that "The band must have signed the 'no promotion' clause on their contract with Elektra," but I know for a fact that wasn't the case. Not only did Elektra promote this album prior to its release, they promoted it fairly hard. I recall seeing full-page ads for it in a few different magazines, and every once in a while, promo singles for "Twilight Ball" will show up on eBay. Apparently it didn't work, because this thing was relegated to cut-out status shortly following its appearance in stores. That's when I bought a used copy of the cassette.

The swirly ads had indeed intrigued me, and I was really curious as to what a band named Hash would sound like. Not surprisingly, they're slightly hippie-ish. Surprisingly, they're tight as shit and their sound is huge. I've never been able to find a band to compare their sound to, and I wouldn't consider this the kind of music I would normally get into. But get into it I did, as the tape spent some prime time in my car's stereo.

It took me a few listens, but I quickly learned to love the unhinged velocity of "Twilight Ball," the funk-wah of "Ghetto," and the grungy pop of "Mr. Hello." The album starts strong, but it just keeps going. I've been listening to this a bunch lately, and it's been front-to-back. It mellows a tad bit in the middle with "4:30am Hikes" and "Kit & Kaboodle," but it never really lets up. "In the Grass" almost has a coked-up blues rock vibe to it, but the chorus works the harmonies and the breakdown lets the bass do some strolling.

"Mary I Wanna" is the only song on this disc I'm not a huge fan of, as the verse lyrics are a bit corny and the guitar is a little too hippie-jamified. But I do like the chorus, now that I think about it... "Orchard Moons" features some bottleneck (I think) guitar that is toned perfectly, and it's followed by "Traveling," which is dirty with the guitars but smooth with the vocals–a great tune.

"I'm Down" is another funk jam, and not an unlikable one. But the last two songs are huge, five-plus-minute songs that close the album perfectly. "American Chorus" strives to be as big as its title, and it almost gets there. These guys were a three-piece, and I still don't know how they got their sound to be so walloping. The production on this whole album is meticulous, and that must be a big part of it. The drums are always very present, and it makes the every track hit hard.

"My Icy Death" is the big closer, and it may be my favorite song on this CD. Part of it is that I love the title (and the lyrics), but it's also because the track is relentless, powering through style and time shifts with ease. It's an ambitious cut, and they pull it off.

As I said, there is frustratingly little info about this band on the web. Seems like the bass player is playing in this band now, and I know guitarist/vocalist Seth Abelson and drummer Mike Caldarella went on to form Spirit Gum a few years later. What Abelson's been doing for the last 15 years is a mystery. If anyone knows, give me a shout out. And do yourself a favor: if you find this in the bargain bin, give it a shot. You might like it.

You can listen to short samples from Hash here, but that's about all I could find.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Harvey Danger - Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? (CD, 1998)

In the post-alternative/grunge/what-the-fuck-ever late-90's, "Flagpole Sitta" was an oasis in a shit-filled desert of songs like "The Freshmen" (fuck you, Verve Pipe) and "Closing Time" (fuuuuuck you Semisonic). I'll call it a guilty pleasure, I'll admit I love a song that was a huge radio hit, whatever–I think it's a fantastic rock song that I have listened to and sang along to many, many times. And really, that's OK, because the rest of this album is really quite good.

I was way late to the game with Harvey Danger, and I'm not even sure I bought this CD until I downloaded their 2005 album Little By Little... for free from their website and ended up liking it a lot ("Cream and Bastards Rise" is a great, great song). I had always heard they were more than a one-hit wonder, so I figured I'd give this CD a shot. (A note to prospective buyers: this disc ain't hard to find.) Maybe it's that I'm a sucker for NW bands, or maybe it's because I love unsucky music that is directly descended from what I consider the best rock music of my lifetime (early-90's NW rock), but I took a short-lived liking to this album.

Some of the lyrics are a little heavy-handed for my taste ("Problems and Bigger Ones" is a spotty almost-six-minute number that fucks up the flow of the album right in the middle), but "Jack the Lion" and "Woolly Muffler" are musically and lyrically strong. It's just rough, because none of 'em have the same "oomph" as "Flagpole Sitta." To me, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems a group like this will always have to live in the shadow of that one tune. It's too bad, because they've got some other songs that are solid, too.

"Private Helicopter"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

George Harrison - Somewhere In England (LP, 1981)

While Harrison's previous album held onto too much of the stuff that sucked about the 70's, this one seems intent to remain relevant in the 80's, and I actually think it works really well. The synths are more deliberate and strong, and there seems to be less of an attempt to smooth everything over and make it palatable.

This is evident from the get-go, as the scathing Harrison returns to form in "Blood from a Clone," a catchy/pissy number about how the 80's are already shaping up to suck. The fact that he name-drops Zappa in the first few lines is pretty sweet, but so is his entire assessment of the state of the music industry. A great song to start with, as it sets the stage for a record that still sounds fairly modern after all these years.

"All Those Years Ago" is a sad but poppy tribute to John Lennon, who was killed shortly before this release. Ringo on drums, Paul on backup vocals. A great song and a fitting sendoff. "Unconsciousness Rules" is another great pop song ripping on current dipshit culture of the time: "You dance at the discotheque/ That's why you look like such a wreck". "Life Itself" is another one of Harrison's "God Songs," which are not usually my favorite tracks of his. This one's no different. Pretty sappy.

The second side of this LP keeps the flow going, as tracks like "Teardrops" and "That Which I Have Lost" end up being a lot more fun than they sound like they would be. "Writing's on the Wall" is pensive but builds nicely, and "Hong Kong Blues" is the second Hoagy Carmichael song that Harrison covers, which explains its very un-Harrison narrative structure.

Of course, the album ends on a predictably quixotic note, and this time it's "Save the World," which contains some of Harrison's worst lyrics. Not really a great tune anyway, and the hacky sound effects it contains don't help. So, that one's a skipper. But the rest of this record ain't bad at all.

"Blood from a Clone"

Monday, April 6, 2009

George Harrison - George Harrison (LP, 1979)

Not sure that I'm a fan of releasing an eponymous album when it's not your first one. I guess I don't have anything specifically against it, but it has always seemed a little lazy to me. Either do it for your first one or don't do it. That's my feeling.

This record hasn't really caught on with me, but I have to admit that I'm not super familiar with it. It's very easy-going and extremely happy, and I think I much prefer a disgruntled Harrison. Seems that George mellowed out quite a bit since his previous record, and that one was pretty mellow to begin with.

"Love Comes to Everyone" is the opener, and though the song itself isn't too bad, the tones of the guitars and the synths are a little cheesy for my taste. "Not Guilty," the second track, is probably my favorite song on this record (probably because I'm familiar with the version that appeared on the Beatles' Anthology 3), as Harrison sounds a bit unapologetic and the arrangement is sparse enough to not get too slick. "Here Comes the Moon" is initially the most Beatles-esque track on the album (imagine that), but the chorus is pure late-70's rock. I actually like this track, too.

"Soft-Hearted Hana" is an OK jangler, and "Blow Away" is a nice and peppy single with a really catchy chorus. So really, I guess I do like the first side of this record. I think it's the second side–where it doesn't necessarily falter–but it just sort of strums along and doesn't take a lot of chances. A track like "Your Love is Forever" isn't bad, but it ends up sounding a bit plain by Harrison's standards.

"If You Believe" closes out the album, and it's just too straightforward and too feel-goody for me. Sometimes Harrison's positivity was too much and too all-the-time. Love is grand, but sometimes it can be too much. But I can still find plenty to like on the first side of this LP.

"Blow Away"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

George Harrison - Thirty Three & 1/3 (LP, 1976)

You can't really see it on the front cover, but on the back you can make out that those shades Harrison is wearing are of the bicentennial celebration variety. They're pretty sweet looking, and this is probably my favorite album cover of all his solo work.

The record itself is damn fine, as well. Let's be honest: 1976 was a rough time for popular music. The fact that Harrison made an uncompromising record is not shocking, but it is admirable. His subtle pissiness is in fine form here, especially on "This Song," an intentionally over-melodic jab at a lawsuit he had been involved in prior to this recording. Payback is sweet.

Harrison assembled some badass guys to play on this LP, and their force is felt from the get-go. "Woman Don't You Cry For Me" does sound very mid-70's with its springy bass and sax, but the song is tightly wound and rhythmically infectious. It's a good one. "Dear One" and "Beautiful Girl" are both well-positioned love songs that aren't mind-blowing, but they're quite nice.

The second side showcases more of the musical chops from the first. "It's What You Value" finds a nice groove and features some of Harrison's more adventurous lyrics this time around (though the piano part sounds strangely Billy Joel-esque). "Pure Smokey" is an appropriately smoothed-out tribute to Smokey Robinson, and "Crackerbox Palace" features a simple but catchy chorus. The album wraps up with "Learning How To Love You," which is a bit sappy for my tastes, but it makes for a fine closer.

If you can get past some of the rudimentary synth sounds and the dreaminess of a few of the ballads, this ain't a bad record at all. As usual, Harrison's vocals make it all the better.

"This Song"

Saturday, April 4, 2009

George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (2xCD, 1970/2001)

I don't have a favorite Beatle. I like them all for different reasons (yes, even Ringo), and I realize this fully every time I listen to this record.

"What Is Life" and "Let It Down" stack up with anything McCartney or Lennon did in their solo careers, and really, so does the rest of this album. And while Harrison maybe never made a solo record as good as this one again, the other Beatles were just as guilty of releasing some spotty solo work. Anyway, this isn't about the Beatles. This is about George Harrison.

While this is technically his third solo record, it's really his first. While you get the feeling this is the purging of years of repressed-by-Lennon/McCartney output, it's more than that. It's Harrison doing things his way, and though the results are often crowded songs that seems too big for their britches, they are no less powerful. It's clear from the beginning: "I'd Have You Anytime" sounds vaguely Beatle-esque in the opening chord progression, but it splinters off once the chorus comes, going bluesy and showcasing what a stellar singer Harrison really was. The recording isn't crystal clear, but any audio imperfection adds character and feeling to this track and others.

The version I have is the 2-CD reissue from 2001, which contains four outtakes at the end of side one, along with a re-worked version of "My Sweet Lord," which is probably unnecessary, but it is quite different from the original. The outtakes are surprisingly good, though they feel unfinished, because they are. "I Live for You" in particular feels strong enough to have been included on the original 3-LP set.

"Beware of Darkness" opens the second disc on this set, and it's moving without being too aggressive about it. Harrison was slyly intricate in his lyrics, never overcrowding the space and instead drawing the words out to enhance the melodies. It works perfectly on this song. "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)" is another great track, one that embodies the feel of this entire record. There is a lot going on in the song, but it's separated well and doesn't feel too frantic.

The title track is another one jammed with feeling and sensibility, and it's followed by the fun "I Dig Love," which gets even wackier when he switches it up to "I love dig," which, if it means something, I'm missing it completely. "Hear Me Lord" closes the album proper, and it goes out big. It's a long song, and stacked with plenty of instruments.

CD2 wraps up with a rearranged version of the jams from LP3 of the original set, here changed from "Apple Jam" to "Original Jam." I'm not gonna lie: I don't listen to these Clapton and Harrison bootleg-quality sessions too much. But it's nice to know they're there.

Man, I forgot how much I like this album. And I'm also realizing there are some substantial gaps in my George Harrison collection after this. Might have to hit the record store tomorrow...

"Beware of Darkness"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Har Mar Superstar - The Handler (CD, 2004)

I have a vague recollection of purchasing this CD, though for the life of me, I can't pinpoint what led to me to do so. I think maybe I had a friend who played some of Har Mar's early stuff for me in his car one day or something and I thought I liked it...that sounds like something that may have happened.

As usual, it matters not. I realized quickly upon getting this home and listening to it that it was not at all what I expected, and I quickly shelved it away, to be forgotten until yesterday when I listened to it in my car. It's every bit as not-something-I-would-ever-listen-to as I remember it, and maybe even more so. I understand that it's semi-ironic, but perhaps I don't truly "get" Har Mar Superstar.

Upon listening to this for the first time in at least four years, I reaffirmed my stance of not having any desire to try to understand this, as it doesn't sound like much more than corny dance music to me. It's well done, I'll give it that, it's just not my thing.

The real question is how it's managed to sit on my shelf unnoticed for so long. I have a feeling it won't be there much longer.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

300th Post: Another Quick Assessment.

Crap yeah, I'm sticking with this thing. It just goes to show you: I have more drive, determination, and sticktoitiveness than you ever will. Suck it, society.

That shelf up there claims to hold 300 records. While I've done 300 entries, I haven't quite covered 300 albums yet, but pretty close. It doesn't really look all that impressive...or maybe it does. I can't tell. Either way, I think it sounds like a lot. And we're only to the H's. Not even a third of the way done. Yikes. And I think the R-S-T section of the alphabet's going to be a long ride. And if you think I'll be breezing through the Z's, you haven't seen my Zappa collection. But I digress.

Let's see if the stats have made any significant shifts:

CDs are still leading vinyl, and now the score's 179-112. So, on my 200th post, my collection consisted of 58% CDs and 42% vinyl. Now it's about 61% to 39%. I predicted vinyl making some headway, but it hasn't yet.

Top Genres: They've switched up a little bit. 90's rock is still in the lead, but 2000's hip hop has jumped ahead of 90's hip hop (barely), and 2000's rock is now alone in fourth.

80's Rock: Looking like it might become a contender. Keep an eye on it.

That girl showing off the record shelf: Yahtzee.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Halo Benders - The Rebels Not In (LP, 1998)

I just found this LP a few weeks ago (good timing!) and this is definitely the Halo Benders record I've listened to the least. I think I may have had a dubbed copy of it at some point, but I'm not as familiar with it as their first two.

One thing that's clear right from the beginning of "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" is that they've stepped their fidelity game up. This record is a lot cleaner and crisper sounding than their other ones, which may, strangely enough, be a downer for some people. If some of the songs on their previous efforts had a Built to Spill influence, this record sometimes sounds like Calvin singing along with BTS. The guitar parts on "Lonesome Sundown" are way more complex than anything the band had done before, and in fact, the entire arrangement is.

So, yeah, maybe this isn't your favorite Halo Benders record if you fancy yourself a purist. However, if those lo-fi sounds were a bit much for you to handle, this one might be a bit more to your liking. Martsch's vocals are much smoother in these songs, and it adds a lot to the melodies that carry the tunes.

Some of this stuff just straight up doesn't sound like The Halo Benders at all. "Bury Me" is fierce in comparison to their usual sound, and clearly more attention has been paid to tones and the recording process in general. It's followed by "Surfers Haze," which has more of a Benders vibe, with the acoustic guitars layered awkwardly. I'm still not sure if it's a direction I was waiting for the band to take, though.

The songs seem generally longer on this LP, too, and the album itself is noticeably lengthier than their other ones. You can see this same progression ("better" recordings, longer songs) in Built to Spill's albums as well, so I can't help but think that ol' Doug had something to do with this. Who knows.

I guess it depends on what you're looking for. I could see this being either somebody's favorite Halo Benders album, or the one that negates the entire concept of the band. Or you could be like me, and not worry about that shit and just enjoy it for what it is. There really are some great songs on this one.

"Virginia Reel Around the Fountain"