Archive for the 'Review' Category

09
Jul
12

Review: The Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins

Album: Oceania

Axl Rose and Billy Corgan have a few things in common: both are known for being on the egotistical side, and both have reformed their respective bands with entirely new faces.  That’s where the similarities end, but I do so love taking a shot at Axl whenever possible.

2007 is the last year that we had a proper album from the band — which at that point still featured founding member Jimmy Chamberlin on drums – and I am relieved to say that things have markedly improved.  2007’s Zeitgeist was not the Pumpkins album that anyone wanted; it featured only shoddy songwriting and awful production.  Oceania is a huge step forward in both regards, and serves as a stopgap in the massive 44 song project (and ridiculously named) Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.  Thankfully the songs on Oceania are all better than the free morsels of Kaleidyscope that Corgan has been releasing on the Internet, and so I can state with a clear conscious that Oceania is the best Smashing Pumpkins collection of songs in over a decade.

Corgan’s influences are all over this album; classic, progressive, psychedelic rock are all present.  Oceania floats and swirls where it needs to – check out the mostly acoustic and synth-laden “Pinwheels” for a perfect example – but its bite is lacking; opener “Quasar” could have been a classic Pumpkins ripper, but over the course of almost five minutes it seems to build to something that never appears that all of its guitar solos cannot even muster.  The following song, “Pinwheels,” suffers from a similar problem.  It’s obvious that Corgan has attempted to up the epic-ness of his writing, both musically and lyrically, — “God, ride on!” can be heard in the aforementioned “Quasar” — but the pieces don’t fit together like they should.

Oceania is finds success in its simpler moments, and if “Inkless” isn’t classic Pumpkins, I’m just not sure what is.  Corgan has always had a grand vision, and Oceania more than another other Pumpkins album is a victim of it.  It wouldn’t hurt to simply forget that Zeitgeist existed and start here with the new Pumpkins, but there is definitely room for improvement.

3.5/5

Check out the video for “Stand Inside Your Love” from 2000’s Machina/The Machines of God below.

21
Mar
12

review: Craig Finn’s Clear Heart Full Eyes

Artist: Craig Finn

Album: Clear Heart Full Eyes

Craig finn, lead singer and song writer of The Hold Steady, has a very specific style of song writing.  Finn writes stories, and his characters and locales frequently end up making appearances in other songs.  This literary tendency is one that seemingly lends itself well to a stripped-down solo album, but on Finn’s first outing without The Hold Steady, Clear Heart Full Eyes, things don’t exactly gel like they should.  It’s difficult to not imagine the kind of kick in the pants that The Hold Steady would have been able to give to “When No One’s Watching” and “Balcony.”  Some songs stand tall on their own, such as the fantastic, slithering opener “Apollo Baby” and the single, “Honolulu Blues.”  Elsewhere, Finn continues his fascination with Christ on “New Friend Jesus,” but that’s a tune we’ve heard many times before, especially on The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday.  Here, it sounds stale and tired.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to make so many comparisons to the work of Finn’s day job, but even “New Friend Jesus” could have benefited from some punk guitars.  Craig Finn is one of the most talented songwriters on the scene today, but this stripped down version just doesn’t hit the mark.

3/5

14
Mar
12

Review: Sleigh Bells’ Reign of terror

Artist: Sleigh Bells

Album: Reign of Terror

Those who found Sleigh Bells’ 2010 Treats a little too abrasive are sure to feel more comfortable with Reign of Terror.  On their newest album, Sleigh Bells have lowered the volume several notches and have imbued their songs with a certain pop sensibility that was largely absent from their debut.  The stadium-sized chaos of intro “True Shred Guitar,” gives way to “Born to Lose,” a tight single which features 80’s-style electronic drums in its opening minute.  All of the elements that made their debut album great are present here, but it’s since been deliciously refined; “Crush” and “Demons” are the hardcore pop songs that Sleigh Bells­ failed to produce.

Like it’s predecessor, Reign of Terror is a huge sounding album; crashing guitars and over-sized drums lead the way.  Sleigh Bells was an album so loud that it naturally distorted – it was one of my favorite aspects of it – but things are more controlled here.  Sleigh Bells have not dumbed-down their sound; they’ve gained more control over it.  While I miss the overall chaos of their debut, Reign of Terror finds the band writing tighter, more concise songs that simply work.

4/5

26
Feb
12

Retro review: Boa’s Twilight

Artist: Bôa

Album: Twilight (2001)

Bôa are a band that that got a raw deal; their North American debut, Twilight, came in a little too late to capitalize on its strong alternative/post grunge sound.  Led by Jasmine and Steve Rodgers – the children of singer Paul Rodgers – Bôa excel in subdued alternative music with a slight eastern flair.  Though Twilight was released in 2001, it’s mostly made up of previously released material from the 90’s that were unavailable in North America.  For all intents and purposes, Twilight is a pre-packaged introduction to the band.  In other territories, Bôa had a hit with “Duvet,” their finest moment, and received a little extra exposure from it being used as the intro to the anime Serial Experiments Lain.  In fact, “Duvet” appears twice on the album: once as an opener, and again in acoustic form.  Tactics like this always come off as a tad desperate, but the acoustic version is a nice foil.

Twilight’s best moments come when signer Jasmine Rodgers allows her voice to float with the music, instead of commanding and overpowering it; “Welcome” and “Drinking” being two prime examples of the formula working.  Elsewhere, the Eastern European flair of “Anna Maria” falls flat and “Rain” is a fine example of a song brought down by overwrought and silly lyrics: “Suicide is rain in pain.”  Indeed.  Fortunately the stronger moments outweigh the weaker, but for the most part it’s difficult to hear anything except un-realized potential.

3/5

 

Check out the video for “Duvet” directly under this sentence.

23
Feb
12

retro review: machines of loving grace’s concentration

Artist: Machines of Loving Grace

Album: Concentration (1993)

In the early to mid 90’s there existed a scene of electronic music; some of it making it to the mainstream like Nine Inch Nails, and others not so much.  Machines of Loving Grace was a band that occupied that fine line between mainstream success and the growing underground of industrial artists.  I was introduced to the band through the soundtrack to The Crow, which was basically a 90’s alterna-fest.  Their greatest achievement, Concentration, is not only an achievement for the band, but for the genre as a whole.

It’s easily to dismiss Concentration as being too “of its time,” and there is some merit to that argument; production wise, the album hasn’t aged all that well.  Electronic blips and synths sound dated by today’s standards, but it’s not as cringe worthy as, say, 80’s Depeche Mode.  On Concentration there is a complex combination of sounds working to create something unique; funk, soul, and industrial rock all find a comfortable place here.  The grooves found on “Limiter” and “Ancestor Cult” are simply too good to be ignored, and opener “Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll)” is the finest example of all the elements coming together.

A couple of singes had their day on MTV, such as “Butterfly Wings” and the aforementioned “Perfect Tan,” but, as is usually the case, the best stuff couldn’t be found on TV or the radio: “Lilith/Eve” stands as one of my favorite songs of the entire decade.  Its funk sampling, jagged guitar, and hushed verses is intoxicating.  Like many songs on Concentration, “Lilith/Eve” creates a mood and makes it sound natural.

Concentration deftly combines sounds to transcend the genre label of simple “industrial rock,” and though Machines of Loving Grace would go on to record one more album, 1995’s Gilt, Concentration stands as their crowning achievement that has unfortunately been swept away by time.

4.5/5

Check out the video for “Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll)” below.

22
Feb
12

Retro Review: Blind Melon’s Soup

Artist: Blind Melon

Album: Soup (1995)

It’s unfortunate what modern radio did to Blind Melon; their only hit single “No Rain,” destroyed whatever chance they had to really make it.  Their 1995 sophomore album, Soup, offers none of the sparkly pop that produced “No Rain.”  Instead, listeners are treated to a more mature, stronger sounding version of their self-titled debut.  Opening track “Galaxie” features a horn section, and an inebriated sounding Shannon Hoon before launching into a real rocker.  Those who dismissed Blind Melon missed some of the best writing they had to offer: “Mouthful of Cavities,” with its lovely acoustic that barely hints at the full-bodied assault found later in the song.  Elsewhere, “Toes Across The Floor” and “Walk” are the great singles that never were.  The new-found maturity doesn’t mean that there is no silliness to be had; check out “Skinned,” a short “ditty” sung from the point of view of a serial killer and features the best use of kazoo ever recorded.

Blind Melon are doomed to be known as the band that produced “that video with the bee girl,” and that’s a damn shame.  There is something special captured on Soup that most people will never experience.

4/5

 

Check out the video for “Toes Across the Floor”

 

20
Feb
12

a theme, he said

While taking a look at the albums that I wanted to write retro reviews on, I noticed a pattern: they’re all from the 90’s.  And thus, a theme was born. This week I’ll be writing on the “lost albums” of the 90’s, dedicating my time to albums that some people may swear never existed in the first place.  At least two of them are that obscure, I swear.  The first review will go up tomorrow and we’ll see how many I can get to before next Monday.




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