Quick Review (LP): Good Dog, Bad Dog by Over the Rhine

Good Dog Bad Dog - Over the RhineOver the Rhine
Good Dog, Bad Dog
Narada; 2000

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Latter Days”, “All I Need Is Everything”, “Faithfully Dangerous”, “Poughkeepsie”

I’ve never quite understood the details of this record, but it would seem it was the last released by the “original” incarnation of Over the Rhine, that which included Ric Hordinski. The album title seems quite appropriate, the songs being wrapped in a swirl of existential angst toward God (whose existence the band never really seems to doubt). It’s quite an excellent album to that end as well, best enjoyed from the declining months of autumn into the dreariness of the late winter. “Latter Days” is absolutely gorgeous, and “All I Need Is Everything” features an outstanding vocal performance from front-gal Karin Bergquist. Let’s just put it this way though: you seem to hear her heart bursting forth with every subsequent note. To say that the songs on this album are heartfelt would be to call the Crucifixion a random act of kindness. That is to say, this record is an emotional and spiritual atom bomb. What a beautiful piece of heartache indeed.

Allmusic Guide review
Liner notes and such

Quick Review (LP): The Way Out by The Books

The Books
The Way Out
Temporary Residence; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “A Cold Freezin’ Night”, “Beautiful People”, “Group Autogenics I”, “All You Need Is A Wall”

This is great! I had only a passing familiarity with The Books prior to hearing this record, but by the time I heard the kids chanting on “A Cold Freezin’ Night”, a certain giddiness had descended upon me. This music is a blast! The two guys making this music are basically the goofy little kids in “A Cold Freezin’ Night” all grown up. The music is like a strange hybrid of Boards of Canada, Tortoise, and old, New Age-y self-help cassettes. Albums like these validate “experimental” music; The Way Out makes it obvious that experimentation can lead to strange and wonderful things. The layering and sound quality here are excellent, but there’s also a strong sense of beauty that pervades these recordings. This isn’t “head” music by any means. This is hyperlinked soul music, the kind of “found sound” record that just might bring a tear to your eye.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
TRL page for record

Quick Review (LP): Sweetheart Rodeo by Dawn Landes

Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn LandesDawn Landes
Sweetheart Rodeo
Essential Music; 2010

My Rating:  C+

Best Tracks: “Romeo”, “Little Miss Holiday”

Coming on the heels of the excellent urbanicana folk of 2007’s FIREPROOF, my expectations were high for this one. Unfortunately, it was a letdown. That’s not to say this is a bad record; it probably says more about the greatness of FIREPROOF. Landes plays very “low-key” music, and this time around it doesn’t have the staying power of FIREPROOF tracks like “Bodyguard” and “You Alone”, or even the ridiculously catchy stand-alone single “Straight Lines”. Folk music seems to go best with a lot of heart-on-sleeve, but SWEETHEART finds our leading lady a little too level-headed. I guess I’ll hold out for another great record the next time around.

Paste review
Artist website
Artist Myspace

Quick Review (LP): Sand & Lines by Venice Is Sinking

Venice Is Sinking
Sand & Lines
One Percent Press; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Sidelights”, “Tugboat”, “Lucky Line”, “Bardstown Road”

Probably best termed dreamy Americana, this band follows the simple song, diverse and pleasant arrangement template. Even though it’s a Mercury Rev song, their excellent take on “Tugboat” seems to be the heart of the album. What it kind of reminds me of is a starrier version of the first Gram Parsons record. Like any dream, it tends to dissipate into a haze rather rapidly, with only a few displaced memories to remain, but that only helps the record in the mystery department. This is excellent rainy day music, and I love the fact that this was recorded on a ceiling mic in an ill-fated theatre. The violin, the vocals, and the drums are my favorite thing about this record. I wish some of the songs were a little bit longer (“Pebble Hill”, “Wurlitzer Prize”), but modesty is a virtue in most cases, and it’s better not to wear out your welcome. Then again, a deluxe edition with outtakes would be nice.

Band Myspace site
Paste review
Pitchfork review
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Quick Review (LP): Mercury by Follow the Train

Follow the Train
Removador; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Movin”, “Coffee”, “Mellwood”, “Division”, “Seamless”

One thing seems certain; the band’s songwriter has an outstanding sense of melody and majesty in a late 80’s/early 90’s alt-rock sense. Witness: “Movin”. Yessir. Wow. Let’s play that again. And again. Opener “Coffee” features a great vocal performance as well, and more melancholy bits like “Mellwood” (saxy) and “Nowhere Night” (urban lonesome) really shine as well. As I’ve said before, they remind me heavily of Afghan Whigs, with some of the mighty blues of Zeppelin thrown in for good measure (“Division”, “Mercury”) and a big midwestern heart. I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t be playing big stages at summer festivals, because this is one of the best albums of 2010.

Band website & listen to album
Removador page & listen to album
SGB Breath of Sigh review

Quick Review (EP): All Delighted People by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People EP
Asthmatic Kitty; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “All Delighted People”, “Djohariah”, “Heirloom”, “From the Mouth of Gabriel”

“My EP’s are longer than your double LP’s.” Just who does this Sufjan character think he is? Following on the heels of one of the most productive “non-productive” runs in rock and roll history, the man who made the best record of the last decade makes a grand return, opening this hour-long affair with one of the best tracks of the year. The title track sounds just fine coming out of speakers, but it should be listened to with big Leia-style headphones at an appropriately high volume for maximum effect. “You Are The Blood”, his offering on last year’s Dark Night of the Soul compilation, showed we should expect something different yet epic and great in the future. Here we have it, with more where that came from. Yeah, I could have done without the alternate version of “All Delighted People” and the track that follows it, but those are minor complaints and there really ain’t a stinker to be found. I can only think of a few other artists that make such consistently inspired and transcendent music, and most of those names are so iconic that it would be silly to list them here. If All Delighted People is any indication, Sufjan is going to own this decade like he owned the last.

Listen to it and buy it here
Pitchfork Review
Metacritic Review

Quick Review (LP): Write About Love by Belle and Sebastian

Write About LoveBelle and Sebastian
Write About Love
Matador Records; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “I Didn’t See It Coming”, “Write About Love”, “The Ghost of Rocklove”

One thing Stuart Murdoch has always had a penchant for is figuring out which song should open the record. Masterful move here letting Sarah take the lead vocals, but the thing that hits me hardest from the outset is the power of the bass and drums. Belle and Sebastian quit the twee schtick a long time ago, and it continues to prove the right move, as they seem to be learning the ropes of soulful power pop even better with each record. As strong as the record opens though, Murdoch and company still haven’t figured out how to make the second half of a record as interesting as the first. By the time you get to “Sunday’s Pretty Icons”, attention has faded away, and the song just doesn’t pack the punch to close things out on a grand scale. But most of the record is strong enough to revisit it every once in a while.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Cover (Bob Dylan:Bob Dylan)Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Columbia Records; 1962

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, “Talkin’ New York”, “Song for Woody”

This ain’t my scene, sir, but if I had been there in 1962, who can really know? The young man sings with a lot of conviction and plays the guitar more like a down-south blues man than a sensitive folk singer. A few years later, he’d tell someone he was “a song and dance man” and then smile knowingly. I  can see that here though. On one hand, you start to think around the middle of the record that this guy is a poor Alabama sharecropper from the 30’s. On the other hand, the opening monologue of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is the voice of a college man. I’m not sure if his take on “House of the Risin’ Sun” is spot on or full of it, but “Song for Woody” is nice, simple and sweet. Overall, he plays mighty fine. Now just who is this guy?

Allmusic guide review

Quick Review (LP): Cerebellum by Cerebellum

Cerebellum LP
Noise Pollution; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Fire”, “Marble”, “Calm”, “Crawl Out of the Water”

The first five songs were originally released in 1989. This band produced future members of Crain, Rodan, Matmos, Parlour, and other post-punk pioneers. What we have here is, on one hand, above average fare for a group of high-schoolers looking to imitate their musical heroes. On the other hand though, there is evidence of real creative vision here, and the melodies are especially strong on “Fire”, “Winter”, and “Calm.” “Marble” is a lovely little Smiths-esque piece; Drew Daniel’s adolescent-in-longing vocals evoke an incredible nostalgia for me now. The best thing here though is the brand new recording of “Crawl Out Of The Water” (one among five such tracks). It sounds outstanding, and feels more like a long lost Crain track (which it pretty much is) than anything else. Most of the music world probably won’t care about this, but they should.

Louisville Hardcore History band story
Slamdek band story
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Quick Review (LP): Together by New Pornographers

File:The New Pornographers - Together.jpgNew Pornographers
Together LP
Matador; 2010

My Rating: A

Standout Tracks: “The Crash Years”, “Silver Jenny Dollar”, “Bite Out of My Bed”

Let’s see…five albums in now. This should have been the epic fail, right? Not so. Instead, they’ve achieved a fantastic synthesis of the polite baroque rock of Challengers and the rocket-fueled zounds! pop of everything before that. It boasts some of their best work (Case is on another plane of existence here), and turns out to be the most consistent album from liftoff to crash landing they’ve yet made. High on melody, high on spark, high on all of the things that go to make heaven and earth. RiYL: anything they’ve done in the past, Destroyer, A.C. Newman, powerful power pop, Neko Case.

band website
Pitchfork review
Myspace page