Quick Review (LP): Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter
Self-Released; 1999

My Rating: C (49/100)

Best Tracks: "Leaves and Kings", "Beautiful Night", "Potter’s Wheel", "Letter from Omaha"

A shaky debut that holds more interest as an historical document than an enjoyable record.

NOTES
– Well, it sounds amateur-ish, but it’s certainly above average amateur work.
– Three names always get thrown around with Ritter: Dylan, Prine, and Cohen. They are perhaps most typified here, where he seems as if he’s imitating them distinctively on specific tracks.
– I wonder what this collection of songs would sound like re-recorded with Ritter’s current band? Could be an interesting experiment.
– I think Ritter took the Dylan route more than the Prine route, and I think that was a good thing for him. Witness "Angels On Her Shoulders."
– Like the cello on "Potter’s Wheel."
– Does Ritter ever play these songs live anymore? He didn’t when I saw him last year.
– Overall, there are some promising tunes here, but as I said before, this certainly sounds like a (talented) kid discovering his guitar and voice for the first time. Greener pastures awaited him.

ATTRIBUTES
Concept (3/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Cohesion (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

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Quick Review (LP): War by U2

U2
War
Island; 1983

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "New Year’s Day", "Drowning Man", "Seconds", "Two Hearts", "40"

NOTES:

– I’ve always thought the drums sounds like CANNONS on this record. I love Steve Lillywhite’s production.
– "40"…A brilliant way to end an album. One of the great closing tracks.
– "The Refugee" is the only significant misstep on the album, and even then it’s a big cheesy goof of a song that has the potential to be a lot of fun live. It sounds very dated.
– One of the best album covers ever. Pure poetry.
War can safely be called U2’s "heart-on-sleeve" album. Witness "Like A Song…", which is quite possibly the most intense track the band has ever produced. "A new heart is what I need/O God make it bleed!"
– My only significant gripe with this record is that it is so intense that anything in the way of a sense of humor or lightness seems completely removed. I’m sure that’s the feel they were going for (after all, war is hell), but the result is that for a great record, it is not very suitable for repeated listening. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is not exactly delightful in the way that The Joshua Tree or Achtung, Baby! is. This was the pinnacle of U2’s early sound, and it was a wise move to leave the intense, "Love and Peace or Else" phase behind them.
– U2 definitively makes the case here that they had what it would take to become the biggest rock and roll band in the world. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year’s Day" are both wonderful in every way imaginable.
– "The newspaper says it’s true/We can break through/Though torn in two/We can be one." That line always leaves me speechless.
– "Drowning Man" is a beautiful, austere change of pace. Just great.
– DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: "Endless Deep"

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

My review of Boy by U2
My review of October by U2

Quick Review (LP): Angles by The Strokes

The Strokes
Angles
RCA; 2011


My Rating: B (77/100)

Best Tracks: "Machu Picchu", "Under Cover of Darkness", "Two Kinds of Happiness", "Call Me Back", "Gratisfaction"


Apparently, no one likes this album. I guess it takes someone who didn’t believe the hype in the first place to say this, but I dig it quite a bit, thank you.

NOTES
– Love the sound of "Machu Picchu."
– "Under Cover of Darkness" sounds like classic Strokes.
– Nice 80’s sound on "Two Kinds of Happiness." Sounds sort of like golden age Tom Petty.
– "Girl from Impanema" salute on "Call Me Back."
– I dig the sort of goofy evil robot feel of "Metabolism.” Were they aiming to make a contribution to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack?
– What does that cover remind me of, other than Q-Bert?
– "Gratisfaction" sounds like Thin Lizzy.
– My take is that the band is posturing for a Weezer-like second decade. I don’t think they really care at this point about being countercultural heroes so much as continuing to churn out hyper-catchy indie rock. Fair enough.
– This is a band that comes with a lot of baggage for most who care, but I’ve never been one to see them as a sort of second coming for rock and roll. I think that allows me to appreciate this record on its own as a catchy little slice of clubby rock and roll fun. Sort of like a good Huey Lewis record, radio-ready and bound to put a smile on your face, even though it may well be the most vapid and empty thing released this year. Tastes great, less filling. You can have it both ways.


ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Several Shades of Why by J. Mascis

J. Mascis
Several Shades of Why
Sub Pop; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: "Listen to Me", "Several Shades of Why", "Is It Done"

For a guy with a frog-fart of a voice, J. Mascis sure writes pretty tunes, and doesn’t sound half-bad singing along with them. For his reputation as an indie rock grinder, he makes some really great chamber pop, which we’ve known since Where You Been? at least.

NOTES:

– I dig this record, but I did find myself wondering at one point whether some of these tracks were acoustic re-workings of previously released Dinosaur, Jr. tracks. Case in point: "Can I."
– The title track is a real standout. Very nice string accompaniment.
– OK, what is the deal with Mascis song-naming? I’m pretty sure that at least 90% of the songs he has written are titled purely with pronouns, common verbs, and prepositions. His greatest hits will undoubtedly be titled "Liked These."
– I really love laid-back, acoustic pop records like this. In my mind, it’s a sign of a truly great songwriter when they can effortlessly switch from full-form rock band mode to catchy, hyper-melodic folk pop.
– Mascis’ songs have always been more about the fabulous guitar arrangement than the voice or the lyrics, but his croak has the same hear-2-believe quality as Dylan’s.
– Some cool guests here: Kurt Vile (I’m name-dropping here), Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), and Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses).
Pitchfork puts the record in perspective for me: “The specter of loneliness and aging is a through-line here, too, brilliantly visualized by artist Marq Spusta’s gorgeous cover, which shows a pair of fuzzy, unmistakably J-like creatures– one big, one tiny– using a sea monster’s back for an island. (Mascis had a son in 2007.) Though dour, Mascis’ sleeve avatar is also kind of cute. Several Shades of Why gives us that softer, gentler J Mascis. But it’s not kids’ stuff– these are lullabies for adults, offered up with a compassion that doesn’t come easy.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Bringing It All Back Home
Columbia; 1965

My Rating: A (95/100)

Best Tracks: "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "She Belongs to Me", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Gates of Eden", "It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding", "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue"

This is Dylan’s first truly great album. Sure, he’d written lots of great songs before now, but this one feels crafted to please from start to finish.

NOTES:

– From the outset this sounds fresh and revolutionary.
– The lead guitar throught is excellent.
– The bridge album from his early folk style to his surrealistic Americana.
– All in all, this is a great album full of funny, colorful, thick songs and exceptional playing. There is a dream-like quality throughout.
– "115th Dream" is a lyrical trip.
– "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" is one of my all time favorite tracks, because it is a break-up song that puts the end of the relationship in apocalyptic terms. Also, I like the noodly guitar that sort of haunts the background of the track. It’s flourishes like these that are signs of what was to come from Dylan over the next several years, both in his solo work and in his collaborations with The Band.
– This is perhaps Dylan’s Rubber Soul or maybe even his Revolver. That is, it’s a bit overlooked, but arguably one of the greatest records of the 60’s. It marks a turning point in music history for sure, and as for personal preference, this begins my favorite Dylan period.
Erlewine of Allmusic makes a good point that the whole Dylan going electric thing makes for good film footage of angry fans, but as an artistic marker, it is overplayed: “…it’s not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie’s Farm," and "Outlaw Blues"; it’s that he’s exploding with imagination throughout the record. After all, the music on its second side — the nominal folk songs — derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal.”

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Civilian by Wye Oak

Wye Oak
Civilian
Merge; 2011

My Rating: C (49/100)

Best Tracks: "Civilian", "Fish"

NOTES:
– Jenn Wasner sounds an awful lot like Victoria LeGrand from Beach House, which on whole is a good thing.
– Hmmmmm….sounds a bit cranked out, a little too modern rock-ish.
– Beach House comparison are inevitable. Whereas Teen Dream sounded untamed and inter-dimensional, this sounds a little boxed and predictable.
– Compare this to the EP they released last year. There were some amazing tracks there, huge, nuclear songs where the band sounded full of passion. In comparison, they sound a bit over it here.
– "Civilian" is a pretty cool song. Very Neil Young-ish. Nice guitar solo.
– "Plains", I think, is an example of what is wrong with this record. It sort of plods most of the same way, and is periodically interrupted with an explosive passage. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Seems lazy.
– All in all, this is either a much more subdued and meditative record than last year’s EP, or it is simply not as good. Unfortunately, I’m leaning towards the latter.
– "Dogs Eyes" has a very 90’s indie sound.
– I really appreciate the fact that Jenn Wasner can SING. 
– Both Pitchfork and AMG dig this album. I think they could do a lot better.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (3.5/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): October by U2

U2
October
Island; 1981

My Rating: C- (40/100)

Best Tracks: "Gloria", "October", "Tomorrow", "I Threw A Brick Through A Window"

NOTES:
– Some of it feels a bit directionless, though not awful, only as if the band is trying to find its way ahead but not having much success. ("I Threw A Brick…")
– The Edge’s guitar sounds great as always, especially on "Gloria" and "I Threw A Brick…"
– Conceptually at least, it is one of their best – the problem is apparently that Bono lost his lyrics and had to improvise a good bit. Witness "With a Shout (Jerusalem)" which is lyrically woeful.
– "Tomorrow", with its insistent refrain, probably captures the spirit of this album best, and is certainly one of the band’s best early tracks.
– In retrospect, this album fits nicely into early U2’s catalog, forming an interesting arc in terms of theme (Boy – coming of age; October – spiritual longing; War – faced with harsh reality; UF – re-embracing hope in spite of reality).
– "Scarlet" is a perfect example of the meaningless sort of excess that they’d often include in early albums, "passage" pieces that really do nothing for the record as a whole except slow things down and dull the effect.
– All in all, it’s pretty amazing the band was able to recover from such a big sophomore slump.
– Adam Clayton looks RIDICULOUS on the cover. Just sayin.
DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: "Trash, Trampoline, and the Party Girl", "Gloria (live)"

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (2.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Headbangers In Ecstasy by Puro Instinct

Puro Instinct
Headbangers in Ecstasy
Mexican Summer; 2011

My Rating: C+ (60/100)

Best Tracks: "Lost At Sea", "Stilyagi", "Luv Goon"

NOTES:
– Sadly short on new material, and the KDOD thing comes off like a record stretcher rather than a clever theme.
– "Lost at Sea" is pretty glorious.
– The vocals are maddeningly over-dense and mumbly, in the vein of Wild Nothing. 
– A nice 80’s sound in places
– "Stilyagi" is a real treat.
– A bit reminiscent of The Smith’s debut, esp. on the front end.
– I can see Puro Instinct being a really great singles band, but for some reason I feel like they will always struggle with the album format.
– "Luv Goon" was better in its EP form, but it still sounds good here.
– "Escape Forever" is the sort of drivel they must avoid if they are going to keep making coolish pop music.
– My message to Puro Instinct: focus on writing dreamy, hyper-melodic pop songs. Retain the playful sense of humor.
Ian Cohen of Pitchfork says: "You can tell by the intentional garishness of that airbrushed cover that Puro Instinct have both the youth and self-awareness for more promising things, but right now Headbangers in Ecstasy is the image’s sonic embodiment: pretty, vacant." I think that’s right. These girls have the potential to pack a lot of punch into 3 minute pop songs, but for the time being, we just need to remember that Skylar, the guitarist, is only 16.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

My review of Something About The Chapparals EP
My review of Puro Instinct EP

Quick Review (LP): Another Side of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Columbia; 1964

My Rating: B (64/100)

Best Tracks: "All I Really Want To Do", "Chimes of Freedom", "My Back Pages", "It Ain’t Me Babe", "I Don’t Believe You"

Appropriately named, this is the point where Bob Dylan began to recast himself as pop music’s conscientious court jester. 

NOTES:
– "I Shall Be Free No. 10" is stupid, but it’s just absurd enough to hint at where Dylan would be going next. Also, sounds very dated.
– "Chimes of Freedom" is pretty remarkable lyrically, but conceptually it’s quite a bit like "A Hard Rain…" and "The Times They Are A-Changin." It’s a Dylan that would soon be left behind, and it’s not THAT great really.
– He gives us not one, but TWO re-writes of "Hard Rain."
– "My Back Pages" is transcendent and timeless. The chorus is one of Dylan’s greatest turns of phrase.
– "Black Crow Blues" looks forward to the really good stuff he’d get into later on.
– He still sounds very protest-y. The moments where he abandons the sermonizing are the best.
– Here’s where Dylan’s vision begins to expand, where he might have first realized that he could take the transcendent folk ramblings of his early work and infuse it with a sort of loose and absurd Americana melting pot and create something altogether unheard.
– I now realize that I really am not that crazy about Dylan’s first four albums. The next time around, he’d start to get REALLY good.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

My review of The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
My review of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
My review of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Quick Review (LP): Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey
Let England Shake
Vagrant/Island Def Jam; 2011

My Rating: B+ (79/100)

Best Tracks: "Let England Shake", "Written on the Forehead", "The Words That Maketh Murder", "All & Everyone", "On Battleship Hill"

Great pop music to me is about craftsmanship. Polly Jean’s latest bears the distinctive mark of meticulous craftsmanship. From the opening xylophone melody and anemically strummed guitars of "Let England Shake" to the third world blues of "Written on the Forehead", this record oozes thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

But is it great? It’s so dark that it’s a bit hard to find joy, and that, in my mind, is again a fundamental point of great pop music. Craftsmanship is where greatness begins, but it needs to inspire in the listener a sense of joy and of possibility, of rising above the darkness. Unfortunately, Let England Shake falls a little short by diving in the darkness and never coming up for light. Nevertheless, it’s extremely well executed.

NOTES:
– Her vocal style on this record is pretty interesting. She sounds of like a frightened little girl in a warzone.
– This is some serious OT-rock. Dig?
– Anemic and bleak throughout. Post-apocalyptic wasteland love songs.
– "What if I take my problem to the United Nations?" And gotta love the Davy Crockett chorus. “The Words That Maketh Murder” is a very cool track.
– This is a dark, dark soul record.
– "Written on the Forehead" is radio worthy
– All in all, this is a rewarding meditative work, one that beckons you draw a little nearer and pay close attention. It’s not amazing, but it is high quality, and will probably be one of the better records released in 2011.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)