Quick Review (LP): Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.

R.E.M.
Collapse Into Now
2011

My Rating: C- (42/100)

Best Tracks: "Uberlin", "Oh My Heart", "Blue"

Let’s just call it: R.E.M. has not been the same, nor ever will be again, without Bill Berry on drums. It’s been 5 albums now, and we can argue that every album released with Berry was good, if not great, if no classic. Every album since his departure has been mediocre if not boring. How do we explain this? Not sure. After all, Berry was only the drummer, and not really known to be the band’s chief songwriter. But I suspect it has to do with band chemistry. R.E.M. was always that 4 man troupe, and it’s arguable that the real R.E.M. ceased to be without him. So that’s what I’m sticking to. Bring back Berry or call it a day. Or just completely reinvent yourselves like Dylan.

NOTES
– Will they ever embrace their pre-major label sound again, or have they decidedly left it behind?
– The problem may be with Stipe, who’s lyrics are a little too poppy, a little too obvious. It’s as if around Document he decided it was time to leave the "murmur" behind.
– It’s true they are borrowing from a lot of old ideas, it’s just that all of the old ideas happened in 1991 or later.
Matt LeMay summarizes the shortcomings of this record well: “This album is host to more such complexity than anything since 1998’s Up– but Collapse Into Now still sounds like the work of a band caught between old habits and new adventures.” Also worth reading is the paragraph where he details the retreaded material on this record.
– His list could go on. "Me, Marlon Brando…" recalls "Monty Got a Raw Deal." 
– It almost sounds as if they are giving up and just saying, "Look, you want the sound of old REM, here’s some old REM for you."  What they really need at this point is a late career version of Fables, a dark and completely otherworldly record, an idiosyncratic and arcane concept album.
– "Blue" is at least interesting, if not really a great song. Honestly, I’d love to hear a completely weird REM album of dark, downtempo tracks like this.

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

My review of R.E.M.’s Murmur|
Career in Brief: REM’s IRS Years

Quick Review (LP): Faith by The Cure

The Cure
Faith
Elektra; 1982

My Rating: B (70/100)

Best Tracks: "Primary", "Other Voices", "The Drowning Man"

There’s a darkly appealling something about this record, and I can see how it represents a sort of proto-Disintegration for sure. It’s a mixed bag to be sure, dense and threatening drudgery, yet oddly challenging and inviting of repeated listens.

NOTES
– "All Cats Are Grey" has a nice ambience to it. Sort of sounds like Tears for Fears.
– This is a conflicting record – it’s so dense that I can’t imagine listening to it on a regular basis, but I do like it as a whole.
– "Faith" is nice enough, but I don’t understand why it is thought of as amazing.
Gotta agree with the Pitchfork guy. The album does have that Twin Peaks thing going on at times, that misty, lost in the woods, nature-goth feel.
– "Primary" and "Other Voices" are each great singles. What is it about the early Cure sound? Not really melodic, not incredible musically, but catchy and so interesting.
– Very cool album cover. At first, it reminds me of half a woman’s face, with one eyelid shut. Turns out it’s a picture of an old church in England.
– In sum, this one’s all about the overcast atmosphere. It’s even creepy at times, and I have to say that I think I’ll be coming back to this one.

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

My review of The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys
My review of The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds

Quick Review (LP): The People’s Key by Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes
The People’s Key
Saddle Creek; 2011

My Rating: C (44/100)

Best Tracks: "Jejune Stars", "Ladder Song", "One for You, One for Me"

I’ve heard somewhere that this is the last Bright Eyes record, but I’d hope Conor O. can find a more inspiring way to finish off that epoch.

NOTES:
– "Firewall" suggests it, and the rest of the record confirms it: the best thing about this record are the ultra-crazy meta-ramblings that Denny Brewer narrates throughout the record.
– Definitely going for an 80’s vibe. Not so sure the 80’s thing works well for Conor.
– Overall, this just feels very mediocre – when it comes to Bright Eyes, I expect to hear tympani booms bouncing off of cathedral walls, insane, heart exploding caterwauls, teenage angels choirs, and trumpet blasts blowing down demonic battalions. See “Method Acting.”
– "Ladder Song" is a standout here, probably because it comes straight from Oberst’s gut, and sounds like something you’d have expected from the guy who made Lifted.
– "It’s as well-assembled and produced a set of songs as you’d expect from pros like these guys, but unfortunately, much of it tends to ring empty. What’s missing is Oberst." Saith David Bevan, the Pitchfork guy, who hits the nail on the head.
– He misses on the concept. Oberst is going for a universalist message, but he reaches for peace with a little too much ease, seeking to sidestep the battle necessary to attain it, which is not something I’d expect from him.
– The last word – "Mercy" – nice touch.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (3.5/5)
Concept (3/5)

Consistency (3.5/5) – Pretty mediocre all the way through.
Consequence (2.5/5) – Hits with a thud, even though it’s supposedly the last thing he’ll record as Bright Eyes.
Songs (3.5/5) – Oberst, even at mediocre, is better than most, and his backing band is excellent as always.

Quick Review (LP): Boy by U2

U2
Boy
Island; 1980

My Rating: B+ (79/100)

Best Tracks: “I Will Follow”, “Twilight”, “An Cat Dubh”, “Out of Control”, “Electric Co.”

U2’s debut is both desolate and muscular, with huge doses of the boyish optimism that would send them out of the stratosphere in the years to come. This is their “coming of age” record. Conceptually, it’s one of their best LP’s, and although not well known, it features some of their best early material.

NOTES:
– “I Will Follow” is one of the band’s best opening tracks. Gotta dig the glockenspiel.
– The whole album is shrouded in a sort of dark and unfathomable mist, sort of this unsettling weirdness in the background.
– “Shadows and Tall Trees” reminds me of early Cure.
– “An Cat Dubh” is one of the best things they’ve ever recorded, without a doubt.
– As immediate as the record is, it’s also quite atmospheric and dreamlike (“Another Time…”)
– For me, “Stories for Boys” is the thematic heart of the record.
– The cover is brilliant. Minimalist, but full of wonder and depth.
– Steve Lillywhite’s work with U2 is some of my favorite.
DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” (one of The Edge’s best guitar riffs), “Touch”

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

Quick Review (LP): Fluorescence by Asobi Seksu

Asobi Seksu
Fluorescence
Polyvinyl; 2011

My Rating: D (31/100)

Best Tracks: "Trails", "Sighs", "Counterglow", "Pink Light"

There’s plenty of neat sounds on the dream rockers’ 4th LP, plenty of angular rhythms and an abundance of pretty persuasions, but in the end, the fluorescence here seems to be the electric, monotonous sort that emanates from the light fixtures in a million office buildings rather than the otherworldy glow of enchanting supernatural mysteries.

RANDOM NOTES:

– "Pink Light" slows things down some and works really well, almost like a hybrid of Cranberries and MBV.
– The vocals are a bit too airy and thin, making it hard to detect anything in the way of soul.
Fluoresence seems an excuse for a lot of pretty and gee-whiz sounds, but the substance is hard to detect.
– The thing is, I think I could see this being really good if they’d slow things down a bit and live in the moment a little more, but the pace just seems so darn frantic, that by the time the better moments show up the pleasure center of your brain has been pulled in so many directions that it just wants to lay down and die.
– The suite approach of "Leave the Drummer Out" is def. engaging. 
Jason Lymangrover of Allmusic.com says this:  "[Yuki Chikudate’s] voice previously sounded sweet and gentle when buried in guitar swirl — particularly on Citrus and the excellent self-titled debut. Up close and personal, it can be dodgy, especially when she aims at shrill high notes and skates around them." My sentiments exactly.

ATTRIBUTES:

Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (3/5)
– It’s obvious they are trying ("Leave the Drummer Out There"), but it feels like more of the same.
Concept (3.5/5) – need to dig a little more here
Consistency (3/5) – A few good moments can’t save the overall flow of the record.
Songs (2.5/5) – This is where it really suffers.

Quick Review (LP): Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings by Counting Crows

Counting Crows
Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings
DGC; 2008

My Rating: B (64/100)

Best Tracks: "1492","Hanging Tree", "You Can’t Count On Me", "Sundays", "Cowboys", "Washington Square"

Friday Aspirations, Monday Executions

– After a string of 4 great albums the Crows swing and miss.
– There seems to be an effort to create something "edgy" here. Why, in the minds of rock musicians, does "edgy" A) equal GOOD and B) boil down to sludgy guitars and depraved lyrics?
– "1492" rocks as hard as anything off of Satellites, but it doesn’t bear the same melodic genius.
– "Hanging Tree" and "Sundays" are both pretty good tunes.
– "Insignificant" = "Have You Seen Me Lately?"
– The softer material is good, but never rises to the greatness of efforts past.
– The vision outdoes the hooks.
– At the end of the day, the honest truth is that nothing on this record would make it onto a one CD collection of the Crows’ best. 
Thom Jurek of Allmusic thinks this is one of the Crows’ best. After reading his review, I’m inclined to rethink my score. I haven’t entirely given up on this album, but I do maintain that most of this sounds like re-treaded Crows.

Cohesion (4/5) 
Concept (4.5/5) – The strongest aspect of this record, the one that really makes it worth coming back to.
Consistency (3.5/5) – The first half is without a doubt stronger.
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (4/5) – A lot of almost great songs here, but none of them quite measure up with the Crows’ work of the past.

Quick Review (LP): Kaputt by Destroyer

Destroyer
Kaputt
Merge; 2011

My Rating: B (72/100)

Best Tracks: "Kaputt", "Chinatown", "Savage Night At The Opera", "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker", “Bay of Pigs (Detail)”

A Sleepy Aural Epic of Urban Proportions

RANDOM NOTES

– Smooth and seemingly effortless, this is the work of an artist seeking to emulate the soft rock precision of Steely Dan.
– More glammy than Smith Westerns without even trying.
– I’ve got no idea what Dan Bejar is singing about, and I assume it is rather depraved and essentially vacuous, but the melodies and the arrangements are fantastic.
– Love the Dire Straits-esque opening on "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker." Transporting.
– As great as many of these songs are, their remains a nebulosity that approaches jazziness, and I can’t help but feel that on a certain level Bejar might be a little lazy in terms of songcraft.
– One major drawback: Lacks impressiveness, that is, the ability to remain with you after you’re done listening.
– Begins to drag toward the end. For all of its excess, it lacks spark.
– Do NOT listen to this while driving. You might just fall asleep around "Song for America." 
– I have very mixed feelings about this – a sonic feast, but sort of boring and empty for all of its surface beauty.
Mark Richardson and James Christopher Monger both have lovely things to say about Kaputt.
– All in all, this is most certainly a grower, and a deep record. Nothing jumps right out and cries pay attention, but the more I listen, the more I find this a fascinating affair.

ATTRIBUTES

Cohesion (5/5) – Hard to beat the overall craftsmanship of the album.
Consequence (4/5) – No big single punch here, but it’s a very strong record.
Concept (4.5/5) – A fantastically smooth soft rock record.
Consistency (4.5/5) – Several brilliant moments really stand out above the rest.
Songs (4/5) – Could’ve been a bit stronger in the singles department.

Quick Review (LP): The King of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead
The King of Limbs
2011

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Bloom", "Lotus Flower", "Codex", "Give Up The Ghost"

It’s a Radiohead LP – Fussy and Brilliant

Well, this one was bound to be a divider, but it has won me over. Yes, I’ll admit it was lost on me after my first few listens, but then again it took me several months to breakthrough with Kid A. Maybe I’m just one of those suckers who will fall for anything, but I really dig the fact that the overriding theme of this record, for all of its electric and industrial sheen, is the natural realm, pure and simple. (I can just see Thommy boy strolling through the post-apocalyptic forest with Mr. Bluebird on his shoulder.) Sonically, Limbs is a fantastic offering. True, it’s only 8-wide, but its octave of tracks forms a delightfully dense and spectral aural mist. Side B really steals the show, kicking off with the truly brilliant "Lotus Flower", followed up by the chillingly gorgeous "Codex," which might just be a better piano ballad than "Videotape." At this point, any one who expects Radiohead to make a predictable record needs to get a clue. While I’d love to get the guitar-heavy follow-up to OK Computer that I’ve been thirsting for since 1997, I’ve also learned to love the fact that Radiohead will never make the same record twice. The King of Limbs’ payoff is anything but immediate, yet for those who are willing to listen closely for the tender, the nuanced, and the elegaic, it is without a doubt one of the most rewarding records in the band’s catalog.

RANDOM NOTES:

– Perhaps The King of Limbs is the avenging angel of death on the cover, ready to get back at mankind for the mess we’ve made of things?
– Their most mellow record for sure.
– Reminds me of the Amnesiac b-sides, esp. "Kinetic" and "Fog."
– "If you think this is over then you’re wrong…" Please let that mean a follow-up is coming soon!

ATTRIBUTES

Consistency (4.5/5) – second half def. superior to first half
Cohesion (5/5) – frantic blended brilliantly with the slow and ominous
Consequence (4.5/5) – not as big a bang as OKC, Kid A, In Rainbows, but this IS Radiohead
Concept (5/5) – thematically excellent with nature motif
Songs (4.5/5) – too few!

OTHER REVIEWS:

Pitchfork
AMG
Josh Hurst
Metacritic