Quick Review (LP): Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant by Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant
Jeepster; 2000

My Rating: C+ (58/100)

Best Tracks: "I Fought In A War", "The Wrong Girl", "Waiting for the Moon to Rise", "Don’t Leave the Light On Baby"

The band’s last (and least interesting) hyper-folk record.

NOTES

  • From Stuart Murdoch’s very first utterance here, I get an overwhelming sense that I’ve heard this before.
  • "I Fought In A War" is pretty nice minor key opener. Verbose and a bit lovely.
  • Hey, a harpsichord. Why doesn’t it sound that new? ("The Model")
  • Come to think of it, from the opening piano tones, "The Model" seems built on the same framework as "Seeing Other People."
  • "Beyond the Sunrise" sounds like B&S fronted by Lou Reed.
  • Though I wouldn’t call anything on this record a radical shift, there are definite northern soul tones to "Don’t Leave the Light On Baby." One of the better tracks here.
  • Good grief, "The Chalet Lines" is a heavy, heavy tune. So much for the free-spirited B&S…
  • Well, the second half is a major drag. With the exception of the tracks mentioned above, most of the stuff here comes off like outtakes. A song like "Too Much Love" sounds like something the band would have produced early on in their career, not four albums (and numerous EPs) into it.
  • Overall, I think this record proves that the band’s Drake-ian days were numbered. Does any band ever have 4 albums worth of the same thing in them? Thankfully, they managed to find a way ahead by adding a little power to their pop the next time around.

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

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Quick Review (LP): The Boy With The Arab Strap by Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
The Boy With The Arab Strap
Jeepster; 1998

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career", "Sleep The Clock Around", "Ease Your Feet Into The Sea", "Chickfactor", "The Boy With The Arab Strap"

Excruciatingly pleasant rainy day book-core.

NOTES

  • It’s If You’re Feeling Sinister‘s demure kid sister.
  • "Is It Wicked Not To Care?" is a pretty great moment. Gotta love the xylophone + guitar bridge.
  • I think of this record as 12 variations on The Beatles’ "I’m Only Sleeping."
  • This is one of the most "democratic" records since Music From Big Pink (Deja Vu?/Rumours?).
  • Drags a bit in the middle. "Seymour Stein", "A Spaceboy Dream", and "Dirty Dream Number Two" all have their place, but they aren’t particularly strong back-to-back.
  • And then it launches into "The Boy With The Arab Strap", which may be the defining B&S song (at least the 90’s B&S). Excellent.
  • Is that a recorder solo?
  • "Chickfactor" is a nice change of pace.
  • "The Simple Things" adds some vigor to the mix.
  • "Rollercoaster Ride" is really pleasant, a last little stroll through dreamworld before you have to wake up again to reality.
  • Overall, this one is a would-be classic, but it’s a bit under-grand. Good melodies abound, but it’s a bit sleep-inducing and, at times, formulaic. That being said, I’d rank this as perhaps their second or third best offering, and one of the best albums I can think of for an overcast and lazy Saturday morning.

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

Quick Review (LP): I Am Very Far by Okkervil River

Okkervil River
I Am Very Far
Jagjaguwar; 2011

My Rating: C+ (58/100)

Best Tracks: "Rider", "Lay of the Last Survivor", “Show Yourself”

Hyper-literate indie folksters get all smoove.

NOTES

  • Here’s a band that’s had some brilliant moments, but never quite done it for me on a whole.
  • "Piratess" recalls "Billie Jean." Sort of weird for Okkervil River.
  • "Rider" sounds quite a bit like their former tourmates New Pornographers.
  • That guitar fill on "Show Yourself" is a nice touch.
  • I think I like "Wake and Be Fine", but it’s just so darn bombastic. A little intimacy would be nice.
  • What is it about Okkervil River that rubs me the wrong way? It might have something to do with Will Scheff’s phrasing and a bit of over-singing? As much as I complain about mumbly vox, I guess I don’t like the other end of the spectrum either.
  • What this record doesn’t have is amazing songs. Any. Their last few records each had a handful (at least).
  • Also, although they reach for a new sound this time, they either keep a little too close to safe territory or they go too far. I haven’t figured out which one.
  • As I read through the song titles, I’m detecting a a heavy mortality theme herein. May be more to interact with here than at first glance.
  • Pitchfork and Paste both really like this one. For that reason, I’ll continue to give it consideration throughout the rest of the year. I’m just really put off by the wall of sound and find Sheff a bit overbearing. Also, I don’t think they wear the R&B flourishes particularly well. Then again, maybe I have to walk a lot longer to get to where Sheff apparently is at this point.

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

Quick Review (LP): The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions In The Sky

Explosions in the Sky
The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place
Temporary Residence; 2003

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "First Breath After Coma", "Six Days At The Bottom of the Ocean", "Your Hand In Mine"

You just can’t go wrong with post-rock + disasters at sea.

NOTES

  • "First Breath After Coma" is a serious "WOW" moment. One of the best tracks of the last decade.
  • I recall reading that this is a concept album based on the Kursk submarine disaster. Tragic and brilliant.
  • Sounds like active sonar, guitars pinging all over the place. Active sonar sounds a little more spooky in real life though.
  • Great moment: the meter change in the middle of "Six Days…" So mournful.
  • Come to think of it, track 3 is a brilliant little narrative. Love the way it dies out in the middle, and then picks up with a waltz.
  • On the subject of the Kursk disaster, there’s a very moving film on Netflix by National Geographic about submarine disasters. Part of the story follows a young Russian couple that was very much in love when the husband died in the tragedy. "Your Hand In Mine" reminds me of their story.
  • I can’t call all the songs perfect, but they are so considered and well constructed that bonus points are due.
  • This record is like one seamless and epic song. I love the fact that there are five parts, sort of like the five acts of a great story. One of these days, someone needs to make an otherwise silent, accompanying short film for this album.

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

Quick Review (LP): Codes & Keys by Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie
Codes & Keys
Atlantic; 2011

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "Home is a Fire", "Codes and Keys", "Doors Unlocked and Open", "You Are A Tourist", "Unobstructed Views"

"Life is sweet in the belly of the best."

NOTES

  • Apparently, they were going for Eno circa Another Green World here. I can hear that, though it still sounds like Death Cab of course.
  • At first blush, this is very piano-based.
  • "Doors Unlocked and Open" has a little bit of a kraut-rock vibe. Sehr gut.
  • "You Are A Tourist" may be the most radio-friendly track they’ve ever written. Bouncy & poppy.
  • "Unobstructed Views" is a nice touch. A very Eno-ish moment, although I wish they’d gotten a little more out of this world with it.
  • "There’s nothing past this." Gibbard sure is a sentimental nihilist, and a certain one at that. ("St. Peter’s Cathedral")
  • The first half far excels the second. That’s a problem they’ve faced on a number of their albums.
  • After all the keyboards and electronic wash of the first 10 tracks, the acoustics, strings, and toms on "Stay Young, Go Dancing" are a nice way to end the record.
  • In terms of theme, this record is like one big expansion of "I Will Follow You Into The Dark." The subject matter is full of existential despair, which makes for an interesting listen. Gibbard is nothing if not a guy with an interesting outlook on the world.
  • This is one of the band’s best records, and I think they are getting better with age. I do wish it was a little more raw at times; sometimes there’s a disconnect between Gibbard’s lyrical content and the prettiness of the tunes. There are some very choice cuts here though, and I think this one is worthy of deeper interaction. Maybe they’ll make a Cosmic American record next time around?

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

Quick Review (LP): So Beautiful or So What by Paul Simon

Paul Simon
So Beautiful or So What
Hear Music; 2011

My Rating: B (68/100)

Best Tracks: "The Afterlife", "Dazzling Blue", "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light"

A love and judgment humdinger.

NOTES

  • Dangit, are my headphones busted again? (“Getting’ Ready…”)
  • So between this and Graceland, I don’t really know what Paul has been up to, but “Dazzling Blue” sounds a lot like it could have been on his 1986 masterpiece, and that’s a good thing.
  • "You got to fill out a form first/And then you wait in a line…"
  • As upbeat as the music sounds, the subject matter on this record appears pretty haunting.
  • I’m thinking that maybe this record is a sequel of sorts to Graceland, both in theme and in instrumentation.
  • Simon’s lyrics are, for the most part, great (as usual).
  • I’m thinking this is a very worthwhile album. It begs for deeper interaction.
  • There are some strong moments here, but Simon’s tendancy to get sing-songy can be a little too distracting. Unfortunately, anything that comes close to greatness is marred by a sort of Sting-ish jazz styling or a song-and-dance showiness. For that reason, you won’t find any moments so brilliant as a "Graceland" or as full of exuberant joy as a "Mother and Child Reunion."
  • The Pitchfork review of this album is really good and exceptionally well written.

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

Quick Review (LP): Forever Today by I’m From Barcelona

I’m From Barcelona
Forever Today
Mute; 2011

My Rating: B- (62/100)

Best Tracks: "Charlie Parker", "Get In Line", "Always Spring", "Come On", "Game Is On"

Frustratingly above-average. Forever a B-list band?

NOTES

  • I’m From Barcelona make "indie choir" pop symphonies in the best tradition of Sufjan. Their songs are, on whole, a lot more like early Beach Boys than his.
  • I have fond memories of their first album. The track "We’re from Barcelona" was fantastic.
  • It ain’t really edgy, but these kids can make some catchy tunes.
  • This reminds me of Architecture in Helsinki’s latest, but the instrumentation here favors the organic rather than the synthesized.
  • "Charlie Parker" is cool. These cats know how to write an opener.
  • “We all want to get in line!” Clever.
  • This is a very likeable record, but it’s a bit neon, if you know what I mean. Hard to diss, but it ain’t easy to get excited about it either.
  • Also, they seem to be writing from a template. Driving beat, major chords, full on instrumental broadside, lead vocal followed by choral vocal, etc.
  • The last paragraph of this Pitchfork review is right on. Key excerpt: “What’s ultimately confounding about the album is how one-note its euphoria can be. The songs are almost interchangeable; the lyrics rarely stray beyond the easy cliché.”

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

Quick Review (LP): The Rolling Stones by The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones
Decca; 1964

My Rating: B (74/100)

Best Tracks: "Route 66", "Honest I Do", "Now I’ve Got A Witness", "Tell Me", "Walking the Dog"

Teeny-bop blues?

NOTES

  • Pretty impressive blues/R&B for a bunch of white British kids.
  • Keith’s guitar just sounds so magical here.
  • That’s some mighty fine bass playing on "Now I’ve Got A Witness."
  • The first time through it sounds a bit dated, but after several listens, I’d say a better term is "vintage."
  • Even when the songs are cookie cutter, the band’s performances are so spirited that they bring the tunes up a level.
  • Still, the greatest thing about the Stones was their songs. Not much of those here. This is an above average early rock and roll record, but a bit typical, at least to my ears.
  • "Walking the Dog" is a cool tune. That’s some pretty impressive whistlin’ there too.
  • Just a hunch, but I’m guessing this was a bit of an inspiration for Highway 61 Revisited?
  • I’ve never been one for "cover" records. However, this is a good cover record. I can see why the Stones blew up so big. I keep thinking that this is what the early punk bands were trying to get back to in the late 70’s. Catchy, concise, no frills rock and roll. A definite keeper, this.

AMG review

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

Quick Review (LP): Those Who Tell the Truth…by Explosions in the Sky

Explosions In The Sky
Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever
Temporary Residence Limited; 2001

My Rating: B (68/100)

Best Tracks: "Greet Death", "The Moon Is Down"


Standing on the edge…

NOTES

  • Whereas their debut was all about landscapes and the wonder of the open sky, this one is overwhelmingly mortal and full of dread.
  • Opens in a hardcore wash. “Helloooo…..”
  • They are a bit tighter here than on their first effort, but they still haven’t PERFECTED that sound.
  • This is their most punk record, in the sense of it not being afraid to rush headlong into musical mayhem at times. At the very least, that causes this record to stand out for me.
  • Nice sample from The Thin Red Line on "Have You Passed Through This Night?" That rifle shot about scared the ghost out of me.
  • There’s no centerpiece here, and this is not their best effort in terms of coaxing amazing sounds out of their guitars. Still, it is a powerful record at times, and it’s certainly worth exploring.
  • It’s certainly appropriate to call this a fated record, what with the band’s name, the album cover, the liner note ("This plane will crash tomorrow"), the release date just prior to 9/11. It’s funny how many indie rock milestones coincide with that day. Wonder if we are just so sensitive to it that everything seems a coincidence? Still, you gotta admit it’s spooky.
  • Pitchfork really likes this one. And, oh yeah, this has got to be the most record reviewing-est record review I’ve ever read. All the big words = smart dude, right?

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

Quick Review (LP): Self Portrait by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Self Portrait
Columbia; 1970

My Rating: C (44/100)

Best Tracks: "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)"

A classic of the school of monumentally bizarre career moves.

NOTES

  • He’d already released a greatest hits collection. Why not an odds + ends collection? Throw in some live takes from Isle of Wight ’69, and you’ve got a money-maker.
  • It’s a strangely appropriate album title. This is perhaps Dylan’s most radical attempt to reclaim his identity, to snatch it away from the 60’s counterculture. Truth is, I think he succeeds, with unintended effect.
  • Just what the heck IS "All the Tired Horses"?
  • Lots of covers, not much original here. Still, there are some quality moments.
  • "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know" is a really nice; is it a Nashville Skyline outtake?
  • He really does sound bored on the live take of "Like A Rolling Stone."
  • He really farts around on "The Boxer."  I think that qualifies as irreverent? What was that petty rivalry that Simon and Dylan had going on back then?
  • I love this version of the "The Mighty Quinn." One of my all time favorite Dylan cuts. So loose, so carefree, so joyful.
  • I don’t know that this is really the load of junk that everyone suggests. It’s an odds and ends collection that would sound right at home on "deluxe" reissues of some of Dylan’s late 60’s and early 70’s work. It’s not prime material, but it ain’t bad either.
  • Stephen Erlewine’s AMG review is pretty incisive here. Key insight: "To say the least, it’s confusing, especially arriving at the end of a decade of unmitigated brilliance, and while the years have made it easier to listen to, it still remains inscrutable, an impossible record to unlock. It may not be worth the effort, either, since this isn’t a matter of deciphering cryptic lyrics or interpreting lyrics, it’s all about discerning intent, figuring out what the hell Dylan was thinking when he was recording — not trying to decode a song."

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (2/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (2.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)