Quick Review (LP): Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Love Is Hell
Lost Highway; 2004

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "This House Is Not For Sale", "Wonderwall", "The Shadowlands", "English Girls Approximately", "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home"

Slows things down, starts to find his way.

NOTES

  • Strong opener with "Political Scientist." Amazing lyrics.
  • Great atmosphere on this record. It’s a rainy day record, but its still got a big rock sound.
  • Love that guitar riff on "This House Is Not For Sale." Slowing things down helps quite a bit.
  • "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home" is a fantastic jangle-pop track. Seriously, it’s worthy of early REM, and that’s saying a lot from me.
  • The story goes that Adams’ version of "Wonderwall" is so good that Noel Gallagher just gave it to him one night. It’s solid, but I still prefer the Oasis version.
  • Good grief, "The Shadowlands" is gorgeous. One of his best.
  • "I See Monsters" has an amazing sound. It points towards some of the work he’d do on Cold Roses.
  • "English Girls Approximately" is a great little love song that I’m sure has launched a thousand mixtapes. The explosions of guitar echo at the end are the perfect way to close the track.
  • Not every track is brilliant, but even the lesser ones are pretty good. A major and much needed recovery from the disaster that was Rock N Roll.
  • The lushness of this record is one of its most appealing aspects. It’s very acoustic and lovely and ornate, jangly and hyper-melodic. I’m thinking it’s a masterpiece.
  • Overall, I think this record makes the case that Adams is a visionary, though an inconsistent and undisciplined one. Maybe he is more of a reckless genius?

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

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Quick Review (LP): Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Rock N Roll
Lost Highway; 2003

My Rating: C (46/100)

Best Tracks: "Burning Photographs", "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home"


He hates his label!

NOTES

  • "This Is It." OK, not bad.
  • "Shallow", "1974"…meaty, aggressive hard rock. Nothing special, but not bad.
  • "So Alive" is the sort of thing that, heard every once in a while, is a catchy vaguely Bryan Adams sounding tune. I once heard it a million times while staying at a hotel, and now I hate it.
  • Round about "Luminol" I start to realize that very little separates this from the dustbin of alt-rock history.
  • "Burning Photographs" is a cool tune with a strong melody. 
  • Same with "Anybdoy Wanna Take Me Home", but I prefer the Love Is Hell version.
  • This is way too fast paced as well. Adams just seems like he’s in a colossal hurry here.
  • All in all, this comes off like one big temper tantrum or something. I’ve really enjoyed the second half of Adams’ solo career so far, so I’m glad he’s left his childish ways behind.
  • Seriously, you are setting yourself up to be hated when you name an album Rock N Roll. There’s the inevitable backlash, and then there’s the utter lack of imagination inherent in such a title that immediately repulses the folks who want to like you. Hands down, this is the worst album in Adams’ catalog, almost a total throwaway.
  • Good + thorough review from AMG here, FWIW.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Consistency (2/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Push Barman to Open Old Wounds by Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
Push Barman to Open Old Wounds
Jeepster; 2005

My Rating: A (88/100)

Best Tracks: "Dog On Wheels", "Belle & Sebastian", "Lazy Line Painter Jane", "This Is Just A Modern Rock Song", "I Know Where The Summer Goes"

"When I was a boy I was confounded by you/Now I’m still a boy I am indebted to you…"

NOTES

  • Love "Dog On Wheels." It has the quality of a lost Sinister track.
  • Jeez, these guys recorded "The State I Am In" a lot. BBC session, debut LP, and now this!
  • "String Bean Jean" seems like Belle & Sebastian’s ode to their archetypal fan.
  • I do love it when bands write songs after their own band name. And this band’s eponymous song is pretty great.
  • Apparently that’s Monica Queen on "Lazy Line Painter Jane." Love her voice. She sounds like a British Maria McKee. It’s a brilliant tune, one of their best.
  • I’m not usually a fan of spoken word, but between the lovely background music and the barely audible Scottish brogue of the narrator, "A Century of Elvis" is pretty enjoyable.
  • And I’ve never noticed until now that "A Century of Fakers" and "A Century of Elvis" are the same music.
  • "This Is Just A Modern Rock Song" & "I Know Where The Summer Goes" are both gloriously gorgeous. Slow, considered, and beautiful, it’s B&S at their most epic.
  • Even the more understated tunes have a brilliant magic to them. "The Gate" is one of Isobel’s best performances.
  • Apparently, the "Legal Man" single was one of their biggest hits UK side, but I don’t get it. Those 3 tracks are probably the worst here. Too sleek or something.
  • Love those strings on "Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It." That’s some old school B&S.
  • "The Loneliness of a Middle-Distance Runner" is also a winner.
  • Here’s the deal: the early EPs are great. The later stuff runs the gamut from good to forgettable. Even so, this is an essential collection. Although If You’re Feeling Sinister is their best album (a true classic), this might be the best starting point. You’ll be hard pressed to find a collection of more unbearably lovely tunes.

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

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

Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian Write About Love
Jeepster; 2010

MY RATING: A- (81/100)

BEST TRACKS: "Didn’t See It Coming", "Come On Sister", "I Want The World To Stop"

The best of both worlds.

NOTES

  • "Didn’t See It Coming" is one of the band’s purest and loveliest moments in years. Putting Sarah on the lead vocal was a good move.
  • Sweet synth effects on "Come On Sister." Catchy tune.
  • "Calculating Bimbo" is a bit of a snoozer, but for some reason I find myself humming that titular phrase in my head. It’s pleasant I suppose.
  • With "I Want the World To Stop", I’m starting to realize that the genius of this record might be that it’s the most complete synthesis of the two Belle and Sebastians yet. That is, it successfully merges the understated loveliness of their first four albums with the more muscular northern soul of their later records. In short, this is the pretty girl that can kick your butt and make you laugh about it.
  • "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John" recalls Dylan’s "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts", in title at least. Norah Jones is a nice touch, but the track is boring.
  • "Write About Love." Love the chorus. Carey Mulligan is the female voice. Famous actress, I guess. Why have her sing?
  • The production sounds great. Their most hi-fi record?
  • They’ve experimented with northern soul before, but this might be their most northern soul record.
  • All in all, Write About Love is stronger than I reckoned the first time around. It’s not their finest hour, but this is a band that’s created quite a legacy for themselves, so it’s not really a matter of topping their past work at this point, but more about keeping things interesting enough to bring the fans back. To that end, they succeed here.

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

Quick Review (LP): Demolition by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Demolition
Lost Highway; 2002

My Rating: B+ (79/100)

Best Tracks: "Nuclear", "Hallelujah", "Desire", "Tennessee Sucks", "Tomorrow", "Chin Up Cheer Up"

Tuneful and raw, one of his better early records.

NOTES

  • "This is where the summer ends/In a flash of pure destruction no one wins…" Brilliant.
  • "Nuclear" is one of my favorite Adams tunes, and one of the most original sounding.
  • "Hallelujah" is another great one. Gorgeous melody, and so effortless.
  • "Desire" – another great tune.
  • I don’t know what it is, but even lesser tracks like "Cry On Demand" just sound better than your average cut from his first two records (esp. Gold). Honestly, I think they are stronger melodies.
  • I can attest to the fact that "Tennessee Sucks" in the summer, mostly cuz it’s hot and humid.
  • "Tomorrow" is one gorgeous weeper. Female vocals by Carrie Hamilton, who’s story is here.
  • How can you not love "Chin Up Cheer Up"?
  • Musically, Adams has a strange personality. It’s a bit confounding how he goes from high speed hard rockers to hushed and paced weepers with so little effort. It works though.
  • Never really understood why Ry’ was so down on this album. In my book, it’s one of his best, and it features some truly great tunes. It sounds natural, effortless, completely unforced and enjoyable. I think it’s something about his label forcing a new release culled from disparate recording sessions or something like that. In my opinion, they did him a favor here, because this contains some of his best early work.

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

Quick Review (LP): The Rolling Stones No. 2 by The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones No. 2
Decca; 1965

My Rating: B- (62/100)

Best Tracks: "Time Is On My Side", "Down Home Girl", "Down the Road Apiece"


Glimmers of greatness.

NOTES

  • Good cover of "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." I can see MJ hammin’ that one up.
  • "Down Home Girl" – that’s a goofy song. Cross-eyed blues…
  • This, the band’s second official version of "Time Is On My Side", is the first truly iconic track the band released.* A masterpiece. (*At least in the UK. "Heart of Stone" was released as a single in the US just prior to this album, but it still hadn’t seen the light of day in the UK.)
  • A few early Jagger/Richards compositions here ("What A Shame", "Grown Up Wrong", "Off the Hook"). Interesting, but they’re just cutting their teeth on songwriting. Nothing particularly special.
  • "Down the Road Apiece" is a really strong early rock n’ roll style cut. Pretty vital here.
  • The cover of "Under the Boardwalk" is, I’ll say, quaint. The Stones don’t really wear it well, but it’s executed nicely.
  • And the requisite cover of "Susie Q"…
  • Another recording that is interesting as a relic more than anything else. Jagger and Richards were still developing their songwriting chops, so this one mostly consists of covers that sound very dated. The playing is good, and there are some interesting moments (with "Time On My Side" being their first great album moment), but for the most part, this one deserves acknowledgment only for laying the ground on the band’s future output.

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

Quick Review (LP): Gold by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Gold
Lost Highway; 2001

My Rating: C (47/100)

Best Tracks: "New York", "Firecracker", "La Cienega Just Smiled", "When the Stars Go Blue", "Wildflowers"

Pyrite.

NOTES

  • "New York, New York" is a big ol’ airwaves play. It’s a catchy tune.
  • "Firecracker" = decent alt-country. "Firecracker" = formulaic alt-country as well.
  • Unapologetically steals the descending chord progression from "The Weight." ("Answering Bell")
  • "La Cienega Just Smiled" is one of the prettiest tunes Adams has written. It’s also a frustrating recording, because his vocals sound so muffled.
  • "The Rescue Blues" sounds like a watered down Counting Crows outtake.
  • Adams’ version of "When the Stars Go Blue" is not my favorite (see The Corrs), but hey, it’s his tune, and he does a pretty good job.
  • "Nobody Girl" is some serious filler. A total throwaway.
  • As much as the first six or seven songs sound a little too radio-friendly, the slow and brooding stuff in the middle is just really bad. ("Sylvia Plath")
  • I like the power-pop harmonies on "Enemy Fire." Otherwise though, it’s sort of a boring tune.
  • "Gonna Make You Love Me" has a glimmer of life to it.
  • OK, "Wildflowers" does a little something for the album’s latter half. Not an amazing tune, but a worthy one.
  • And it just goes through the record’s last few songs. An incredible amount of filler here.  I imagine there are a handful of great songs here that could have combined with songs from Adams’ other pre-Love Is Hell stuff to make a really good album.
  • At times, this record is frustratingly generic. I blame it on Ethan Johns’ production, which makes the rough places far too plain.
  • According to the Wikipedia page, Adams wanted to "create a modern classic." That sounds like something Billy Corgan would say.
  • The AMG review yields some needed perspective: Half the fun of the album is playing "Spot the Influence": "Answering Bell" is a dead ringer for Van Morrison (with fellow Morrison enthusiast Adam Duritz on backing vocals), "Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues" is obviously modeled on the Rolling Stones, "Harder Now That It’s Over" sounds like Harvest-period Neil Young, "New York, New York" resembles Stephen Stills in his livelier moments (Stephen’s son, Chris Stills, plays on the album), and "Rescue Blues" and "La Cienega Just Smiled" suggest the influence of Adams’ pal Elton John. OK, fair enough, but that still doesn’t rescue ~60% of the songs from being sub-par and formulaic.

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

Quick Review (LP): Circuital by My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket
Circuital
ATO; 2011

My Rating: C (53/100)

Best Tracks: "Circuital", "The Day Is Coming", "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)"


Don’t call it a comeback.

NOTES

  • I can’t decide whether I like "Victory Dance" or not. It just seems a little goofy or something.
  • "Circuital" is a cool track, sort of Who-esque. Is it strong enough to be the album’s centerpiece? I don’t think so.
  • I like "The Day Is Coming", but I’m just not that in to the soul rock thing as a whole.
  • "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" comes off like a re-write of "Thank You Too." To be fair, they are both beautiful tunes, and I like them.
  • For the life of me, I just don’t get "Holdin’ on to Black Metal." What’s the deal?
  • When I think of the glories of At Dawn, It Still Moves, and Z, this one begins to hurt. Really hurt.
  • I hate to say this, but too often this record seems schmaltzy. How can this be the same guy who made the Chocolate & Ice EP?
  • I am not an Evil Urges hater, but I do agree that it was a step in the wrong direction for the band. I don’t think this record is the needed course correction. Instead, as a genuine and long-standing fan it just makes me wonder: Where is Jim James headed?
  • In all honesty, I want to see JJ take a step back from the rock and roll theatrics and create something lo-fi and brilliant, something akin to the work he did in his dorm room with a four-track in the late 90’s. After all, that scenario produced an A+ record.

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

Quick Review (LP): Go With Me by Seapony

Seapony
Go With Me
Hardly Art; 2011

My Rating: B (74/100)

Best Tracks: "Dreaming", "I Never Would", "I Really Do", "What You See", "Go Away", "Dream of You"

Partly overcast dream pop with glimmers of sunshine throughout the day.

NOTES

  • Jangly dream pop with a heavy girl group vibe.
  • "Dreaming" is a strong opener. One of the better tracks I’ve heard this year. Peppy and hazy all at once.
  • "I Really Do" reminds me of The Pretenders. Dig the use of the slide.
  • You know what I like? It’s dream pop, and I can understand her vocals. In fact, I really like her voice.
  • This album has a very early 90’s feel to it. I can imagine myself going to see this group play in a small basement on a summer evening.
  • Love the riff on "Go Away."
  • The slower pace on "What You See" is nice.
  • Dig the cover, and the band’s name FWIW.
  • All in all, I dig this record for 3 reasons. 1. Pretty + intelligible vocals. 2. Simple but delectable guitar playing. 3. Dreamy atmosphere. This is by no means an earth-shattering record, but it is an exceedingly pleasant and charming one.
  • I suppose I agree with most of Pitchfork’s criticisms, but quite honestly I dig this record for its simplicity. It is a bit vanilla, but it’s a gourmet sort of vanilla rather than ice cream sandwich vanilla. That is, there’s a flavor here that sticks in my mind, and seems to beckon me return for more.

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

Quick Review (LP): Follow Me Down by Sarah Jarosz

Sarah Jarosz
Follow Me Down
Sugar Hill; 2011

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "Run Away", "Annabel Lee", "Ring Them Bells", "My Muse", "The Tourist", "Peace"

Taylor Swift, through the looking glass…

NOTES

  • Sounds a good bit like Nickel Creek’s precocious little sister.
  • Great voice – so easy on the ears, yet very dynamic.
  • "Run Away" and "Come Around" constitute an excellent opening salvo.
  • Gotta love the Poe-to-music of "Annabel Lee." Is that an original, or someone else’s bright idea?
  • Great Dylan cover. Her version may be better than his, but gotta give credit to the Jester for the amazing lyrics. ("Ring Them Bells")
  • "My Muse" has a wonderful dream like quality about it. One of the best I’ve heard this year. Gold.
  • She covered "The Tourist." It’s official: girl has DAMN good taste in music.
  • More of the profound dreaminess on "Gypsy." 
  • "Peace" is a gorgeous way to end the record. Wonderful.
  • Her voice is so lovely that I think that for Jarosz to justify not singing on a track it needs to be truly exceptional, like "Peace." However, "Old Smitty" leaves something to be desired.
  • This is a record of simple pleasures, and Jarosz may just be ready to assume that newgrass royalty mantle that Nickel Creek so oddly abandoned a few years back.
  • Solid Paste review here.

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