LP Review: Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie
Barsuk; 2003

My Rating: A (88/100)

Best Tracks: "The New Year", "Title & Registration", "The Sound of Settling", "Transatlanticism", "Passenger Seat", "We Looked Like Giants"

Emo grande.


"The New Year" (4.5/5)

  • From the beginning, announces a new Death Cab.
  • "So everybody put your best suit or dress on/We’ll make-believe we are happy for just this once/Lighting firecrackers off on the front-lawn/As 30 dialogues bleed into one"
  • The biggest rock song they’ve done. Maybe a little Trail of Dead influence here?
  • Near perfect, but I’ve always felt like it ends a bit abruptly, like an unfinished thought.

"Lightness" (4.5/5)

  • Floats.
  • Beautiful, sleepy melody.
  • "Oh instincts are misleading/You shouldn’t think what you’re feeling/They don’t tell you what you know you should want…”

"Title & Registration" (5/5)

  • Brilliant in every way.
  • Great arrangement. Love the xylophone.

"Expo ’86" (4.5/5)

  • Gibbard does amazing melodies and riffs, but on this album they were overflowing, plain and simple. Case in point. This sounds effortless.

"The Sound of Settling" (5/5)

  • If there was ever a radio-friendly Death Cab tune, this is it.

"Tiny Vessels" (4/5)

  • Nice chiming guitar riff.

"Transatlanticism" (5/5)

  • Epic.

"Passenger Seat" (4.5/5)

  • The talked about Codes & Keys being Eno-esque, but this is maybe the most Eno-esque thing they’ve recorded.
  • A bit of a Lennon thing going on too.
  • Flows really well on the heels of the title track.

"Death of an Interior Decorator" (4/5)

  • Sounds like the early 90’s.

"We Looked Like Giants" (5/5)

  • Huge and feverish.

"A Lack of Color" (4.5/5)

  • Dark and, well, quite frankly, a wee bit depressing.
  • “This is fact not fiction for the first time in years…”


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

Initial Reactions (2011): Real Estate, Cults, My Brightest Diamond, Memoryhouse, Washed Out

Real Estate – Days – [!!!!!]: Different packaging, same great taste. Band upgrades from one room flat to spacious loft. No matter how you put it, this is a band destined for great things. One thing I tend to insist is on is that I don’t care how great your band name or image is, if you don’t write great songs who really cares? And that’s why I love Real Estate. No sense of a well cultivated image (but not anti-image either, more like image-agnostic). This is a band that exists to make beautiful, chiming surf guitar love pop. You MIGHT find their equals, but where are you going to find tunes BETTER than "It’s Real" or "Out of Tune" this year? I defy you. ("Easy", "Green Aisles", "It’s Real", "Out of Tune")

Cults – Cults – [++]: I was going to say something snarky about how this is 2011’s version of 2010’s obligatory producer/voice combo Sleigh Bells, but there is a tunefulness and a soulfulness here that I didn’t expect and I like this much better than what I heard from Sleigh Bells. I think that’s owing to 2 things, the first being the no so subtle influence of 60’s girl group pop and the second being Madeline Follin’s voice which is certainly up to Brian Oblivion’s arrangements. So instead, I’m going to say that I really wish they’d re-hashed "Fire Woman", cuz I really love that song (honestly, I do). But yeah, think of the idea of Sleigh Bells, but the tunes of She & Him. That’s more like it. ("Abducted", "Walk at Night", "Rave On")

My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind – [++]: That Shara Worden sure is a talented lady. In some sense, I don’t really think I’m worthy of reviewing this. After all, I’m used to reviewing obvious, accessible pop music, not complex and challenging pseudo-classical compositions. What I’ll say though is that I really appreciate her work. I like it better than I expected, and one extremely positive thing I want to say is that she transcends the "hyper-pop" model that has become so popular and, if I may say so, somewhat cliche. There’s nothing cutesy about this. So musically, I have to acknowledge a certain greatness on Shara’s part. The problem is with me; her style just isn’t my cup of tea. So while I probably won’t be spinning this a great deal, I can wholeheartedly commend it to anyone who’s musical tastes go beyond that of a guy who watched way too much MTV growing up. ("We Added It Up", "She Does Not Brave the War", "I Have Never Loved Someone")

Memoryhouse – The Years EP – [ind]: I have to say, it’s a bit disappointing for the band to essentially "revamp" their self-released EP from last year as their debut proper. Whatever, it’s not like they owed me anything, but I will say that if you can get your hands on the original version of The Years, the versions of those songs are superior. Also, why did they ditch the Enigma-esque cut? I loved that one. Anywho, I’ll pass on this, but I am really looking forward to their debut LP. Oh, and the 7" they released earlier this year ("Caregiver" b/w "Heirloom") is most definitely worth seeking out.

Washed Out – Within and Without – [++]: I can appreciate this. It’s romantic, passionate, warm as a night on the French Riviera. However, what I really like about it is the density. My only touchpoint is Enigma (and maybe a few tracks on comps here and there), but what Washed Out seems to do differently is take those Eden-esque melodies and adorn them to a degree that would make Brian Wilson feel young again. Shades of IDM (you know, Four Tet, Boards of Canada), but more like Ecstatic Dance Music. Call it exotic dreamscapes to drown out the fridge buzz? ("Eyes Be Closed", "Far Away", "A Dedication")


[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

LP Review: False Cathedrals by Elliott

False Cathedrals
Revelation; 2000

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "Calm Americans", "Blessed By Your Own Ghost", "Drive On To Me", "Shallow Like Your Breath", "Superstitions In Travel", "Speed of Film"

In transit-ion.


"Voices"/"Calm Americans" (5/5)

  • Spectacular.
  • Coldplay-ish piano line, but I think they beat Chris Martin and his merry band of hobbits to the punch.
  • Hyper-emo, but in a good way.
  • A technical note: these tracks should be sequenced into 1. It sounds really awkward when you stream it.
  • Lastly: I’m actually not that crazy about this track, a little too melancholy for me, but it’s pretty great in all reality.

"Blessed By Your Own Ghost" (5/5)

  • Pretty.
  • Sorta dreamy.
  • Kinda sounds like "Silent Lucidity", right!?!? "We’ll protect you in the night…"

"Drive On To Me" (4.5/5)

  • Poppy.
  • Is it just me, or does Higdon’s second vocal track sound like Sheryl Crow?
  • Nice tune. Just not sure what "drive on to me" means.

"Calvary Song" (4/5)

  • Here’s one where it would have been good to actually understand Higdon’s vocals.
  • Man, that bass is just right up there in your face.
  • There’s something unique about this cut, but it’s not quite there, you know?

"Lipstick Stigmata" (4/5)

  • I’m not crazy about the recording here, but I’ll bet this one is pretty powerful live.
  • The end of this one almost sounds like late period Endpoint.
  • Not as melancholy as some of the earlier cuts, a bit more like their US Songs tracks.

"Dying Midwestern" (4/5)

  • Nice use of dissonance.
  • There’s those synth effects again.
  • Good grief, just wanna understand the lyrics!!!

"Shallow Like Your Breath" (4.5/5)

  • This one is gorgeous.
  • Nice build to nothing in the middle.
  • Reminds me a bit of "Second Story Skyscraper" in terms of the dramatic arc.

"Superstitions in Travel" (4/5)

  • This is a track that probably could have been a radio hit with production that let it breathe a little more.
  • Dig the use of the acoustic guitar at the beginning, along with the naked drums.
  • Vocals…intelligible…blah blah blah…

"Carving Oswego" (4/5)

  • This one has kind of an 80’s sound. Almost like Heart.
  • I would have loved to get an updated cut of this on Photorecording.

"Lie Close" (3.5/5)

  • This reminds me of early Boy Sets Fire.
  • Yeesh – not too crazy about this one.
  • That last part – "you and I were meant for each other" – that’s kind of cheezy.

"Speed of Film" (4.5/5)

  • This one settles into a nice groove.
  • Also a track that, with a little more time and attention, might have made a bit more of an impact.
  • This one has a very nice melody.


  • Here’s the deal – some people swear by this album, but for me the production sucks the life out of it. Thankfully, they captured their sound better on Song In The Air and even got superior versions of some of these songs on Photorecording.
  • As problematic as the production is, I have to say that at least these songs can’t really be pigeon-holed into the late-90’s/early-2000’s emo scene. There’s something of the Chicago sound in these tunes, a little bit of Slint-itude if you will.
  • I can remember when this came out, Buddyhead posted perhaps the most hilarious short review of an album in the age of the internet: "This sounds like Bryan Adams." On that note, I bet Elliott would have done a killer cover of "Everything I Do" (which will eternally be a great song due to its cinematic affiliations in the same way as Peter Cetera’s "The Glory of Love"). But I digress…
  • I wonder if this is the first album review that has ever mentioned Slint, Sheryl Crow, and Peter Cetera in reference to the same album?

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.3/5)

LP Review: Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Hello Starling
Signature; 2003

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "Bright Smile", "Kathleen", "You Don’t Make It Easy Babe", "Wings", "Snow Is Gone", "Bone of Song"

The sound of a man singing for the love of it.


"Bright Smile" (4.5/5)

  • Right off the bat, it sounds like another huge leap forward.
  • Soft and beautiful, wistful and innocent.
  • Love that guitar line. It’s a daydream.

"Kathleen" (5/5)

  • Love this song.
  • “All the other girls here are stars/You are the northern lights”
  • However, something has always bothered me about the vocals, like the song should be in a different key to really get Josh’s voice right.
  • Regardless, great stuff.

"You Don’t Make It Easy Babe" (4.5/5)

  • Great song.
  • The live version found on a later EP is fantastic.
  • “Here I am standing at your window again…”

"Man Burning" (4/5)

"Rainslicker" (4/5)

  • Excellent arrangement.
  • This is lazy rainy day music.

"Wings" (4.5/5)

  • Amazing lyrics (one of his trademarks of course).
  • Love it when the piano tones in.

"California" (4/5)

  • "This song goes out to every waiter in Los Angeles."

"Snow Is Gone" (5/5)

  • One of his defining songs. Completely brilliant and joyful.
  • “I’m singing for the love of it/Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored…”
  • “Hello blackbird/Hello starling/Come on over/Be my darling!”

"Bone of Song" (4.5/5)

  • Another quiet and gorgeous song.
  • Love the fiddle playing "Auld Lang Syne" at the end.

"Baby That’s Not All" (4/5)

  • Gorgeous melody.
  • Sweet arrangement.
  • Not an amazing song, but the melody and arrangement carry it a long way.

"Bad Actress" (3.5/5)

  • Remarkably forgettable.
  • I think this one could have been left off to the improvement of the album.
  • After all, it would be pretty good as an outtake.


  • On Hello Starling, JR still sounds like he hasn’t into his own in terms of his voice and performance, but most of the songs are great nonetheless, and there’s an undeniable warmth and heart to his performances that wins you over.
  • Great lyrics, great melodies. In fact, the lyrics are the best thing about this record.
  • The loveliness, quite simply, abounds. Even some of the lesser known cuts like "Bone of Song", "Rainslicker", and "Baby That’s Not All", though understated, sound as fresh as the country rain.
  • Though he’s taken a turn for the more produced over the last few albums, I’d love to get a stripped down, bluegrass sort of record from Ritter. His melodies are strong enough to carry something like that through.
  • One thing that bothers me about this album is the production. It just sounds uneven (maybe it was supposed to sound live?).
  • Overall, portends of the great things to come.

Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.32/5)

LP Review: Murmur by R.E.M.

IRS; 1983

My Rating: A (92/100)

Best Tracks: "Radio Free Europe", "Laughing", "Talk About the Passion", "Catapult", "Sitting Still"

Not with a bang but a murmur.


"Radio Free Europe" (5/5)

  • One of the best rock and roll tracks ever.
  • One of the great things about this track is the diverse instrumentation that sort of hides in the background.
  • Also, the tempo is fixed from the sloppy 7" version.
  • This is what it feels like to ride a rock and roll wave for a few minutes.
  • Witness.

"Pilgrimmage" (4.5/5)

  • Murky.
  • "Two-headed cow"???
  • Cool use of the vibes in the background.
  • You know, Berry’s drum beat almost sounds techno. Weird.

"Laughing" (5/5)

  • Pretty acoustic work.
  • That’s a gorgeous melody.
  • This is an archetypal Stipe "mumble-core" cut. Does he ever even sing the word "laughing?"

"Talk About the Passion" (5/5)

  • The "other" hit from the album.
  • I love how the music gets all clean at the chorus.
  • Excellent bridge on this one. Sort of psychedelic.

"Moral Kiosk" (4.5/5)

  • OK, now we’ve got some post-punk.
  • Mills’ background vocals on the chorus sound weird.
  • Brilliant bass work by Mills too.

"Perfect Circle" (4.5/5)

  • I think this one really foreshadows the sound of Fables.
  • Pretty piano.

"Catapult" (5/5)

  • "Did we miss anything?"
  • Love the guitar/bass interplay on this song.
  • Marr/Rourke ain’t got nothin’ on Buck/Mills.

"Sitting Still" (5/5)

  • This was the b-side to the "Radio Free Europe" single.
  • It’s one of their brilliant early cuts. Amazing chorus.

"9-9" (4/5)

  • The only "not great" track on the album
  • But it’s still really good post-punk.

"Shaking Through" (5/5)

  • Do Stipe’s lyrics make any sense here? Are they even intelligible?
  • Amazing melody again.
  • Nice fade-back funk piece on the tail-end.

"We Walk" (4.5/5)

  • If nothing else, catchy and fun.
  • Sounds like someone fell when they got up the stairs onto the landing.

"West of the Fields" (4.5/5)

  • Another cool post-punk cut.
  • Maybe not QUITE the closer one would hope for, but still pretty great.


  • Murmur states the obvious: REM was destined to be a great band. You hear it in Stipe’s soaring and fluid vocal melodies. You feel it in the precision and angularity of Buck’s and Mills’ playing. You find it in the songs, which sound effortless and organic but never overwrought or immodest. These guys were CHANNELING something back in the early 80’s.
  • Murmur cuts against expectations. It definitely rocks, but it’s also muddy and unyielding. For every "Radio Free Europe" you get a "Pilgrimage", for every "Catapult" you get a "Perfect Circle." The record sounds like the kudzu on the cover looks. Both REMs are present here: the rock band that would fill arenas and the artsy troupe that would be the face of the alternative nation. 
  • You won’t find many records from 1983 that don’t sound dated. Murmur goes beyond that though, into the realm of timelessness that only a few bands have ever achieved.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.71/5)

Quick Review (LP): The Photo Album by Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie
The Photo Album
Barsuk; 2001

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "A Movie Script Ending", "We Laugh Indoors", "Styrofoam Plates", “Why You’d Want to Live Here”


"Steadier Footing" (3.5/5)

  • The "prelude" approach to opening an album.
  • Pleasant enough. I think it’s filler though.

"A Movie Script Ending" (5/5)

  • "Passing through unconscious states/When I awoke/I was on the highway…"
  • Love that arpeggiated guitar. Lovely.

"We Laugh Indoors" (5/5)

  • Like "Company Calls", this is one of those amazingly paradoxical "lite metal" tracks.
  • It’s like that scene in The Jerk – "He hates these cans!"
  • A really great guitar song. Amazing how they can make things so muddy yet so precise.

"Information Travels Faster" (4/5)

  • Reminds me of their first album.
  • Pretty good. Not their most memorable cut.

"Why You’d Want to Live Here" (4.5/5)

  • Solid melody.
  • It ain’t the feature, but it’s a strong deep cut.

"Blacking Out the Friction" (4.5/5)

  • see "Why You’d Want to Live Here"

"I Was a Kaleidoscope" (4/5)

  • Sounds like the early 90’s! Sort of a Pixies-ish guitar figure.
  • Very poppy.

"Styrofoam Plates" (5/5)

  • One word: BITTER.
  • As difficult as this song is to listen to, it’s a stroke of genius.
  • I just gotta show respect to the talent that Benny G. displays here. Not one of my favorite songs, but unique and brilliant nonetheless.
  • Just try forgetting this one.

"Coney Island" (4/5)

  • "Captain, sensors are detecting signs of Bruce Hornsby."
  • For the record, I love The Way It Is, the whole album.
  • Could’ve been longer. I like the melody.

"Debate Exposes Doubt" (3.5/5)

  • Disappointing closer.


  • Is Death Cab the first band to think to call an album The Photo Album? Even if they aren’t, I can’t imagine anyone pulling off that concept better. While the opener and closer could have been significantly stronger, everything in between is drunk on that rainy day nostalgia that truly defines the band. It’s not their crowning achievement, but as part three in their "opening trilogy" and the last album of the old school Death Cab sound, it gets the job done and delivers some true classics.
  • And I do wonder why they followed We Have The Facts so closely. Surely a little more space would have let this album fill out a bit more? Couldn’t they have put "Photobooth" on here? Think about that song opening this album and "Stability" closing it. That would have been epic and maybe even classic.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Songs (4.3/5)

Initial Reactions (2011): Feist, Ryan Adams, Still Corners, Beirut

Feist – Metals – [ind]: If I had to compare Feist’s career trajectory to anyone right now, it would be Norah Jones. What I mean is, after two great albums, she has reached the point where she is running purely on charm and an amazing voice and beginning to suffer from a complacent and narrow vision. Not that I’m trying to hate – that’s not it at all – but quite frankly this album seems to substitute a sort of languid jazziness for songwriting chops. I know she probably got sick to death of "1234", but would it really kill her to throw an upbeat track or two into the mix? Another one like this and who will care? ("Caught a Long Wind", "Bittersweet Melodies", "Get It Wrong, Get It Right")

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire – [++]: This definitely sounds like Adams pre-Cardinals, which, depending on one’s perspective, could go either way. The good news is that Adams sounds a little wiser, a little more patient, a little more balanced, and completely ready to focus on the things he does best. Excellent melodies abound, and there’s a sleepy Saturday morning feel to the album that recalls Love Is Hell and the lovelier, nostalgic moments on Cold Roses. Furthermore, I’m detecting the ghost of Richard Manuel in many of these tunes, which is always a good thing. Overall, I’m thinking that this might be one of the best albums of his career, and it could wind up being one of the best of any artist this year. ("Lucky Now", "Ashes & Fire", "Dirty Rain")

Still Corners – Creatures Of An Hour – [++]: More like Endless Winter! Very atmospheric, ghostly stuff. Pretty nice, though not incredibly original what with the voluminous…VOLUME of atmospheric and pretty post-punk outfits making music these days. Still, Creatures is well executed, and our lady Tessa Murray positively haunts these tunes. It’s like they took the last few Camera Obscura albums and boiled ’em down in The Cure’s early records. Also, sounds like Memoryhouse, but more David Lynch. Should make for some pleasant twilight drives in the darker seasons. Overall, shows promise. And I like the dude’s vision. ("Endless Summer")

Beirut – The Rip Tide – (++): I’ve always loved the "Old World" element in Zach Condon’s outfit, but on this one he indulges a heavier pop element for the better. Condon has such a profound gift for rich, memorable melodies that the synths and such, instead of sounding kitschy or tacky, further highlight the wonderful old/new paradox that makes Condon’s music rise above the fray. A keeper for sure and a possible year end sleeper. ("Santa Fe", "Goshen")


[****]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Initial Reactions (2011): Stephen Malkmus, Girls, Thurston Moore, tUnE-yArDs

Stephen Malkmus – Mirror Traffic – [ind]: Initially, Mirror Traffic sounds like a bunch of slightly off-kilter but mostly generic stabs at classic rock. However, a shift occurs around the album’s middle.  "Asking Price" approaches vintage Pavement, and from then on the album takes a step in the right direction. There are some bright moments here, even a few flashes of Stephen seeming to re-capture his Pavement-era muse ("Fall Away" is a definite winner). Unfortunately, they are merely flashes, none of them reaching the low-key melodic transcendence of "Here" or "In the Mouth a Desert" or any other Malkmus-penned great. Pass. ("Fall Away", "Asking Price", "Spazz")

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost – [ind]: Shades of canonical classic rock all over the place. I hear "Kodachrome" in "Honey Bunny." "Die" sounds like some proto-metal proggish thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. "Saying I Love You" recalls the Beach Boys. "Vomit" could be an outtake from Dark Side of the Moon. The loveliness abounds, fer sure. It’s all nice, don’t get me wrong, but the thing is, none of it grabs me. In all honesty, why the hype? ("Alex", "Saying I Love You", "Forgiveness")

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts – [++]: It’s an understated effort, built upon haunting and oblique acoustic guitar figures, but Moore gets it right by inviting violinist Samara Lubelski along for the ride. A meditative and poetic record that is frequently gorgeous and inviting, it is perhaps only lacking in gluey themes. Nonetheless, these tunes make for excellent study soundtracks, assisting in the construction of thoughts better perhaps than Moore intended. ("Benediction", "Illumine")

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L – [++]: I can’t say that this is the type of sonic adventure I’m prone to jump all over, but I have to give Merrill Garbus credit. Word is she was a puppeteer in a former life, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit given the way her music rhythm-izes synthetic sounds into a strangely organic flow. There’s a whole bunch of absolutely fascinating musical moments contained herein, and she performs with a combination of giftedness and passion that is entirely rare. Even though I don’t completely get it, I can definitely appreciate the musical vision that W H O K I L L represents. I’ll certainly revisit this one, and keep my fingers crossed for Garbus as she becomes indie rock’s musical rocket woman. ("My Country", "Gangsta")


[****]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Initial Reactions (2011): Battles, Twin Sister

It’s hard to review all of the new releases I’d like to, especially as you really need 5-10 listens to form something approaching a conclusive opinion about a typical LP. Initial Reactions is my solution to that problem. This will be my way of keeping up with the latest and greatest. I’ll give each of these records at least two full listens, and I’ll apply a blanket qualification to what I write here by saying it’s more of an intuitive reaction than a fully formed opinion. Plus, I can cover more than one band per post this way.

If I’m going to go much past two listens with a record, you’ll probably see a longer review at some point in the not too distant future.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check out the rating key down below. Letter grades don’t seem appropriate for initial reactions, so I’m going with something a bit more basic.

Battles – Gloss Drop – [ind]: This was a record I was expecting to like quite a bit, essentially based on descriptions of the band. I like post-rock, as uncool as that apparently is now, and to be sure, Battles comes off as the perfect post-rock act, cross-pollinating the sounds of Tortoise and Don Caballero. However, as cool as some of these tunes are, the record as a whole left me unimpressed after multiple attempts. A little too hyper-active and noisy, you know? Give me some space, give me some soul. ("Ice Cream")

Twin Sister – In Heaven – [****]: Great stuff! I really didn’t know what to expect with this one, but the most obvious comparison seems to be the perfect mix of Puro Instinct and Stars. There’s also a Euro-pop-ish element, reminiscent of Saint Etienne. It’s really something all their own though. There’s fantastic, versatile songwriting throughout. "Kimmi in a Rice Field" is beautiful and pure (think "Take My Breath Away"), and the rest of the album goes from funky groove rock to indie soul pop. Possibly one of the best records this year. ("Kimmi In A Rice Field", "Stop",  "Saturday Sunday")


[****]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. Rare. This has to be a real screw-up.

Quick Review (LP): Mermaid Avenue II by Wilco (+ Billy Bragg)

Wilco (+ Billy Bragg)
Mermaid Avenue II
Elektra; 2000

My Rating: C (54/100)

Best Tracks: "Airline to Heaven", "Secret of the Sea", "Remember the Mountain Bed", "Aginst th’ Law", "I Was Born"


"Airline to Heaven" (4.5/5)

  • Love the hoedown rhythm.
  • The direction this tune takes is pretty genius. Sounds like it could’ve been an Uncle Tupelo cut.

"My Flying Saucer" (4/5)

  • Cute n’ catchy.

"Feed of Man" (3.5/5)

  • Sort of menacing, but ultimately forgettable.
  • Tweedy should stick to the pretty stuff.

"Hot Rod Hotel" (3.5/5)

  • Woody’s lyrics are pretty great, but musically this is below average.

"I Was Born" (4/5)

  • Another cutey.
  • I was never a 10,000 Maniacs fan, but Natalie Merchant’s super-pure voice really works well with Woody’s lyrics and BB’s tunes.

"Secret of the Sea" (5/5)

  • LOVE this one.
  • Power pop brilliance. (Must be Jay B’s tune
  • "Who can guess the secret of the sea/If you can guess the secret of my love for you/Then we both could know/The secret of the sea…"

"Stetson Kennedy" (3/5)

  • Meh…
  • Sort of sounds like something I’d hear in the background on Bourbon Street.

"Remember the Mountain Bed" (5/5)

  • While Bragg gets the upper hand in terms of authenticity, Tweedy wins in terms of gorgeous melodies. Witness this.
  • Reminds me of the lovelorn nostalgia of "One by One.
  • Great lyrics here.

"Blood of the Lamb" (3/5)

  • Shoots for significance, hits on dull.

"Aginst th’ Law" (4.5/5)

  • Yessir, it is.
  • Why Winston-Salem?
  • Catchy as heck. Fun. Great performance by Corey Harris.

"All You Fascists" (3/5)

  • Yeah, Woody didn’t like Fascists either.
  • Exceedingly average.

"Joe Dimaggio’s Done It Again" (3.5/5)

  • I know it’s Woody’s work and all, but this sounds a bit out of place coming from Tweedy.

"Meanest Man" (3.5/5)

  • Instrumentally compelling.
  • Vocally, decent.
  • In terms of the songwriting, blah.

"Black Wind Blowing" (4/5)

  • Haunting.
  • Picture listening to this one while a storm is rolling in on the prairie.

"Someday Some Morning Sometime" (3.5/5)

  • Feels like it could have been a bit more…


  • Well, they saved most of the winners for the first volume. "Secret of the Sea" is essentially perfect, a Wilco power-pop wonder. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot that detonates.
  • I wonder if they’ve ever given thought to continuing this series?
  • There’s a good documentary about the recording sessions called Man In The Sand. You can watch it on Netflix instant (or, you know, buy it or something).
  • Now that Wilco’s done this for two albums, it would be interesting to hear Jay Farrar/Son Volt give it a shot. After all, JF has always seemed to exude the blue collar heart.

Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (2.5/5)
Songs (3.83/5)