Initial Reactions (2012): Tennis, Dr. Dog, The Little Willies

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an impression on me at that point, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Tennis – Young & Old – [B+]: Deuce. A slight improvement on last year’s set. At times, I detect the influence of mid-90’s Sebadoh, and there’s a little more racket to match the indie-pop sound. Producer Patrick Carney brings a post-punk advantage, but unfortunately there’s no aces. I won’t  fault them for that, though. All in all, this is love-ly, and that’s no backhanded compliment. Net.   ("Origins", "Petition", "Dreaming")

Dr. Dog – Be The Void – [B]: Good and enjoyable rock and roll with a classic vibe. It’s hard not to like Dr. Dog, but it’s equally hard to love them. I think what they lack is a sense of personality. I mean, I get it. These are laid back dudes. They’ve played Lebowski Fest. But maybe they need to add a lady to the mix? And not just any lady, a real firecracker, a Neko. After all, even The Dude found his Maude in the end. ("These Days", "Get Away", "Do The Trick")

The Little Willies – For The Good Times – [B]: The Little Willies play well enough. Unfortunately, the song choices leave something to be desired. "If You’ve Got The Money" and "Jolene" = obvious. Think instead of Hem covering "Radiation Vibe" or "So. Central Rain." That’s grade-A song choice, the kind I’d expect from cosmopolitan musicians living in The City. Good times (but almost great when Norah’s got the lead). ("I Worship You", "Tommy Rockwood", "Fist City")

Quick Review (LP): Smart Flesh by The Low Anthem

The Low Anthem
Smart Flesh
Nonesuch; 2011

My Rating: C (51/100)

Best Tracks: "Ghost Woman Blues", "Love & Altar", "Golden Cattle"

Brace for sleep…

NOTES:
– I love this band’s sound. It’s like the perfect combination of Low’s dark trance-rock and Hem’s chamber americana.
– "Boeing 737" is mighty, but its trajectory is all ahead. I guess I would have preferred they throttle back on it at some point.
– Dig the opener. The clarinet was tragically under-used for 50 years of rock and roll.
– In general, they can’t go wrong with slow songs, mandolin, sustained piano, and clarinet, but even a few of those are a little too sleepy.
– Religious themes going on with some of the song titles. I suspect this album is heavy on the lyrical content, but it’s darn hard to access.
– I dig "Wire" in and of itself, but I question it’s setting in the middle of the record, after "Matter of Time" and before "Burn." The record really starts to drag in the middle.
Ian Cohen of Pitchfork does a great job of summing up what’s wrong with this record. BTW, it pains me to use the word "wrong," because I really want to like this record.
– Overall, it lacks in the songwriting department, and certainly isn’t brilliant like OMGCD. Check out the tracks I mention. The rest can be left behind.

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

Hem: Rabbit Songs (2002)

Hem
Rabbit Songs; 2002
Dreamworks
My Rating: 80/100
I’ve heard Hem’s style called Country-Politan, but I’d term it High Americana. While most alt-country bands keep their noses in the dirt, HEM spends their time looking for the flowers in the old gardens of American music, putting the emphasis on Bernstein more than Guthrie. In this sense, Hem’s debut remains a landmark. There’s none of the irony of punk kids singing gospel songs with a Tennessee twang to be found, only the sweetness of the symphony and the angelic timbre of Sally Ellyson. Let me just ask: who’s done anything like this before or since? Sure, there are moments when the lush orchestration threatens a comfortably numb monotony, but there are too many brilliant songs here, from “Half Acre” to “Idle” to “Stupid Mouth Shut”, to let it happen. Although RABBIT SONGS is not the place to start with HEM, as it lags and loses focus toward the end, it is nevertheless a great debut. Highly recommended for the starry-eyed soul.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Tracks:
1. Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please
2. When I Was Drinking (4/5)
3. Half Acre (5/5)
4. Burying Song
5. Betting on Trains (4.5/5)
6. Leave Me Here (4.5/5)
7. All That I’m Good For (4/5)
8. Idle (The Rabbit Song) (5/5)
9. Stupid Mouth Shut (5/5)
10. Lazy Eye (4/5)
11. Sailor (4/5)
12. Polly’s Dress
13. Night Like a River (3.5/5)
14. The Cuckoo (3.5/5)
15. Waltz (4/5)
16. Horsey (4/5)

rabbitsongsHem
Rabbit Songs; 2002
Dreamworks

My Rating: 80/100

I’ve heard Hem’s style called Country-Politan, but I’d term it High Americana. While most alt-country bands keep their noses in the dirt, HEM spends their time looking for the flowers in the old gardens of American music, putting the emphasis on Bernstein more than Guthrie. In this sense, Hem’s debut remains a landmark. There’s none of the irony of punk kids singing gospel songs with a Tennessee twang to be found, only the sweetness of the symphony and the angelic timbre of Sally Ellyson. Let me just ask: who’s done anything like this before or since? Sure, there are moments when the lush orchestration threatens a comfortably numb monotony, but there are too many brilliant songs here, from “Half Acre” to “Idle” to “Stupid Mouth Shut”, to let it happen. Although RABBIT SONGS is not the place to start with HEM, as it lags and loses focus toward the end, it is nevertheless a great debut. Highly recommended for the starry-eyed soul.

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

Tracks:

1. Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please
2. When I Was Drinking (4/5)
3. Half Acre (5/5)
4. Burying Song
5. Betting on Trains (4.5/5)
6. Leave Me Here (4.5/5)
7. All That I’m Good For (4/5)
8. Idle (The Rabbit Song) (5/5)
9. Stupid Mouth Shut (5/5)
10. Lazy Eye (4/5)
11. Sailor (4/5)
12. Polly’s Dress
13. Night Like a River (3.5/5)
14. The Cuckoo (3.5/5)
15. Waltz (4/5)
16. Horsey (4/5)

Dawn Landes: Fireproof (2007)

Dawn Landes
Fireproof; 2007
Fun Machine Music
My Rating: 77/100
Dawn Landes’ dreamy urbanicana draws from the same Kentucky well as My Morning Jacket’s debut. FIREPROOF, her second full-length, shows the kind of restraint and melodic prowess common to artists like Feist, M. Ward, or Kings of Convenience. Still, unlike her sometimes-cohorts Hem, Landes’ outlook is infused with an off-beat humor and sleepy-eyed optimism that, on first listen, churns imperceptibly below the surface. Give the straight-laced groove of “Bodyguard” a second listen, though, and you’ll soon feel the joy. Landes shines brightest in simplicity. The simple strums and harmonies of “Tired of this Life” are playfully modest, and the afore-mentioned “Bodyguard” sounds like the rhythm was hammered out during recess twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the album sags dramatically in the middle, with novel excursions like “Picture Show” and the unbalanced and awkward “Kids in a Play.” But Landes saves the best for last, closing with a run of four brilliant tracks, including the angelic sway of “Dig Me a Hole” and the last dance of “I’m in Love with the Night.” Bonus points to Landes for her hushed and intimate take on Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”, sneaking it in a few minutes after the star-crossed romance of “You Alone.” FIREPROOF proves that Landes is a big talent, someone with a unique and alluring vision. I expect we’ll be hearing from her for years to come.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Tracks:
1. Bodyguard (5/5)
2. I Don’t Need No Man (4/5)
3. Tired of this Life (5/5)
4. Twilight (4.5/5)
5. Private Little Hell (4/5)
6. Picture Show (3.5/5)
7. Kids in a Play (3/5)
8. Toy Piano (4/5)
9. Dig Me a Hole (5/5)
10. I’m in Love with the Night (5/5)
11. Goodnight Lover (5/5)
12. You Alone (5/5)

Dawn_Landes___FireproofDawn Landes
Fireproof; 2007
Fun Machine Music

My Rating: 77/100

Dawn Landes’ dreamy urbanicana draws from the same Kentucky well as My Morning Jacket’s debut. FIREPROOF, her second full-length, shows the kind of restraint and melodic prowess common to artists like Feist, M. Ward, or Kings of Convenience. Still, unlike her sometimes-cohorts Hem, Landes’ outlook is infused with an off-beat humor and sleepy-eyed optimism that, on first listen, churns imperceptibly below the surface. Give the straight-laced groove of “Bodyguard” a second listen, though, and you’ll soon feel the joy. Landes shines brightest in simplicity. The simple strums and harmonies of “Tired of this Life” are playfully modest, and the afore-mentioned “Bodyguard” sounds like the rhythm was hammered out during recess twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the album sags dramatically in the middle, with novel excursions like “Picture Show” and the unbalanced and awkward “Kids in a Play.” But Landes saves the best for last, closing with a run of four brilliant tracks, including the angelic sway of “Dig Me a Hole” and the last dance of “I’m in Love with the Night.” Bonus points to Landes for her hushed and intimate take on Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”, sneaking it in a few minutes after the star-crossed romance of “You Alone.” FIREPROOF proves that Landes is a big talent, someone with a unique and alluring vision. I expect we’ll be hearing from her for years to come.

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

Tracks:

1. Bodyguard (5/5)
2. I Don’t Need No Man (4/5)
3. Tired of this Life (5/5)
4. Twilight (4.5/5)
5. Private Little Hell (4/5)
6. Picture Show (3.5/5)
7. Kids in a Play (3/5)
8. Toy Piano (4/5)
9. Dig Me a Hole (5/5)
10. I’m in Love with the Night (5/5)
11. Goodnight Lover (5/5)
12. You Alone (5/5)

Thank You Emusic

This blog is not about advertising, but given that I have a healthy dose of writer’s block tonight, I thought I’d switch gears and just appreciate the fact that Emusic has pretty much drowned me in music over the last month.

1. There’s the standard 37 tracks per month at $15.
2. I purchased 100 tracks using a $30 gift card in August.
3. Last night, they gave me 50 extra downloads for being a loyal customer through their transition in bringing Sony onboard.
4. I will shortly be receiving 10 more downloads for rating 10 albums. Yes, I select stars for my favorite records, and I will get 10 free songs.

That’s 197 tracks in one month at $45.  That’s 23 cents a tracks. Muy bueno.

And what did I purchase? Well, here’s an incomplete list:

1. Modest Mouse, No One’s First and You’re Next EP
2. 12 tracks from Bob Dylan’s first two greatest hits volumes (i.e. “All Along the Watchtower”, “I Shall Be Released”)
3. 5 tracks from Pearl Jam (i.e. “Nothingman”, “Once”)
4. Nathan, Jimson Weed
5. Hem, Funnel Cloud
6.  Neu! 75
7. Arcade Fire EP
8.  The Swell Season
9.  The Inbred, Kombinator
10. Sandra McCracken, Red Balloon
11.  The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (43 tracks for the price of 12!)
12.  5 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Sad Sappy Sucker
13. Son Volt, The Search (Deluxe Edition)
14. Sandra McCracken, Gravity/Love
15.  Dinosaur Jr., Farm
16. 6 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Epic releases
17. Bruce Springsteen, Hammersmith Odeon London ’75

And while there’s more where that came from, I’m not even done buying yet. I don’t know of a deal that even comes close to that in music downloads. So if you haven’t done a free trial with eMusic, what are you waiting for?