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general admission

updated for correct setlist and a link to a youtube video or two.
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Saw The National perform at the Tabernacle in Atlanta last night. Solid show. I’m not sure if it was them or me, but one of the two of us took some time to warm up, but by about 5 or 6 songs in it was a pretty good performance.

It’s a bit disappointing that either their gear, or the Tabernacle itself resulted in a rather muddy show from an audio standpoint. Much of the intricacy of their songs did not come across live. The long and short of this is that certain songs when performed seemed drastically inferior to the album version (Mistaken for Strangers), while others seemed far superior to the recording (Secret Meeting, Abel, Squalor Victoria); largely the harder edged rock songs were the stronger tracks live. Though, as I said before, the performances got stronger as it went along regardless of the quality of the sound.

I’m a little bummed that we only apparently heard two, maybe 3 new songs, considering there are apparently six or so floating around in their set lists right now, but I’m happy to hear anything new. Judging by what we did hear, the new album should be on par with their last two.

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What I remember of the setlist:

Main set – in no particular order
The Runaway (Karamazov) – new
Start a War
Mistaken for Strangers
Brainy
Secret Meeting
Baby, We’ll Be Fine
Slow Show
Vanderlylle Crybaby – new
Squalor Victoria
All the Wine
Abel
Ada
Apartment Story (I don’t remember this)
Green Gloves
Fake Empire
Daughters of the Soho Riots

Encore
Daughters of the Soho Riots
Mr. November
Blood Buzz Ohio – new
About Today (a pretty spectacular closer – significantly extended from the EP version)

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I’d’ve sworn we heard Wasp Nest, considering the jingle-y bells, but I don’t know that song very well. There must be something else that uses jingle bells…

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Tori Amos, my favorite singer for a span of roughly ten years, returned on Tuesday with yet another recent album which displays the same distinct inability to self-edit and produce a work of consistent quality that has been troubling her for quite a few years now. Though it features none of the one-minute long horrific pieces of shit that littered the last album (two years later, I’m still angry that she would even consider “Fat Slut” to be a ‘song’).

I was really worried (probably because of the rather uninspired title) that this would be the first truly bad Tori album, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find that it includes several quite good tracks, even if the overall quality is still troublingly below her first several albums. Much like her previous American Doll Posse, then, we have a collection of tunes which would have produced a solid 10 to 12 track disc, which has been padded out to 17 tracks via the inclusion of things which aren’t even really good enough to be B-sides.

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The Good
Track 1 – “Give”: A very listenable opener, with a decidedly slower pace than is usual for Tori, and a return to the style of the From the Choirgirl Hotel album. This is quite good. There is a rumble here that would probably sound fantastic live.

Track 2 – “Welcome to England”: Though I’m not too fond of the central conceit of being ‘welcomed to England,’ this is the closest thing on the album to a typical Tori pop-single, and it’s pretty solid. Nothing spectacular, but a nice traditional voice and piano dominated pop tune.

Track 4 – “Flavor”: Another slow jam, with odd technical instrumentation and understated electric guitar work – again somewhat reminiscent of Choirgirl. This is probably my favorite track on the album. And I love the way her accenting of the syllables turns the words into something just slightly alien.

Track 7 – “Curtain Call”: Though I am hard pressed to elaborate exactly why this is superior to “Maybe California,” as both seem equally uncreative in terms of Tori’s oeuvre (and the use of “China’s wall” feel’s like a distinct reach for a rhyme), there’s simply more intensity and a little more intricacy to this. Perhaps it also contains a little bit of the slightly Alice in Wonderland disenchantment from Choirgirl as well. (It’s odd that I keep coming back to Choirgirl as the touchstone for the good tracks here, as it was never particularly a standout album to me when it was new, but its tone has grown on me in the past few years.)

Track 10 – “That Guy”: Every fiber of my being wanted to hate this song upon the first listen to the first two words, but I simply can’t. It has a certain French chanteuse feel to it at the front end, which molts into something quite lovely, and even unexpectedly powerful. It’s a real unexpected gem.

Track 11 – “Abnormally Attracted to Sin”: It really is too bad that the bulk of this song is somewhat bland (and the main lyric is kind of stupid). There is a piece roughly a minute and a half in (lasting only about 30 seconds) where it breaks loose in a creative acoustic guitar frenzy that is totally unequalled by the rest of album, and extremely rare in her work. This is the Tori that I expected to emerge in her later years and which has been stubbornly rare. Perhaps I simply yearn for it because it is so reminiscent to the style of music I was writing when I finally gave up the dream of becoming a musician, but one way or the other I love that little piece.

Track 15 – “Fast Horse”: Though I must admit that I find the odd time signature here to be more distracting than pleasurable, this is a pretty nice pop-rock song. And I love the latter-years Tori-style baseline that rumbles through this. Would probably make a decent single; certainly a better one than “Maybe California,” which the album packaging seems to imply will be the second single.

Track 17 – “Lady in Blue”: Up until recently, it had been Tori’s custom to put the weirdest song on the album at the end. (Last time, the oddball – “Big Wheel” – was technically the opener; before that, the weirdo – “Ireland” – was in the middle.) Happily the old pattern returns here, and returns well. This thing is just plain weird for the first several minutes. A good description of the front end might be a New Age keyboardist playing Blues with Radiohead doing the mix; the latter half is pretty much sinister slow-bass-rock Tori. I’m not sure I enjoy all of it, but I respect the hell out of her continuing ability to change things up this much. I wish she’d do it more often.

The OK
Track 5 – “Not Dying Today”: A wholly uninspired Tori-rock tune (from the lyrics to the music). Complete with a no longer surprising reference to Neil Gaiman. Whatever…

Track 6 – “Maybe California”: Despite being listed on the cover, this is also a pretty spectacularly uninspired Tori-ballad. Nothing special here…just piano and strings in a not particularly impressive tune, and lyrics that fail to inspire any particular connection.

Track 8 – “Fire to Your Plain”: This is the track which will be reworked into a club mix…and will probably be all the better for it. The tune itself is fine, but the mix here is really problematically lifeless in my opinion. Where are Tori’s almost inexplicably loud drums and bass when you need them…?

Track 12 – “500 Miles”: This seems like it should be a relatively nice little acoustic ballad, but it just doesn’t gel the way it feels like it should. Perhaps it’s the uninspired lyrics (come on, Tori, you’ve already done “A Thousand Oceans,” and the Proclaimers have already done a ‘500 miles’ riff – enough ballad numerology!). Perhaps it’s the mix. Either way, I’m not buying it…though I don’t dislike it. Only the last 30 seconds holds up the way it seems like it should.

Track 13 – “Mary Jane”: Hot on the heels of the nearly trite numbers game in the lyrics of “500 miles” comes this actually trite thing in which a young man’s experimentation with weed is predictably feminized via ‘Mary Jane’ slang. Musically this is fine, but, I mean, come on…“she even bakes these odd brownies”?!? You’re a far more cunning linguist than that, Tori.

Track 14 – “Starling”: I like the rhythmic digitalia that opens and underpins the song, and the chorus is actually quite good, but yet again we have a song in which the verses seem almost perversely proud of not being catchy. And there’s a rocking piece at the end which should be the high-point which is, instead, probably the worst part of the song.

Track 16 – “Ophelia”: Piano verses and rockin’ choruses. This is pretty much the epitome of what Tori’s work has been like for the past several years. As such, it is both fine and somewhat boring (been there, done that). I kick it down from ‘good’ to ‘ok’ for the line “Ophelia / I feel you.” Ick. Tori’s eloquence with a lyric seems to have really degenerated in the last few years.

The Bad
Track 3 – “Strong Black Vine”: the verses are fine, but the music for the chorus is pretty bland, and the bridge is perhaps the worst thing she’s ever written for a full-fledged song (which means I’m discounting terrible things like “Fat Slut” from the last album). And that “baby” bit….yikes.

Track 9 – “Police Me”: This is Tori reaching back into the industrial-Nine Inch Nails bag that she has tinkered with a few times over the course of her career. The execution here is pretty poor, with a terrible chorus. The delivery (and even the inclusion) of the phrase “Blackberry girl” is nearly as bad as the “baby” line from Track 3. There are pieces of this that I like, but the whole thing comes off as sloppy.

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All in all, I think I’m happier with this than the last one, though it suffers from much the same problems. I hope that next time Tori really sits down with a pruning knife and puts out only her best work, as she’s quite clearly still capable of putting out a spectacular album. Lately her work has displayed a distinct air of laziness both in lyrical construction and editing. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that she simply releases an album every single time she finishes 78 minutes worth of music – including every song without cutting a single one…

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Drunken Shriek

For the sake of having an actual blog post of some length, I will devote a tiny amount of my break to reviewing Duncan Sheik’s new album Whisper House, as I can think of nothing else in particular to talk about at present.

I had the pleasure of seeing Duncan play about half of the songs on the new album at a concert in Atlanta at the end of last year (and purchasing an EP which included three of them). So I came into this album with some warning that it would be a ‘musical theater’ piece and that the story might overwhelm the music. (For those not in the know, it is a story about a kid talking to ghosts.) In fact, he foregrounded the story so strongly in the performance that they were actually hard to like on that first night.

However, with the recordings in hand, I have been pleasantly proven pretty much wrong on that score. The lyrics are generally poetically vague enough that they work both as story and as metaphor, if one chooses not to focus unduly on the tale.

The first track, “It’s Better to Be Dead,” is the one which most strongly suffers from ‘story-ness,’ as it spends the first minute or so introducing all the characters. However, once you get past that part, the song itself is actually quite good. Far darker than Duncan usually writes (witness the title), but plot-wise it works. The same could be said for Track 10, “Take a Bow,” though the verses are pretty repetitive; its biggest failing is that it also names all the characters. “The Tale of Solomon Snell” is the only other track that really feels like a showtune, but that’s because it is, by itself, a story of a particular character. I’m not often a fan of that type of lyric (unless it’s by Sufjan Stevens), so I don’t much care for this song. So only three out of ten are extremely tied, lyrically, to the story.

The rest of the album is kind of a split beast. Some of the more ‘rockin’ tunes stand out as the best and the least impacted by the story-telling. Track 2, “We’re Here to Tell You,” is a wonderful song – probably the best on the album, and probably should have been the single; it works equally well as metaphor for the past coming back to haunt you. (“We’re here to tell you / ghosts are here for good / if this doesn’t terrify you / it should.”) Track 7, “You’ve Really Gone and Done It Now,” works similarly. Track 6, “Play Your Part,” is slightly weaker than those two, but fits in here.

The first single – Track 5, “Earthbound Starlight” – is indicative of the other half of the album…slow, ‘adult-contemporary’-esque tracks. These are often less successful, as they tend to be more meandering and have less ‘pop’ music structure. “Starlight” itself is fine (though it shouldn’t have been the single), but some of the others are pretty poor: for example, Track 8, “How It Feels,” which to me is ungodly boring, though while listening to it I’m hard pressed to tell you what particularly is wrong with it. My favorite of the slower songs is probably Track 9, “We Don’t Believe in You.”

All told, the album works well as a late meditation on the depressing, war-weary Bush era (of which Duncan was overtly not a fan). This is not surprising, as the story itself, with its war references, was probably consciously written as a reflection of that era. (Try this lyric sequence from “Play Your Part”: Here are your lines / Now stick to the page / Like the wise man said, “all the world’s a stage” / And don’t forget, you have a role to play / You can’t improvise / You can never stray.) So for those of us who are lefty liberals coming out from the past eight years of less-than-pleasantness, several of the individual songs here are nicely structured allegories for recent feelings. As I said, it is certainly far darker than Duncan’s previous fare, but is so in ways that are still eminently relatable. (It’s certainly not the snarling dark twist that hit Cat Stevens on “Catch Bull at Four.” More of a depressed darkness.)

It doesn’t really hold up as an album quite as well as some of Duncan’s previous work (certainly not Daylight, which is still his strongest album from beginning to end), but the high points are quite good. The ‘musical theater’ thing does seem to have reinvigorated him and sent him into profitable new directions. I only wish he’d take care to pull specific character names out of the lyrics, as that is the one thing that ties these songs too strongly to a story that listeners may or may not care about.

I’d probably give it a 7 out of 10 if I was pressed to give it a numerical rating.

I must admit, however, that I hope the future brings the more optimistic and happy Duncan back to us. He seemed pretty down during his performance late last year, and this album as a whole is pretty downbeat. That’s not the Duncan I know and love. Come back to us, Mr. Buddhist man.

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Not much time for blogging these days.  Oh well…  Here’s another random update from a couple weeks of rather constant entertainment.

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1.  Jennifer and I saw the Kronos Quartet at Emory for $5 about nine days ago (thank you student ticket prices).  It was really quite strange – an avant garde string quartet is an interesting thing to see.  In general, when industrial or post-rock musicians start making a non-musical racket by banging on things and making static sounds for a few minutes, I tune out and/or shut off the music.  But when a group of classically trained musicians decide to perform “Armenia” by Einsturzende Neubauten (essentially three minutes of banging and grinding metal) in the middle of their set, one has to look at it in a very different way.  I must say, though I don’t enjoy it as music, such a thing performed live is actually a very interesting experience.  They also played an eclectic array of other songs – including one of Jim Thirlwell’s many many pieces of monotonous and dreary boredom, a Sigur Ros song, the tune from The Fountain (which they co-wrote with Mogwai), and several with Chinese pipa player Wu Man.  It was simultaneously a very hit or miss set (especially the Wu Man bits, of which there were far too many), and a wonderful performance.

Such is the effect of unpredictability in a sequence of otherwise not particularly good music.  Anyone who has a chance to see them (especially for the tiny amount that I paid) should take the chance.  It’s certainly an uncommon musical experience.

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2. Two nights ago, I went to see the Dan Tyminski Band (sort of a bluegrass supergroup – featuring the man who performed Man of Constant Sorrow for O Brother, Where Art Thou), also with Jennifer.  (In fact, we can pretty much assume she was there too from now on.)  That was also fun.  Although bluegrass is so restricted by its genre conventions that even its most ardent supporters have to admit that it eventually gets monotonous, about 90 minutes of it in live performance is a lot of fun.  All five of the guys onstage (with perhaps an exception for the bass player) were extremely talented, and their rapid picking on the solos was very amusing.  And, of course, the constantly depressing lyrics performed in an ultra-happy way was also nice.  (“He beat her up because she ran around / she shot him and they laid him in the ground / now there’s two kids without a home.”  All sung in a pretty trio.)  It’s fine stuff if you’re in the mood, and one could hardly do much better than this group of guys.  Dan has a nice voice, and the rest of the night is basically a stream of solos in which each person tries to outdo the previous one.  Fun.

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3. About three days ago we had the campus movie fest finale for our particular school.  Suffice to say, we did not win (although we were nominated for Best Picture).  The whole thing was an appalling experience.  If you’ve ever wanted to relive the experience of high school (a bunch of idiots with no taste using laughter as a popularity contest) – and really, who wants to do that – then feel free to attend one of these things.

It was nice to see our film on the screen, but everything else was a real struggle.  Crappy movies, crappy presenters, and an audience that found inexplicable ‘plot’ twists (rather than humor that was in any way motivated) to be the funniest things in the world.

Stay away from these things, I beg of you.

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4. Have been watching the second season of Torchwood.  We’re now six episodes in, and its actually far superior to the first season.  The characters have – gasp – character!  Honestly, Ianto is so far removed from his first season emptiness that he’s practically a completely new character.  (In fact, when they finally showed him playing doorman again in episode six, it did not sit well; he’s not that person anymore.)  And the same could be said for most of them.  Jack’s off the cuff, sex-obsessed one-liners are back.  Gwen, Tosh, and Owen – though thin, so far – are not any worse written than they were last season, and may even be slightly improved.  And even Martha Jones – that personality-free character who almost single handedly made Dr. Who season three unwatchable – is being used for positive ends (most of the time).  She came in during episode six, and her dullness actually allows the other characters to spit out more one-liners; she’s essentially playing straight man.  (And, let’s face it, that’s about all she’s capable of anyway; she is flat out one of the most terrible actresses on the planet to have achieved steady employment.)

So if you were worried that this season would be more “Cyberwoman” and bad movie remakes, fear not.  It’s actually been pretty solid so far.  (Don’t take that to mean ‘brilliant,’ however.  It’s just ‘good.’)

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5. In a few weeks I get to see Silver Mt. Zion perform in Atlanta.  I’m excited.

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6. Even sooner, They Might Be Giants will be playing here as well.

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Don’t ask me why there’s all of a sudden so much entertainment in Atlanta.  This was a dead zone for most of the last eighteen months.  Whatever the reasons, I’ve had a lot of fun these past couple weeks in between reading for classes and finishing up my thesis.

You wish you were me.

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  1. 15 Step: Like the best of the “Amnesiac” album, this is a beat dominated, electronic dance tune. A really solid opener, musically. Though it doesn’t really grab me as a potential single (probably because it feels slightly too much like the band going through the motions), it’s still a solid track. Probably the closest thing Radiohead actually gets to filler (thankfully). (4/5)
  2. Bodysnatchers: Here’s where it really kicks in. This is what classic radiohead sounds like after ten years of experimentation. A guitar driven rock tune that’s so washed out and fuzzy, and contains such menacing remodulated voices that it sounds like nothing so much as old Public Image Limited trying to do a punk rock cover. Catchy and danceable, if one is so inclined. It’s a bit aggressive for Radiohead, but would stand a good chance of being the single if they were still with their old label. (4/5)
  3. Nude: Many of you have probably heard this one back when it was called “Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any).” The production on this track makes it barely recognizable from those early live versions, however. The music gets so sparse (and occasionally choral) that it’s practically a lounge tune at times. At other points its very reminiscent of “OK Computer” era dreariness. All in all, yet another song that is both excellent in its own right, yet somehow very reminiscent of an earlier era of the band. (4/5)
  4. Weird Fishes: Not by any means a single. Not by any means a highlight of the album. In fact, I can find virtually nothing in this song that is particularly noteworthy. And yet it somehow adds up to a perfectly good song. The monotony of the first three fourths of the piece is both offputting and compelling at the same time, leaving the listener trapped somewhere between adoration and boredom. For the last minute, it unexpectedly shifts into an intensity unrivaled by the bulk of the album. Probably the most conceptually interesting song on the album. (3/5)
  5. All I Need: If you absolutely need convincing that this (free) album is worth bothering with, here it is. This is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the album for me. Too slow to be danceable, catchy only in the way that Type O Negative is, and only a step removed from both sadness and aggression. This is the pacing that I identify with a musical representation of reflection. Just a really nice slow build to an epic ending a la Godspeed, Sigur Ros, Mogwai, etc. A masterpiece. (5/5)
  6. Faust Arp: A weird little thing. Quiet but rapidly paced – largely based around acoustic guitars. Would probably have worked perfectly well on “The Bends,” but here it seems a little out of place. Perhaps it suffers from placement between songs five and six. (3/5)
  7. Reckoner: Though I’m conflicted, I wouldn’t argue with calling this the second best track on the album. (Though I think that title more rightfully belongs to Nude.)  Back to the catchy pacing with weird instrumentation. Again, an element of monotony to open the tune, but more in line with hippy positivity in sing-a-long. And unexpected break-down in the middle. Just generally an unpredictable little tune, with Thom’s voice mumbling beautifully across the whole thing. Does wear a little thin at the end, but not so much as to make it unlikeable. (4/5)
  8. House of Cards: This is one of only two songs on the album that I consider so middling as to be unnecessary inclusions. Here is where repetitiveness falls apart. It’s got the pacing of track five but without the intensity. It’s got the spacey hippy atmosphere of track seven, but an air of meditation rather than group interaction. It just sort of sits there. And unfortunately it’s the longest song on offer. Fine, but more of a B-side than anything. It’s definitely out of place on an album as generally uptempo as this one is. (2/5)
  9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place: Back to the danceable pace of the bulk of the album (bit this time without making one feel at all like dancing). Something about this brings back the feeling of “Hail to the Thief.” A sort of world-weary anger. I can’t say much more about it. Fine work, but feels slightly like a retread – much like track one did. (4/5)
  10. Videotape: An unfortunately (and kind of inexplicably) boring song to end the album. By this point we should have realized that monotonous repetition is part of the unifying theme of the album, but it’s somehow very intrusive here. Perhaps it’s simply the lack of any real excellence in the piano riff upon which the song is built. Whatever the reason, I just keep waiting for this song to do something that it’s steadfastly refusing to do. Which is not a particularly good way to end an album. Usually Radiohead’s dreariness is somehow very palatable to me…but this one just feels like an extended prelude to meat that never arrives. (2/5)

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…radiohead…

www.inrainbows.com

It doesn’t disappoint.

And it might be the only time this year that you get to set the price on anything, which in and of itself is worth something.

fifth.jpg

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I will review this album twice. First, track by track. Then in a lump. Read whichever you choose…or both…or neither. This was just me journaling out my thoughts as the album played…

Just to clarify right out of the gate, though I have nothing against the “5 characters” concept album idea, I will make no effort to equate these songs to a personality while judging them. In the end, it is the songs themselves that count.

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1. Yo George – A short ‘interlude track.’ Really quite nice music. It’s unfortunate that the lyrics are insufferable. I hate hate hate overt politicking in music. Varnish it with poetry please…that’s what artists do. [D]
2. Big Wheel – An extreme departure from Tori’s usual style, and a great song. Great way to kick off a very creatively experimental album. [A]
3. Bouncing Off Clouds – Follow the first song immediately with one that could be a stand-out Tori single off of any album. Perhaps the best song on offer here, certainly the best lyrics, if one bothers to stop bopping along long enough to actually listen to them. This track justifies the entire purchase of the cd. This is a hell of a one-two punch to open the album…assuming one ignores “Yo George.” [A+]
4. Teenage Hustling – Tori does hard-rock. And I’m not kidding. This is ten times as guitar-driven as anything she’s ever written. A third unexpectedly spectacular track at the front of this album. [A]
5. Digital Ghost – Not as good as “Bouncing Off Clouds,” but another more typical Tori track. A keeper, if not quite a stand out. [B+]
6. You Can Bring Your Dog – The album hits a gutter right here and stays in it for three tracks.  I can really only say that this sounds to me like a really good musician performing a really terrible song, resulting in something that one wants to like and hate both at the same time.  Sort of what you’d expect of a superstar trying too hard to reorient herself to a blues bar crowd.  [C]
7. Mr. Bad Man – This is flat out useless. I don’t understand why this was released. Most unsigned acts wouldn’t even try to use this as filler.  The nicest thing I can say about this is that it’s a pretty poor attempt to recapture the ‘happy’ magic of “Happy Phantom.”  [D]
8. Fat Slut – A short ‘interlude track.’ If I didn’t already find angry fat girls insufferable, I’d still think this was pointless aggression masquerading as music. This should’ve been cut way before the album reached store shelves. [F]
9. Girl Disappearing – Ok. A pretty standard Tori song. If you know Tori’s typical style, then you won’t be surprised here. That said, it’s kind of bland. [C]
10. Secret Spell – I’m not really sure what to say about this one. It sort of sounds like the kind of thing that would’ve been on a second “Y Kant Tori Read” album. It’s nothing great, and the style is a bit too heavy on the ‘optimistic’ production values of the ‘80s. But it’s nothing off-putting. I’m just sad there hasn’t been a really really good song since track four. [C+]
11. Devils and Gods – Ok for a short interlude track. The first one that’s seemed something less than appalling. I could take it or leave it, but at least it’s listenable. [C-]
12. Body and Soul – Yet another middling track. It’s ok, and another musical departure for Tori. But I’m still waiting for the album to re-find its feet. [C]
13. Father’s Son – Now this is beautiful. It never really takes off as a song, choosing to remain quiet, repetitive, and ponderous…but this is clearly deserving of having been included on the album. [B]
14. Programmable Soda – Yet another pointless ‘interlude track,’ and perhaps the most insufferable yet. Tori has a real problem with trying to make short cute songs out of phrases that are not at all funny or clever. The line “think of me as programmable soda” is stupid in my opinion. [D-]
15. Code Red – Ooooooooo. She’s back. A little left-hand menace on the piano, combined with just the right amount of right-hand beauty. Finally the album gets back to the level at which it began. This is phenomenal, though it does begin to wear out its welcome before it ends. [A-]
16. Roosterspur Bridge – And instantly we go right back to middling but acceptable Tori. Nothing special here. Nothing egregious. Just going through the motions. [C]
17. Beauty of Speed – And we swing right back to the type of thing that Tori really does well these days: pseudo-rock = piano with drums and bass. It’s become apparent over the course of the album that virtually everything else is problematic, while tracks like this are almost invariably good. Catchy piano-rock is what she still does better than most. [B+]
18. Almost Rosey – And another. Catchy, driving music with interesting lyrics. [B+]
19. Velvet Revolution – Little Middle Eastern inflected riff. Another ‘interlude.’ Far and away the best on the album; it feels complete, it’s interesting, and it’s listenable. Nice little thing. [A-]
20. Dark Side of the Sun – Again, middling piano driven, not-particularly-catchy Tori. She does this a lot these days. By the end, one gets the impression that she’s been listening to post-rock, as there’s a grab for a rising crescendo and fall-away, but she doesn’t do it very well. [C]
21. Posse Bonus – Sweet Jesus…what the hell are you doing Tori… [D-]
22. Smokey Joe – One of the few really good slow, non-drum based songs on the album. [A-]
23. Dragon – A very good closing track. Not too fond of the intro piece, but otherwise this is one of the stand-out tracks on the album. One of the classic Tori ending-tracks which are virtually entirely piano and yet manage to evoke an intensity of emotion that is truly awe inspiring. The album goes out equal and opposite to how it came in = two great songs, but this time they are quiet and slow. [A]

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Tori has a problem. She’s made her masterpiece and everyone knows it. “Boys For Pele” was a masterwork and it continues to haunt her. Over the last three albums she’s clearly been either trying to recapture the magic or showing that she only ever had one ‘concept album’ idea to begin with; she keeps trying to do the ‘many styles of music, filled with short (less than a minute) interludes’ thing, and it keeps being problematic.

She’s scattered six ‘interludes’ throughout the 23 tracks on this album, and they are virtually all terrible and pointless (with the clear exception of “Velvet Revolution,” and perhaps “Devils and Gods”). The other four – “Yo George,” “Fat Slut,” “Programmable Soda,” and “Posse Bonus” – are all embarrassingly bad.

As for the full-length songs themselves, aside from the fact that there is clearly too much emphasis on quantity rather than quality here (she filled the disc – 79 minutes), there are a couple important points to be made.

First, Tori is ungodly phenomenal at catchy piano-rock tunes. She figured this out round about the “From the Choirgirl Hotel” album, and it’s been her bread and butter ever since. In that line, “Bouncing Off Clouds” is an absolute masterwork. One of the best songs she’s ever recorded. She hits several minor peaks on the album as well in this genre – “Digital Ghost,” “Code Red,” “Beauty of Speed,” “Almost Rosey.” Other tracks work along the same lines while also being stylistically experimental. “Big Wheel” is something like garage funk, in my mind. “Teenage Hustling” is full on guitar-based hard-rock. “Secret Spell” is sort of the “Y Kant Tori Read” era equivalent of this piano-rock style.

Secondly, however, she has found herself in quite a rut with the rest of her output. There are a couple songs here that manage to be very good, quiet piano-based tracks – “Father’s Son,” “Smokey Joe,” and “Dragon” – but most of the time that she tries to do something other than straight ahead radio-friendly rock, she stumbles into middling and quite boring background music.

All told, the album is certainly worth paying for. There are at least nine tunes that I’ll listen to repeatedly. However, there’s a lot of dead space here that is probably going to remain dead. The failures don’t seem to be the ‘try it and it’ll grow on you’ type; they seem to be the ‘waste of time from the word go’ type.

Pity she keeps stumbling around like this. She’s still got brilliance in her. Perhaps it’s time to slow down on the album releases and really polish one up to a shine…

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