12-10. The Who: Tommy … Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

May 6th, 2012 / 1 Comment » / by Mike

It’s come to this.

After starting my “50 Albums Project” back in June 2010, then hitting a wall April last year, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the only way I’m ever closing out this thing is to group the rest into packages. Starting here, I’ll roll the final 12 out in a few group-posts, with mini-blurbs explaining my stance on each record listed. Then I’ll post separately for No. 1.

I apologize, dear imaginary readers (aka Spencer Zierk). This is how it ends. We could’ve had it all….

Go on to read about the 12th to 10th most important albums in my life, starting with The Who’s “Tommy.”

Read more…

Metal Musings: Agalloch

April 28th, 2011 / No Comments » / by Mike

“There are no gods here”

Listen to Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit and, just like that, you’re strolling through the snow-lined pastures of a Robert Frost poem.

It’s not easy to explain; Agalloch is a metal band. Their vocalist is a part-time growler, other-time chanter, whisperer and, very last on the list, singer. The band means business, taking out a dark but tempered sort of rage on its abused and down-tuned instruments.

But as artists — and that’s what they are —  this Oregonian fivesome care far more for the environment of their sound than whether it’s keeping heads thrashing and fists clenched. It wants you inside of it, so far within its twisted woods that once the sun sets and everything is moonlight, it’s grown too dark to follow out the bread crumbs lined behind you.

The first time I heard this band’s music, I literally couldn’t stop thinking of Hansel and Gretel.

Recorded on all analog equipment, Marrow of the Spirit plays like a record, not a CD. It has texture and grain, a low-fi and degraded kind of character. But as is the case with the rest of the band’s catalog, it’s the instrumental texturing that sets what Agalloch does apart from that of its contemporaries.

To me, there is no genre more difficult than metal. The line separating good from brutal, ominous from whiny, mature from adolescent just couldn’t be more fine. And maybe it all comes down to reserve. Read more…

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Eisley Steps Forward, Into “The Valley”

April 10th, 2011 / 2 Comments » / by Mike

*Oops, forgot to post this one. Here’s my March column in The Underground.

Man Up; Dig Some “Girl Rock”

I’ll admit: like most red-blooded male Americans, I know way less about female musicians than I probably should.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I’m sexist. It’s more, who has the time? After a day full of pumping iron, pounding red meat, strapping on some flannel and chopping wood, I think I speak for most guys when I say I’m pretty wiped. Sure, maybe I can squeeze in a few Steveweisers and a couple games of Black Ops before passing out, but that’s only in the NFL (and my fantasy team’s) offseason. Otherwise I have more pressing responsibilities.

But in all seriousness, it’s hard out there for female rockers. To be noticed, they have to do something different, be something weird. And even then, if the end result sounds pretty, most male radio listeners aren’t going to want to be associated with it. And that’s a shame, especially for a group as interesting as Eisley.

With influences in bands like Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Ben Folds and Neutral Milk Hotel, it’s really no wonder this Texas-based family band (4 DuPree siblings and a cousin) is a little eccentric. Traditionally they write in fairy tales, soaking each track in a kind of fantastical brand of melancholy, as if we’re being taken by the hand while listening and led excitedly through the moonlit woods of their collective imagination. Read more…

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13. Chicago: CTA / II

April 6th, 2011 / No Comments » / by Mike

*NOTE: Weekly posts have been seriously slipping lately, but I will finish this countdown. I might miss a week, or weeks, here or there and have to play catch-up, but it will happen. To stop on the fringe of the Top 10 would just be madness.

“You’re the inspiration”

My uncle had a theory on rock ‘n’ roll.

He believed that every band had a two-part dynamic: a heart, and a soul. The heart keeps the band moving, he said, there’s something sentimental about him, he keeps the sound grounded and melodic. But the soul is different. The soul gives the band wings, makes it animate and throb. The band wouldn’t be THE BAND without each element, but the soul has more right brain priorities: creativity, risk, experimentation.

Chicago’s soul, he said, was Terry Kath.

And that’s how he explained the split in Chicago’s sound eras. For 11 records, they pushed boundaries, utilized their big band, jazz-fusion dynamic with funky, full and restless compositions. Then Kath, the band’s lead guitarist and split vocalist, shot himself in the head. Apparently, he was struggling with depression and drugs and weight problems. They say he was thinking of quitting the band anyway and already started working on solo stuff. But the bullet in his brain was ruled accidental. He was showing off his gun collection to friends, mock-blowing himself away with unloaded weapons. Except one wasn’t unloaded.

After that, Chicago wasn’t Chicago anymore. They devolved into the ballad-driven, pre-emo pop band everyone thinks of nowadays when they hear their name. They still had Bobby Lamm and Pete Cetera singing and songwriting, but they’d lost their soul.

It was Weekend at Bernie’s but with music. The band was moving, but it was cold and croaked and totally faking it. Read more…

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No Surprises: Radiohead Deliver Another Gem

March 30th, 2011 / No Comments » / by Mike

Here’s my March column in the Saint Augustine Underground. Of all the new releases this month, how can a you *not* write about new Radiohead? Sorry, Stevie Wilson, Blackfield just ain’t in the cards.

Nearly four years removed from 2007’s grounded and melody-heavy In Rainbows, mood masters Radiohead have returned home, to the shiny star-clustered space station where I imagine they craft every one of their records.

Listen to The King of Limbs and it’s hard not to think about Kid A, Radiohead’s hyper-atmospheric 2000 release. Both pieces are more experience, more excursion than traditional album. You won’t find many clearly defined “hooks” on either, no predictable rises or falls. Instead, what we get are these mixed palettes of noise, both electronic and acoustic, wrinkled and rubbed together until their edges turn fluid and soft, warm and erotic, until they couple, to birth something better.

After so long —18 year’s worth of discography — it really shouldn’t be surprising. This is what Radiohead does. They don’t record and produce, they transcend and document. And after so long, they’ve earned the right to do daring and crazy things — things like give away albums for free (In Rainbows) and not worry, not even a little, if their music isn’t “accessible.” Read more…

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14. Dream Theater – Scenes From a Memory

March 6th, 2011 / 51 Comments » / by Mike

Crossing the Crooked Step

I have a soft spot for bands that go too far. Pretty sure it was Bill Maher who said something like, “If you never cross the line—how would you know where it is?”

In music, that idea should be Gospel.

The first modern “prog” band I ever heard, it was Dream Theater’s penchant for line-crossing and excess that drew me to them. I went nuts for just how over the top they could be. Everything from the 25-minute songs, the huge melodic bridges, the overblown concepts—I loved it all. I even loved how often they showed off in their tracks, going on these massive instrumental tangents that may or may not really have anything to do with the song’s primary melody. They did it because it sounded cool, and because, technically, they could.

They were virtuosos; they could anything they wanted. And I wanted them to. Read more…

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“We’re Here Because We’re Here” A Rocking Prayer Of An Epic

February 28th, 2011 / No Comments » / by Mike

There are moments in Anathema’s unrelentingly beautiful We’re Here Because We’re Here that are so sincere you feel them in your stomach.

Six years in the making, this self-proclaimed ex-“doom” metal band has put together something so inspirational you might wonder whether it’s being ironic. And who could blame you? With a name like Anathema (cursed, profane), gritty growl rock seems like the obvious genre. Instead, the group has used the space in their discography to evolve, moving album by album since 1993 away from angsty “gothic” themes and onto ground that couldn’t be more eloquent and adult.

We’re Here Because We’re Here is a document of 21st Century spirituality, a melodic prayer to the gods of Struggle and Acceptance. It’s a wholly modern epiphany: basically, the idea that epiphanies in the traditional sense are overrated, the stuff of movies and melodrama. Clarity comes in embracing the unclear, it suggests.

We’re here because we’re here. And that’s enough. Read more…

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15. Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw

February 25th, 2011 / 1 Comment » / by Mike

Again, I’m referencing myself. This will probably be the last album I post on, however, that I’ve written a review for in the past. So no biggie. The rest should be new.

To me, writing-wise, time exists in dog years. I look at what I wrote about this album 2 years ago, for example, and even though my feelings haven’t changed, the way I tried explaining them feels totally foreign. So much of it feels bulky, labored over until all the texture’s gone. The concerns are the same, the way I “read” this record, but the layout feels long and 7 years away–not a measly 2.

CLICK HERE to read what I wrote about Tinderstick’s The Hungry Saw a couple years ago. And see below for a quick couple of my favorite tracks off this dark, bright and beautiful record.

Read more…

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16. Spock’s Beard – Octane

February 20th, 2011 / 6 Comments » / by Mike

There Was a Time

When a band loses its lead singer-songwriter-composure, the reflex reaction is to roll over and die. And that would be understandable.

When Chicago lost Terry Kath, they didn’t split but they quickly took up sucking. And when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, same thing. They didn’t quit but after a few albums they weren’t Genesis anymore; they were some pale pop imitation. They figured, if Gabriel’s gone (and Hackett), so should be experimentation. “That was his thing.”

But it has to be mentioned: both bands, Chicago and Genesis, were probably way more successful commercially as pop acts than progressive. Whatever significance can be seen in that, the point is it’s hard losing a frontman, hard to stay focused and continue building a creative identity.

That’s just one reason I adore Spock’s Beard’s Octane, the band’s 2nd release as “New Spock’s”: Spock’s Beard minus its brain and beating heart Neal Morse. Read more…

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17. Genesis – Selling England by the Pound

February 11th, 2011 / 8 Comments » / by Mike

“Here come the cavalry”

Oh, Genesis, you kings of prog, you masters of mellotron, you crazy scientists of sound…. How dearly I love you.

With Selling England by the Pound, I want to get straight to the point. To me, this is Genesis’ quintessential and most fully realized album. I love Trespass and Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, but they don’t work melodically for me on the same level this album does. And Lamb Lies Down is still a record I don’t totally “get.”

Selling England was my first exposure to Genesis, in all their weirdo, relentless, and proficient glory. Peter Gabriel guides the compositions here, weaving his flute- and vocal-work through Banks’ keys and Steve Hackett’s subtle-when-they-need-to-be/awesome-when-he-wants-them-to-be guitars. The three really make an incredible combination, creating sounds as lofty and wild as they are grounded and sweet. Read more…

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