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Rdio Reviews, Vol. 1

I didn’t mention it in my recent analysis of my first year using Rdio, but one of the many reasons I’m reluctant to make a subscription service my exclusive musical gateway is the ephemerality of online content and services. For that same reason, my writing that has appeared recently in a few other places online has been reposted on this site, and I’ve decided to do the same with the various artist, album, and song reviews I’ve posted on Rdio over the last year. They are collected here.

The Besnard Lakes: You Lived in the City

A spacious, ethereal departure for Besnard Lakes, much of which borders on ambient. This type of atmosphere can be found on their long-players as well, but there it’s tempered with other textures and tempos. Isolated as it is on this EP, it makes for a less compelling listen.

Craig Wedren: “Cupid”

If there had been a Shudder to Think album between Pony Express Record and 50,000 BC, it would have sounded like this.

OFF!: First Four EPs

Context hurts this record. Would I have enjoyed it if it was made by a bunch of pissed off twenty-somethings in 1980? Possibly. But I know it was actually made by a bunch of pissed off forty- and fifty-somethings in 2010, and that just makes the whole thing feel like a mid-life crisis, or worse, arrested development. I’ll give credit where it’s due: Keith Morris’s vocals have every bit of manic energy and fury they had thirty years ago, which is impressive. But otherwise, this record feels like paint-by-numbers nostalgia, with little of the urgency of its source material.

Explosions In The Sky

The Michael Bay of indie rock. If it is possible to mean that in a nice way, I don’t.

Philip Lynott: Philip Lynott Album

Phil Lynott really came into his own as a songwriter in 1975 with Thin Lizzy’s fifth album, Fighting, and his precipitous decline began just five years later with Chinatown. His first solo album, Solo in Soho, arrived that same year, and like that album, this one has its moments, but it’s mostly bland and painfully dated. For completists only.

Japancakes: Loveless

I’ve been a casual Japancakes fan for about ten years, and a more-than-casual My Bloody Valentine fan for a bit longer than that, and somehow I only just discovered this album today. It sounds exactly like you would expect a Japancakes version of Loveless to sound, and the occasional pleasant surprises it mines from those familiar melodies make it a worthwhile listen. But I don’t think anyone can argue that covering a work as singularly majestic as Loveless is anything but unnecessary.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band: “Built Then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)”

Somehow, the ridiculous anarchist drama club monologue in this song doesn’t sink the whole album.

Andrew W.K.: I Get Wet

I’ve lost count of how many times this record has saved my life.

Evile: Five Serpents’ Teeth

Virtually every aspect of Evile’s music is copied directly from late ’80s Metallica. I don’t fault them for it – I’d rather hear a faithful reproduction of something great than a mediocre stab at something original. However, though their instrumental chops are on par with Metallica’s, their songwriting skills are not. Pretty much everything on here is instantly forgettable.

Thin Lizzy

PSA: The essential Thin Lizzy (studio) albums are the middle five. They are, in chronological order: Fighting, Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation, and Black Rose: A Rock Legend. If these don’t do anything for you, I weep for your future.

Thin Lizzy: Thin Lizzy

I need to revisit this album and Shades of a Blue Orphanage once in awhile to remind myself why I don’t own them. These are very humble beginnings for a band that would a few years later become mind-blowingly fantastic.

Thin Lizzy: Thunder and Lightning

One of Thin Lizzy’s biggest and most recognizable strengths was always its twin harmonic leads, and they’re all but abandoned on Thunder and Lightning. From that angle, Lizzy rookie John Sykes’s guitar hero grandstanding says he isn’t a team player, but it’s hard to deny that his superhuman soloing is the most engaging aspect of the album. This isn’t close to Thin Lizzy’s best or most representative work, but it’s not its worst, either.

Meshuggah: Obzen

For some reason, it’s only every few years or so that I remember how great Meshuggah is. I guess that would explain why I never picked this one up, which was a mistake since it is easily the best thing they’ve done since Chaosphere. Obzen is a great example of what Meshuggah does so well: ridiculously complicated, dense metal whose bludgeoning, mechanical constitution belies the very human energy that delivers it. Stellar stuff.

Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth

When I first heard that most of these songs had their origins as castoffs from David Lee Roth’s original tenure with the band, I rolled my eyes. But after hearing the album, I realized what a smart move it was. With Dave back in the fold after nearly thirty years (though sadly not Michael Anthony), dusting off old, unused songs was the closest they could come to picking up where they left off at the end of their most vital period. And for the most part, it works, at least in the way that a compilation of B-sides and rarities can work. Dave pushes awkwardly against the boundaries of his limited range pretty often, but after years of Sammy Hagar abuses, it’s great to hear his voice in this context again (especially when he belts out the chorus’s introductory “Ooh yeah!” in “Blood and Fire”), and the rest of the band shows no signs of its age. In a nutshell, it doesn’t stack up against their most important work, but for an unnecessary record, it is surprisingly good.

Dat Politics: Mad Kit

Dat Politics are at their best when their laptops speak for them, but vocals have had an increasing presence in their shrill digital attack ever since 2002’s Plugs Plus. The vocals work to great effect when they are approached as just another element to be sampled and rearranged for rhythmic or textural effect, but when employed in the service of actual lyrics or melody, Dat Politics’ vocals aren’t up to the task (Gaetan C. Collett in particular has no business being behind a microphone). Like its predecessors, Mad Kit is hampered by an overabundance of the group’s more pop-oriented vocal quirks, but the good news is that they appear to have begun stepping away from that. Right out of the gate, “Own Thing Part 1” offers a promising glimpse of a Dat Politics that wants its audience to dance, not sing along. Here’s hoping they continue in that direction.

Larsen: Cool Cruel Mouth

For no good reason, I pretty much left Larsen for dead in 2003. I’m so glad to see they’re still making worthwhile music that is very much their own. The cryptic tension at the core of their sound is now tempered with moments of relatively conventional beauty, which makes for a more dynamic and engaging record than Rever, where I left off all those years ago. Some songs drag a bit, and others demand your full attention, but they’re all good. Overall, very listenable.

Primus: Pork Soda

Nearly twenty years later, it still blows my mind that this album was Primus’s commercial breakthrough. Not just because it is (still) the most bizarre, least accessible thing they’ve released, but also because it is a genuinely unsettling permutation of their sound. Primus’s efforts before and after touched on a variety of moods, but at the end of the day, the band was always best described as “quirky,” if only for lack of a more fitting, less derisive term. Pork Soda dodges that description almost entirely. Pork Soda is dark and ugly. Pork Soda gives me the fucking creeps.

The Smiths: Complete

I usually scoff at remasters, preferring that musicians just let their original documents stand, warts and all, rather than engaging in technology-driven revisionism every ten years or so. But I have to admit they did a nice, unobtrusive job here with the Smiths catalog, cleaning things up without interfering with the spirit or balance of the original recordings. The one piece that does sound markedly different is Rank, the live album, whose new mix sounds truly spectacular for the first time.

Walter Schreifels: “Requiem”

This song was first recorded in 1998, intended for Quicksand’s third album, which was never completed. I’m surprised it didn’t wind up on the first Rival Schools album (as “So Down On” did, also from those Quicksand sessions), since it would have been right at home there.

Old Man Gloom: Christmas

It is not unheard of to make an album defined almost entirely by extreme dynamic shifts, but it can be difficult to make it work. The problem with this album isn’t necessarily that metalcore and drone require mutually exclusive moods, it’s the trouble of getting them to dovetail well, and the mechanically alternating sequencing here prevents that from happening. The odd tracks float and the even ones stomp, and as soon as you get to like the idea of one, it’s interrupted by the other. It’s like a take-home sleep deprivation study.

Van Halen: “When It’s Love”

It just occurred to me that this is Van Hagar’s attempt at a Beatles song.

Guided By Voices: The Best of Guided By Voices: Human Amusements At Hourly Rates

I’ve never been more than a casual GBV fan because their discography is too huge and uneven to sift through. In all my scattered listening over the years, I never realized how many great songs they made, even though I recognized most of the stuff on here. And I guess that’s exactly what a best-of collection is supposed to do. So, bravo, Matador!

Turbonegro: “Shake Your Shit Machine”

Best song title of 2012 so far? I think so.

Turbonegro: Sexual Harassment

The Duke of Nothing’s gravelly tough-guy vocals are just the sort of thing you’d expect from a band like Turbonegro, which makes me appreciate former singer Hank von Helvete even more. I hadn’t realized it before, but his shrill, somewhat nerdy exuberance had a lot to do with what elevated this band beyond the sum of its parts.

Alan Menken: “Daughters of Triton”

The “Daughters of Triton” cutoff haunts me. How would Ariel have continued the song? Get on it, fan fictioners.

Portishead: “Roads (Live)”

This is such a great, soulful performance of a beautifully devastating song, and then the idiotic audience deflates the whole thing by clapping along like trained monkeys.

Fine Young Cannibals: “Ever Fallen In Love”

I can appreciate doing a cover that’s a nod to your roots, but compared to the original Buzzcocks version, this is really limp. If they had to do it, it would have made a better B-side than an album closer.

Future Islands: On the Water

The only thing keeping this from being another uninspired, cloyingly sentimental throwback synthpop record is the over-the-top vocal theatricality. The borderline ridiculous vocals lend it a peculiar honesty that makes it a more engaging listen, but it is otherwise so reliant on its well-worn retro template that I’m not sure I’ll be back to listen again.

These reviews originally appeared on Rdio.
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