A Man Called (E)
Willie's comments: This hard-to-find solo album by the frontman of the eels (produced by Parthenon Huxley of the band P. Hux) features lots of unself-consciously pretty songs featuring toy pianos and E's endearingly unstudied voice multitracked into Brian Wilson-derived harmonies. eels fans will immediately recognize the mopey vocals and catchy melodies of "Hello Cruel World" and "Are You and Me Gonna Happen," but most of the songs sound more like the Beach Boys updated for the '90s, which doesn't appeal to my ears. If you're a really die-hard eels fan who's motivated enough to find this album, you will be rewarded, though. Grade: B
SEE ALSO: eels
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East River Pipe
Shining Hours in a Can
Willie's comments: East River Pipe's debut record is actually a compilation of singles and other assorted tunes recorded by F.M. Cornog (the guy who is East River Pipe) in his apartment, that was re-released on Merge in 2002 with a couple bonus tracks. Thing is, Cornog's songs stick pretty strictly to a single formula, so Shining Hours really does sound like a proper album rather than a collection- even if it's perhaps a smidge too uniform to be fully worthwhile. The formula is a nice one, though: with a minimal rhythm section (unobtrusive drum machine, nonchalant bass), Cornog's reverbed voice struts through a whole rainforest full of jangle that's created by what sound like at least four or five guitar tracks in some songs. The fact that the vocals are sometimes almost hidden behind a cloak of guitars seems perfectly appropriate, too, since most of these songs eloquently deal with dissatisfaction with one's own identity, and the desire to be someone else, whether it's a rock star ("Axl or Iggy") or a lover ("Helmet On") or just anyone else ("My Life is Wrong"). The melodies are resigned, and very pretty even when they're redundant (do we need both "Happytown" and "Miracleland"?), but I wish there were more standouts like the melancholy "Firing Room" or the blistering "Psychic Whore." It's another mood-above-melody disc, and although it's far from essential (especially if you have the superb The Gasoline Age), there's nary a moment on here that even approaches disagreeable. Grade: B
The Gasoline Age
Willie's comments: You know that part at the end of Dazed and Confused where the sun is coming up after a night of partying, and the film itself practically emits a vibe of satisfied exhaustion? The fourth album from this indie-popster is a lot like that. Songs like "Shiny, Shiny Pimpmobile," "Party Drive," "Astrofarm," and the gorgeous closer, "Don't Hurry," are wispy, hooky tunes that have a celestial aura about them. And like the Magnetic Fields' The Charm of the Highway Strip or the Meat Puppets' Up on the Sun, the low production values and country-tinged melodies on The Gasoline Age add up to an intimate sense of warmth as the album plays. As the nine-minute epic "Atlantic City (Gonna Make a Million Tonight)" builds to a gently happy finish, you can practically hear the night winding down. Grade: A
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The Little Bugs Glow
Willie's comments: It's hard to tell whether this album is a serious tribute to Pink Floyd or a Ween-esque parody of space-age prog rock. It sounds like the product of two guys who got really stoned and listened to Floyd's entire discography for the first time, and then tried to musically re-create what they heard several days later. If it's a joke, it's hilarious. The Little Bugs Glow is packed with sloppily-designed, '70s-derived songs that coast along in a semi-pleasant fashion for a little while and then careen into several minutes of pointless synthesized experimentation. "Lulu Song," performed by one of the band member's sister, is nothing more than a sound snippet looped and multitracked to presumably mind-altering effect. While that's not typical of the album's contents, it is of a piece with the uninspired, King Crimson-ish songs that surround it; it's too inept and lazy to be effective. Add to that lyrics like "When the little bugs glow... we'll know everything," and you've got an album that's more of a goofy aside than the headtrip that Ebeling Hughes evidently intended it to be. Grade: D+
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Willie's comments: Despite the presence of a full band, eels frontman E seems content to revel in the same Beach Boys-influenced balladry that he partook of on his solo album, A Man Called (E). What does this mean for you, the listener? Long stretches of time without a hint of energy. After the opening one-two-three power-pop punch of Novocaine for the Soul, Susans House, and the magnificent Rags to Rags, songs plod on and on like tortoises. Some of it is pretty, and E writes great lovesick-cynic lyrics (She will always be the only thing that comes between me and the awful sting of living in a world thats so damn mean), but thats not enough to sustain my interest. Grade: B-
Willie's comments: In the months preceding electro-shock blues, several people close to E grew ill and died. It's a shame that those had to be the circumstances leading up to this album, but it's a masterwork of eulogies, self-therapy, and rumination. Music-wise, much of this album recalls Beck's folkier tendencies, but with some Odelay-esque production flourishes thrown in. "Last Stop: This Town" is brilliantly arranged, hooky, and particularly poignant (even though the video hilariously features a singing carrot), and "Dead of Winter" is achingly beautiful. This album has its moments of ugly tension, but they're still backwardly catchy, and everything is wrapped up on an encouraging note, with "P.S.: You Rock My World." As equally effective from an emotional standpoint as a musical one. Grade: A
Daisies of the Galaxy
Willie's comments: More-or-less acoustic, mixed of equal parts sardonic gloom and cautious optimism, and imbued with a calm temperament that's as comforting as all get-out, it's easy to overlook/forgive the fact that Daisies of the Galaxy is basically a more stable cruise past the same musical territory E carved out on Electro-Shock Blues. Whereas the singer's psyche was audibly beseiged by lightning bolts and poison arrows before, here the focus is understandably more manageable. The album is mostly concerned with the tiny joys and irritations in life; one can practically imagine E contentedly hunkering down with a pair of binoculars on the simple "I Like Birds," or sitting in a rocking chair, quietly contemplating his crush in "Jeannie's Diary." Even the heartbreak song "It's a Motherfucker" unspools with such a light touch (piano and strings) that the effect is closer to dismayed acceptance than cardiac arrest. The arrangements, too, are so wonderfully subtle that you'll miss out on plenty of cool mellotron lines and blippy samples if your mind is elsewhere while you listen to boppier numbers like "Tiger in My Tank" and "The Sound of Fear." Like I said, if you've ever heard any of E's earlier work, you've heard a few of these melodies before, and they're pretty predictable even if you haven't, but they're no less pleasant for being so. And when E's raspy voice impels you, "Don't take any wooden nickels when you sell your soul," or "Take heart, my little friend, and push back your seat," it's easy to smile and give yourself over to the rarified, unironically old-fashioned simplicity of the worldview that seemingly only the Eels and Sparklehorse can conjure. Grade: A-
Tom McKeown writes: Hi there Will, how's it, erm...hanging, possibly? A friend played me this album [Daisies of the Galaxy] during the week just past, and though I've only listened to it properly about twice all the way through, I have to say I'm impressed by it - from hearing the occasional eels tune on the radio, I'd sort of picked up the idea he (and the band basically just is E, isn't it?) was just a Beck wannabe. This album shows that, whatever else you might sat about E, he is a fine songwriter and an especially good lyricist. I thought the lyric writing as a whole owed an awful lot to the style of Randy Newman - the short, relatively straightforward statements that hide a wicked sense of humour and a profound loneliness - and "It's a Motherfucker", especially, sounds as if it could be straight off an early Newman album with its slow, sad piano and strings. You're probably right that most of the melodies are pretty generic, but I think the lyrics and arrangements go some way to making up for that.
SEE ALSO: E
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: GRANT LEE BUFFALO; R.E.M.
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Willie's comments: Though critically praised upon its release and a member of several "Best of the '90s" lists, Elastica often just sounds like a sloppy girlpunk mess. "Hold Me Now" is not a cover of the wonderful Thompson Twins song, but an abrasive, galumphing jumble of distorted guitars and Justine Fleischmann's admittedly charming vocals. "Smile," "Vaseline," "Annie," and "Line Up" can be placed under that umbrella as well. Elastica fares much better when they fine-tune their playing to achieve a catchy, mechanical, punk/new-wave hybrid, as on the deservedly huge hit "Connection" (which actually improves upon the song it was ripped off of, Wire's "Three Girl Rhumba"). "Waking Up," "2:1," "All-Nighter," and "Car Song" are similarly nifty, but there's ultimately very little inspiration here. It's not an album you'll be tempted to revisit very often. Grade: C+
THIS ARTIST ALSO APPEARS ON: TRAINSPOTTING SOUNDTRACK
WRITE COMMENTS ABOUT ELASTICA
Willie's comments: The debut album from the Electric Six may very well be the best thing to come out of Detroit's music scene in the past, oh, 20 years. Like Ween, DVDA, and Tenacious D before them, the Six have a soft spot in their heart for rock music's dumbest, most macho indulgences, and their music takes such qualities to the most hilariously overblown extreme possible. Apart from the album closer "Synthesizer" (a surprisingly subtle approximation of New Order's keyboard tapestries), Fire consists of one unbroken punk-disco-metal-garage-rock blitzkrieg that's as grabby and stupid as you could possibly hope for. The single "Danger! High Voltage," for instance, is canny enough to include a saxophone solo, backing vocals from Jack White, and hysterical "bzzzt!" sound effects on top of its already addictive disco-rock arrangement. Meanwhile, "Gay Bar" is the best high-octane surf-punk concoction since Radio Birdman's "Aloha Steve & Danno," and "I Invented the Night" is a spot-on parody of those "sensitive" metal ballads that are really just odes to the singer's own testosterone. However, for all the instant-gratification cleverness of the music, the album would be a mere diversion if not for the demented brilliance of singer Dick Valentine, who has the guts to play his gruff, hair-metal vocalizing entirely straight, even as he's stringing together cock-rock cliche after cock-rock cliche until you'll have tears of laughter streaming down your face. Some examples: "I went to the store to get more... fire!" "In the end, you'll always come back to me/'Cause you are nothing without me!" "I was born to excite her! She could never be whiter! Tonight!" Yes, every line has an exclamation point. And nearly every line is about fire, sex, dancing, or nuclear war. And it's so great I can hardly tell you. It's not a novelty, because it's really no stupider than a thousand rock albums released in the '80s; the difference is that the Electric Six are smart enough to be in on the joke. Grade: A+
Willie's comments: If Fire is all you want out of the Electric Six (as, I'll admit, it was for me when this sophomore album was released), you should stick to Fire, because anything further will only disappoint you. Which is fine, of course- Fire is spectacular! It would be a shame, though, to assume that the noisy rock of that album is the only thing the Six can do, or that AC/DC bluster is their only source for parodic fodder, because if you approach Senor Smoke with an open mind, what you'll hear is an honest-to-goodness record as opposed to mere variations on one hooky, noisy joke. There's still plenty of hilarious cock-rock preening, starting with the stunning anthem "Rock and Roll Evacuation" ("Evil girls biting good girls, turning good girls into evil girls/Evil boys eating evil hamburgers/Evil boys eating evil fries"), but Valentine and his mostly-new backing band open things up to new sounds too, incorporating more '80s harmonies, more buzzing analog synths, and more genres than before. Thus, amid the B.O.-laden lasciviousness of rockers like "Vibrator" and the addictive "Bite Me" ("Are you ready for big, big savings? ... Are you ready for unholy water? Are you ready for my fucking machine?"), you'll catch creative jabs at Tom Waits, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Queen. (Senor Smoke boasts a great desecration of the latter's "Radio Ga Ga.") Which isn't to say the Electric Six have adopted an indie-eclectic approach like, say, The Dead Milkmen, though: expansive as it is, this is still very much a rock disc, and a memorable one at that. Even the weaker tracks ("Future Boys" is an unsuccessful rewrite of "Gay Bar," "Dance Epidemic" sounds like a midtempo disco-punk Fire outtake) have very funny lyrics and energy madly sloshing over their brims, but three quarters of this album should rightfully have become triple-platinum-selling singles. Furthermore, while it may not be as endlessly listenable as Fire, Senor Smoke is our first indication that the Electric Six may develop into one of those miraculous bands whose songwriting transcends the need to hide behind japery, yet who knows that's no reason to start taking things seriously. Grade: B+
Willie's comments: I once read an interview with Bob Seger in which he claimed that he was listening to one of his own albums in the car and was so overcome with rock energy that only a chance glance at the speedometer made him realize that he'd floored the gas to the tune of 120 MPH. Of course, intelligent motorists react to Mr. Seger's particular rock energy by flooring the gas to the tune of the nearest bridge embankment, but the spirit of the sentiment is pretty well embodied by this record. Noisy guitars and perky synths doing catchy, catchy things without a break: that's Switzerland. The Six are still surfing on the machismo of '80s artists like Billy Squier, but unlike vault-plunderers The Darkness (to whom they're frequently and unfortunately compared), the Electric Six can flip the bird to irony itself as easily as they do to hard-rock pomp. After all, sometimes a catchy line is just a catchy line, as is the case on songs like the stadium-ready "Night Vision" or the Nintendo-worthy "Pulling the Plug on the Party." There are still plenty of gigglechuckles to be had (check out the spoken interlude in "Slices of You," or the way the piano completely gives up on any semblance of rhythm or melody in "I Buy the Drugs" when Valentine starts rambling, "I will fill your prescription with some degree of accuracy"), but Switzerland fulfills Senor Smoke's promise of no longer having to listen with your funnybone before your ear if you're going to put an E6 album on the stereo. Just be aware that the joke's on you if you take it the slightest bit seriously. Grade: A-
I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master
Willie's comments: Though Senor Smoke and Switzerland should have put to rest any accusations of being a one-joke band, the Electric Six's fourth record is the first to feel like a bid for longevity. While there's still no mistaking which band made this record- Tait Nucleus's synths still buzz and bubble, Valentine still bellows funny Brian Johnson malaprops like "Calling all girls of the opposite sex!"- there are plenty of nice surprises planted among the typical '80s-styled rock treats like the grinding "Riding on the White Train" and the breathlessly hooky "Down at McDonnelzzz." "Dance Pattern" is straight disco that deserves a spot on the next Dance Dance Revolution game (if they still make those; I know it's all about Guitar Hero at this point because there's more money in the sedentary audience), the insanely catchy new wave of "Randy's Hot Tonight" generates an awful lot of power from a stupid synth-bass, and "When I Get to the Green Building" starts off exactly like The Flaming Lips' "The W.A.N.D." but its unusually detailed melody and arrangement quickly mutate it into a far superior creature. The final third of the disc is crushingly weak, however, coasting on mere inspiration-free attitude in a way the band had thus far avoided. (Only "Lucifer Airlines" and its chop-licking faux-seductiveness add anything useful to the mix.) Too bad, because Exterminate's first ten songs make it seem like the Electric Six could conceivably put together an unbroken string of steroid-aided homeruns longer than Barry Bonds's. Grade: B
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Willie's comments: If you held a party for all the rock groups that sprung up from the post-punk movement in the late '70s, the Embarrassment seem like the only ones you could actually hang out with and have a good time. The Replacements would be passed out on the couch five minutes after the party started, the Feelies would hang out in a corner by themselves all night, and Wire would corner you and bore you with sophomoric Socialist theory for an hour. You could have a fun, half-drunk conversation with the Embarrassment, on the other hand, making trenchant fun of all the other bands. Alas, such a party will likely never happen, so you'll have to content yourself with this generous 2-CD retrospective to capture the fun of this band's good-naturedly cynical, literate worldview. Disc one features 23 songs' worth of the band's spiffy buzzsaw rock, which not only showcases the Embarrassment's talent for strangely memorable ditties (try to get "Elizabeth Montgomery's Face" out of your head), but presages '90s slop-rockers like Number One Cup and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. The second disc consists of 19 rarities and alternate takes that are more dependent on dumb, vulgar jokes but also up the compilation's fun factor. Trust me: you will be glad you have songs like "Patio Set," "Viewmaster," and "Lifespan" in your collection. Grade: A-
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Another Green World
Willie's comments: Following a stint with Roxy Music and two entertaining glam-rock albums, ambient techno pioneer Eno grew this now-classic album that sounds like the soundtrack to a time-lapse film of a flower blooming. Like most of Eno's efforts, this is one album you must listen to all the way through or it won't make much sense; gentle, perfect pop songs ("Golden Hours," "I'll Come Running") appear seemingly from nowhere amidst slow, flowing instrumentals ("Sombre Reptiles," "Becalmed"). None of it is forceful or attention-grabbing enough to make a dent in your consciousness if you're not really listening (save for the somewhat incongruously harsh "Sky Saw"), and it's all as perfect as a sunrise. Grade: A+
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (with David Byrne)
Willie's comments: Around the same time that Eno was producing Talking Heads albums (1980, I think), he and Byrne got together and created this techno gem that is so ahead of its time it makes me mad that they didn't wait till 1998 to release it, because it would've gone platinum. The concept is simple: Byrne and Eno took whatever "found" voices they could find- radio talk show hosts, exorcists, Middle Eastern singers- and sampled them in headspinning, haunting, infectious ways. Then they set the vocals to quirky, loping jungle beats and the result is a beautiful, funky album that doesn't sound one bit like a side project. Grade: A+
Willie's comments: Even less ambient than My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, this album aims more for the dance floor than for the "music as interesting as it is ignorable" goal Eno set for himself long ago. Happily, it mostly works. Songs like "What Actually Happened?" constitute a weird sort of industrial electronica that won't turn off pop-oriented listeners (thus paving the way for Moby in the process), and the whole album is full of off-kilter vocal snatches and careening guitars that move it into a claustrophobic category all its own. Grade: B+
Willie's comments: Returning to the ambient kingdom over which he rules unchallenged, Eno lets a simple Yamaha keyboard do most of the talking on this spare, instrumental collection. Sounding more like the soundtrack to Myst than a traditional electronica album, songs on The Drop fix on a gentle, pulsating hook and then let it mutate for a minute or two before fading out. If you're not in a calm, safe mental state by the final, 32-minute piano track, "Iced World," I should eat my hat. This album is ESSENTIAL. Grade: A+
Joe Friesen writes: Brian Eno is often praised as a genius for being a studio innovator and manipulator of ambient and sonic textures, and rightly so. But what I really admire about Eno is his total mastery of the art-pop-rock song form, and his integration of beautiful sonic textures into pop songwriting. I love all of his albums that you've chosen to review (except "The Drop" 'cause I don't got it) but I hope in the future you choose to tackle his more rockin' projects like "Here Come the Warm Jets" or "Before and After Science".
Oh, and if you're like me (which you aren't) and you love John Cale's viola playing as well as all the shit Eno does in the studio, then hearing them team up on "Wrong Way Up" is a real slice of heaven.
Rick Atbert writes: I agree with Joe...you should really get "Before and After Science". I see that you like Bowie's "Low" album, as well as much of the material by Talking Heads...this album is sort of a combination of the styles, and really makes it clear who was the real innovator behind those albums. Other than that...I definetely agree with what you have to say about "Another Green World"...I'm really at a loss for words when trying to describe that album. Probably the greatest ambient album ever made.
LoadesC writes: Eno is a genius. He has
been more influential than than the Beatles.
My ratings for his albums:
Here comes warm Jets A-
Taking Tiger Mountain(by Strategy) A
Another Green World A+
Before and after Science A-
Discreet Music B
Music for Airports A-
Plateaux of Mirrors A-
On Land A
(with Fripp) No Pussyfooting B+
(with Fripp) Evening Star B+
(with Budd) The Pearl A
(with Byrne) My Life in the Bush of Ghosts A-
firstname.lastname@example.org writes: Gorgeous reviews, and now I'm tempted to pick up The Drop.
Every time I think I'm done buying Eno records, someone recommends a new one. A happy perpetuation.
Here Come The Warm Jets is more than essential--it's flawless. The rap for the equally tremendous Another Green World is that it's the ultimate crossover of ambient and pop, and several tracks do so, but to my ears, they melt much better on Jets. I mean, obviously, the album highlights are the glam tracks--"Baby's On Fire", in particular, contains the greatest guitar solo ever recorded (which never...ever...stops), but songs like "Driving Me Backwards" are equally pop, but with the vocals and guitar lines dropped--which, after all, is ambient music.
I hear Eno's producing the next Coldplay album.
I'm sure you're cheering; I'm just sitting here wishing he had picked Beck.
THIS ARTIST ALSO APPEARS ON: TRAINSPOTTING SOUNDTRACK ALBUM; VELVET GOLDMINE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM; SONGS IN THE KEY OF X: THE X-FILES SOUNDTRACK
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: ELVIS COSTELLO; TALKING HEADS; U2; DEVO; KING CRIMSON; SLOWDIVE
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Willie's comments: If you crossed the mechanical, the-fewer-chords-the-better punk style of Wire with the bouncy new wave of the Go-Go's or the Bangles, you'd get something like the infectious, energetic debut from retro-rockers the Epoxies. Spunky singer Roxy Epoxy and chintzy keyboardist Moxie Static contribute the songs' most remarkable elements, with a spare drum-bass-guitar arrangement behind 'em, pushing the songs forward as Roxy and Moxie joyfully party in late-'70s style. The tunes are simple, short, and hooky, buzzing with antsy joie de vivre like benevolent hornets. Roxy's a strong singer who's never less than engaging, but when she takes on the role of a generous lover on "Cross My Heart" and the delicious "Bathroom Stall" (yes, I'm aware of how that phrase sounds), she becomes the most bewitching punquette since Debbie Harry. The Epoxies' musical ADHD occasionally gets too precious- two of the songs ("Please Please" and "Were So Small") fade out before they even have a chance to get going- but at 24 minutes, this album really is the perfect length for their style. That is, it's too short to get monotonous, and they're smart enough to tweak the formula a tad on the rough-and-tumble "Science of You" and the tribute to early Devo "Molded Plastic." Not a life-changing album by any means, but it's an undeniably fun one, and at this point, any "garage"-style band savvy enough to distinguish themselves from the glut of interchangeable nostalgia-miners is worthy of some praise, no? Grade: B+
Stop the Future
Willie's comments: When I first listened to Stop the Future, I thought it was wholly redundant: if theyre just going to make more of the same goodtime punk/new wave they made on their invigorating debut, why should anyone buy it all over again? With time, though, Ive changed my tune even if the Epoxies themselves really havent. Stop the Future does deliver more of what made their first album so enjoyable (crappy synths, Runaways/Go-Gos/Blondie vocal imitations from Roxie, simplistic early-punk arrangements otherwise) but its also more substantial. The aggressive songs are more aggressive, the heartfelt songs are more heartfelt, and the album goes so far as to adopt a pretty interesting concept that unfurls over 13 tracks. Namely, Roxie explores the paranoia resulting from a desire to turn off ones emotions following romantic disappointment, coupled with a fear of losing ones humanity to information overload. In the end, neither her heart nor her head is satisfied, but even though shes capable of putting forth piercingly sad lines like You think boys and girls are just toys made for one another, but Ive got news for you: even toys can hurt each other, Roxie and her bandmates arent going to let things get too heavy. More often, the albums theme comes through in snarky anti-technology images like Youll dream of microwaves tonight, whip-crack hooks like those of Radiation and a breathless cover of the Scorpions Robot Man, and possibly the best ironic illustrations of machines hollow comforts since the Buggles debut (especially on the perfectly catchy Everything Looks Beautiful on Video). Stop the Future is hardly flawless- Synthesized and You Kill Me in particular sound like they took only slightly longer to write than they do to listen to- but its surprising to hear such mature content from such a fun band. Grade: B+
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Willie's comments: Even if these Canadians weren't in fact Sloan's lo-fi counterparts, that's how I'd describe them. Apparently recorded entirely at someone's house, Forever Again plows through short, folky tunes that are bolstered by fuzzy guitars and plainspoken, lovesick lyrics ("Will you be the same person who left before the fall?/ I did love you then, but when you were gone, I hurt" they sing in "Waiting All Day"). To keep things from getting one-note, there are also a few backwards recordings, a good-natured noise experiment, and a ridiculously catchy song about an egg ("Run Away"). As the noise opening and closing the album suggests, this is a good, unassuming album for a rainy afternoon. Grade: A-
Willie's comments: Apparently the band's final album (apart from a subsequent rarities compilation), Purple Blue succumbs to early-90s grunge sameness throughout this disappointing album. Save for the opening suite "Introduction Into the... (Parts 1 to 4)" and the wonderful, fragile rocker (sung by Julie Doiron) "Eyes Shut," and a few clever lyrics here and there ("I'm sick of writing love-gone-wrong songs," admits the singer in one song), this album never rises above standard pseudo-Weezer pop, let alone to the greatness of Forever Again. Grade: C
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Happy Days, Sweetheart
Willie's comments: Like some ungodly fusion of Boss Hog and Midnight Oil, Ethyl Meatplow combines harsh, grinding noise with flat, nasal vocals and some massive tribal rhythms that might connect with you on some primal level even though theyre completely tuneless. Ethyl Meatplow would like to be as thrillingly abrasive and weird as Mercury Revs first couple albums, but apart from the terrific freak-funk of Devils Johnson, its too uninspired and sophomoric to be impressive in any respect. Grade: C-
Gene Savage writes: While Ethyl Meatplow's one and only album doesn't sound as serious as a lot of modern bands' attempts to discuss the dirty underbelly (real or imagined) of society, it does make for a fun romp and shows a band trying things I haven't heard before or since.
Imagine the B-52s on an acid trip gone bad, or NIN as kids... to me that's Ethyl Meatplow. It's rock-gore-lite; an album that is creepy but never really frightening. If any part of it feels slightly campy, it only adds to the fun, like an old black and white monster movie.
My only disappointment is that this album feels like the band isn't finished, that there was more music for Ethyl Meatplow to make. Alas, there will be no more, as the band reportedly broke up soon after this album and are all now doing other projects.
This album didn't fit in back in 1993, it doesn't fit in now, making the album take on an odd sort of timeless-ness.
My vote for favorite song, BTW, is Queeine; a well-written, well-performed, well-produced track that sounds good very loud but could easily get the cops called on me if the neighbors heard the chorus.
If you're into teen pop or grunge or 70s rock do not get this album. If you're into experimental rock, if you like dance gone very dark, if you like some industrial garnish, if you're just looking for something that doesn't sound much like anything else, try it... I think you'll like it.
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Willie's comments: With two great songs (Sweet Dreams and Here Comes the Rain Again) and a crapload of mediocre ones, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart plod through a lot of generic 80s synth-pop on this greatest hits collection. While the aforementioned two songs are essential to anyones collection, I wish there were a better way to get them and only them (this was written before the advent of Napster). Lennox would go on to better things. Blah. Grade: C-
THIS ARTIST HAS TENUOUS CONNECTIONS TO: RAMONES (really!)
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Everybody Uh Oh
Man Am I Brad
Willie's comments: Boundlessly likeable if not always memorable, Everybody Uh Oh is an unassuming indie-rock quartet whose debut album fizzes with the pure, audiophiliac joy of bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Yo La Tengo, and Lotus Crown without ever sounding like a rip-off. One gets the impression that even if those bands had never existed, in fact, these guys would still be crafting songs as appealingly diverse as the drone-rock nugget "Eunice," the jangle-emo-whatever of "U Pizzatron," and the crunchy, loping rocker "Champaign's Too Bright" simply because they dig different sounds and textures so much. (In a Yo La Tengo-less world, however- one I don't like to imagine- one of the band members would be wearing a different shirt in the photo beneath the CD tray.) However, it's all grounded in the familiar, amiable sound of guitars piled on top of one another in a melodic fashion, and frontman Jeremy Keller has a pleasant average-guy voice, even if he does kind of overuse the weak singer's trick of multitracking his voice to make it sound fuller. Like the Mates of State's first album, Man Am I Brad is really more of an album you play for that relaxed, friendly college-rock atmosphere than for overt hooks, which means I wouldn't call it an essential addition to your collection, but think of it like owning a creme brulee torch: you won't find yourself in a situation where you'll need it every day, but when you do, it certainly seems like a worthwhile luxury. Grade: B+
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Everything But the Girl
The Language of Life
Willie's comments: When I checked this album out of my local library, I was somehow under the impression that Everything But the Girl was an electronica band. They're not. They're a paralyzingly cheesy British duo that sounds like a hybrid of Spandau Ballet and Kenny G- the sort of music you would hear on your local "smooth jazz" radio station, complete with slapped basslines, saxaphones, and Tracy Thorn's soulful vocals, which sound a lot like Sade (pronounced "Patrick Roy"). That said, The Language of Life is not a bad album. It's anonymous music, and I'd never listen to it if anyone else was around, but the songs are pleasant, and the album has an overall soothing mood that won't make you antsy like most other Weather Channel music does. Grade: C+
Willie's comments: Okay, this one is the electronica album. Apparently, EBTG feared that their style of competent, saltine-thin synth-jazz was somewhat irrelevant in 1996, so they decided to hop on the ol' techno bandwagon (which was becoming decidedly overcrowded in 1996- so much so that David Bowie and U2 had to push Blur out of the wagon). So they decided to graft intricate jungle beats onto their songs to make them sound more contemporary. Well, it doesn't really work. Tracy Thorn's singing is as unimpeachable as ever, but the ever-present thumps and skittles of the drum machine make it difficult to pick out the melody of any given song. Conversely, if you dig the programmed beats (which are really cool in and of themselves), the tempered, tasteful singing behind them dilutes the energy. I give them credit for trying, but EBTG might as well resign themselves to their elevator music fate. Grade: C
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Willie's comments: Guitar Romantic is unfortunately the only album Portland's Exploding Hearts were able to release before a van crash killed frontman Adam Baby, drummer Kid Killer, and bassist Matt Lock. (Lead guitarist Terry Six survived, thankfully.) As album-length careers go, the Exploding Hearts' is a fairly impressive one given its simplicity: at under a half hour, Guitar Romantic contains ten songs that masterfully blend pop tunes with punk energy, but not in a Green Day-derived pop/punk way. Quite the opposite. The Hearts manage to channel and repackage the invigorating, rollicking smarts of The Clash's first record, the first half of the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady, the Ramones songs that allowed Joey to indulge his love of bubblegum pop, and the glints of rockabilly that shone through Steve Jones's guitar stylings on Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols. It's punk, but it's more playful than you'd expect from one of these retro bands; for all their obvious antecedents, the Hearts imbue their songs with such an infectious eureka-I've-got-it! enthusiasm that you'd think they were the first to come up with the notion of recording live to tape.
I wish the album as a whole were a little catchier, frankly, since this style of music is supposed to be nothing but hooks, and some of these tracks (the aptly named "Throwaway Style," "You're Black & Blue") just don't have enough of 'em. I should note that my friend and colleague Joe Friesen first mentioned these guys to me in a comparison with the New Pornographers, so perhaps my expectations were too high, given the superhuman power-pop bliss of the Pornos' albums; it's unfair to expect any other bands to measure up to that. Even still, if more songs here had the crisp, sock-hop-ready melodies that are on display in "I'm a Pretender" and "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades," this might've been some kind of new-old-school classic, but even with a few minutes of filler, this is well worth investigating. It may not be original, but it's sure as hell fun. Grade: B+
Joe Friesen writes: Heh, I s'pose I did oversell it a bit, didn't I? =D
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Explosions in the Sky
The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Willie's comments: "Yeah, yeah," you may be thinking, "another slo-core band whose bread-and-butter is lengthy, instrumental, guitar-based moodscapes and who employs dynamic changes more frequently than any band since Nirvana. Just like Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, blahbitty blah." Well, smartass, I'll have you know that the second album from Explosions in the Sky manages to find its own special niche within an a genre that generally allows for little creative wiggle room. The elements on this album are all familiar- drum parts that slowly blossom from relaxed to martial and back again, echoey guitars that drizzle and rage in equal measure- but the band wields them in a way that's more tuneful and emotional than you'd think possible. "Six Days At the Bottom of the Ocean," for starters, is seriously the most wrenching instrumental I've ever heard. Based on the 2003 sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, it's a remarkably expressive musical re-creation of the slow demise of the 23 sailors who were trapped on the vessel. Whereas GYBE would approach such subject matter with an unwaveringly dismal series of crescendoes, Explosions in the Sky makes the experience doubly tragic by infusing their song with periods of naive hope and optimism, along with the expected panic and claustrophobia, before hitting a messy, desperate end that will leave you shattered. (It's followed by an effective "Memorial.") The opener, "First Breath After Coma," achieves a similar but smaller feat of instrumental storytelling, opening with a guitar and a bass drum simulating the sounds of an EKG monitor and a respirator, and moving from there into a glorious, yet confused, celebration of life. On the whole, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place has more moments of cheerfulness than most other albums of this sort, and at its best, nearly matches the exquisite beauty of Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun. As background music, it's perhaps too subtle to make a big impression, but if you're lying motionless on your bed as this music fills the room around you, Explosions in the Sky will transport you to lots of interesting, shimmery, potentially hazardous realms. Grade: A-
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Willie's comments: It's about time someone stepped in and showed all those upstart "new garage" bands how it's done. I mean, the Strokes are great, but another album like Is This It would threaten to get monotonous; what I've heard of the Vines has been fine, but they're a little too shameless in their plundering of classic rock's vaults; and the White Stripes are just hopelessly annoying and gimmicky. They'd all do well to look to the debut album from Eyesinweasel (released in 2000) for some pointers. It's basically Tobin Sprout- the ex-Guided by Voices guitarist and melodic genius whose talents have shined ever since his 1996 solo album, Carnival Boy- and some other guys getting together to hammer out some actual garage rock, just for fun. Lo-fi and unpolished, songs like "Dusting Coattails" and "Pure Flesh" sound like they were rehearsed just enough for the band to be able to get through them in one take, and that spontaneity gets much closer to the joy of the band's '60s models (the Who, the Kinks, et al) than the calculated moves of Eyesinweasel's higher-profile peers. "Seven and Nine," the uncharacteristically linear monologue of a giggling devil ("Once signed, your soul is mine/You should've read the clause between seven and nine"), is a kick: Sprout's lilting voice is about the least devilish you could possibly imagine, but it's surrounded by a twin-guitar attack and a gleefully energetic rhythm section that turn the tune into a delicious Flaming Moe for your ears. Classic rock-schooled hooks abound here, and these guys are whimsical enough to change things up a bit every now and then: letting guitarist Nick Kizirnis contribute his own charming tune ("Preferred Company," which sounds kind of like the work of a junior Bob Pollard) or including a couple solo Sprout tracks (the slap-happy "Little Bored" and two versions of "Slow Flanges," which are all pretty enough but whose mellow arrangements would've been better served on one of his actual solo records). I can't say it's a record that's as consistently stunning as one might hope, given the strength of the best tracks, but at least Eyesinweasel introduce themselves as a three-dimensional rock unit. If you're counting, that's at least two dimensions more than Jack and Meg White have between them. Grade: B+
SEE ALSO: TOBIN SPROUT
SEE ALSO: GUIDED BY VOICES
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