A Baker’s Dozen (Music Reviews)

Wanted to get something new on the blog.  Little sleepy and having trouble thinking of enough subjects to fill up a “random” post…so I’m just going to do some reviews of new music that’s come out recently.  (I’m going to try not to repeat any reviews I’ve done previously…sorry if there are any duplicates…  I’m not really a fan of my own work and am therefore not researching this.)

Before doing that though, and speaking of my own work, please allow me a quick bit of self-promotion…  I’ve got a new single that I put out just tonight, kind of on a whim.  It’s a bass solo, turned bass & drums piece called “Bite the Habanero!”  And you can download it for ABSOLUTELY FREE at my Bandcamp site.  Had fun doing it, so I hope you have fun listening to it.

Habanero Art.png
This is what the cover looks like.  Except it’s only digital. So it’s less of a cover and more of a picture.  Shut up.

Anyway…here’s a baker’s dozen (13) reviews of stuff other people wrote… For those who want the “tl;dr” version, I’m giving letter-grades after the titles on each one, too.

  1. Tegan and Sara – “Love You to Death” – A
    Great album.  Poppy and immediately, infectiously catchy.  I know it’s going to be in my top 5 for the year.  I bought it, listened to it once, then set it aside.  A few WEEKS later, I heard one of the songs from it on a radio in a store and immediately thought “Oh, that’s from the new Tegan and Sara” and was singing along…after only hearing it ONCE, weeks prior.  I don’t care who you are, that’s a well-written tune.
  2. Amanda Shires – “My Piece of Land” – A+
    This is really the whole reason I wanted to write this post.  “My Piece of Land” will absolutely be in my top 5 records for 2016.  Amanda is Jason Isbell’s wife, but there’s a lot more to her than that, and it’s all over this album.  She writes, folky, Americana, country-style stuff, for the most part.  This album is filled with gentle, soothing songs that wrap around you like your favorite blanket in your favorite armchair, and you just want to stay in them forever. It’s a deeply personal listen and has a very intimate feel to it, especially if you’ve got the pleasure of hearing it for the first time on a rainy Autumn day on vinyl, like I did.  Just a perfect experience.  This album is almost so good that I don’t even want to discuss it with anyone and just want to keep it to myself…but that wouldn’t be fair, now would it?
  3. Wilco – “Schmilco” – B+
    Easily the album TITLE of the year.  I’ve been on and off Wilco for years, but the title made me laugh and I bought it based on that alone.  🙂  Listening to it, though, it doesn’t really MATCH the title.  You’re expecting a fun, upbeat record, and you get the most laid back, earthy record they’ve done in years.  That said, it’s a very GOOD laid back, earthy record, but it’s just kind of a weird left-turn from the title.  I like it, though.  Not sure it’ll crack the top 10 (it’s been a hell of a good year), but it’s good.
  4. Conrad Keeley – “Original Machines” – B-
    Conrad is better (?) known as the front-man of perennial indie (and personal) favorite …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.  He put out a solo record because…I don’t know…those guys were busy or something?  Anyway, it’s alright.  The theme of the record is that Conrad has moved about 20 times or so in his life and this record is something of an exploration of that.  It’s a fun listen.  Again, not sure it’ll hit the top 10, but I liked it.  I have a feeling I’d like it more if he’d done it with “…Dead,” but it’s fun and kinda folk-rock meets prog, so I’m on board.
  5. Nice As Fuck – “Nice As Fuck” – A
    Jenny Lewis is known as “Oh yeah, that girl from Rilo Kiley” to most people who know who Rilo Kiley was at the time…some of those people probably don’t realize it was a band name and think she IS Rilo Kiley…or think Rilo Kiley is Kylo Ren.  Stop bothering me.  Look…  All of that’s too limiting.  Jenny’s had a great career post-Kiley, including a great solo record called “The Voyager” from 2014.  Nice As Fuck is an all female, militant leftist band, dressing like Patty Hearst, and singing songs with lyrics such as “I don’t wanna be afraid / Put your guns away / Crisis is not ISIS / Spilling our own blood.”  I’m not making any of that up.  You’re either in or you’re out with this one…and I’m WAY in.  Nice As Fuck is definitely nice as fuck in my book.  (The album closes with like 45 seconds of the girls yelling, “We’re Nice As Fuck / Wish you good luck!” at you.  I mean come on…  Get on board…)
  6. The Jelly Jam – “Profit” – B
    Speaking of Prog…  For those unaware of them, The Jelly Jam formed from the ashes of a prog supergroup called Platypus.  The band has three members: John Myung (Dream Theater), Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs), and Ty Tabor (Kings X).  The album’s art features a photo of a monk with the work “Prophet” scratched out and replaced with the word “Profit.”  So you kind of know some of the themes of the album right there.  Tabor is known to be a Christian (incidentally, the only member of Kings X to still identify as a Christian) and wears his faith on his sleeve in the lyrics he writes, but he also has never shied away from expressing conflict in tandem.  This record touches all those bases and keeps you musically guessing like any good proggy project should.  Highly recommended–but again, probably not in my top 10 for the year…although possibly in the top 15.
  7. The Tragically Hip – “Man Machine Poem” – A
    I might’ve already talked about this one.  I know I mentioned the lead singer’s struggle with terminal brain cancer a while back, but I don’t know if I really talked about the record.  It’s good, strong, gorgeous rock music.  Moody but still fun.  “Tired as Fuck” is a great song that should be on everybody’s iPod.  This one’s destined for my top 10 for sure…maybe top 5.
  8. Descendents – “Hypercaffium Spazzinate” – B
    The Descendents are one of the most fun punk bands in the damn world and any time they do anything, it makes me happy.  This sounds like them.  Punky, poppy, and just a freaking good time.  The “Dents” are best known for their 1996 (holy shit, that’s 20 years ago) album “Everything Sucks.”  This isn’t as good…but few things are.  Nevertheless, it’s fun to listen to guys in their 40s still giggle at fart jokes and use words like “spaz” so if that’s your thing, pick it up.  It’s definitely my thing…
  9. Hayes Carll – “Lovers and Leavers” – B
    I saw Hayes Carll open up for the Old 97s several years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since.  He’s country-rock/alt-country.  But on this one, we’ve got a really intimate-feeling, relaxed, more acoustic feel than we’re used to from the guy who wrote “She Left Me for Jesus.”  There’s a very personal vibe here that is going to require more listening to really dig into…  I like what I hear so far, but when someone takes such a serious change in tone, it feels like the lyrics are worth absorbing (and Hayes has always written wonderful lyrics).  I haven’t quite done that yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  On sound alone, it might hit my top 10…if the lyrics are everything I’m anticipating, it might hit the top 5.  Or, hell, when we’re up against Bowie and DBT and the Pixies and Metallica (the latter three still pending release!) who knows what’s going to happen?  It might get an honorable mention and in any OTHER year would’ve topped the list!  🙂
  10. Steven Wilson – “4 1/2” – B-
    Good record…but I’m not sure it counts as a full record, hence the “1/2” in the title. Some of it is old or reworked material.  It’s kind of an EP?  I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s eligible for the top 10 because it’s technically not a full-on “new” release…but that might not be fair on this one.  Steven Wilson puts out beautiful prog music.  Check out “The Raven that Refused to Sing” or “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” as soon as you can.  The song/video for “Routine” off the latter is a heartbreaking story and tears me up pretty regularly.  “4 1/2” explores a similar headspace as a lot of Wilson’s other work…and that’s a headspace I like walking around in.
  11. Brian Wilson – “And Friends” (Live Album) – A
    While we’re talking about Wilsons…  I think my adoration of former Beach Boy Brian Wilson is pretty well known by now.  Seeing his show this summer with Dad, Dave, and Susan was a real joy and when I heard he was putting out a live album recorded during the previous tour, I knew I’d enjoy it.  And I do!  This was recorded before he was doing the “Pet Sounds” tour, but still hits a lot of those same beats, plus it includes a couple of my favorites from his most recent solo record “No Pier Pressure,” too.  I picked up the copy that’s got the CD and DVD, which is nice to have.  Highly recommend it.  It’s a good time.
  12. Billy Talent – “Afraid of Heights” – C
    One of my favorite Canadian punk bands (yes, there’s more than one).  Their drummer is in ill health and a different guy is filling in on this record, and I think I can feel that in the mix.  It’s not a bad record, but it seems like they’re a little “off” or maybe distracted throughout.  Or maybe it’s just that I liked their previous release (“Dead Silence”) so much that this one was just never going to compare…  Decent listen, but I was disappointed to hear it and think, “Yeah…it’s not in the top 10…”  Because I was really expecting it to be…but it just feels like they put out an album for the sake of it and could’ve waited a little longer to polish it up.  But, hey, I’m a big fan of the band, and sometimes records that don’t connect with me right away grow on me over time and I kick myself over it a couple years later.  This could be one of those.
  13. Devin Townsend – “Transcendence”
    Blew me the fuck AWAY.  I’ve drifted in and out of being one of Devin’s fans for more than a decade.  He releases a ton of music (24 records since 1996 if you count his work as/with Strapping Young Lad–that’s more than one record every year for 20 years), so it’s easy to drift away for a while, then come back and realize you missed three records.  I’m glad I caught this one while it’s new.  He does progressive stuff, but it’s progressive METAL, not prog-rock.  Nice a heavy.  But still catchy as hell, too.  This is a great record, and if it doesn’t hit my top ten, I’ll be stunned.

That’s it!  Hope you enjoyed it and are maybe considering buying one or two of them.  If I had to push you toward just one or two, I’d definitely recommend the Amanda Shires and Tegan & Sara records above the rest of the field, as of now.  Or the Bowie record from January that I’ve been talking about ever since…buy THAT, if you don’t buy anything else this year.


Current Reading: Dennis Lehane – “The Given Day” – Finally finished “Shutter Island” and enjoyed it.  “The Given Day” starts off with a story about baseball, and hating the sport as I do, that was difficult, but it’s getting easier now that I’m a few chapters in and there’s a boat involved and stuff…  🙂


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