Compact Disc Preservation Society

God save eco-paks, jewel cases, and variety

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Body, The Blood, The Machine

Band: The Thermals

Released: 2006

I really blew it by not including The Body, The Blood, The Machine on my “Best of ’06” list. A concept album about a future dominated by conservative Christian fascists may sound a bit strident, and lyrics like “God told his son ‘it’s time to come home / I promise you won’t have to die all alone / I need you to pay for the sins I create’” wouldn’t necessarily dissuade someone from thinking otherwise. The Thermals, however, manage to pull it off with aplomb, by matching their words with energetic, careening melodies that create an added sense of urgency. It’s as though James Dobson is breathing right down the bands neck as they plow through “A Pillar of Salt,” or “Here’s Your Future.” TBTBTM may be a bit trad in its musical stylings, but the album makes for an exhilarating listening experience.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Top Ten of 2006

Like death and taxes, year-end best-of lists are inevitable. Here’s my contribution to this swirling vortex of opinion:

  1. Return to Cookie Mountain (TV On the Radio) – Light years ahead of their debut, TVOR have created a sound that is nearly uncategorizable – try indie rock/hip-hop/doo-wop and that still doesn’t come close. Listen to the sad groan of “I Was a Lover” or the punkish stomp of “Wolf Like Me” and hear a band coming to terms with their place in the world.

  1. I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Yo La Tengo) – an impressive return to form that finds YLT once again mixing Velvet-inspired fuzz jams with AM Radio pop songs.

  1. Pink (Boris) – Japanese noise bands like the Boredoms are some of the last artists I expect to embrace, but Boris broadens their thrash metal sound to include stoner rock, garage blues, and ambient textures, in turn creating a surprisingly engaging experience.

  1. Serena-Maneesh (Serena-Maneesh) & Citrus (Asobi Seksu) – The two sides of the new shoegazer coin, with Serena-Maneesh going for the jam-based theatrics, while Asobi Seksu embrace their inner Blondie and churn out pop nuggets with oodles of guitar effects.

  1. Nine Times the Same Song (Love Is All) – Post-punk grooves meet up with a cowbell-playing Swedish vocalist to create one of the more danceable albums of the year. Love Is All stir up an even more intense experience when seen in person.

  1. Rather Ripped (Sonic Youth) – Sonic Youth head back to the economical Goo and Dirty for inspiration on Rather Ripped. If it were 1994, this album would be platinum.

  1. Paper Television (The Blow) – The Blow make literate, catchy dance music that echoes both old-school Madonna and au courant glitchy indie pop. Very fun.

  1. The Life Pursuit (Belle & Sebastian) – B&S smooth out some of the rough edges of Dear Catastrophe Waitress and fully embrace a fuller band sound for The Life Pursuit. The polar opposite of If You’re Feeling Sinister, but who wants another one of those ten years down the line?

  1. Everything All the Time (Band of Horses) – The bastard child of Built to Spill and My Morning Jacket, and with “The Funeral,” Band of Horses created this year’s “BIC Lighter Moment” for indie rock.

  1. Let’s Get Out of the Country (Camera Obscura) – Camera Obscura improves upon their prior work by upping the lushness and crafting fully realized compositions.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Under the Covers, Vol. 1

Artists: Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
Released: 2006

The annual onslaught of year-end “Best Of” lists is almost upon us, and while it wouldn’t make my Top Ten for ‘06, Under the Covers has probably been the most compulsively listenable album I’ve picked up this year. Part of this is due to my personal obsession with Susanna Hoffs, which has been running unabated since I saw the “Manic Monday” video in 3rd grade. The other, far more important rationale for its placement in my stereo is the impeccable song selection by the two artists, which focuses exclusively on late ‘60s rock and pop compositions. Sweet and Hoffs tackle their fair share of musical war horses (“Cinnamon Girl,” “Different Drum,” and a terrific version of “The Kids Are Alright”), but they tend to focus more upon lesser known tracks from the likes of Marmelade (“I See the Rain”), the Zombies (“Care of Cell #44), and the Left Banke (“She May Call You Up Tonight”). They also add a few new twists to some of the songs, turning the Velvet’s “Sunday Morning” into a steel guitar-addled country-rock comedown, and fleshing out Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” with a full band accompaniment.

To be honest, the market for a disc like this is pretty small. You have your Matthew Sweet fans, your Susanna Hoffs obsessives (see above), and the music dorks who already own the original versions of all of these songs (you can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand now too). It’s too bad, because I think one listen to “And Your Bird Can Sing,” whether it’s by the Beatles, the Jam, or Sweet & Hoffs, can immediately bring to mind all that’s glorious about music. And that’s not a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dub Housing

Artist: Pere Ubu
Released: 1978

Pere Ubu is the most important band to ever come out of Cleveland. Actually, I’d argue that they’re one of the more important bands of the last 30 years, but let’s start off small, shall we? Anyway, the Good Ship Ubu has influenced, in chronological order, the No-Wave movement (DNA, Mars,), the post-punkers (Gang of Four, Scritti Politti, and even U2), the New Romantics (those oddball synth lines from the first Duran Duran album had to come from somewhere), “college rock” (Sonic Youth being direct descendents, and anyone from R.E.M. to Death of Samantha drinking from the well), industrial (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, et al), and a whole host of other genre offshoots that you haven’t even heard about.

So what makes Pere Ubu so damn irresistible to a generation of artists? If I had the wherewithal and the desire, I could probably write a term paper answering that question. Instead, I’ll give a Cliff Notes summary – the use of atonality and abstraction within the context of traditional pop music. Aside from the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, the Stooges and a few other bands, popular music was either caught up in traditional harmonic structures or wanking around classic blues-based structures. Pere Ubu broke free of these traditional constraints by incorporating odd tunings, eschewing chords, employing fragmented lyrics, and using technology, specifically the synthesizer, to create white-noise landscapes and harrowing sound effects.

While their entire catalog is quite rewarding, Dub Housing stands out as their masterwork. It finds the band attempting to balance the experimental with the engaging, creating an album that is challenging, yet compulsively listenable. The noise collages of “Thriller!” and “Blow Daddy-o” butt heads with the creepy AM radio-isms of “Ubu Dance Party,” and the infinitely danceable “On the Surface.” An out-of-control bass drives “I Will Wait,” which sounds at home with the quiet/loud dynamics of “Caligari’s Mirror.”

That’s my case for Pere Ubu as Cleveland’s musical standard bearer, then. So when you think Cleveland music, don’t think Michael Stanley…please? Seriously, don’t think of Michael Stanley. I mean, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, but…

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Serena Maneesh

Artist: Serena Maneesh
Released: 2006

Etched on a clay tablet hidden in an ancient burial site deep in the heart of Syria are the Rules of Popular Music. Number one on the list is, “All trends must pass…and then return.” This is a lesson I learned the hard way in 1999. Just seven years earlier, it seemed as though “alternative rock” (a good deal of which wasn’t very good, by the way) had washed away the musical transgressions of manufactured pop and hair metal. Or so I thought. Actually, I remember telling my high school cohorts that we “won’t get fooled again.” That we late-term Gen Xrs and those behind us were far too savvy to fall for the major label swill that had been foisted upon our age bracket for the last three decades. Of course, that swill was being dumped upon us at that very moment, but I was more than willing to tolerate the Gin Blossoms, Silverchair, and god knows what else if meant never having to hear Slaughter or Perfect Gentlemen again. Jump ahead to the end of that decade, and we were stuck with Britney, N’Sync, O-Town, etc. I should have paid attention years ago to the final lyric in that Who song - “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

I suppose, then, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that “shoegaze” would return to the musical fold (Quick digression: for those of you who don’t know, shoegaze was a movement in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s where bands layered heavy amounts of guitar, bass, and drums, shot them all through distortion pedals, and occasionally used some nifty vocal processing to make some pretty thundering music. In a live setting, all of this took a lot of work and prevented the artists from interacting much with the audience, hence the whole “shoegazer” term for the bands). Now that post-punk has eaten itself, and since no one but Kasabian wanted to relive Madchester, I guess it makes sense to revive this sound Like post-punk, it has the advantage of never having been too popular to burn itself out, especially outside of England. Unlike Madchester, it didn’t suck as a musical genre (apologies to the Stone Roses and two of the Happy Mondays’ songs). Anyway, Serena Maneesh brings in the noise and leaves out the funk with their self-titled release. The comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are obvious, so much so that some of the tracks sound like outtakes from Loveless. There’s also a bit of Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized to be found in the guitar scrawls that wend their way throughout the album. And aside from the overly indulgent “Your Blood In Mine,” the lengthy jams that dot the CD come off quite well.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Woods

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Released: 2005

You remember that scene in “Romancing the Stone,” the one where Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas are sitting in a wreck of an airplane and Douglas finds an old issue of Rolling Stone? He flips through it and suddenly shouts, “Shit, the Doobie Brothers broke up!” That’s how I felt last Tuesday upon learning of Sleater-Kinney’s “indefinite hiatus.” I could go on and on about the beauty of their interlocking guitars, Janet Weiss’ thunderous drumming, the power of Corrin Tucker’s vocals and Carrie Brownstine’s counterpoint to them, the political and personal consciousness of their lyrics, and the holy hell their music raised both live and on record, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll simply say I loved them, and now their gone, just like everything else that runs its course.

Oh, The Woods. It’s their masterpiece, and the highest of notes to leave on. If you don’t own it, buy it, then pickup Dig Me Out, and Call the Doctor and…

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Everything All the Time

Artist: Band of Horses
Released: 2006

An Open Letter to Band of Horses:

Let me start off by saying I like your album. Actually, I like your album a lot. You recall Built To Spill and My Morning Jacket without their occasional guitar wankery, and your lead singer reminds me of the guy from your Sub Pop brethren The Shins. Your songs are big and spacious, indulging in the dynamics of band interplay and production. Really, I have no complaints…except for Sunday night. During what was an otherwise fine set, you took a detour and covered Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” Now, I don’t have a problem with Hall & Oates. I do, however, have a problem with trying to make the song “sexy” by slowing down the groove and sounding like a bad cover band at a frat party. You know what kind of band I’m talking about – they think they can do “Let’s Get It On” because the Tri Delts scream for it and Jack Black pulled it off in “High Fidelity.” Really, you were about two steps away from 311 territory with that song. Anyway, keep up the good work, and maybe rethink your third to last song every night. Just a suggestion.

Art Vandelay