Fall Music Reviews Pt. II

October 27, 2012

Okay, for perhaps the most eclectic assortment of Album reviews I’ve ever done in one article, I plan to stick to the real concise first-take impressions on the following albums. I’m certain I’ll be going into much more detail on a few of these as the best-of reviews show up here in a few months.

* Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II

It’s no secret I love Lupe and I even made last year’s Lasers my pick of the year when many others saw it as a label influenced pop-rap misstep. So here’s the more straightforward hip hop album we suppose Lupe meant to release in the first place. The problem for me is, I think I actually prefer Lasers which I still play regularly and never skip a track, finding no filler to speak of. Food and Liquor II has some great moments, some of his finest. “ITAL,” “Around My Way,” and “Audobon Ballroom” are some of his greatest tracks. His dissection and critique of hip hop’s use of the word “bitch,” in “Bitch Bad,” is long overdue and relevant. Yet there are more moments of filler here than I’ve ever heard on a Lupe record–“Heart Donor,” employs his worst chorus to date, “Form Follows Function” displays good rapping skills but is empty as a song, and “Lamborghini Angels” is good but dark even for Lupe and makes for uneasy listening of the wrong kind, unbefitting its killer beat and chorus. Most of the record is solid and enjoyable though, and it’s great to be hearing it all at last. Sadly it’s no The Cool however.

r- 7-10

* Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears

Dwight is the best artist making country music anywhere close to the mainstream and he has never dissapointed. This is his first album in years, and it’s one of his strongest ever. It deftly mixes pure rock and roll, rockabilly, pop, country, and soul. “Take Hold of My Hand,” is a gem, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” stomps and rocks harder than anything he’s ever done, “3 Pears,” is charming. There’s not a wasted moment on this record and the only bad thing about it is that it makes you wish that Country radio sounded anything like it today.

r- 10/10

* Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

If you want to know what grindcore as a genre is, and what it is surprisingly capable of, Pig Destroyer is the band to check out and their latest album, Book Burner,  is as good a place to start as any. Grindcore takes the most extreme aspects of punk, hardcore, and metal and pushes them to test the boundaries of what music is. It’s loud, angry, harrowing, and unsettling. What’s amazing is that PxDx manages to find beauty out of this noise– dark and scary beauty, but beauty nonetheless. It’s noise that bursts into melody in the murk, melody you have to actively search out. It’s great guitar riffs that burn out even when you know these musicians are allowing their great skill to go understated in the interest of their art.

r – 9/10

Green Day – Uno!

Bllie Joe Armstrong’s recent meltdown at the Radiofest thing further showcased that Green Day have always thought they were far more “punk” than they are. What they are is a good pop-rock band that can craft snarky mall-punk singles as well as pretty and enduring ballads. They became their best as rock-opera crafters, though. American Idiot, and to a lesser degree its successor 21st Century Breakdown were their best works. This “return to form” has some fun moments, but fails to find real pop-rock with punk heart moments that a band like The Replacements could effortlessly do 15 years ago.

r- 6/10

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City

First off, Kendrick Lamar immediately stands out as a much better rapper than any of the last few young rising stars whose debuts have been anticipated for years before their first albums (aka Drake, Wale, J. Cole). As a hip hop album, this is one of the best thematic ensembles of a record, with great beats, great flows, a cinematic structure, a real sense of narration, etc. It’s bookended by a salvific concept, i.e. Kendrick’s prayer of salvation and commitment to the Christianity of his mother and grandmother which saves him from the gang life (drawn forcefully in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”). Yet in-between we hear the chauvinistic boasting of “Backseat Freestyle,” which despite a killer flow and beat represents lyrically all that is shallow in hip hop. Of course, Pitchfork pointed out in their review that framed within the skit that sets it up it’s meant to be a remembrance of a young Lamar practicing his freestyle skills in the car with his friends. Which raises the question, who is the real Kendrick Lamar now? If the gang temptations of “The Art of Peer Pressure,” and “Good Kid,” the sexcapades of “Poetic Justice,” etc., are all trips down memory lane that reflect the dirt and grime of his youth and the reciprocal bad influences of street vis-a-vis hip hop, where is he now? We’ll have to wait and see. As it stands, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, is a fresh, interesting, troubling reflection of the contradictions of hip hop.

r- 9/10

The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter

The Avett Brothers might be responsible for the whole more-earnest-than-you Americana movement of present. With their unexpected success through simply using real songwriting and musicianship skills, there has emerged a growing flurry of Americana revivalists who have become perceived as much greater than they are simply by being purists. They’re certainly not a bad band, and they’ve written some amazing songs. Usually they’re just good though. This album doesn’t do a lot for me. I vastly preferred I and Love and You but that might just be because I was more in the mood for this style when it came out.

r- 5/10

 

Mumford & Sons – Babel

A more British, often darker version of the above-band. I’ve never liked Mumford as much as those they imitate, but they are all solid musicians. A few really good songs, a few that overstay their welcome. A sense of self-importance that should be taken in small doses.

r-5/10

Note–I plan to revisit these last 2 records to see if they click better at a later date.

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Wow. So as I decided to do this, I began paging through my archives to link to the previous installments of this thread and discovered that I haven’t done one of these in over three years.  So if you click here, you can read my installment on “Beautiful Midnight” by the Matthew Good Band and from there you can find links to the previous three posts. There are a lot of these I’ve had in mind, so maybe I won’t wait 3 or 4 years before adding another one. So here goes, today’s pick is Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen.

(Verse 1) I remember how rough your hand felt on mine/ On my wedding day/ And the tears cried on my shoulder/ I couldn’t turn away/ Well so much has happened to me/ That I don’t understand/ All I can think of is being five years old following behind you at the beach/ Tracing your footprints in the sand/ Trying to walk like a man 

(Verse 3) Well now the years have gone and I’ve grown/ From that seed you’ve sown/ But I didn’t think there’d be so many steps/ I’d have to learn on my own/ Well I was young and I didn’t know what to do/ When I saw your best steps stolen from you/ Now I’ll do what I can/ I’ll walk like a man/ And I’ll keep on walkin’

– “Walk Like a Man”

Those may be my favorite lyrics in all of popular music. I can’t hear them without crying half the time, and even typing them almost causes the same reaction. I instantly think of my father’s death when I was 16 and then also of my own wedding day years later. I think of beach trips with my father and the sense that I’ve sought hard to figure things out for 10  years on now often by what seems like hit and miss guessing when it comes to figuring out this thing called life. There are great lyrics all over Tunnel of Love. There’s: “They say if you die in your dreams you really die in your bed/ But honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled back in my head/ And God’s light came shinin’ on through/ I woke up in the darkness scared and breathin’/ and born anew” which goes on only to get better by the line in “Valentine’s Day.” There’s “tonight our bed is cold/ I’m lost in the darkness of our love/ God have mercy on the man/ Who doubts what he’s sure of” from “Brilliant Disguise.” All over Tunnel of Love Springsteen seems to display a fully honed sense of lyricism, a poetic gift that displays utterly relatable and universal emotions even if the situations are not all exactly like our own. It’s his most personal songwriting ever; he’d been much darker on Nebraska, he’d been more grandiose and epic on Born to Run, more stadium channeling on Born in the USA, quirkier on Greeting from Asbury Park, NJ, etc. Yet he’d never been introspective. Certainly there are stories here, characters–from the abandoned wife and deadbeat dad Janey and Bobby of “Spare Parts,” or the “fear” and “love” tatooed Bill Horton of “Cautious Man.” But even these characters seem to bear a large part of Springsteen’s character itself. Maybe so did the colorful folks racing cars and staging last stands  on songs like “Jungleland,” but where those seemed like Kerouc meets Tolkien heroes and villains, these seem more everyday and in the moment neighbors.

If I look in my play count lists in i-tunes, there aren’t a lot of ticks for Tunnel of Love, at least not compared to a record like Darkness on the Edge of Town. And although it was one of the earliest Springsteen albums I owned since I found it on CD at a pawn shop when I first got into his music, I quickly began playing Born to Run and the like much more as I discovered them. Yet since I picked it up on vinyl 10 years ago at a record shop in college, I’ve lost count of how many times this has been on my turntable. I pulled it off the shelf again the other night for the first time in a year or more, playing it and taking it in, drawn to it possibly because of my fast-approaching 30th birthday. This is a record about life and death, love and heartache, and trying to be a man despite all of your own personal failures and limitations. It’s about growing up.

Springsteen might seem like an odd candidate for the “Underrated and Overlooked” thread in that he’s had more than his fair share of critical acclaim and popular success. Yet this record is likely one that many non-diehards have let slip between the cracks. It’s a bit amazing that this is the direct follow-up to the big-time arena-ready success-high of Born in the USA.  Fans, particularly teenaged ones, likely didn’t know what to make of this when they heard it. Gone are the heavy rocking, keyboard laden, party music of “Dancing in the Dark,” etc. Here is a record that is subtle yet melodious, and pop only in that dreaded (by many) sense of “adult contemporary.” Sure there are some catchy singles: “Brilliant Disguise,” “All That Heaven Will Allow.” But by dismissing the best rock and roll band on the planet to make a personal, painful yet oddly joyful record that struggled to deal with his crumbling first marriage and his burgeoning relationship with band mate and soon to be (so far for now) lifelong partner Patti Scialfa, Springsteen displayed well his ability to make any type of record he wants to, and to make it good and new and fresh each time. Sure some of the Estreet band shows up, Clarence on a sax line or two, Weinberg on understated drums most of the way through, Patti on backing vocals, etc. But this is obviously a solo record, and the only bad thing about it is that it marked the beginning of a long hiatus for that best band in modern rock and roll, who wouldn’t really re-emerge until 2001’s The Rising.

 

Do they still teach students about the Green House effect in public schools, particularly those in the south and in other major oil and coal towns? Or is it dismissed, along with the fact that it is caused by carbon emissions which are caused by our use of fossil fuels, i.e., coal and oil? Do schools in certain towns hear that such scientific data is simply part of some “crazy liberal agenda” to destroy jobs?  Because I am flabbergasted that so many people seem to completely ignore basic scientific facts.

I understand the hesitancy of those whose livelihood depends on the procuring,  manufacturing, and use of fossil fuels to acknowledge the harsh truths about the damage such an industry does to the entire world. If your daily work depends on something, you certainly do not want to admit that the industry you are in must be phased out. That is understandable–but if your personal livelihood at the moment was tied up with making or selling meth-amphetamine that doesn’t mean it should be legal and valid just because you depend on it; you should be provided with other opportunities for gainful employment. I know that sounds like a harsh, silly comparison, and I certainly don’t mean to draw any lines from the moral character of one who sells drugs to one who works in oil or coal (though the morality of those at the top banking the most of the profit in a company like Exxon or Shell who are all too aware of the damage they cause each day certainly have more than a few similarities to drug kingpins). Yet if meth is very dangerous to those who make or use it, far beyond that of even  most other recreational drugs, the burning of fossil fuels is dangerous to the entire future of the planet. We now know that we have more oil and coal reserves than we can ever hope to use safely if we want to keep the earth’s temperature from rising to a point in which irreversible, catastrophic changes in weather patterns will emerge, first hurting those in the most vulnerable corners of the world and ultimately hurting us all.

In last night’s debate Romney said he would open up public land and offshore drilling. The idea of unlimited drilling, spilling oil like we all witnessed in the Gulf in very recent history, occurring all across protected land, in national parks, in nature preserves, destroying mountains, lakes and air quality is chilling to say the last.  Romney said he would okay the Keystone pipeline, which is apt to cause quite a bit of damage in its operation and would only serve to transport oil from Canada to the southern tip of the US where it would be sold to other countries, making yet more profit for oil companies but not increasing US energy supplies and access one bit. Romney attacked the President for giving huge amounts of financial support to green energy instead of Oil and Coal. You can see the smirk and scoff from the current version of Mitt Romney when he even hears about Solar, Wind, or Green energy. The fact is that we can create a significant number of jobs in green energy, and we can train and transition those who currently work in oil and coal to shift to the energy plans of the future. Romney smiled about how he loved coal and wanted to burn it cleanly–something that cannot be done. Romney held up the President’s policies as reasons for declining jobs in coal, ignoring the fact that the main loss of jobs in coal during the President’s term have been a result of lower priced, higher profit yielding advances in  cheap ( and dangerously obtained by frakking) natural gas.

All industries change, and change is never painless. No one wants to see anyone lose their job and their financial stability. This is likely the reason the President has not been as forceful, vocal, and proactive as most environmentalists wish he would be; yet the very fact that he acknowledges the problem climate change poses and has begun to address it by funding alternative future energy has caused his opponents to over-exaggerate what he has actually done. As the Big Oil companies rally and pump money into propaganda  they have convinced their employees that their only livelihood is through them and in opposing change. It’s a new kind of Big Oil and Big Coal oppression which the progressive Unions of yesteryear combated. The longer we let Big (Dirty) Energy dictate what we can and cannot do, the less time for transition we have. We are at the tipping point–the time is now if we want to create growing, progressive, clean energy jobs all across the country and create them in the timely manner which will allow as painless a transition as possible to occur, both for consumers and for workers. We do not keep depending on a product or a job that has no sustainable future–that is insanity. We instead begin to make the change to what will work, to what is ultimately our only choice if we wish to preserve any of the planet’s health for future generations.

Last night Romney presented an energy plan which would lead to environmental disaster, a plan which appears to be a race to the bottom that ignores the future completely. If it is as immoral as Romney claims to leave future generations of Americans with inherited financial debt, it is far more immoral to leave environmental catastrophe to future generations–and at the rate we are going, if we face Romney’s plan of escalating fossil fuel usage and derailing progress for green energy, we will experience for ourselves some of what those future generations will experience very soon.