Imperial Bedroom (1982) by Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Categories: 1982 and Music.

Though I haven’t heard the couple previous albums to this one, this still feels like a pretty big stylistic left turn for Costello. The production and arrangements are both noticeably different from the first Attractions record (or his first few solo albums). It’s a brave move (if it is indeed a move) as he could easily have just put out a new set of songs without deliberate messing with his style. Read More

Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) by Van Morrison

Categories: 1972 and Music.

When Morrison is on he is like few other performers and songwriters – he creates this seemingly effortless blend of so many things that we never would have expected would go together and he makes it all sound organic, as if his genre-blending was the most normal (and obvious) thing in the world. Read More

The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage (1974) by Peter Hammill

Categories: 1974 and Music.

This is a weird combination of what sounds like super eccentric singer-songwriter solo stuff and music that is basically Van Der Graaf Generator. It’s an odd mix that I would find less appealing if I didn’t like Hammill or VDGG so much. It’s great that Hammill wrote so much so that even when the band was on hiatus he just had so much material. But one of the things I struggle with while listening to solo albums from the frontmen or songwriters of bands is when their solo music sounds too much like their band. That’s a weird problem to Read More

Mellow Yellow (1967) by Donovan

Categories: 1967 and Music.

This feels like a transitional effort for Donovan. On the one hand there’s still some songs that feel like they could have been on Sunshine Superman (though they feel like outtakes to me) on the other and there are some more subdued singer-songwriter things that feel nearly completely at odds with his sort of “Swinging London onlooker” persona he seemed to cultivate. Read More

Either-Or (1997) by Elliott Smith

Categories: 1997 and Music.

The problem with hype is that it makes you have expectations that can never be met. And, for some reason, the the death of someone just makes this so much worse, but in retrospect. Once a beloved musician dies, everything they ever made becomes a masterpiece and must be held up as proof as the dead musician’s genius that was cut short by their death. Etc. I have been hearing about how amazing Elliott Smith is for probably 15 years. Fortunately for my expectations, I have been hearing less of that in the last 5-10 than in the first 5. Read More

Peter Gabriel [Car] (1977)

Categories: 1977 and Music.

With hindsight, it feels like Gabriel had yet to really figure out who he wanted to be on his debut album. There are songs that sound a little sub-Genesis and then there are songs that sound like he is positioning himself as a sort of sub-David Bowie. Then there are tracks that sound sort of like the late 70s early 80s Peter Gabriel in utero. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge. Read More

Paul Simon (1972)

Categories: 1972 and Music.

I don’t love Paul Simon as a songwriter. I have been trying and trying but, aside from a brief period in my early teens when I liked Simon and Garfunkel, I just can’t do it. He doesn’t connect with me like so many other of the great song-writers do. But I admit that this – Paul Simon’s sort of debut, sort of second record – is a varied record and its a strong set of songs for him. The things that I don’t like about it are things that I don’t like about Paul Simon and have nothing to do Read More

Tupelo Honey (1971) by Van Morrison

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Before I heard Astral Weeks, I had an idea of Van Morrison and what he sounded like (without listening to him). And this album is what I was thinking of. I’d never heard it, but it’s pretty much what I expected from Astral Weeks. I guess that’s why this one is disappointing. “Pleasant” gets thrown around a lot with this record and that’s what I think of while I listen to this. It sounds like someone who is pretty happy and that’s fine, but his earlier records are so cool that this feels like someone resting on their laurels – Read More

What Would The Community Think? (1996) by Cat Power

Categories: 1996 and Movies.

This is a solid collection of rootsy indie music. Her songs are strong and the arrangements are idiosyncratic, albeit not anywhere near as idiosyncratic as was becoming common in the indie world. I have always thought I should get into Cat Power but, though I like this record, I find it kind of innocuous. It’s fine, but I don’t know that my impression will last and, at least at this moment, I cannot see myself rushing back to it any time soon. 7/10 Read More

Skeleton Tree (2016) by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Categories: 2016 and Music.

Push the Sky Away felt to me like a radical departure but, if anything, this feels like an even more radical departure from the sound of The Bad Seeds. Though there are a couple of tracks that recall the sound they’ve pursued since the 90s, most of it is unrecognizable as this band. That’s a good thing, I think. And brave for musicians of this age. People all want this record to be about Cave’s son’s death but my understanding is that most of these songs were written well before that. Regardless, this is not Cave’s best set of songs Read More

Sunshine Superman (1966) by Donovan

Categories: 1966 and Music.

I grew up listening to oldies radio so I have long been familiar with Donovan’s hit singles. I guess they made no impression on me because I really never thought much about it. But this record is a real standout. At the dawn of psychedelia (there had been very little psychedelic music), Donovan releases a record with a sitar player on a bunch of tracks, with a very distinct Indian influence on a few songs, with a chamber music influence on other songs, and even a little bit of a jazz influence at times (sometimes present all in the same Read More

Bella Donna (1981) by Stevie Nicks

Categories: 1981 and Music.

I prefer Nicks’ songs to many of her bandmates’. But I still don’t absolutely love her songs (there are a few I really like, but not a ton). The advantage she has over a lot of her contemporaries (at least on this record) is that she and her producer have not yet realized it’s the ’80s. The result is that the sound of this album hasn’t dated like so much ’80s soft rock and pop and that makes it a lot more likable than some contemporary mainstream music. But this is still not music I’ve ever going to return to. Read More

New York City You’re a Woman (1971) by Al Kooper

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Al Kooper fascinates me. He had a bizarre career: writing a hit pop song, becoming Dylan’s keyboardist, turning into a jazz rock pioneer and then having a career as a record producer. But despite my fascination, this is the first proper solo album of his I’ve heard. Maybe I’m disappointed because I was expecting something very different. Maybe I’m disappointed because, much like Kooper does here, I have mythologized his life a little too much. I don’t know. Reviews I have read compare this to Elton John around the same period. I have no idea if that’s apt or not Read More

Warren Zevon (1976)

Categories: 1976 and Music.

Try as I might, I just can’t get into Warren Zevon. I don’t find him nearly half as clever as he was made out to be by some fawning appraisal I read of him years ago (which has, unfortunately, coloured everything I’ve heard of his since). Some of his lines are indeed incisive and/or funny, but not that many. And a lot of time he just seems to be to be deliberately contrarian, such as with the song that opens this album. I don’t love his music (though I’d rather listen to this record than some of the records he Read More

Songs for Beginners (1971) by Graham Nash

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Graham Nash is my least favourite member of CSNY. Crosby is a great singer and an interesting guitarist. Stephen Stills is a good singer, a good guitarist and had interesting musical ideas. Neil Young is my favourite songwriter and one of the most unique guitar players in rock. Nash appears to pale in to comparison. But though Nash’s lyrics are often full of mindless hippiness and pseudo-profundity, they have aged far better than Crosby’s bizarre “hippy paranoia” and his “did I just blow your mind?!?!” persona, and better than Still’s blustery self-righteousness (all the more hypocritical for his real life Read More

Bob Mould aka Hubcap (1996)

Categories: 1996 and Music.

This is a reasonably strong set of songs by Mould, occasionally supported by the kind of attitude towards noise that Husker Du used so well at their peak. But the the diversity that made Husker Du great isn’t really present, nor is the contrast between their two songwriters. It’s like listening to half the band, really. That’s not terrible, but it’s not amazing either. It’s a solid little record, but that’s all. 7/10 Read More

Where I’m Coming From (1971) by Stevie Wonder

Categories: 1971 and Music.

I’m glad that Wonder was breaking away from the creative constraints of his label and his handlers. And maybe, if I’d heard those earlier albums, I’d see more daring in this record, in his freeing himself creatively. I’d like to hear that, but without listening to those earlier records, I can’t. Instead, I hear a precocious, bratty kid who has just discovered a whole lot of things including, it seems, some philosophy. And like anyone in their early twenties, he’s really obnoxious about it. (I mean, we can’t possibly know what he’s just learned, right?) His lyrics that aren’t about Read More

On Avery Island (1996) by Neutral Milk Hotel

Categories: 1996 and Music.

This feels like the inevitable result of trying to make folk music in the age of indie rock and, specifically, in the age of Pavement (and their related bands). So much of what they do here has become canonical or cliche (depending on your point of view) for the numerous indie folk bands that have followed in their footsteps. The songs are pretty conventional (with a few notable exceptions) but the arrangements are anything but – elaborate, dense arrangements featuring guitars, keyboards and percussion that would not normally have been applied to folk songs, or indie rock songs for that Read More

Missy Higgins: Oh Canada (2016, Nicholas Kallincos, Natasha Pincus)

Categories: 2016, Movies, and Music.

I saw this music video posing as a short film at Hot Docs last night. It’s an animated film about Alan Kurdi. It includes pictures drawn but refugees but most of it was professionally animated (even though it is given the look of a child’s picture). This is a manipulative video and a manipulative song that shows a real lack of knowledge about contemporary events in Canada  – given that, by the time Higgins released the song, Canada had taken in 2.5 times as many Syrian refugees as Australian (Higgins is Australian) – and in Australia. (The “film” aired prior Read More

Songs of Love and Hate (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

My first encounter with “classic” Cohen yields the following: Extremely depressing and dark lyrics – and a delivery that is almost anti-musical at times – and elaborate, sometimes almost “wall of sound” arrangements. It’s a bizarre combination one that reminds me slightly of a less musically ambitious, less boisterous, more obviously dark Forever Changes. I feel like this is the kind of record that rewards many, many more listens than I have given it. Cohen’s lyrics are dense at times – not Dylan-dense by any means – and he is so willfully unwilling to make his music more accessible that Read More

King of America (1986) by The Costello Show featuring the Attractions and Confederates

Categories: 1986 and Music.

Costello embraces American roots music and it mostly works. Costello’s songs are strong (though the cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is entirely unnecessary) – stronger, in fact, than most of the bands embracing roots at the same time. But the album is hampered a bit by the ’80s production which occasionally intrudes (and which is in direct contrast to his performance at times). And, much like U2 (though, needless to say, this sounds nothing like U2), Costello’s embrace of American roots music feels a little bit like a suit of clothes he’s put on. That being said, it’s Read More