Fantasma (1997) by Cornelius

Categories: 1997 and Music.

I have heard Fantasm described as ‘the Japanese Beck.’ It’s a comparison that sounds kind of ridiculous but is also kind of appropriate. It’s inappropriate inasmuch as Cornelius had been releasing music with Flipper’s Guitar well before Beck was known to most of us (is Beck, therefore, the American Cornelius?) but it is appropriate inasmuch as they both seem to approach the world in a similar way. (Rather, Beck used to approach the world this way too. He doesn’t really write stuff like this any more.) Read More

Smiley Smile (1967) by The Beach Boys

Categories: 1967 and Music.

If you read a lot of music criticism about the ’60s, like I used to, you have heard about Smile ad nauseum. If you read a lot of indiependent music criticism at the turn of the century, like I used to, you have also heard about Smile ad nauseum. You’ve heard about Smile to the point that, whatever it was supposed to sound like, your expectations have been permanently set either to view it as an unfinished (later finished!) masterpiece, or the manifestation of a bunch of silly pop critic dreams for something “even greater than Pet Sounds” that couldn’t Read More

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

This is The Ice Age (1981) by Martha and the Muffins

Categories: 1981 and Music.

Yes, this is second wave New Wave, and it sure sounds like a lot of other bands and musicians. (The guitar lead on “Swimming” is so wannabe Robert Fripp it’s not even funny. A bunch of tracks sound like Eno-lite.) But this is a strong set of songs with good lyrics and a commitment to New Wave in a way that many of these later New Wave bands were unable to match. (I mean, it’s still quirky.) Also, I am a sucker for any song that gently mocks anything I know, so the song about Ontario Cottage Country hits home Read More

Ram (1971) by Paul and Linda McCartney

Categories: 1971 and Music.

This album got bad reviews when it was released. However, time has been kind to it and some people now view it as one of his best. I can see both sides. I understand what people are saying when they view it as “the first indie pop album” (in content, not in concept, as McCartney, the best selling artist in history, is the last person who could ever release an indie album…). I prefer to think of it as the first “bedroom” pop album, only McCartney was that record, and this one has a band. The problem is that it Read More

Face Value (1981) by Phil Collins

Categories: 1981 and Music.

Phil Collins has had one of the weirder careers, starting out as a prog rock / art rock drummer (who even played jazz fusion, at times) and becoming a massive pop star. It’s an unusual arc to be sure, and this is the record that began the shift from the one to the other. And because of my fondness for prog and art rock, and because of my dislike of much mainstream pop rock, I was worried this album was going to suck and suck hard. Well, it doesn’t.  Sure, there’s the big hit, which even I must acknowledge is Read More

Siren (1975) by Roxy Music

Categories: 1975 and Music.

I only know one Roxy Music album, For Your Pleasure. I like it, I don’t love it. But one of the things I like about – perhaps the thing I like about it most – is the artiness of it, provided primarily by Eno and Manzanera (to my ears). I assumed that when Eno left the artiness did too, but according to reviews, it didn’t leave just yet. Not until this album. And that makes me sad. This is certainly as mainstream as art rock gets without ceasing to be art rock. It’s accessible (as these things go), its often Read More

Peter Gabriel [Melt] (1980)

Categories: 1980 and Music.

On December 31, 2008, I wrote the following: This may sound stupid, but this sounds little too much like 1980. They had a good thing going, those Genesis guys…and while I know that version of the band could never have topped The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, neither Gabriel nor the rest of the band ever demonstrated that kind of creativity again. That being said, this record is fine. There are some fine moments. However, the “world music” feels almost flown in compared to everything else. Both Bowie and the Discipline version of Crimson do aspects of this better. I Read More

The Sound of the Life of the Mind (2012) by Ben Folds Five

Categories: 2012 and Music.

It’s kind of absurd to come at such an established performer for the first time through his latest record, but then it wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t try to do this. It’s just how it happened. Folds has a strong knack of melody and his lyrics are well above-average. But I got to say that the idiosyncratic nature of the title track mostly disappears from the rest of the album. Most of this is just straight ahead power pop. It’s great that someone is trying to keep “piano rock” alive but whether or not you like Folds depends on whether Read More

Scratch My Back (2010) by Peter Gabriel

Categories: 2010 and Music.

When I was young, I had a problem with interpretive music; for my idealistic self it suggested a lack of creativity, a lack of artistic will, or something like that. (I definitely had a bit of an obsession with the idea of The Artist as a True Individual or some shit.) Over the years my position has markedly changed, but I do know why I felt that way: too many covers in pop rock are ‘straight-up’, i.e. the songs are clearly recognizable as as the originals and the artist has re-used the original arrangement, tempo, production etc. One of the Read More

New Blood (2011) by Peter Gabriel

Categories: 2011 and Music.

I have always struggled with getting into post-Genesis Gabriel because his music has often struck me as over-produced. I finally feel like his songwriting has received the the proper, appropriate arranging and production here. This is a great way at looking back at one’s career. Some of the new versions are really radical – some of them not so much – and almost all are interesting, many improving greatly on the originals (“Solsbury Hill” is probably the only one I’m ‘meh’ on at the moment.) It’s a shame more of the artists who insist on reviving old music don’t do Read More

So (1986) by Peter Gabriel

Categories: 1986 and Music.

I haven’t gotten into solo Gabriel yet really, this is only the third album of his that I’ve heard. But back when I was a Gabriel-era Genesis obsessive I listened to a lot of Gabriel-fronted music. I have always been a little wary of his solo music in part because it is so clearly different from his music with Genesis, even the earlier albums. That being said, I don’t mind his late ’70s stuff, at least that which I’ve heard. But I have some real qualms about this album: it is a very clear attempt to sell more records. That Read More

Bitte Orca (2009) by Dirty Projectors

Categories: 2009 and Music.

I don’t know Dirty Projectors. I’m not even sure where I heard about them. Anyway, I wrote down the name and here we are. In the little I’ve read since first listening to this album I must say I’m considerably more intrigued. Apparently this is the band (or, really, the artist) gone commercial. The that this album is less weird than previous albums makes me very interested in said previous albums. There is a little too much in the way of “pop” for me to love this. But I can’t help but respect and admire it. I do feel that Read More

Acnalbasac Noom (1973, 1982) by Slapp Happy

Categories: 1973 and Music.

So apparently this is the original album, which was rejected by their label and then re-recorded and released as the appropriate name. Then the original was released in the early 80s, or something like that. I haven’t heard the polished second version so I cannot judge whether or not it was the right decision by the record company but my personal bias would say ‘probably not’. What we have hear is catchy but odd-enough pop rock with utterly unique vocals and enough quirks to keep things interesting. It’s hard to know what a record company would have been expecting from Read More