One Nation Underground (1967) by Pearls Before Swine

Categories: 1967 and Music.

There is a school of thought about how music evolved before the internet that believes that music needs urbanization to really develop. This school of thought views music as evolving in scenes in specific major cities. The internet has made this no longer necessary as now anyone can communicate with anyone else and even create music without ever meeting each other. But I’m not sure the view was ever entirely correct as, at the height of the psychedelic era, there was a psychedelic scene in Texas (and likely other ones I have never heard of) and there was this band Read More

Down Colorful Hill (1992) by Red House Painters

Categories: 1992 and Music.

I do not know the history of slowcore, as I am only familiar with a few bands (5 or so tops) that would be considered slowcore and who existed in 1992. So I find myself unable to assess whether or not this is an important record in the development of the genre, given that lack of information. And, perhaps undermining to the degree to which I might rate this highly due to its influence/impact/what have you, I know for a fact that there were slowcore bands in existence 4-5 years earlier. 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

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

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966) by Simon and Garfunkel

Categories: 1966 and Music.

I don’t know if I can put into words the difference in quality between Sounds of Silence and this record. Sounds of Silence was so tossed together. Though this record features some re-used songs as well, it’s clear that the duo had a lot more time to work out what they were doing, and the arrangements feel purposeful and well thought out and there are fewer weird missteps. Read More

Trouble at the Henhouse (1996) by The Tragically Hip

Categories: 1996 and Music.

I’m pretty sure this was the Hip’s biggest album. It has a couple of their bigger hits on it – including “Ahead by a Century” which, if not their biggest hit, never seemed to leave Canadian radio in 1996. But I get a strong sense of deja vu from this record, particularly from “Gift Shop” which reminds me of another Hip song so damn much (I just can’t quite place it right now). I like some of their records from the first part of the decade and I’m not sure that this one really improved on any of them. It Read More

After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967) by Jefferson Airplane

Categories: 1967 and Music.

It’s been ages since I’ve listened to the other Airplane records from the era but, from memory, this is their most overtly psychedelic and experimental record, with a “freak out” and some jams (and more than a little Hendrix worship). It’s the weakest of their classic records in my mind, and they don’t quite find a balance between wanting to write accessible, political songs and wanting to expand my musical consciousness. That being said, everyone was doing stuff like this, and this has dated better than some of the other albums from the era. 7/10 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

Every Picture Tells a Story (1971) by Rod Stewart

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Though it’s hard for us to imagine now, at one point Rod Stewart was a vital, dare I say ‘cool,’ performer. He was involved in two of the great bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s and I have always heard good things about his early solo records. This one – his first big hit, to my knowledge – is the first one I’ve heard. It’s much easier to separate The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces from what Rod Stewart has become, but it feels harder with his solo stuff. I mean, he’s the driving creative force now, Read More

Love (1966)

Categories: 1966 and Music.

Love’s debut is distinct from a number of the other folk rock debuts of the era because of Lee’s incredibly dark lyrics – not quite Lou Reed dark but way darker than just about anyone else – which gives the music a grittiness that doesn’t quite fit its mixture of folk and garage rock. (Though I will say this band is significantly garagier than, say, Buffalo Springfield) For me, its Lee’s songwriting that elevates this above much of the other folk rock that was just dominating the music landscape a the time. It’s a pretty good record. The covers are Read More

The Fugs [Second Album] (1966)

Categories: 1966 and Music.

This insane record is somehow their second – it’s kind of crazy that they had already put one out – and supposedly it’s more competent than the first (which makes you wonder about the first). For the most part, the record is basically what you might imagine the Mothers would sound like had Frank Zappa brought his humour (and a little more sincerity) with little to none of his musical genius. It’s mostly primitive garage rock with hippy/beat politics and what you might call Zappa-esque humour had Zappa released his debut by this point. But the last track is this 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

Crazy Hose (1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

Depending on how you count, this is either Crazy Horse’s debut, their second album or their third album: there’s The Rockets album from 1968 and there’s their first collaboration with Neil Young from 1969. I haven’t heard The Rockets’ album, but the Neil Young album is one of my absolute favourites. There are two things missing from this record: Neil Young the songwriter (present on only two songs) and Neil Young the guitarist (entirely absent). The band has compensated by featuring Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and others. (I had no idea that Crazy Horse wasn’t a trio when it was Read More

Sounds of Silence (1966) by Simon and Garfunkel

Categories: 1966 and Music.

This album absolutely reeks of an attempt by S&G to capitalize on the hit the bastardized title track had become. Whether they themselves did it, or they were coerced, the result is a mixed bag. I am not a Paul Simon fan, but both the title track and “I Am a Rock” are great songs. The title track in particular is a classic, with or without the overdubs. I’m tempted to say “Richard Cory” is up there too. And maybe “April She Will Come.” (Though Simon is really, really morbid here.) But there are some huge missteps, none bigger than Read More

Dragging Wonder Lake (2003) by Janet Bean and the Concertina Wire

Categories: 2003 and Music.

The debut solo (and only?) album by the drummer/occasional songwriter of Eleventh Dream Day is better than I ever would have imagined. This is a really solid set of songs (including two good cover choices) draped in a classic Americana/country rock sound (shockingly produced by the leader of Tortoise?!?!). Though the covers maybe reveal Bean as not quite on the same level as Neil Young or Randy Newman, I am quite impressed by her writing, as I was never 100% sold on her songs in Eleventh Dream Day (as compared to Rizzo’s songs, or their collaborations). And the music works Read More

Everclear (1991) by American Music Club

Categories: 1991 and Music.

These guys are the Kings of Slowcore, so I’ve been told. Not being the biggest devotee of the genre, I have no idea if that’s true. And if I get obsessed about influence and such, I’ll ignore the music here and focus on the fact that slowcore already existed when this came out. (Because, of course it did. These guys supposedly invented it six years earlier.) Ahem. Sorry about that. This set of songs takes a while to ingratiate, which is shocking for a slowcore record. (Kidding, obviously.) But once you listen to it a few times, you realize this Read More

Rum Sodomy and the Lash (1985) by The Pogues

Categories: 1985 and Music.

I have long loved If I Should Fall From Grace With God and considered it pretty near essential, especially as punk treatments of roots music go. It’s got what is probably their most famous song – “Fairy Tale in New York,” the Pogues song that you probably have heard even if you have never heard of the Pogues – and I had always assumed that was the Pogues album to have. Like with so many other things, I was wrong. This is a fantastic album that expertly blends Celtic music and punk even more expertly, perhaps, than that 1987 album Read More

All is Not Lost (2011) by Cody Allen

Categories: 2011 and Music.

On the first track, at least, Allen seems to be going for some kind of slightly more country, slightly more commercial version of Elliott Brood’s take on alt country (horribly named, by them, “death country”), with a little less energy. (Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?) And the album proceeds like that, where you can tick off various bands the tracks seem to aspire to. (Though some of the other tracks are less rootsy, and only sound rootsy because they are played by acoustic instruments.) Allen’s voice has been labelled “distinctive” by the Canadian music press, but it isn’t any more gravelly Read More

Projections (1966) by the Blues Project

Categories: 1966 and Music.

To some extent, I can see how the Blues Project could be dismissed as second rate Paul Butterfield, especially in their jammiest moments. But that criticism misses the vast stylistic variety the band displays (for the time), touching on garage rock and folk rock (and other genres) in addition to the blues jams. (Certainly the PBBB never wrote anything like Katz’s contributions, though that’s both a bad thing and a good thing.) The band inhabit a really weird place – not quite rock enough to fit in with bands such as Cream, not quite blues enough to fit in with Read More

Magpie and the Dandelion (2013) by the Avett Brothers

Categories: 2013 and Music.

This is all very pleasant: the songs are decent and the aesthetic is pretty convincing. But these guys are squarely on the polished side of “alt country” – if something this polished can even be called “alt country” – or contemporary country / folk, or whatever you want to call it. And that’s probably the biggest criticism I have. If this had rougher edgers, or greater immediacy I might be more grabbed by it, but without that I focus a little too much on the songs, and though some parts of them are compelling other parts of them are squarely Read More

Big Wheel and Others (2013) by Cass McCombs

Categories: 2013 and Music.

This is my first experience of McCombs and I have to say I am impressed. He has a good but idiosyncratic sense of melody, he’s got his aesthetic down, and his lyrics are strong, which is probably the most important thing with someone like this. His lyrics make use of all sorts of traditional tropes (I’d almost call them cliches) but he rephrases them or changes them enough that he’s actually put some thought into it. The odd turn of phrase reminds me of early Dylan, even if nothing else about the record does. But there is a major flaw Read More

Days into Years (2011) by Elliott Brood

Categories: 2011 and Music.

Though there are various Broodian hallmarks on this album – the banjo in particular – it sounds to my ears like a clear effort to make themselves a little more accessible, a little more mainstream “rock”. And I think that’s a rather odd thing to do for a bad that has described themselves, somewhat hilariously, as “death country.” The production is cleaner and more of the songwriting tropes belong in traditional rock, rather than alt country. I find this just a little disappointing, even though the set of songs is reasonably strong. I think the most obvious attempt is “Their Read More

Together Through Life (2009) by Bob Dylan

Categories: 2009 and Music.

Despite the tossed off nature of this record, Dylan seems to still be pursuing the same sort of project he has been pursuing since his “renaissance” began earlier last decade. The music is a little different here – as someone pointed out it sounds a little like Doug Sahm – and the whole thing seems less momentous, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It should just be pleasant but Dylan’s lyrics are, as usual, well above average, and the backing band is great too. Like it more than I think I should. 7/10 Read More

Difficult Loves (1992) by Weddings Parties Anything

Categories: 1992 and Music.

Canadian music is usually ignored by American and British music critics (at least prior to the recent Canadian music explosion into respectability). Music critics from the two countries which have produced the most great rock music seem genuinely surprised when something from Canada stands up their own music. Prior to the recent explosion of Canadian music, there were few Canadian groups to get recognition outside of Canada. We had the Guess Who (who may have been overrated by American critics), the Band (who everyone consistently mistakes for American), Rush and maybe a few others (this is excluding the one-hit wonders). Read More

No Color (2011) by the Dodos

Categories: 2011 and Music.

Well this is all very pleasant, but I can’t shake that I’ve heard it somewhere before. Because, well, I have. This indie folk pop thing is kind of done to death at this point. This is better than a lot of it I must say, I enjoy it well enough. But it’s still just more indie folk pop. One other thing: you’d think that if you have two drummers, you might make use of that. I can’t really figure out how an indie folk pop band emerged from a trio with two drummers – well, I guess one really isn’t Read More

Searching for Sugar Man (2012, Malik Bendjelloul)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

Unfortunately the best parts of this film are given away by the trailer: basically if you know the story (and the trailer tells you the story) the whole film will work less well, because the film is designed for people who don’t know the story. (Advertisers ruin a movie again!) So, first off I want to say: if you like ’70s folk music (not the folk pop shit that got on the radio; I’m not talking about Cat Stevens but rather Nick Drake) and you like human interest stories, you should see this movie, but you should do your very Read More

Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds (Columbia, 1965)

Categories: 1965 and Music.

Mr. Tambourine man isn’t really the first folk rock album ever – as the Beatles had been dabbling in somewhat similar sounds on their past two albums and Dylan had done the same on his last – and it’s not the greatest ever – that could go to other Byrds albums or some Fairport Convention records – but it is the most important, and as such, it is great in its influence, if not quite in its actual content. The term was coined for this album (even if the style of music already existed). The album launched the brief folk Read More