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

Bad (1987) by Michael Jackson

Categories: 1987 and Music.

I grew up with “Fat” and have a hard time separating the real song, the title track of this record, from its parody. But I haven’t listened to “Fat” in so long. Listening to Bad for the first time (and to the remaster, no less), I can’t help but wonder, “does “Fat” sound this terrible too?” 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

Glee (1997) by Bran Van 3000

Categories: 1997 and Music.

I love genre-bending. A number of my most favourite bands are bands that can play a wide variety of genres well, and make these genres sound like their own (or, alternatively, convince you they are an entirely different band). So I should like this. I should like this even though it is based in music I don’t personally love (electronic, hip hop). Read More

Diva (1992) by Annie Lennox

Categories: 1992 and Music.

I am generally opposed to albums dominated by “modern” (read: contemporary) instrumentation. I hate bad 80s (and 90s!) synthesizers and generally do not like music that is made primarily by these instruments. Things that sound modern once do not normally sound modern later and that is a huge issue with so much of the pop music that was made between the late 70s and early 90s. 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

Tapestry (1971) by Carole King

Categories: 1971 and Music.

First off: this is not my kind of music at all – the songs, the instrumentation and arrangements both not my thing. That being said, the band is good for what it is and there are lots of star guest appearances (if Mitchell and Taylor were stars at the time) that blend into the background. King’s songs are certainly decent, though I’ve never been a fan. But for me, the thing that makes this listenable is King herself, who certainly appears to be living/feeling these songs in a way in which most “soft rock” performers absolutely do not. This may 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

Dare (1981) by the Human League

Categories: 1981 and Music.

I have rarely ever sat down and listened to synthpop. Really, the only album I’ve ever listened to is Violator. And listening to Dare, I really want to go back and downgrade my rating of that Depeche Mode album because, though I think the songs are better, it’s rather shocking how little the genre progressed in 8 and a half years. Shocking. I don’t like synthpop. I don’t really get its appeal. And a number of the synthpop bands began as less competent British post punk bands. Like so many other things, synthpop emerged as a dumber, poppier version of Read More

The Buddy Holly Collection (1993)

Categories: 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1993, and Music.

At the time of its release, this was, apparently, the closest thing a to “complete” edition of Holly’s work as existed. (So I have read.) So that alone makes it pretty good. Holly managed to bridge the gap between rock and roll and rockabilly on the one hand and respectable pop music on the other better than perhaps any other performer of his era. He brought a more sensitive side to rock and roll lyrics (befitting his spectacles, I guess) that was hugely influential – his influence on John Lennon in particular is immense – and wrote a number of Read More

The Definitive Collection (2008) by Billie Holiday

Categories: 1935, 1937, 1939, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, 1958, 2008, and Music.

Full disclosure: I do not like vocal jazz (as you know). This is a compilation of 22 tracks over the course of Holiday’s career. I have no idea how definitive it actually is, as I do not know her at all (beyond her reputation as one of the great singers of the century, and “Strange Fruit”). I also have no plans on listening to her entire oeuvre (and, given when she recorded, curation is necessary anyway, because much of her music was recorded pre-album). 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

Wolfe Island Music Festival 2012

Categories: 2012 and Music.

This is my second year attending the Wolfe Island Music Festival, the 14th edition. Just like last year, I attended even though it is not really full of bands I would normally seek out. I like the vibe (how it is completely different from seeing something in Toronto, for example) and I have always liked Wolfe Island. And really, I am always interested in seeing new music, even if much of it might not be up my alley. What follows is my assessment of this year’s music. For the festival itself I cannot say enough. I thoroughly enjoy the small Read More

And I Thank You (2012, I don’t give a shit what label its out on) by the Elwins

Categories: 2012 and Music.

Sometimes I encounter a band where I can’t even bring myself to give them their deserved three listens. Such a band is the Elwins (supposedly very highly buzzed about, but I wouldn’t know, it’s not like I googled them or anything). It must make other musicians crazy to see a band like this get buzz.  They are catchy. They are competent.  And that is it. There are thousands of these bands on the planet right now and probably have been tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands throughout rock history. What exactly makes these guys special? When did we Read More

National Ransom by Elvis Costello (Hear 2010)

Categories: 2010 and Music.

Costello seems to be attempting a similar project to Dylan at this stage, but unlike Dylan Costello is writing his own songs instead of reinventing old ones and pretending they’re his own. It’s not as raw as Dylan’s stuff, obviously, but it still involves sort of a genre cherry pick of traditional American music styles. Automatically this appeals to me more than Costello’s career-making music. And I find his songs to be particularly effective this time out, even if they are less obviously acerbic than what he used to write (and that makes sense since he is no longer young Read More

The Autumn Defense (2007)

Categories: 2007 and Music.

Where do I begin? I had really high expectations because this is a Wilco side project. Even though I dislike Sansone’s on-stage arena rock posturing, I appreciate what he contributes to the group in studio. And Stirratt has always played a part in the band; his one song I really like. So I figured I would find something to like here. The songs are mediocre at best, which is the thing I guess I noticed the most. But this is because everything else doesn’t work either. Yes, the musicianship is competent but, as my friend would say, even Nickleback are competent. The Read More

Imagine by John Lennon (Apple 1971)

Categories: 1971 and Music.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. On the one hand, there is some music that sounds like an overproduced version of Plastic Ono Band, but a little less personal and certainly attempting to be more fun. Then there’s the other tracks: ballads galore with strings galore. I don’t really know what to make of it. At one point he is singing about how great communism would be if we all would just recognize it, and then later he is basically saying McCartney is horrible tool (which certainly hurts the whole “Paul broke up the Beatles thing” because Read More

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974, Sam Peckinpah)

Categories: 1974 and Movies.

In the CD player: Live at the BBC by (Peter Green’s) Fleetwood Mac. People only seem to know the famous, crappy Fleetwood Mac. It’s a shame since they were originally a fantastic band. It’s good to hear them live. I wish Canadian radio featured live or recorded live performances. It would be cool. They’re pretty eclectic on this set, though it does collect performances over the course of three or four years. I watched Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia yesterday. This is a film that many people have said is shit while Ebert has maintained it as a Read More