Thursday, June 28, 2007

Five A Day: Day Eight

Today has been uneventful as apparently a talentless celebutante can enrapture the attention of everyone in America, although our Supreme Court continues to erode the law with decisions that work against both precedent and the best interest of the American public, the body that should be protected by the Court. On top of this, the Congress has decided that partisanship is more important than actually solving problems so there is no immigration reform happening in the 110th Congress while the House passes a pay raise for not actually getting anything done and having one of the lowest approval ratings in history. They also found 20 decapitated bodies in Baghdad today. 20 more were also killed by a car bomb in Baghdad. There is also massive flooding in Texas that has killed 18 people, a wild fire spreading in Lake Tahoe, and a White House that is willfully obstructing the investigation of the scandalous firing of nine US Attorneys, which day by day begins to resemble the fall of the Nixon administration at Watergate. But, never you worry your head about that. The real world is far too severe.

If you are going into Paris shock, wondering what will be covered next incessantly by the media, don't worry. Lindsay Lohan was found to be twice over the legal limit and high on blow, but, given the fact that cocaine penalties are tilted to be unfair towards crack users (read: poor white and black people), she'll probably get a suspended license, a fine, and some extra alcohol counseling as the rich and famous do. But, that won't matter to the news. Mika Brzezinski's going to be in pain for the next couple of months as celebutante fever rages on.

My cynicism towards the world aside, I actually have listened to some pretty sweet records over the last couple of days for this batch. I listened to a Pulp album today and got intrigued by Britpop. Aside from select songs and the work of Pulp and Blur, most of Britpop totally sucks. I'm currently listening to the Elastica album, and it's completely underwhelming. It's sort of boring and the pacing is weird. It sounds like a band with less chops trying to do a copy of 154/Pink Flag/Chairs Missing Wire. At least, the Wire albums are more interesting as they aren't trying to place pop structures in fairly arty, angular guitar structures and failing somewhat badly at it. And this is from someone who grew up listening to Elastica. Anyway, to the reviews....

Black Sabbath - Master of Reality

Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill hammer out the jams on their third album Masters of Reality. This is a brilliant album that influenced generations of stoned kids in the suburbs, basements, and academic facilities of America and the UK. The first thing that is immediately noticed is the sludgy guitar player of Tony Iommi. According to the recording history, Iommi injured himself before recording, so he needed to crank the tension on his guitar down to make playing easier for himself. Unbeknownst to him, he invented a sound that would be duplicated for years to come.

Masters of Reality starts off with the weed smoker's anthem Sweet Leaf. Honestly, this song makes you re-think about your love for pot. For five minutes and between solos, Ozzy personifies weed, making it his lover. It reaffirmed my love for the sticky, but it is also a technically sound song as well. The album stays in this groove when it doesn't break into pointless English folk style instrumental interludes. Those are really dumb. Must have been recording while Ozzy was blowing.

On the whole, this album is super solid. A stoner metal foundational album. A metal foundational album. A rock foundational album. This is one of the reasons, with Paranoid being the other, for why Black Sabbath is revered by everyone.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl

This is the most recent release from the noisy garage-punk band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The sound from their first two albums is hard to describe. It flows between shoegaze feedback and more straight-ahead rock and roll. Howl can definitely not be described like that.

From the choral-esque openings of Shuffle Your Feet, Howl is a complete departure from the work of the previous garage rockers. Some attribute this to the departure of the drummer Nick Jago while he dealt with substance abuse problems. I don't really think that matters. This is a band that has completely shifted its focus towards more traditional Americana. The sound is driven by the guitar-driven roots rock and country that have been staples of the American music scene for a very long time now. This base is accented with gospel overtones and folk-style instrumentation in places.

On the whole, Howl is very introspective and mature. It makes sense from Take Them On, On Your Own. But, it is still weird to hear this band singing about Jesus and redemption. Howl is an enjoyable listen and will greatly appeal to folk and country fans. That pleasure will be more up in the air for people who liked the aggressive posturing and guitar feedback of the previous albums. I like country stuff, so this album worked for me. But, I do miss that posturing.

Celestial - EP2

Celestial is an up-and-coming pop band out of Sweden. Their sound is sweet and dreamy, very twee. The lyrics are strong and their sound is very good for an indiepop band, throwing them in line with many of their contemporaries from Sweden as well as recalling a little bit of the Sarah Records bands (The Field Mice, Heavenly, The Orchids, etc.).

The indiepop sound isn't for everyone. If you like, well, indiepop, I highly recommend EP2 to you. If you are brutalized by the whisky-soaked nihilism that is country music or the street grittiness of hip-hop, the sweetness, dreaminess, and overwhelming cuteness of Celestial will grow tiring for you almost immediately. If you are in the mood for a bright spot from your nihilism, Celestial is probably a good place to find it, and this ep is a good start.

Pulp - His n' Hers

Pulp is one of the defining bands of the Britpop era. I personally never understood this as that would put them with Oasis, Blur, and Cast, three bands that were guitar driven and sort of based on that old 60's Stones/Procol Harum style. While being based on those two bands is not a bad this, such a classification doesn't really work for Pulp. Their music is much more dynamic sonically, calling upon the ashes of fallen glam rockers like David Bowie and Roxy Music while still being heavily influenced by the sounds coming from the then-current British club scene. Additionally, those bands, on their standout albums, wrote fantastic hooks. Everyone who listened to alternative radio in the 90s can sing the choruses to Girls n' Boys (Blur) and Wonderwall (Oasis). This is not possible with Pulp. And this could be a negative towards them or a positive.

In the end, this is a positive thing. The lack of hooks helps to make them stand out from the cacophony of britpop bands crowding the scene that all are writing wiry, angular pop songs in the vein of the Jam and the Buzzcocks. Elastica stole the riff from Three Girl Rhumba verbatim, but my point is the same: those bands all have songs with the sing-along chorus, something simple and memorable. Pulp's jettisoning of the chorus has helped them to define their own sound as well as allowed them to explore all of the different textures they want to incorporate into their sound. Additionally, this abandonment of traditional pop structures has allowed the band to explore the darkness of Jarvis Cocker's lyrics of sexual obsession and frustration. Such freedom allows for them to never sound outside of their element, giving them full creative range.

His 'n' Hers starts off strong with Joyriders and continues on strongly from there. The overall sound of the band can best be summarized as a more new romantic version of Roxy Music. It is glam, synth poppy, and taking cues from the British dance culture. This sounds like a lot, especially considering the nature of Cocker's lyrics. As bizarre as all of this sounds together, it really works in a beautiful way. The album is exciting, exacting, engaging, immediate, and dark.

This album is a feat of a band that, to paraphrase Romeo Void, knew what it wanted and got what it needed: a shot to prove that they are a legitimate band with talent. His 'n' Hers is a coming out party for a band that continues to impress years after they stopped recording and for Jarvis Cocker's acerbic wit, which continues to grace the music world to this day as well as the news pages. It doesn't hurt that Pulp totally rocks, too.

Queens of the Stone Age - Lullabies to Paralyze

Queens of the Stone Age had a tumultuous time between this release and their previous release Songs for the Deaf. Original QOTSA members Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme got into a fairly well-publicized battle, which resulted in Oliveri's ejection from the band at the hands of Homme. Many, myself included, were concerned that the band was going to fall off and not be the same.

Much to my pleasure, my beliefs were completely unfounded. Lullabies to Paralyze sounds like previous QOTSA albums. There is no real attempt to crossover like on Songs for the Deaf. The songs are QOTSA-trademark heavy and fuzzed out, carrying in that stoner metal vein of Kyuss. The sound is as focused as ever. Honestly, if I hadn't known about the dispute, I would think that nothing changed in the band. It sounds like regular QOTSA.

I think that I can only say one thing when most of the band is gone but sounds the same, which is consistently awesome: wow. This album is just another notch in the belt of continual high quality musicianship, seductive evil, and power of Queens of the Stone Age. This album is only further fuel for why Queens of the Stone Age is the best rock band in the arena now.