Thursday, February 18, 2016

It Took Me Years To Write, Will You Take A Look?

This is my all-time greatest reading list. If it's here, I recommend it.

The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, in that order and on occasional repeat - J. R. R. Tolkien

The Harry Potter series - J. K. Rowling

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo novels - Stieg Larsson

Patton: Ordeal And Triumph - Ladislas Farago

Two Treatises Of Civil Government - John Locke (important stuff)

The Fatal Conceit - Friedrich Hayek (more important stuff)

The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown

Any Terry Pratchett Discworld novel featuring the City Watch: Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms, Feet Of Clay, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, and Thud!

Robert Lynn Asprin's Myth Adventures series

Mossflower - Brian Jacques (the best of the Redwall series, IMHO)

The first four novels of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series (I don't recall reading beyond that)

V For Vendetta - Alan Moore and David Lloyd (if you don't mind a graphic novel [i.e. comics])

Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (ditto [same])

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Forget The Invitations, Floral Arrangements And Breadmakers

Last year, Toronto indie rockers Alvvays made their debut in a fantastic way with this self-titled effort. Thanks to the World Cafe on WYEP, I was introduced to this quintet of retro-jangly pop-rockers; vocalist/guitarist Molly Rankin, keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, guitarist Alec O'Hanley, bassist Brian Murphy, and drummer Phil MacIsaac. So how do they stack up? 

What I Liked:
Y'know, I keep writing these gushing reviews. One of these days, I really should listen to something that sucks. I mean, dang but if Alvvays' sound doesn't sound perfectly assembled! Molly's lead guitar and vocals mesh perfectly with Kerri's ivorys and Alec's rhythm guitar; Brian and Phil hold them together simply and subtly, but still solidly. I can't think of a moment where anything sounds out of place and I daresay the aesthetic is one of the best crafted I've ever heard - it's very, very jangly and late-60's pop sounding, like the sound of a bubblegum group that's grown up and matured after a decade or two. And those moods! It's such a delightfully plaintive record from start to finish (a little more on that later) and it's a wonderful sort of cathartic melancholy. Even songs meant to be happy-sounding have just that latent twinge of sadness, like a knowledge that it's all temporary. I don't know how to say it any better. And thanks to creative space management in the stereo mix, it's a pretty fun album for headphones. And those lyrics! Molly's vocals, largely unassisted, are so wistful and yes, plaintive (I love this word for this album), that I can't find a better metaphor for it all than (and I quote [myself]) 'beautiful heartbreak'. 'Adult Diversion' has that stalkerish spookiness; 'Archie, Marry Me' is the most wonderful heartache I've ever heard on vinyl; 'Ones Who Love You' and 'Red Planet' is superbly unrequited; 'Next Of Kin' is the poppiest I've ever heard tragedy sound; 'Party Police' is the sort of thing that closing time at the bar was made for; 'The Agency Group' is so delightfully mournful; 'Dives' is slight but memorable; 'Atop A Cake' is almost the anti-'Archie...' but has such a very similar emotional resonance that it's like they're two sides of the same coin. And one thing that really makes this album so interesting is the transitions between certain songs; it's almost like they went into the studio and did it in one take, largely without any break in sound. It's a nice reminder of the continuity of the disc. 
Best Songs: All of them?

What I Didn't Like:
My only serious complaint is that 'Red Planet' seems underproduced. It's just missing something, like the hook is underdeveloped or something. I dunno. Especially for the last track of the album. It's a go-out on a whimper rather than a bang. Even so, I can't think of another song on the album that could take that penultimate spot without leaving a hole in its current spot. Maybe one more track would have done it. 

An Observation: 
In this case, a literal one. 

Molly Rankin, you're adorable.
I made sure to see Alvvays at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival last year on WYEP Day. I came away very impressed with them live; and is it just me, or is lead singer Molly Rankin a delightful little blonde Canadian elf? Seriously, she's cool. 

And a wonderful time was had by all. 
And a wonderful time was had b-hey! That's MY line!

...actually, I do have one observation I'd like to make, something that I don't quite understand. When Alvvays came to WYEP to do a Live & Direct session, Molly explained 'Archie, Marry Me' as being "pro-young-love but not pro-marriage", which doesn't make sense to me. Primarily because there's nothing in the song that seems to indicate such a thing. I swear, that statement threatens to subvert the song. 

In Conclusion:
Although I disagree with NME's assertion that it's a soundtrack for a summer romance, I am in love with the perfect sound and mood of this band! It's such a fantasically jangly and melancholy record that I can't help but be sucked right in, never to return to the world of the non-Alvvays. Please listen to this and understand why I am so obsessed with this band!

I am no stranger to modern unironic rock demigods The Black Keys, but their latest release, Turn Blue, was a little, well, stranger than I expected. Did guitarist Dan Auerbach, drummer Patrick Carney, and some other dudes brought in for the session keep to their arena-rockin' new sound from El Camino? Not... really. I'll explain. 

What I Liked:
This album is a vivid departure from the boys' usual blues-rock sound. Turn Blue reminds me a LOT of Pink Floyd between Syd Barrett's departure and Dark Side Of The Moon. They've gone very spooky here. This is smoky 70's nightclub music with a fearsomely enveloping dark side. My personal favorite has become the soaring, near-psychedelic 'Bullet In The Brain'. I think it's the finest example of this record's strengths. A killer riff with the soaring psych guitar line, a surprise shift into a faster-paced tack than the intro predicts, and a tense (almost suspenseful) bass. The songwriting is great, and the super dark mood is largely unavoidable all over the record. 'Weight Of Love', 'Turn Blue', and '10 Lovers' all have a great slow, Motown-soul sound; while 'Fever' is surprisingly danceable with its frantic riff, and so is 'It's Up To You Now' with its boogie beat. The multi-paced, piano-driven (also some organ - on the solo, especially) 'In Our Prime' is great melancholy, as well. The only real anomaly is the closing 'Gotta Get Away', which has a power blues-rock riff pulled straight from the Akron boys' last record, El Camino; the track is easily one of the most fun in the Keys' discography, being so Midwest-roadtrip sunny. It's a real shift in gears for the capstone of the whole experience. 
Best Songs: 'Bullet In The Brain', but you already knew that; 'Fever', 'Turn Blue', 'Gotta Get Away', and as a real dark horse I'd say 'In Our Prime'. 

What I Didn't Like:
I dunno, despite how great this album is, a few tracks just aren't unique enough to be completely memorable to me. In particular, I have trouble remembering 'In Time', 'Year In Review', and 'Waiting On Words' if they're not playing. The caveat being that they're good songs, but they just don't have the same kind of hook or energy that 'Bullet In The Brain' or 'Fever' do. And as far as energy goes, it tends to be the more energetic (or powerful, e.g. 'Weight Of Love' or 'Turn Blue') songs that are the more memorable.

In Conclusion:
In my opinion, Dan and Pat haven't made any serious missteps yet (aside from letting Brothers drag on a bit; but that's just hipster me showing my alleged pop bias) and I say that Turn Blue comes as a full success. It's a great change of style, and yet as surprising as it was when it came out, it makes so much sense after repeated listens. A must listen!

Let's go back to 1973, and spin an album regarded a classic. Deep Purple's immediate followup to the epic Machine Head was the gold-selling album Who Do We Think We Are!, which made it to number 15 on the US charts and featured the hit single 'Woman From Tokyo'. This album was also the last to feature the 'Mk. 2' lineup; with Ian Gillian on vocals, legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice. I mean, at this point, we've all heard 'Woman From Tokyo', being one of the band's signature songs, but how does the full disc stack up?

What I Liked:
I recall that the Eastern Roman empress Theodora once said that "The purple makes the noblest shroud.". Well, replace shroud with album, noblest with epic, and The with Deep, and you've definitely got a good idea of what's great about WDWTWA! as much as any of Deep Purple's classic albums. This is the band at a real musical peak! It's mainly a showcase for the talents of Blackmore and Lord - guitar and keyboard drive this album in equal measure, and both musicians show off their capabilities in classic form. The crowning achievement here is 'Woman From Tokyo', no two ways about it. A big rock anthem for the ages, the track might be the greatest display of what made Deep Purple a true rock tour de force.The meaty riff, the teasing build of the intro, the spacey bridge, and even the wordplay-filled allusions to Japan - how could this not be a huge hit? 'Super Trooper's phased vocals make it pretty cool, and the driving 'Smooth Dancer' is pretty fun too. 'Rat Bat Blue' has a super fun boogie-feeling riff; surely it must have been as fun to play as it is to listen! It's actually pretty danceable, too! A fantastic deep cut from the Purple's discography, even if the solo gets a bit crazy. And 'Our Lady' is an epic cut, awesomely bombastic (which is how I always thought an album should end) and with some neat keyboard work from Jonny Boy. 

What I Didn't Like:
Remember when I complained about 'Eat The Rich' by British Lions? I feel the same way about 'Mary Long', except it's got the major star power and it just doesn't help! It's actually wearisome to listen to. Musical tirades are still tirades. Bonus points for some clever and witty turns of phrase, but they're not enough to save it. 'Place In Line' starts off kinda metallic-sludgy; it does nothing for me until the big change - which is pretty peppy blues-rock in comparison! If it were the other way around, or if the metal sludge beginning had been dropped or played like the second part, it might be different. 

An Observation: 
A bonus is to be found on gatefold editions; the newspaper clippings of reports about the band and some of their shows actually makes for an interesting read! One is simply the headline '[Deep] Purple Devastate Edinburgh'. 'Nuff said. Also, for some reason, my copy has the track (mis?)spelled 'Woman From Tokayo' on the sleeve. Huh?

In Conclusion:
May I never be separated from Deep Purple. Despite being the penultimate album of what is arguably their creative pinnacle, Who Do We Think We Are shows no sign of the changes that were to come; I can only imagine that they came as a surprise to the fans. If they had stuck to this sound, and not changed the lineup, maybe rock history might be different. But even so, this is a great album despite a few minor blights, and one I'm glad to have in my collection.