Sunday, May 31, 2009

The B-52's - The B-52's (1979)

The B-52's - The B-52's (1979)

I hate to borrow a line from Monty Python, especially such an overdone one, but it definitely applies to this album. And now for something completely different, The B-52's debut self-titled album (what's with bands self-titling their debut albums?) is a cosmic journey through the 80's sonic masterminds that are the B-52's. Don't be fooled by the album's 1979 release date, this has 80's written all over it and I mean that as a good thing.

Fred Schneider's recognizable (and often-imitated) vocals begin the album with somewhat dated "Planet Claire." The band's crunchy guitar makes a strong impression here that will be one of their recurring motifs, about a girl who just seems like she's from another planet (I hear dat!). Despite what has now become some outdated references, very Bowie-ian singings of being from Mars, it works well and establishes everything right away. Follow-up song "52 Girls" showcases Kate Pierson's singing style, and is probably the most punk the album ever will get (or the band for that matter).

Some of the songs have a nice free-form to them, a call and response if you will, that I'm already assuming the band is going to lose down the line. What may sound like runoff from the 1960's flower power generation of music actually works here, providing a nice counterpoint to the more pop songs on the album, the ones that will gain more replay value on consecutive listens, more layers and moods than the more simple songs (See "Dance This Mess Around,""Hero Worship," etc.). One can definitely tell where modern female-lead rock bands get their influences from (I'm looking at you Karen O.), but just a lot of modern bands in general. The sound is easily-imitated, to the point that it's the very reason why The B-52's have gone away, but on their debut the cheesiness of it actually gives it more personality, like a time capsule from another era. "6060-842" might be eclipsed only by "837-5309" for becoming a memorable telephone number titled song, whatever the hell that genre is, but the song just falls apart here and doesn't really flow well with the rest of the album and may be the only true misstep on the whole album. Closer and cover "Downtown" actually works well to the band's sound, not only sounding like an apt cover for the band but their interpretation is fun in almost a karaoke-way but just sidesteps the comparison to becoming their own unique take on the song through more of the screaming ironically and stripped-down version of the song than just replicating the melody.

Then there's the immortal "Rock Lobster." I'm biased right away. My earliest memories of this song are one of my co-workers from Taco Bell playing it all the freakin' time when closing, I think he either had this album or some mix B-52's, but either way I've heard it a thousand times. And yet in the context of the album it actually works quite well. The bubblegum pop of the song hasn't caused it to age much, but instead has become an icon on the album, the synonymous B-52's track (lets not count "Love Shack" and save the trouble). I enjoy how Schneider takes the main line of the song and makes it go from a statement ("Rock Lobster!") and turns it into a panicky fear ("Rock Lobster?!"). It's a fun song. There, I said it. You win Richard.

Standout Track: "Dance This Mess Around"
Final Score: 8.0/10

Akron/Family - Akron/Family (2005)

Akron/Family - Akron/Family

Imagine something like Iron & Wine. Or for the older ones out there, maybe Johnny Cash even. Just take it as a starting point. Then lets add some Grateful Dead or something. Just bear with me. Then twist that around into a 3-piece and even add something more like even a little Flaming Lips. I think that kind of comes close to what Akron/Family is. In a general sense, that is, their sound is completely unique to their own style and it comes through on their 2005 self-titled debut. One can hear the band finding their voice as the album progresses and becoming more comfortable with their experimental-folk roots, creating beautiful melodies that may just be a little too tried-and-true if they stuck to a generic formula and instead add some life to the genre through some interesting experimentation.

Singer Seth Olinsky sets the tone on opening track "Before And Again," as his soothing hums are backed up by a simple guitar melody and a steady collection of computer beeps and boops, joined by strings and finally gathering in totally new melody (think Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour"-era album) and collection of sounds. They set the pattern very quickly of singing one line and repeating it over and over again throughout the track, joined by more members of the band and driven behind different melodies and riffs until there is a new meaning that comes out of said line. It doesn't falsely extend the songs by any means, but instead makes them more deliberate, more to the point, focusing on that exact line and extracting the meaning from it that by the time it's been repeated for the fourth time it's gained new meaning from the arrangement.

Centerpiece of the album is the 8-minute ballad "Italy," as Seth sings in a traditional folksy-manner "I am waiting under the sunlight/I am waiting for my time to come" to be joined by what sounds like a full-backing band, although it's really just fellow members Miles Seaton & Dana Janssen. "When Is time Going to Change?/I'm ready" he declares as an experimental stutter of instruments backs up his statement, it's a great interpretation of one simple line that the music carries the tone. Only to be joined moments later by the clatter of various objects of chairs creaking and glass being hit. The odd combination of objects used to create the joint beat that ensues not only creates something new and very Beck-ian, but still retains roots to their folk-family pasts (Hey! That's why Family is in the name!).

The album continues at a familiar pace, a slow ballad followed by a quicker number, but each song is able to combine a group atmosphere to each one, even the slower ones just on guitar still give the impression of a group much bigger than 3 putting together such a communal sound. "I'll Be on The Water" flows at a simple pace to sing of love compared to a lightning bolt in the chest, or how he quietly questions "The Power I Afford You/Is the one I wish I had over you" on "Afford," the slower songs are met by jarring noises that create not just bookends in the midst of the songs but also punctuate the point being made. Relationships have never sounded so beautiful and so dangerous at the same time.

A lot of Akron/Family's songs deal with these concepts, very simple relationships broken down into the basic elements that we all go through at one point or another and have to deal with. These typical themes are confronted in an untypical format, the ticks and tocks heard throughout each song giving a new meaning to the new yet old situations we've been through. "Shoes" relates freedom to simple Velcro of a shoe and couldn't be more beautiful, culminating in a sing-along chant that finds humor even in the saddest of circumstances. "You Float Away/And Find Yourself Laughing/Into Thin Air."

This isn't to give the impression that the album is perfect. A step in the right direction, but far from it. It's more of a centerpiece for what is to come from Akron/Family, the band finding its voice and figuring out exactly how to combine keyboard strings with experimental loops and folksy guitar. "Soron Boy" falters in its staggering melody, and the interlude the precedes it is practically unnecessary with no real driving force behind it. "Franny/You're Human" has a coda that adds little to the song that is part of it, giving the impression that sometimes even Akron/Family like to get lost in their own loose melodies and experimentations with the sounds. Not every experiment works so well, but enough do that one doesn't even regard them as that and accepts them as part of the melody.

Akron/Family is an album that's best suited for those lazy days when not much can get done (or for those that like getting high), but really is an album that can be dual under different circumstances. If one is in love at the time they can listen to it as a proclamation of the wonders and beauty that comes with being in love, but if one is heartbroken then it will be a damnation to the relationship of the pains and struggle that comes with one. A powerful emotion to get across on what sounds like such a simple debut album.

Standout Track: "Italy."
Final Score: 8.2/10

One last note

One last thing I realized while trying to start this yesterday. Whatever band I'm reviewing I need to start with their first album and go in chronological order, thus to learn how they grow as a band and not on an album-by-album basis, in that way I learn more about how the band has grown and if they're just repeating themselves. Okay, first one coming up in a little bit here!

Friday, May 29, 2009

That's it! I'm gonna do it! Really!!11

All right people, all fans that are actually left out there. I'm doing this thing again, for reals this time, no joke gonna follow through whether I like it or not. I continue to postpone doing this, and with good excuses seeing as school was destroying all aspects of life and busy with other things, but now that things have died down I have no good excuse to not do this project again. A little less than a year later I'm finally getting around to it. Sigh.

I actually view this as a good thing because I think I've found a way to make this more entertaining and keep it manageable. I'm starting from the ground-up yet again, although not much has been done, and am going to try this one more time. Here is my idea for how this will work:

  • 1 album reviewed every day. This also means I have to LISTEN to the album, not from memory. Even though I've listened to Beatles' Revolver a thousand times I need to do it again to get a fresh perspective on this.
  • I'm going to go through the list alphabetically, but differently. By this I mean I'm going to review a band that starts with an A, review one of their ablums, then do a band that starts with B, and so on through the alphabet. This keeps me in line and also forces me to listen to stuff that I normally wouldn't, while at the same time gives a lot of variety so I'm not stuck listening to all of the Aerosmith and AC/DC all at once. That got old fast.
  • Every week I get to pick my own album to review on my own for getting through the other ones. Like a reward. So ever 6 letters I get through I choose my own album of my own picking.
  • I'll keep the scoring system because it's simple and keeps things in line, and a standout track as well for fun. I wish there was a better grading system but this will just have to do.
  • I plan on doing a weekly podcast for this as well. Really! Figuring out the format for doing that now and I'm going to need to get the ball rolling again on this first, but once I've gotten into a groove it will start.

With all that being said, my promise to you all, all 3 of you, that I will do this this time. This is it for reals. Last time school kept getting in the way, but once I get into a system of doing this and don't have school to get in the way I should have no excuse. So lets do it for reals this time and I thank people in advance for their patience and hope they enjoy what happens, and as always feedback of any form is always appreciated.