Friday, July 10, 2009

Taylor Swift - Taylor Swift (2006)

Taylor Swift - Taylor Swift (2006)

After the barrage of indie rock I've listened to it was a nice change of pace to try out Taylor Swift's bustin' and honkin' debut record. So lets set the record straight for the moment. Taylor Swift deserves a ton of credit and a ton of critique at the same time. On the one hand, I have to hand it to the girl for being the most successful indie act of the moment, having written the bulk if not most of the songs on her debut album, being only 18 years-old and not making a big deal out of that fact unlike judges on some popular American karaoke Idol related show, and for having some really good songs on here that transcend the genres that we have created. By that same token, I offer up this criticism as well. For one, this is the most un-country album you'll ever hear, don't let the track "Tim McGraw" fool you into thinking otherwise, this is a pop album with country twang, plain and simple, Taylor's young age also gives way to some very trite lovey songs, and what works on here works, but just because it works doesn't make it the most amazing thing since, well, Tim McGraw. Silversun Pickups just proved that to me.

Lets start with the positive, seeing as I usually go the other way around. The first track on this album kills. You could not get someone who hates Tim McGraw more to actually like a song about said man, but here it is. What could be a very corny song, as Swift has a tendency to do, instead becomes something very meaningful in all of the high school drama that it is. Two young lovebirds love Tim McGraw and will always think of each other when they hear him. Sounds so juvenile and yet so grown-up at the same time, and it's done well. Hats off to Taylor as well for having the guts to open with slow simmer of a number instead of, say, the rousing hoot-n'-holler that is next song "Picture to Burn" In all fairness, Picture is just as good as Tim. It shows more of Swift's humor and willingness to poke fun at the pop-country genre she is stuck in.

Breakthrough single "Teardrops on my Guitar" is good yet may suffer from too-many-choruses. The song is overdone in so many ways and in many ways parallels "Tim McGraw" without matching the meaning of the opener, instead going for the more melodramatic and juvenile version of that song. Closer "Our Song" does what Swift does well time and time again, which is to take the corniness of her genre and high school problems and use that to her advantage. When she belts out "'Cause it's late and your mama don't know..." she not only sounds like she's having more fun than half the singers out there but she means it as well. Like she'd be fun to hang out with.

Oh but how I wish I could say the same thing about the rest of the album. There's just too much here that goes nowhere. Most of the songs on the album state what they're about in the title alone. This method works in reverse too. When I listened and didn't know the name of the song I was listening to, I waited until the chorus rolled around and just figured whatever line was at the very end or sang the most was probably the title I don't think I was wrong once. The songs that make up the bulk of the album are well-constructed and do their job, but none are nearly as memorable as the songs I've already mentioned. This is where Swift's youthfulness and inexperience show that more is needed to really hold up so many songs. She hits all the marks one should (Ballad: check. Fast song: check. Sad song: check) but does nothing to imbue any new creativity to said songs.

I admit that I'm happy she doesn't lean into Carrie Underwood style of country pop, relying on the genre so much that you're no longer talented in any way in it, but help is needed. "Tied Together With A Smile" has some of the worst analogies I've heard in some time ("but he leaves you out like a penny in the rain"? Please), "A Place in this World" is entirely forgettable, and I don't even remember the final tracks of this album. "Stay Beautiful" at least changes up the tempo mid-way through that the variation makes for variety, despite that it comes off as clunky. Swift has got the skills to pay the billz all right, but right now we're looking at some great work coming out of a mediocre album. Swift also suffers from the common theme of young female singers, that of singing with such an over strained voice that it makes the listener argue if you're trying to whisper or you're losing your voice. Just sing! And try not to be boring.

Standout Track: "Tim McGraw"
Overall Rating: 5.8

T.S. T.R.I.V.I.A.:

* Taylor Swift is quite swifty. In the lyrics in the cover booklet she capitalized certain letters in each song to spell out a message. Here are the goodies one gets when looking at them:

1."Tim McGraw": Can't Tell Me Nothin'
2."Picture to Burn": Date Nice Boys
3."Teardrops On My Guitar": He Will Never Know
4."A Place In This World": I Found It
5."Cold As You":Time to Let Go
6."The Outside": You Are Not Alone
7."Tied Together With a Smile": You Are Loved
8."Stay Beautiftul": Shake 'N Bake
9."Should've Said No": Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam
10."Mary's Song (Oh My My My)": Sometimes, Love is Forever
11."Our Song": Live in Love

* Album killed on the Top 100 Billboard Country, holding #1 for 23 weeks and reached #5 on the Billboard 200.

* Album had 5 singles total from it, making Taylor Swift the first country female solo artist to spawn 5 Top 10 singles from debut album since the chart's inception in 1964.

* Has gone 4x Platinum, a rare in one in this download age.

* Single "Tim McGraw" was written by Swift when she was 16 in math class. She says it was about her boyfriend of the time who would eventually have to leave for college and their breakup.

* Single "Teardrops on my Guitar" is about a real student, Drew Hardwick, that Swift knew and had a crush on when she was a Freshman in High School.

* When "Our Song" hit number one it made Taylor Swift the youngest artist to achieve a number one song while being the sole writer of said song. She also claims it was written for a 9th-grade talent show. Guess other people's baton numbers and "Achy-Breaky Heart" covers will have to pale in comparison.

Silversun Pickups - Carnavas (2006)

Silversun Pickups - Carnavas (2006)

What a boring album this is. So many of the songs range around the 5-minute mark without any warranting whatsoever. I can liken it to the feeling of when you have another hour at work and you keep looking at the clock with the thought "Aw, come on, it's got to be over now!" going through your head. On a Friday. Before Christmas. Well, maybe not that far-fetched, but similar regardless. Silversun Pickups have all the cred and talent behind it, but man what a boring album.

Case in point: Pick any of the first 5 tracks on this album and tell me something memorable about them. I think most people who defend this statement will immediately argue "Well Thought Out Twinkles" and how it simmers and pops and has a nice proggy sound to it. It does the job of being a prog track with all the bells and whistles, going through the motions and being all starry-eyed like I would imagine the Silversun Pickups are given the fact that half their debut deals with stars and space and time and the usual. So tell me what makes this song about stars and space and time and the usual different from the billions of others about the same thing? Or at least the same ground that a better band, say Modest Mouse or The Pixies might handle better? Not that those are bands that deal with same subject, let alone are in the same league as Silversun Pickups. Just what sets this band apart?

Ah, but therein is your answer. "Lazy Eye," quite possibly one of the best proggy-alt tracks I've heard in recent years, really does do all those things right and does absolutely nothing new at the same time. Everything builds and builds as it should, bearing under a steady guitar riff with slight variation and lyrics that aren't too inspiring, but in those moments and the loud sonic shift that explode in the middle does the band actually sound like it's having fun. Most of the songs on this debut sound like the band can't wait for the song to get over either. They go nowhere and do nothing, unlike "Lazy Eye," which builds and builds, explodes, then settles down again, akin to "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles or "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. It proves that the formula can actually work. But only sometimes.

The second half of the album is the more memorable half, which is a shame, because it's hard to wade through the first half of boredom and slow peaks. Slow does not equal boredom, but it doesn't help it either. "Three Seed" proves that the band doesn't have to have a fast part to have a successful track, instead choosing to rhythmically branch out in a song as it moves along. Closer "Common Reactor" is equally one of the best on the album, a fitting closing that seems spacey and very colorful as it builds to what sounds like a very fitting end to the album of a quiet explosion.

Silversun Pickups have a nice enough sound that they should be able to create something very unique with it. Little Joy was a band that has a unique Spanish Strokes sound to them that do end up being successful on their debut album despite not breaking barriers. Silversun Pickups seem like they're on the verge of breaking some kind of barrier with the songs on here that are good but overall they don't know what to do with their goods either. They're lost in though and trite lyrics being laid down over monotonous guitar riffs and drum builds that don't really take the mind anywhere, no matter how high it may be. They're on the right track to being something important, but don't let that mistake their talent for quality.

Standout Track: "Lazy Eye"
Overall Rating: 5.0


* The title of the album comes from an homage to singer Brian Aubert's Greek heritage.

* "Lazy Eye" is a playable in song in both Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour. The song also hit #5 on the Billboard Modern Rock singles. The song also got used in such hit shows as The O.C., Criminal Minds & Reaper.

* The cover of the album comes from editing of a Darren Waterson image entitled "Summit."

* "Well Thought Out Twinkles" became a huge success in Peru (bigger than "Lazy Eye"), coming in at #2 on the year-end list there. Go figure.

* The music video for single "Little Lover's So Polite" was directing by none-other than thespian-turned-rapper Joaquin Phoenix.

* The original name of the band was A Couple of Couples, due to the fact that most of the members had previously played in other bands with one another and was how the band was formed. The band's name comes from a liquor store not far from where they lived in L.A. across from The Silverlake Lounge and near Sunset Street.