Thursday, August 17, 2017

#442: The Cure - Pornography (1982)

Zack: First off, a warning. In my last post, I got a bit nostalgic because we were listening to the second of Metallica’s four albums on the list, six-ish years after listening to the first. As I’ve mentioned before, we pick albums in batches of 20, and in addition to trying to space out the genres and eras, we try to pace ourselves in terms of going through certain artists’ catalogues. As bad as I want to burn through all the Neil Young, Johnny Cash, and Radiohead, if we did that then we would spend the remaining 300ish albums sifting through less commonly heralded acts, trying to find hidden gems among dregs. It’s better if we evenly disperse everything to the best of our abilities. But as we near album 500, that means that there are a bunch of artists with 3 or 4 albums on the list that we’re finally returning to. This includes like 10 albums in this batch that are probably going to trigger major nostalgia. And The Cure is one of them. Randomly, I really like The Cure. They’re one of the few '80s post punk/new wave bands that just really work for me. I don’t know why. I just know that I am always excited to listen to The Cure. This fascination predates the blog, actually. I remember hanging out in Emily’s freshman dorm room, with my (now) old, crappy laptop (that I still have!) on her dresser, playing The Cure. It was a scene that would have made total sense in 1990, but made a lot less sense in 2010. That said, when I need my The Cure fix, I go right to Disintegration. Several of their other albums are good (specifically their earlier, darker, more brooding stuff), but Disintegration is my favorite by a wide margin. So it’s been quite a long, long time since I’ve listened to Pornography. I don’t think I’ve played this particular album in 5 years. So it was great to revisit it after such a long layoff. I completely forgot how good songs like One Hundred Years and The Hanging Garden are. I’m really glad I got to revisit this album after all these years. And I’m glad to know that no matter how much my life changes, apparently I will continue to find brooding, ethereal gothic rock totally mesmerizing.
Favorite Tracks: One Hundred Years; The Hanging Garden; Pornography

Emily: NME (as cited by Wikipedia) said that Pornography is "arguably the album that invented goth." That's an interesting title to have. Nowadays, I think of goth more in terms of clothing style than music, and goth music seems to have been subsumed into either the metal or industrial genres. This album has its own feel, though. It's swirling and spooky and ambient (which is perfectly personified on the album cover in fact), creating a mood as much as a sound. I like some of the later, new wavier music by The Cure better than I liked this album, which probably says more about me than the music, but it is certainly worth a listen to hear where they came from and how Pornography's influence lives on.
Favorite Tracks: One Hundred Years; The Hanging Garden; A Strange Day

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#441: Metallica - ...And Justice for All (1988)

Zack: I’m not going to look it up, but I think we last listened to Metallica in the summer of 2011, because I think I had just moved into my apartment on 8th St. before junior year of college. So we’re just getting back to Metallica like 6 years later, which is crazy. But it does make me a bit nostalgic, and that gets me thinking about how far my musical tastes have developed since then and how big a role this blog has had in that. When we started this endeavor, I would have said that I hated metal and country music. And while neither are my favorite genres by any stretch, I now have a more nuanced view based on subgenres and eras. On the country front, I spent this past week obsessively listening to Jason Isbell’s newest album and trying to figure out how difficult it would be to go to Columbia, MD to see Sturgill Simpson. And on the metal front, there’s how much thought I put in to deciding when to listen to …And Justice for All. Occasionally, I get into certain moods where I crave Metallica (and one or two other similar bands). I’ll listen to Ride the Lightning and the Black Album two or three times in a row and it’ll just feel perfect. But if I’m not in one of those headspaces, the music just doesn’t do the same things for me. And I really wanted to like this album, so I put off listening to it for well over a week, just waiting for the right time. Well, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the time was right. I hit play, and I’m so glad I waited. I liked …And Justice for All a lot. Not more than I like the two other Metallica albums I listed above, but more than enough. It was kind of rough sounding, but sometimes that is exactly what you need. The guitar work was frequently exquisite, flipping between rumbling and growling and more virtuoso segments. It was a very dynamic album. My main complaint is that a number of the songs go on for a minute or two too long. They’re not overly repetitive – Metallica are always changing things up throughout the course of each song – but they just feel like they’ve run their course, and then just keep trucking on. That point's minor, though, as overall …And Justice for All really stood out as a powerful piece of art…if the mood is right anyway.
Favorite Tracks: One; To Live Is to Die; Blackened

Emily: I took a quick look back at my previous Metallica review (Zack was right - it was from August 2011) to see what I thought about the band before. I basically described it as kinder, gentler metal music than some of what we had experienced before, which greatly improved my listening experience. I think the same holds true for ...And Justice for All. The songs are tightly constructed with intricate guitars, and the sound is powerful enough to fill a stadium without feeling like your head is getting screamed off. It's no wonder that Metallica is still going strong today, and that One - the standout track on this album - is a permanent fixture in their setlist.
Favorite Tracks: One; Blackened; Eye of the Beholder

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

#440: My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)

Zack: Fun fact: I don’t like shoegaze and straight up hate My Bloody Valentine. I have no idea why. The music just does not jive with my constitution. That was super true for the band’s 2013 reunion album mbv and it was super duper true of Loveless. I could not wait for this album to be over. I hated the screeching. I hated the mumbling. I hated everything about it. It just is not for me. That said, My Bloody Valentine are critical darlings and I wouldn’t say the album is bland, per se, like so many other critical darling bands from Ireland tend to sound (cough…U2…cough). So it is totally possible that others could listen to this album and have a religious experience or something. I don’t know who those people are, but I’m guessing they exist. Otherwise, My Bloody Valentine are just one incredible practical joke.
Favorite Tracks: Sometimes; When You Sleep, Loomer

Emily: I don't quite get shoegaze music. It's mumbly and noisy and distorted and muddled. Frankly, much of it sounds the same as everything else in the genre. There's nothing bright, striking, or unique about it. It's like gazing at your shoes but your shoes are covered in various shades of mud. Loveless exemplified these features of the genre, and probably for that reason I totally didn't get it. I thought it was repetitive and muddy and boring. Also, it took three years and several hundred thousand dollars to make, but I'm not exactly sure where that time and money went except to distortion equipment. I could see the influence Loveless and My Bloody Valentine has on some later grunge/post-grunge/alternative artists, like the Smashing Pumpkins, but to me that's all this was good for.
Favorite Tracks: Soon; Only Shallow; Come In Alone

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

#439: The Carpenters - Close to You (1970)

Zack: Close to You is a good, nondescript '70s pop album. Let’s get that out of the way first. It’s an enjoyable enough listen, I’m sure it was plenty influential, and although I didn’t love it by any stretch of the imagination I have absolutely no problem with its inclusion. Now that all that is covered, let’s talk about Mr. Guder. I didn’t really like the song, but even on a first listen I could tell it was a weird tonal shift. Up to that point, like 80% of the songs had been love songs and 90% had been covers. And then we get to Mr. Guder and I’m wondering if I just heard the word robot. Did I hear that right? Turns out I did, because The Carpenters apparently wrote a song mocking their old boss at Disneyland and named it directly after him. No fake name or anything like that. Basically, they pioneered the diss track. What a legendary “fuck you” moment! I wish I was musically talented because there are definitely like 2-3 former bosses in my life that need '70s-pop-based middle fingers.
Favorite Tracks: (They Long to Be) Close to You; Crescent Moon; We’ve Only Just Begun

Emily: The cover art on Close to You pretty much epitomizes what the album sounds like. You have a '70s-ish font and a picture of a young '70s couple looking like they're posing for the photo to accompany their engagement announcement in a local newspaper. She's wearing a flower-child flowy white dress with a middle part in her hair that looks like the same style my aunt had as a teenager, and the guy has a brown blazer, a shirt with a giant pointy collar, and a feathered Partridge Family 'do. They're sitting on some rocks with a river and a mountain in the background. The overall effect is wholesome, pleasant, and somewhat generic. And that's exactly what I thought of this album. It was an enjoyable listen and certainly a product of its time, but I know it's not going to stick with me.
Favorite Tracks: (They Long to Be) Close to You; Baby It's You; Love is Surrender

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#438: Leonard Cohen - Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

Zack: Last year, 2016, was an incredible year for music. Heavyweights like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Radiohead all released albums. We got very strong hip-hop albums from Chance the Rapper, YG, Run the Jewels, and ScHoolboy Q. David Bowie released a surprise album two days before his death and A Tribe Called Quest released their first album in nearly two decades to memorialize the legendary Phife Dawg. We even got a Kendrick project that gave a bit of a look into his album-making process (and had some good songs of its own merits). And this long list doesn’t even include the slightly less prominent albums by acts like Anderson .Paak, Sturgill Simpson, Solange, Kaytranada, NxWorries, Bon Iver, Noname, and Denzel Curry that I also really, really enjoyed. And, among that entire long list, my favorite album from 2016 was You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen. It’s pretty much perfect. Plenty of people have commented about how Blackstar is an album from a man coming to terms with his own mortality. You Want it Darker sounds like an album from a man who is just to weary to think about it much. It’s an album that occurs between the acceptance and the actual death. It can be emotionally exhausting to listen to, but the experience is so worth it that I frequently return to it. Because of how much I absolutely adore that album, I was very excited to give some of his other works a listen. Songs of Leonard Cohen is about as far removed from You Want it Darker as it’s possible to get. Instead of Cohen’s final album, it’s his first, released almost 50 years prior when Cohen was a spry young pup in his early 30s. The weariness is unsurprisingly removed, but the care and precision of the lyrics is not. It’s a very good debut album. I didn’t find the subject matter quite as engaging, since on that front it is mostly just a traditional folk album. But there is clearly so much thought put into every single word in every single line that it is immediately captivating. Songs of Leonard Cohen feels like a really good audiobook is being read to you with a backing guitar.
Favorite Tracks: Master Song; One of Us Cannot Be Wrong; Suzanne

Emily: Several months ago, around when Leonard Cohen passed away, it seemed like his song Hallelujah was everywhere. I listened to a podcast that dissected many cover versions of the song, there was that painfully earnest SNL performance (and this less earnest one a few months later), and the song played over any award show montage that featured Cohen's death. Pairing that song's ubiquity with the fact that I was going through a particularly melancholy time, Hallelujah was stuck in my head for what seemed like weeks on end. I do like the song, particularly the Jeff Buckley cover, but I definitely had too much of it. So I can't say I was exactly excited to listen to a Leonard Cohen album, even though Zack has raved about his final album released last year. Mercifully, Songs of Leonard Cohen is not the album with Hallelujah on it. Several of the songs infuse a similar sense of melancholy and yearning, with simple and plaintive folk melodies that allow the intricate and emotional lyrics to shine through. Even from this early album, it's obvious that Cohen was a master storyteller, which is perhaps enough for me to overcome my Hallelujah fatigue and delve more deeply into his catalogue.
Favorite Tracks: Suzanne; Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye; Master Song

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#437: Bad Brains - I Against I (1986)

Emily: I first heard of Bad Brains a few years back while watching Sonic Highways, the Foo Fighters' documentary series. In each episode, Dave Grohl & Co. visited a different American city and explored their musical traditions, culminating in the recording of a song influenced by the city's history and music. One episode brought them to Washington, D.C., Dave Grohl's hometown (well, home metro area, as Grohl is from northern Virginia) and where Zack and I currently live. Bad Brains was one of the most influential bands coming out of the D.C. hardcore punk scene (interestingly labeled as harDCore), and Grohl interviewed a few of the band's members about the culture of basement shows and DIY aesthetics. The resulting track, The Feast and the Famine, incorporates one of Bad Brains' driving credos, P.M.A., meaning Positive Mental Attitude. Though I hadn't listened to Bad Brains until today, save for the few clips in Sonic Highways, P.M.A. seems to fit with how the band fits into hardcore punk as a whole. I Against I isn't just loud guitars and unintelligible scream-sung lyrics, as much of this genre tends to be. Instead, the music has clear influences from reggae and go-go, a jazz-funk genre that originated in the black community in D.C., both of which are more melodic, upbeat, and positive than Bad Brains' punk brethren. The combination of punk and reggae is unique and exciting, and it made me hope that Bad Brains will bring their P.M.A. to a hometown show sooner rather than later.
Favorite Tracks: House of Suffering; Sacred Love; Re-Ignition

Zack: The other day, I was at a bar with some friends for cocktails and the place was playing almost exclusively '80s punk music. Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, etc. One of the people in the crew, whom I do not know very well, is apparently a big punk fan since he not only recognized every song but also knew the lyrics, which I was pretty sure up to that moment were all indecipherable and random chanting. We got to talking about it and I mentioned, as I have several times on here, that hardcore punk is not my favorite. He admitted it’s not for everyone and then we moved on. I kind of wished me had given me some recommendations now, because I really enjoyed I Against I. It kept the overall loudness of many of the band’s contemporaries, but infused more rhythm. The songs just sounded…better. If there’s anything from this era that’s more like Bad Brains, I should really make it a priority to check it out.
Favorite Tracks: Re-Ignition; I Against I; Return to Heaven

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

#436: Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)

Zack: I consider Blueprint to be Jay-Z’s third best album, and fourth if we’re counting Watch the Throne. Hova himself has it second without WTT. But yeah, sure, let’s make this the only Jay-Z album on the list. The Blueprint is an incredible and classic album, but I’d rather take the ungodly, Kanye-infused polish of the Black Album or the lyrical mastery of Reasonable Doubt any day. With that bit said, I’m going to talk about Renegade for way too long, because holy shit is that song incredible. Renegade was the first time I actually understood the concept of riding a beat. I heard Eminem say “rude, ludicrous, lucrative lyrics” over that “bum-badum-badum-tsk” beat and just went OH! Em so effectively used long O’s and sharp S’s to match the beat that it is basically a perfect example of rapping as a technique. Also, Renegade is responsible for me bonding with my old North Philly neighbors. I was stoop chillin’ with my old roommate when a neighbor walked down the street with a bodega bag. Renegade started playing and he turned to us and asked if we knew what song it was. I have listened to Renegade so many times that I can tell it’s about to play from the static in the air beforehand, so I responded immediately. He nodded and handed me a beer from his bag, asked for a shot of whiskey from the bottle I had, and then left. Every time I left the apartment after that, if he was outside he would stop me and give me a full rundown of wherever there had been a shooting or seemed to be heavier-than-normal police activity. Renegade may very well have prevented me from getting mugged on an occasion or two. Anyway, Renegade is a perfect song, although it is mostly an Eminem song (to paraphrase Nas, Eminem bodies Jay on his own shit) and so I’m happy Blueprint is on the list just so Emily gets to listen to it.
Favorite Tracks: Renegade; Renegade again [actually Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)]; Renegade a third time [actually Takeover]

Emily: At some point a few years ago, probably at a party or other get-together, Zack told a friend of mine from law school that he knew all of the words to Renegade. I don't know the context in which that came up (and Zack probably doesn't remember), but I assume it was relevant to . . . something. Anyway, any time I mentioned Zack to this friend for several months thereafter, he would say that Zack must be awesome because he knows all of the words to Renegade. Again, I don't know why this was so impressive to my friend, but I'm sure if I asked him about it today he'd say the exact same thing. I'm sure I've heard Renegade before today, but now that it's fresh in my mind I can see why knowing all the words is quite a skill to have, and one that would be most impressive in a karaoke room. And, after reading Zack's review, I can see why he knows all the words to Renegade. Since The Blueprint was new to me (aside from the few singles I already knew), however, I'll focus on the album holistically. I've never really been into Jay-Z, even as I started listening to more rap and hip hop over the last several years. We went to the On the Run tour with Jay and Beyoncé a few years back (but had to leave halfway through for our friend's TMJ emergency), but the rationale behind that was 95% for seeing Beyoncé and about 5% for hearing 99 Problems and maybe Big Pimpin'. I like Watch the Throne, but mostly for the Kanye parts. And one of my dad's favorite songs is Empire State of Mind, which both he and I really only like for the Alicia Keys parts. So overall, Jay-Z has been incidental at most to my enjoyment of a lot of other music (and something has gotten in the way of it), but today was the first time I had focused on Jay-Z alone, and I enjoyed much of this album. The Kanye-produced beats are particularly strong, and the lyrics are still raw and biting (probably because Jay was facing 2 criminal trials and several rap beefs at the time, whereas now he's the CEO of Tidal and has three kids). And, yes, the rapping on Renegade is super impressive.
Favorite Tracks: Takeover; Renegade; Izzo (H.O.V.A.)