Week 40 Review

The Ataris – Anywhere But Here (1997)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.0 out of 5 stars album. I know. I know. Another pop punk band crying about relationships. Enough already. But The Ataris do a really good job of mixing things up and Kris Roe has a keen musical sense that makes him smarter than your average pop punker. It’s worth your time.

Artist BackgroundFor all intent and purposes, The Ataris is Kris Roe. He’s the only constant member of the band for it’s entire history since it started in Anderson, Indiana in 1995. The first album (this one) didn’t happen until their demo tape made it’s way to the owner of Kung Fu Records by way of Bogart’s (Cincinnati, Ohio). There’s been 20 members since 1995, so saying they have had some lineup changes is a bit of an understatement. Regardless, Kris has stuck through it all, even when he had no money, was living out of his van in California, and everyone had quit the band. Yet, he still kept pressing on. His commitment paid off as subsequent albums grew in popularity to the point where it peaked with 2003’s So Long, Astoria, which was certified gold. They are currently performing on the Blue Skies, Broken Hearts tour with the line up from the So Long, Astoria era.

Album Background: Anywhere But Here is very traditional punk album in terms of timing as it blows through 20 tracks in a little over 32 minutes. Most of these pop punk tracks last well under 2 minutes. The Wikipedia entry says Kris did everything but the drums, which was handled by Derrick Plourde, for this album. I have no idea how accurate this is, as Jasin Thomason didn’t leave the band until after ABH was released. Also, the credits refer to a member that didn’t join until after the album was released. So I’m not sure what to believe. It really needs to be pointed out that I am talking about the 1997 original release of this album. Kung Fu Records decided to re-release the album in 2002, which happens all the time with early albums when a band gains significant popularity. I’m not certain if it was an effort to make the album sound similar to their current albums or what, but I know that I absolutely hate the 2002 version with every fiber of my being. They changed the track listing completely, added horrible reverb to every track, and created a wall of sound by destroying the original dynamics. I very much appreciate the more raw sound of the 1997 release, and the track order makes more sense to me with the nearly all instrumental track, 1-2-3-4, being the opener.

My anger only intensified with how I discovered this hellish creation. I wanted a higher bit-rate version of the album than the one in my collection. Being the impatient person I am, I bought and downloaded the MP3 album from Amazon without double checking anything. “What the fudge is this?” was the only question that ran through my head as I started up the album on my way to work. I wish it had been a CD so I could have tossed it out of the car window onto the side of the highway like an old bag of McDonald’s*.

*=Not really. I hate when people litter. They’re a bunch of littering jackasses. Please don’t litter.

Favorite Track: This pick should be the incredibly infectious Hey, Kid! but it isn’t. Despite Hey, Kid! being proclaimed by many (most notably and recently by my editor) to be my official theme song with the eerily close to reality chorus of “Bitch, bitch, bitch. That’s all you ever do,” I’m actually choosing a different song. Instead I am going with the 19th track, Boxcar, which is a cover of a Jawbreaker song that was originally released in 1994 on the album, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. While Kris didn’t write the song it speaks very highly of his sensibilities to include a cover of one of my favorite punk songs of all-time. The Ataris version is dialed back a bit compared to the original version, but I think the song is better off for it. Boxcar, from what I can tell, is a swipe at those who like to say who is punk and who is not. The whole idea of having to strictly adhere to a code of conduct to be punk seems ridiculous because mindlessly regurgitating the punk ideals and principles of others leaves you back at where you started before you entered into the punk subculture. This idea is best expressed in the line of the chorus “I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.” It’s worth listening to for sure.

What Works: 

  • Intro I love the opening track of this album. It start’s with a quick count off then goes full throttle on the guitars and drums for the remaining 40 or so seconds. To me, it’s an iconic moment for punk music. To other listeners, it’s might be that annoying 40 seconds before the album really begins. Maybe that’s why Kung Fu Records pushed it back to end of the record for the re-release. Huge mistake, but it’s just one of many by Kung Fu when they redid everything.
  • 1950s Much of the time, I felt like I was listening to a pop punk Buddy Holly album. Kris has such a keen sense of what makes a good classic pop song. You can clearly hear the influence of early rock and roll acts throughout the album. Speaking of which, I think Buddy Holly was one of the earliest punks in music as he was one of the first musicians to start writing their own material instead of relying on others. Even the standard punk band setup of a vocalist, two guitarists and a drummer was first popularized by Mr. Holly.  Listening to this album also reminded me of the reviews of punk songs by Chuck Berry. He basically asks what’s the big deal with punk because he’s been playing this kind of music for years. And he’s absolutely right.
  • Maturity I think Kris’s level of writing was incredibly mature for a first release. I make my case with the song Take Me Back which is a wonderful satirical take on breakup songs. On this song, the boy begs his girlfriend to take him back while listing all of the wrongs he committed against her in the previous relationship. The song takes it to an absurd level by including things such as cheating 15 times, standing her up on their wedding day, giving her an STD, telling everyone they had sex while on TV and last, but not least, blowing up her car. In a world overflowing with whiny pop punk guys wishing their exes would take them back, this song is incredibly refreshing. He knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote it.

What Doesn’t:

  • Too Many or Too Little Towards the last third of the album, things start blending together. I think a lot of this has to do with how quickly they are blowing through songs. You don’t always have enough time to appreciate the song before the next one starts up. While I was taking notes, some of the songs didn’t have any notes because I didn’t have enough time to think of anything to write. If I don’t have enough time to write anything at all, does the listener have time to get anything out of the song? I know very short songs are a staple of pop punk, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any negatives to this approach. Would a 40 minute album with some of the songs extended out a little longer have been better? Maybe. But unlike Kung Fu Records, I don’t think there is any reason to screw with an album to make it “better” than what it was.

In Conclusion: I really like this album. It’s a solid pop punk effort. If you are going to listen to it, I implore you to hunt down a copy of the 1997 release. The easiest way to find the original CD is probably eBay, where you can get a better description of what you are specifically buying from the seller. It’s also great because you can see pictures of the album art in the jewel case since the 2002 version also uses different album art. So it should be really easy to pick out.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos. Sorry.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music (2002 Version!)
Google Play (2002 Version!)
iTunes (2002 Version!)
XBOX Music (2002 Version!)
Spotify (2002 Version!)

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

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Week 39 Review

Rufio – Anybody Out There (2010)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 50% out of 5 stars album. I have incredibly mixed feelings on this album. In fact, they are so mixed I’m going to completely contradict myself in this review. Is it a cop out to not take a firm stand? Probably. But life is rarely black and white. More often than not there are more than 14 shades of grey.

Artist BackgroundUnfortunately, we are starting with the end of Rufio instead of the beginning. Why does that matter? Much like Our Lady Peace and countless other bands, losing one band member changed everything. In Rufio’s case, it was their founding member and bassist, Jon Berry. His bass playing had such a huge impact on the sound of the band. But what’s done is done. Rufio is a pop punk band founded in 2000 by four guys in Rancho Cucamonga, California. They’ve put out 4 albums then they broke up. Afterwards, one of the other founding members, Scott Sellers, did some work with the Dutch pop punk band, The Lost Boys Club. Highly appropriate given the origins of Rufio’s band name.

Album Background: Anybody Out There is a pop punk album released in 2010 with a runtime of about 36 minutes. I find it has some serious emo/pop rock leanings myself. Wikipedia, however, lists it as strictly pop punk. The album was their first since they went on hiatus after releasing their original trilogy from 2001 to 2005. This is the first and only album to not include Berry. I actually bought this after wondering what happened to those Rufio dudes. I was kind of surprised to see they had released another album. I was even more surprised after I started it up. Why? Normally, I can easily identify their albums within moments of it starting as they all had a distinct Rufio-esque sound to them. But with this new album, that sound is completely gone along with ex-bassist, Jon Berry. I find it sort of funny I made a statement to a friend about 12 years ago that my main problem with Rufio was that they sounded so generic. Distinctly generic? That can’t be a thing. I told you this review was going to be filled with contradictions.

Favorite Track: Nothing really stood out for me for this album in all honesty. But that’s a common theme for Rufio albums. It’s usually more about the listening experience of the album instead of any individual tracks. Consequently, I’m going to use my highly objective quantitative sing-along metric to bail me out of this situation. Essentially, it is which song did I catch myself singing aloud to the most times during the past week. And the winner is This I Swear. This song, in particular, feels more pop rock than pop punk, but at least it’s pretty catchy overall. Reminds me of Oleander’s I Walk Alone for some reason. Maybe it’s the introspective nature of both songs, which I tend to be a fan of. I don’t think they sound alike. It just reminds me of the Oleander song.

What Works: 

  • Lyrics The lyrics writing approach is interesting. As far as I can tell, they take simple ideas and try to shift/manipulate them just enough so they aren’t so straight forward or cliche. Some artists can bring an extraordinary amount of beauty in simple lyrics but that’s also very difficult to pull off. I’m glad Rufio at least recognizes this and tries to give you something to ponder while you’re listening.
  • Intros Rufio tends to be pretty damn good with riffs. Accordingly, I liked many of the intros on this album. I especially enjoyed the aggressive ones like those from Deep End and Little World. People often speak of the importance of the making a good first impression when you meet somebody new. You only have one chance, as the saying goes. I think it’s equally as important with songs. Give them something good and you’re already ahead of the game with the listener.
  • Topics I blasted certain other bands for covering the same topic ad nauseam over the course of an album, so I commend Rufio for what they did on this album. I liken their approach to a painter doing a series of oil on canvas paintings where you have a consistent topic that you try to explore with different approaches. In this case, Rufio is exploring the topic of relationships. (I know! I am as surprised as you are! That’s hardly ever covered in the pop punk genre. </sarcasm>) They really do cover many different states of a relationship. This includes pursuing a relationship with a new person, not wanting to be in a relationship, being in the beginning of a relationship when there is all this optimism and positive energy, being in a bad relationship and wanting to keep going, being in a bad relationship and wanting to end it, being the one ending the relationship and having the other person ending the relationship, and so on. The breadth of it is pretty impressive for a single album. And even some of the way they covered common topics such as breaking up with someone is done well. There were numerous religious references found throughout the song Little World. The purpose was to evoke the notion that faith is often required to end a relationship when you don’t really know if it is the right thing to do.

What Doesn’t:

  • Lyrics While I like their approach of making simple lyrics more complex, they did it to the point where it became distracting. I spent an unusually high percentage of my time studying the lyrics of this album. As a result I don’t think I could appreciate the other aspects of the album as much as I would have liked. And it was incredibly frustrating when my attempts to come up with the meaning of a given verse proved futile because I’m certain it’s something simple. Maybe they should have went for a more weird approach so it would be more like an abstract thought exercise. Let’s bring it back to Our Lady Peace again for an example. Their song, Carnival, talks about yoga classes for cats in one verse. Hypothesizing why that line was included is fun even though I will never figure it out.
  • Intros The intros are good for the most part, but as I was going through this I decided to start the song then quickly jump to the very end of the song. What I discovered was that the ending is basically the intro but they let the last note slowly fade out. They actually did this for the first five songs. That came off as lazy writing to me. And five straight songs is a pretty big deal on a twelve track album.
  • Topics Is there a problem with covering so many aspects of relationships on a single album? I would argue it can also be a bad approach. It can come off as a scatter shot method in which an artist is attempting to try to reach as many people as possible in hopes to selling to a wider audience, thus making more money. Starting a new relationship? We got you covered. Breaking up with somebody? We got you covered. Somebody break up with you? We got you covered. Just trying to concentrate on yourself? We got you covered for that too. It’s like being the Walmart of relationship songs.

In Conclusion: This album is very much a mixed bag. And not just in the simplistic sense of half the songs are good and the other half are bad. Instead, the underlying qualities of the songs are individually mixed with no real bulletproof conclusion of “Is this album is good or bad?” If you’re still interested in Rufio after reading this, I would encourage you to start out with their first three albums. You will be a lot happier with those. The guys involved provided a very solid effort here as I wouldn’t question the musical abilities of any of them, but it just didn’t quite click for me.

On a final note, like some other bands I covered, even though the band is no longer together, they are doing one last show together. For Rufio it will be on June 18th, 2015 at the Montebello Rockfest. I took a look at the lineup for the Canadian rock festival and it’s deee-cent. If you’re looking for an excuse to go to Canada this summer, Rockfest is a pretty good one.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos unfortunately.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter

Week 38 Review

Angus (Music from the Motion Picture) (1995)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. As the various components aged in the past twenty years, the defining qualities of aroma, color and taste of the album have not only improved but done so dramatically. This album was most likely lost to both critics and consumers in a never ending field of pop punk and alternative rock during its initial release. But in today’s musical landscape, far removed from the mid-nineties, you can see the craftsmen responsible for the selection and fermentation process of the Angus soundtrack were true artisans.

Movie BackgroundAngus is the story of the fat and socially awkward teenager, Angus Bethune, who is trying to come to grips with high school and family life. His sworn enemy is Rick Sanford aka the quarterback who seems to get everything in life handed to him including Angus’s dream girl, Melissa Lefevre. Angus is joined by his best friend, Troy through most of these trials and tribulations. But ultimately it’s up to Angus to decide if he wants to face the dangers and uncertainty that lie ahead at the high school winter dance or walk away from everything and transfer to a science oriented private school. The most noticeable aspects of the movie for me is it contains possibly one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever seen. The movie did get a DVD release finally so I’m not putting any spoilers here in case somebody wants to watch it. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable high school outcast movie. You’ve probably never heard of this movie because it came out around the same time as other movies focusing on overweight individuals that either earned more money or praise from critics. Personally, I think everybody was just too busy watching Se7en. It now has a strong cult following due to its more accurate portrayal of high school life and is worth checking out.

Album Background: The Angus soundtrack is a short collection of twelve songs mostly in the pop punk and alternative rock genres. It runs about 35 minutes. Like 50 First Dates, which I reviewed earlier, it is missing key tracks from the movie. This time it is Fade Into You by Mazzy Star and Rubella by the Smoking Popes. One surprising aspect of the soundtrack is that while it includes top notch original material from Green Day and Weezer, the first song Weezer submitted was rejected! The song was called Wanda (You’re My Only Love), which Rivers Cuomo later released as part of Alone – The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo. The song closely follows the short story from which the movie is based. It’s very pretty and worth listening to. I’m glad I bought the song while writing this review. I would have loved to hear a proper recording by Weezer though it’s highly unlikely that will ever happen.

Favorite Track: My editor is the entire reason I watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack. Without her, there would be no Angus Bethune in my life. I didn’t even know about the movie until nearly a decade after it was released. Naturally, I consulted her when I had trouble deciding on a favorite track when there were so many strong contenders. My editor put it to me like this: “Yeah, you could go with one of those others. But when I listen to this album, I sit through all the other songs waiting for the last song to come on. It is the reason I listen to this soundtrack.” And she is right. The last song on the album, Am I Wrong by Love Spit Love, is the best track on the album.

Love Spit Love was formed by Richard Butler when the The Psychedelic Furs went on hiatus in 1992. Their odd name comes from a performance art exhibit that was held in New York in 1991. But why does this song standout among the others? What makes it so special? The high school marching band, of course! The marching band was mixed into the original song for the soundtrack. Am I Wrong is featured in the beginning of the film where the marching band is playing their half-time show. The brass, woodwinds and percussion of the band make for a very unique sounding pop song. And they greatly add to the end of the song as the emotional intensity swells in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without the marching band. I consider this song a must listen due to how unique it is and how incredibly well it works, given the odd combination of the mashup that most people would presume to be incompatible.

What Works: 

  • Ramones The Ramones, America’s most famous punk band, aren’t anywhere to be found on the soundtrack but yet they seem to be everywhere. Their influences are clearly heard throughout the album. This is especially with the tracks: Kung-Fu, Jack Names the Planets and Back to You. And that is most definitely a good thing. The choruses become incredibly catchy and a blast to sing along with as a result.
  • Opening The album starts out with Green Day’s J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva) which is easily the most popular track on the album. This perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the album as you immediately feel compelled to pogo regardless of your surroundings. I particularly love the end where it get very quiet and the last word of the song is omitted. Not only is it a good start, it has a good ending.
  • Fun Ash’s Kung-Fu is easily the most fun song on the album. Jackie Chan is prominently featured in the lyrics and the song was even used at the end of one of his movies, Rumble in the Bronx. Tim Wheeler wrote the song in five minutes and the band recorded it in one take using The Verve’s equipment who happened to be nearby at the time. That’s amazing to me and a testament to Wheeler’s ability as a writer and musician.
  • Women Several female vocalists are featured on Angus. This includes female vocalists in the bands Dance Hall Crashers, The Muffs and Tilt. To have 25% of the songs on this album include lead female vocalists is pretty awesome given the genres covered are typically heavily dominated by males. It’s nice to see the women get some well deserved recognition. All of the songs with female vocals are excellent.
  • Organization Elliot Cahn and Jeff Saltzman were in charge of this album and they did an amazing job. I would love to shake their hands if I could. The selection of songs and the order in which they were placed is absolutely perfect. I completely agree with the decisions to not include some songs. It would have ruined the perfection that they created when they made the ultimate musical time capsule for 1995. The songs complement each other well and the transition between tempos, genres and even topics is well executed A great example is Pansy Division’s Deep Water, which is about the struggles of growing up an insecure gay teenager. It is the perfect song to use to transition to the Am I Wrong to end the album.

What Doesn’t:

  • Nothing Like so many other 5 star reviews, I couldn’t find a single flaw in this entire album after listening to it for multiple weeks.

In Conclusion: This might be my all-time favorite soundtrack. If not all-time, it is definitely my favorite of what I’ve reviewed so far. If you are looking for an album that is an absolute blast to listen to and doesn’t seem to ever get old, you really can’t go wrong with the Angus soundtrack.

Music Video Links: 
Ash – Jack Names the Planets (Official Video)
Ash – Kung-Fu (Official Video)
Wonderful Opening of Angus featuring Am I Wrong (different from the soundtrack version)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
iTunes

Google Play

Spotify

Information Links:
W
ikipedia Album

Week 37 Review

Mr. Oizo – Analog Worms Attack (1999)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 3.5 out of 5 stars album. The album has perhaps the greatest bonus track in the history of modern music and is considered to be quite influential for the electronic music genre, which is why the score is as high as it is. However, I found myself bored with this album much of the time as the week progressed. It just doesn’t lend itself to listening on repeat for an entire week.

Artist BackgroundMr. Oizo is French electronic musician and director, Quentin Dupieux.  His biggest hit is Flat Beat which features the puppet, Flat Eric. Flat Eric starred in a Levi’s commercial which featured the song. It took another half decade before he would release a follow-up, Moustache (Half a Scissor). I’m actually a way bigger fan of his second album which is a very satisfying listen for me given the overall weirdness of it. It’s like I’ve always said: if you aren’t going to be melodic, you damn well better be interesting. Mr. Oizo continues to put out unique music including The Church which he released in late 2014.

Album Background: Analog Worms Attack is an experimental, instrumental hip hop album with a runtime of about 50 minutes. Given the genre, there is a heavy emphasis on bass throughout the entire album. Mr. Oizo at least had an interesting concept with this album, which was to create the entire album with nothing but analog components. Most notably, he used the analog synthesizer, the Korg MS-20. The MS-20 stopped being produced in 1983 but played a big part in the analog revival of the late 1990’s. Quite a few of my favorite artists use the Korg MS-20 to make their music. Mr. Oizo probably couldn’t have picked a better instrument to work with. The album wasn’t made solely by himself as Feadz did most of the turntable work.

Favorite Track: This has to be the easiest time I’ve ever had picking a favorite track from an album. That song is obviously the bonus track, Flat Beat. This song defined an entire era of my life which was about the first 5 or so years after graduating from college. I didn’t quite have the freedom that I had with college life at the time, but I didn’t have all of the responsibilities and commitments that I have now. In other words, good times. I thumped Flat Beat on a Friday or Saturday with a drink in my hand whether the people I shared a wall with liked it or not. And this song still is my go-to for testing out a newly purchased sub-woofer. So why does this song stand out? The music video definitely helps. It’s so entertaining and filled with so many memorable moments; some of which my friend and I would try our best to recreate IRL. For the best listening experience possible, you want to try to imitate Flat Eric’s head bobbing pattern when listening to the song.

And I’m not the only one to love this song. It was a huge hit. It was included in the Top 5 in fifteen countries and even hit number 1 in  six countries, including the UK. The fact that this was barely a blip in the United States in 1999 doesn’t surprise me. There’s a lot of songs that are big hits internationally but don’t resonate here. What does register with me is the infectious rolling bass line and the playful approach of the rhythmic patterns Mr. Oizo used with this song. It is a must-listen song if you haven’t heard it yet. Seriously, I gave you a link. Watch the video. Let the puppet make you smile.

What Works: 

  • Turntables The scratching done on this album by Feadz was one of the highlights of the album for sure. The thirteenth track, Feadz On, is one of my favorite moments of his. His creative and often delightful technique perfectly complements Mr. Oizo’s often minimalist and repetitive beats. I think if this album would have been more sample heavy with Feadz being a main contributor for every song, this could have easily been one of my all-time favorites.
  • Timing The album is kind of unique in that it has four tracks that are under the two minute mark that aren’t skits. It really helped break up the album which had some tracks that went on entirely too long given how monotonous some of the longer songs were. Feadz On is included in those four tracks.
  • Kidnies Since this album is considered experimental hip hop, I think one of the more interesting experiments on the album is Inside the Kidney Machine. Not only does it feel like the musical equivalent of being inside a kidney machine, it also feels like you’re playing a horror video game that takes place inside a kidney machine. Could this be the main storyline of the next Resident Evil? You don’t even have to pay me, Capcom. I’m giving you this one, free of charge.

What Doesn’t:

  • Build Up I think my biggest problem with a good majority of songs is they don’t really go anywhere. If you have four or five minutes and no lyrics, I think your song needs to slowly build up to something to get and, more importantly, keep my focus. Too many times I found myself asking, “Is that all?”
  • Boring  While I love minimalist graphic design, I rarely find myself as intrigued by minimalist music. It usually just comes off as boring. And that was the case here. Many of the songs just did not have enough going on for me to really enjoy them. And hearing them over and over didn’t help. I’m pretty sure, if I wanted to, I could yada yada nearly the entire album: “I put on my headphones. I turned on Analog Worms Attack. Yada, yada, yada. Flat Beat finally came on.” Yep. That works.

In Conclusion: I’m not telling anyone to not listen to this album. I think it might be worth a look if this is a genre you are interested in. It might even become a favorite album for the right kind of person. There are some hidden gems to be found, such as Monophonic Shit, and Flat Beat is absolutely a must-listen situation. But I don’t think this is going to end up high on the all-time favorites list for your average person since it really doesn’t hold up to repeat listens.

Finally, please check out his official website. It’s seriously retro-rrific! And it has free music to download for the if it’s free it’s me crowd.

Music Video Links:
Mr. Oizo – Flat Beat (Official Video) 

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

Week 36 Review

The Offspring – Americana (1998)

TheOffspringAmericanaalbumcover

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.85 out of 5 stars album. I’ve been encouraged by multiple people in my life that I need to give the Offspring a serious listen. My editor has been a strong supporter of this effort over the past decade. Her efforts have made me a fan of The Offspring but that serious listen didn’t happen until now with PLTAM. And I’m completely blown away by Americana. There is much more here to love than what I initially expected.

Artist BackgroundThe Offspring have their origins in the early 80s, but they didn’t get their current name until 1986 and didn’t release their first album until 1989. The band was made up of Dexter Holland (vocals, guitar), Noodles (lead guitar), Greg K. (bass) and Ron Welty (drums) at the time of recording. Their breakout album, Smash, didn’t happen until 1994 when it sold 16M copies. It set a record for independent record sales with their label at the time, Epitaph. In fact, it is currently 6X platinum because it still sells reasonably well to this day. With their new success, they eventually moved to the major label, Columbia. It was a messy and controversial transition that is still talked about. I can’t say I disapprove of the move, though, I’m sure there are many punk purists that will never forgive them. But I hope none of them would deny Offspring’s importance in making punk relevant to the mainstream again in the 90s. I think I’m going to end it here as far as covering the history of the band but I would like to add that the Offspring have been incredibly supportive of the digital music revolution. They often tried to make their music available online even when it pissed off the record executives. They also sold Napster T-shirts on their site and donated the profits to Napster. They were doing this when other musicians like Metallica were having complete shit fits about Napster and college students with broadband connections. I absolutely respect them for seeing the bigger picture.

Album Background: Americana is a punk rock album released in 1998. It runs about 44 minutes in length over 13 tracks. It is their fifth album and best charting album having reached number two on the charts. It’s not their best selling, though, as that honor belongs to Smash by a significant margin. The Offspring tried to go back to a more traditional sound with this album as their previous album, Ixnay on the Hombre was kind of experimental and not as well received. Despite the pressures to rebound, Noodles said Americana was very easy to record and this seems accurate as it was recorded in half the time of Ixnay at 18 months instead of 36. Considering again that this is their highest charting album in their discography, I would they say they couldn’t ask for a better rebound. Americana let them show the world that Smash was not a fluke.

I try to keep these album backgrounds short, but there is one more thing I think is worth talking about. The Jerry Springer Show was considered a key influence for the album. Many of the songs are considered short stories of American life rather than satirical views of your average American. It’s an important distinction as I originally viewed the album as mainly satirical after listening to it. One of the songs that was clearly influenced by the show is Why Don’t You Get a Job which covers the topic of relationship leeches. What’s a more interesting influence on the song is the Beatles’ classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Some people said the Offspring ripped off the Beatles with this song but it sounds more like a similar style of music rather than any kind of ripoff. To put this into perspective of what ripping off a song actually means, let’s compare this to the recent Sam Smith/Tom Petty debacle. In that case, Petty was financially compensated and rightfully so. I’m not aware of the Beatles pursuing any legal action and my bet is because they really don’t have a case. Having “I know I’ve heard that before somewhere…” pop into your head after listening to a new song is one of the most fun aspects of being a music nerd.

Favorite Track: I wasn’t in love with every track on the album, but I really liked enough of them that this was not an easy decision for me. However, I’m going with the title track: Americana. So why did this stick out for me? I love a good intro and Americana excels at this. The first thirteen seconds are nothing but the intense sparse beats of a lone drum set. Then a guitar adds to the slow, steady build up followed by some light vocalizations. It’s over a minute before you hear the first lyric. After the first line, everything kicks into hyper gear as the drums and guitars go full throttle. The lyrics perfectly complement the intense delivery of the instruments with classic punk social angst and the occasional swear words.  In this case, the phrase “fuck you” is expertly placed in multiple context to take advantage of the unique flexibility of the F word. The lyrics mostly concentrate on selfish attitudes of the citizens found in the main character’s dystopian visions. Slowly, he is realizing it is, in fact, a dystopian reality.

What Works: 

  • Multifarious I fell in love with this album before I even reached the highway on my Monday morning commute. When I reached a stoplight, I had to look down on my music player to see if the first song was really that short. It wasn’t. Have You Ever is actually made up of sections so distinct that you think a new song started up. For a band to try that on the opening song with a length of only four minutes, seriously impressed me. I knew right there this week was going to be highly enjoyable. Offspring takes this concept even further with the final track, Pay The Man. This song was supposed to be on their previous album, Ixnay on Hombre, but it was so different that it wasn’t a good fit. The song has a Saharan feel to it and is considered to be far more acid rock than punk rock. It has several distinct progressions over eight minutes with no repetition tying them together. They tried to play it at a concert once. The reaction from the crowd was mostly confusion and musings of how high the band must be right now. The experiment was a failure, which is sad because I would absolutely love to see the song played live.
  • Noodles Of all the members, Noodles has caught my attention most as he was an elementary school janitor at the time he joined the band and is rumored to have been brought into the band because he was the only one old enough to buy alcohol at the time. Also noteworthy is that he was stabbed at an anti-nuclear rally early in the band’s career. He has a distinct look with thick black glasses and skunk dyed hair. His aggressive playing style is a key component of the Offspring’s sound and absolutely critical to their success. My editor also love Noodles and now I understand why.
  • Speed Dexter does most of his writing in his car. He’ll write stuff down when he’s stuck in traffic jams and such. It’s kind of funny that while he’s going so slow that he’s able to see gum clearly on the highway, he’s writing lyrics that are inspiring drivers worldwide to get speeding tickets. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need for speed quite as much as I did while listening to Americana on my daily commute. And it’s great because each member of the band contributes to this overwhelming feeling to push on the gas pedal. Have You Ever, Staring at the Sun, The Kids Aren’t Alright, Walla Walla, Americana and of course, No Brakes are fantastic songs to get your heart pounding. I don’t condone speeding, but I do wonder how many times the phrase “Sorry officer, but I was listening to Offspring’s Americana.” has been uttered by a driver after they’ve been pulled over.

What Doesn’t:

  • Feelings I hated this song every single time I heard it on the album. It’s a punk cover of the 1975 pop song, Feelings. Feelings is considered one of the worst songs ever recorded. There are really two main reasons I hate this song. The first is that the album is flawless up until it’s played. Worse yet the song is right after one of Offspring’s masterpieces, The Kids Aren’t Alright, which is about the destruction of teenagers whole fall through the cracks of society as they approach adulthood. The other reason I hate the song is that it magnifies any and all weaknesses the band has. It’s almost like they wanted to highlight their flaws and give their detractors as much ammunition as possible when they put it on the album. If somebody wants to say Dexter is crappy singer, it’s pretty easy to make your case thanks to Feelings unfortunately.

In Conclusion: Americana is a worthwhile listen. I enjoyed this album all week. Offspring does a great job of mixing it up throughout the album with good pop sensibilities and creative song progressions to produce a memorable punk rock album. Just please be careful if you plan on listening to it in your car. I’m not paying for anybody’s speeding ticket.

Music Video Links:
The Offspring – The Kids Aren’t Alright (Official Video)
The Offspring – Why Don’t You Get A Job (Official Video)
The Offspring – She’s Got Issues (Official Video)
The Offspring – Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) (Official Video)

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Week 35 Review

Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5 out of 5 stars album. To really appreciate how good this album is, let me explain how I organize albums by quality into 6 Levels. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with my star ratings.

Level 0: First, we have the lowest level of music. This is any Fall Out Boy album released after they got back together. FOB’s new album, American Beauty/American Psycho, is the perfect example of Level 0. This is music so terrible it makes you disgusted with the entire music industry any time you hear it.

Level 1: Next, we have music that is slightly better, which are songs written by Staind’s frontman, Aaron Lewis. This music can sometimes stand on its own, but you’d rather mix this level of songs with artists who can actually write lyrics that aren’t so generic they could just as easily apply to your cat as they do to you.

Level 2: Above that you have albums you could probably do without, but if you heard them on the bus, you aren’t going to be annoyed by it. You might even like it if you have a particular fondness for a given genre. This is where the majority of music is probably going to fall for most people. Ten years from now you won’t even remember it existed unless you happen to run into it on YouTube when you were looking for that one song by that guy who had a hit that one summer. It had that crazy video with the thing. You know what I’m talking about.

Level 3: Then you have the albums you need to check out. Maybe it’s the next big thing, but probably isn’t. However, it’s got enough attention in general or perhaps a close friend has been raving about it for the past two months that now is the time you should click on the YouTubes and check it out. Regardless, there’s a good chance that it is worth your time. Besides the latest and greatest of music, it could also be a highly influential album from several decades back that only now is getting the recognition it rightfully deserves. Songs like Avalanches – Frontier Psychiatrist come to mind for Level 3.

Level 4: After that is a significant step up in the quality of music. This level is made up of albums that you must listen to before you die. These are classics that have stood the test of time. Even twenty or thirty years later, they are very much relevant and still very much amazing. They often redefine a genre or create whole new ones. They routinely astound a new generation once discovered. Albums like that are usually found on a list with others of a similar caliber. I would place a good chunk of the Beatles’ discography here as well as Led Zeppelin’s.

Level 5: And finally there are what I call Deathbed albums. These are albums so fundamentally perfect they are worthy of being the last music you consume before ceasing to exist in our universe. This is a significantly smaller group than the Must Listen to Before You Die level. It is also a much more personal list as the album has to really resonate with you. The opinions of friends, family and critics cease to matter at this point. What does the music do inside your auditory cerebral cortex after entering your inner ear canal and is transformed into electrical nerve impulses by the hair cells in your cochlea? That’s what matters here. If you forced my back against a wall, I could probably only name a handful of albums that would qualify for this elite category. But American Beauty would without hesitation or contemplation be included.

Artist BackgroundThe Grateful Dead started in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. They were highly influential in the development of the jam band. In 1994, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was a year before they officially ended touring in 1995. They even have one of their concerts from 1977 in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. With a lineup spanning thirty years, there are quite a few band members but the main members include Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron McKernan and Bill Kreutzmann. Jerry Garcia is a very well-recognized name in the music world. If a person knows anybody from the band, it’s Jerry. They don’t name ice cream after just anybody. The band earned a cult following of people known as Deadheads who would make every effort to see as many shows as possible. Deadheads have been portrayed as acid dropping, weed smoking hippies who do nothing to benefit society by the media, but an actual analysis of the Deadhead movement paints quite a different picture of their members. Many of them hold professional or white collar jobs, a graduate or college degree and a high level of income. The group experience of a Grateful Dead concert seems to be something quite magical that I wish I could have experienced.  I also like to note that the Grateful Dead were very recording friendly. They even went so far as to set up a section for fans who wanted to record the concert and Garcia is quoted as saying “When we are done with it [the concerts], they can have it.” Thankfully there are still bands around today like Wilco that fully embrace fans recording their concerts.

Album Background: American Beauty is a folk rock album released in late 1970. It has a runtime of about 42 minutes. It was recorded over a period of two months. The most mind blowing thing about this album is that it was recorded and came out the same year as their previous album, Workingman’s Dead. Start thinking about your favorite modern bands. What’s the average time between album? What are the odds of them releasing two full length albums in a year? Now throw on top of that the odds of them putting out back to back critically acclaimed albums that will hold up for decades after. Do you understand now why I am so freaking amazed by American Beauty? If not, let’s throw some statistics at you. It was ranked 258 by Rolling Stone for the 500 greatest Albums of All Time list. NARM placed it 20 in their Definitive 200 Albums list. Not too shabby. While early albums struggled with using the studio to recreate the Dead’s concert experience, American Beauty is some of the finest studio work they ever put out. If you have any interest in starting a musical journey with the Dead, this is absolutely the place to start.

Favorite Track: For the sake of picking one, I will pick one. But don’t expect me to say this is my favorite track next year or even tomorrow. Every track on this album is worthy of being a favorite track. For today, let’s go with the song that got me interested in the Grateful Dead: Box of Rain. I was finally convinced that I must listen to them by the last episode of Freeks and Geeks where the main character, Lindsay Weir, is also introduced to them. There is a very memorable scene where she plays American Beauty in her bedroom. The song was composed by the band’s bassist, Phil Lesh, who composed it for his father who was dying of terminal cancer. In addition, the song is also sung by him and is the first song to feature his vocals. Robert Hunter, who wrote many of the lyrics on this album, also wrote the lyrics for Box of Rain. The song is interesting in terms of lyrics as the song makes no mention of a box of rain until towards the end where it is heavily referenced. Box of rain actually refers to our world. The lyrics are beautifully crafted and emotionally powerful with numerous metaphors of life and the journey towards death in which we all participate. References to water are abound as it is a critical component of life itself. It appropriately ends with the lines “Such a long long time to be gone, And a short time to be there” which masterfully captures our transient reality and hopefully inspires the listener to make the most of our “short time” while we can.

What Works: 

  • Pacing The pacing of this album is great. It does a wonderful job switching between slow and medium tempo songs. I never ever get bored listening to it. Playing American Beauty on repeat was an absolute pleasure.
  • Lyrics The lyrics on this album are phenomenal. While incredibly complex word play is one of the quickest ways to my musical heart, simple words can be equally effective if done right. That is the case here. I’m particularly fond of Friend of the Devil. It tells the story of a man running from the law and the Devil as well.  He is desperately seeking sleep as he spends most of his nights on the run. In addition to missing sleep, he is also missing his loved ones. It paints such a vivid picture. I feel the nervousness of his uncertainty and the wondering of how long can he possibly keep up such a seemingly hopeless task. This is one of many songs where the lyrics include very specific references that give them a sense of reality. Another example of this is Candyman which includes the lyrics “Good Mornin Mr. Benson, I see you’re doin well, If I had me a shotgun, I’d blow you straight to Hell” which gets you wondering who is this Mr. Benson? Why is he so important that he should be mentioned by name? Now the song is working on a completely different level.
  • Instruments The playing on this is as equally amazing to me as the vocals. But what I can’t get over is how well the instruments complement the vocals and each other. Every instrument feels critical to making the song what it is. I especially love the guitar parts playing against each other. This observation applies to any of the songs on the album. If you really want to soak this in, listen to the album with a pair of headphones.

What Doesn’t:

Don’t make me laugh. If you think there’s any kind of flaw with this album, you’re out of your damn mind.

In Conclusion: Unfortunately, this experiment is being done alphabetically by album title so it’s going to be many years before I review American Beauty’s sister album, Workingman’s Dead. In case I don’t get to it, I highly recommend you listen to it after you start your love affair with the Grateful Dead classic, American Beauty. If you’re still not convinced you’re missing out on something, go watch the Freaks and Geeks clip again.

In case you weren’t aware, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead this year. They are going to reunite at Chicago’s Soldier Field on July 3rd through 5th of this summer. This will be 20 years since they last played a concert together and it will be at the same venue as their last concert!

Music Video Links:
This album predates music videos so I don’t have any to list. There’s some live footage of their concerts on YouTube though if you look.

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Week 34 Review

Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (1999)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.5 out of 5 stars album. Critics seem to love to rip on ICP. I can’t say their points aren’t valid, but for me everything comes together to make the traveling dark carnival an incredibly fun time. At the end of the week, I was still smiling and laughing, so they must be doing something right.

Artist BackgroundThe Insane Clown Posse roots started in the mid-80s but the group didn’t use it’s current name until the early 90s. The band is made up of Joseph Bruce aka Violent J and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope. The duo builds it music around the imagery and themes of the Dark Carnival. Both the name Insane Clown Posse and the idea of the Dark Carnival actually came from two separate dreams that Violent J had. ICP has a rather controversial history including a major protest of the group when they were signed to Disney records. They’ve also had several run-ins with the law over the span of their career. But despite all this, ICP has continued to build a successful following with each album release.

Album Background: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers continues with the Dark Carnival themes set up by it’s predecessors. This particular album focuses on the 9 circles of hell. The Jeckel Brothers Jack and Jake represent the duality of mankind and the internal struggle between good and evil. I’m not sure you need to know that to enjoy the album, but it does help make sense of the significance of the intro track. The album is 70 minutes long and is a combination of the genres horrorcore, hip hop and rap rock. With this album debuting at number #4, it is the most successful album in their discography. And it should have felt very satisfying for them given the intense amount of hate they received through the attention of the protests against them regarding their previous album, The Great Milenko. In addition to being successful, the album was also a major step toward being treated with more respect within the hip hop world by securing appearances by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Snoop Dogg on the album. (Snoop just keeps popping back up on my reviews, doesn’t he?)

Favorite Track: Picking the favorite track is sometimes a struggle, but with this album it was an easy pick. Mad Professor checks all the boxes for me. First, the opening skit of the man buying a couch then being bludgeoned to death with a cartoonish-sounding frying pan is hilarious. This is then followed with one of the funniest lines I think I have ever heard delivered in an album skit: “You want my couch?…You can’t have my couch!” Couches are comedy gold for music. Two more people die during the song with additional skits, which nicely breaks up the song’s longer than usual run-time of almost 6 minutes. The song itself makes heavy use of samples from old sci-fi/horror movies, though, I couldn’t find any specific titles used. The heavy sampling and overall sound reminds me of the classic sci-hop album, Dr. Octagonecologyst by Dr. Octagon aka Kool Keith aka Keith Thornton. What really seals the status as favorite track is the ending reveals the song is actually an origin story for ICP as the Mad Professor’s creation is none other than Shaggy 2 Dope.

What Works: 

  • ODB It turns out ODB aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard gave ICP very little to work with for the song Bitches as it amounted essentially to incoherent rambling when they first received his recordings. The duo pressed on, though, and dug through the ramblings to create something that actually worked as verses. They then re-recorded their verses to fit better with the lyrics they scraped together from ODB and thus Bitches was born. The song is incredibly misogynistic but given their starting point, I think they did an admirable job. I also enjoyed them reusing the backing vocals/chanting from the Wu-Tang classic Clan in da Front. ODB is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan for those not familiar with him. Props for the beat used on this song which is very playful.
  • Story Telling ICP are such good story tellers. My favorite track, Mad Professor, is a great example of this. But so is I Want My Shit which tells the incredibly epic and equally silly story of the 200+ year old Violent J who participated in key historical events and hung out with notable figures. Violent J remains immortal until he obtains four cornerstones of the Juggalo mythology which include an oxidized axe, knowledge in the mystical art of voodoo, an overweight female companion whose given name is Bridget and nature’s sweet elixir, Faygo. Faygo is a soda line based in Detroit, Michigan that heavily featured in ICP concerts. ICP has a lot of love for their hometown and makes sure the city is well represented on their albums. In addition to the compelling comedic tale, the rock-oriented beats complement the lyrics quite nicely and help to maintain the aggression of the chorus. Play With Me is another interesting tale from the point of view from a now abandoned toy and its need for revenge on its former child owner.
  • Comedy ICP is funny as hell. In particular, The Shaggy Show, which features real life ska band, Gangster Fun, is filled with numerous moments of hilarity. I especially like the mock commercial for a Player-Hating Degree program. And, although this doesn’t fall under comedy but since we are discussing The Shaggy Show, I have to mention this. I was impressed that ICP decided to reference Violent J’s real-life panic attack that occurred on-stage in 1998 as part of the interview between the two. In addition to some very funny tracks, some of the songs include skits at the end of the song. While all of them are pretty funny, the disgruntled truck driver looking to unload a payload of male masturbators for an ICP show as part of prank call to ICP’s management team made me smile every time I heard it. The prank calls were done by The Jerky Boys and were executed perfectly. There are just so many moment in the album that I can’t help but smile. How these guys got so much hate mail boggles my mind. They do nothing but make me happy.

What Doesn’t:

  • Abrasive I listen to albums on repeat during work but also on my commute. Some of the mornings were particularly brutal due to the over abrasive sound on some of the ICP songs. Bring It On is probably the biggest offender of being overly harsh due to the multi-layered screaming of the chorus. Multiple times I found myself thinking it is way too early in the morning for this kind of music. And I’m the kind of guy who will head bang to AC/DC’s Back in Black on his way to work. So it’s really saying something when I think they need to dial it back for some parts of the album.
  • Length At 70 minutes, I think the album is too long. The second to last track, Echo Side, was actually meant for a different album with a different group that ICP is a sub-set of and I think the album might have better pacing without it. I will say the song is interesting with the inclusion of what I think are backward lyrics but it’s not essential. Overall, I think a lot of the songs would’ve benefited from trimming off some of the excess fat. Quite a few songs go past the 5 minute mark and some run into 6 minutes. Don’t mess with Mad Professor though.

In Conclusion: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers is probably not for everyone. Sadistic rapping clowns that regularly denounce racism, bigotry and child abuse while telling vulgar stories of violence and demonic darkness probably doesn’t have universal appeal. I get that. But I think if you go into it with the right expectations, you’re going to finish the album feeling better off than when you started. ICP has never been and will never be lyrical geniuses. But I do think they are very creative with their Dark Carnival concept and do a wonderful job creating a fun, playful environment with dark gritty overtones. I’m not sure just anyone could pull off the balancing act ICP does, so unlike some others, I have a lot of respect and appreciation for this album.

Music Video Links:
Insane Clown Posse – Another Love Song (Official Video)

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