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)

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

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
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Twitter
Official Site

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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)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
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Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
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Week 33 Review

“Weird Al” Yankovic – Alpocalypse (2011)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.85 out of 5 stars album. What I really like about this album is how appealing the songs are throughout the album. While Weird Al’s singles collection has to be one of the strongest in existence, I can’t say every song in his discography holds up to multiple listenings for me.  So I’m taken back with how well this album stood up to the relentless repetition over the week.

Artist BackgroundAh, Weird Al. Where to begin? Well, he is a pretty damn smart guy. He graduated valedictorian of his high school at 16. He got his breakthrough with Dr. Demento. The guy has been releasing albums for a long freaking time. We are talking a steady output of parodies since the mid-70s. There’s really too much to talk about so let’s try to stick to the highlights. He had a lot of success in the 1980s, thanks to his parody music videos. Notably, Eat It, which was a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. It’s worth watching both of them as Eat It is a nearly perfect shot for shot recreation. He also starred and wrote his own movie in 1989, UHF. I loved the movie as a kid and I think I love it even more now as an adult. Okay, there’s just too much even just talking about highlights. I need to move onto the album. And the Wikipedia link is always available at the end of the review anyways if you want to know more.

Album Background: I’m so excited to talk about this album! Why? Cause Weird Al did something crazy with this album. He created a video for every single song! Be sure to watch them all after reading the review to celebrate this colossal achievement in pop music with me. The album was released in 2011 with a run-time of 46 minutes over 11 tracks and is clearly in the parody genre overall but it does cover a wide variety of musical genres within the individual tracks. Some of the tracks are straight up parodies of recent pop songs. But others are what are known as style parodies in which they don’t target a specific song but rather the style of an artist. I don’t know if I just have a bad ear for style parodies, but I only knew one out of the six style parodies Weird Al was aiming for. I’m very disappointed in myself. 😦 I challenge you to see if you can do better than me after watching all of the videos or listening to the tracks. Feel free to shame me in the comments section if you do better.*

Favorite Track: Weird Al said the people would probably riot in the streets if he didn’t include a polka medley on his albums. I would most definitely be smashing the **** out of shopfront windows if such a thing were to happen. By default, regardless of what else is on the album, the polka track is always going to be my favorite. If Polka Face wasn’t being played, I was counting the tracks until it’s back up again. Here’s a tip for you since you’ve been so kind as to still be reading up to this point: listen to Polka Face while watching these penguin gifs. Isn’t that breath taking? It’s like he writes the song just for those penguins.

What Works: 

  • Style While most of the style parodies went over my head, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the crap out of them. For example, I loved CNR. It had such a classic 70’s rock feeling to it. It reminded me a lot of Fever Dog from Almost Famous. Not so much that it sounds like it but that I wish the song was a real song from the 1970s cause it’s so damn good.  There’s also a beautiful nod to the classic Jim Croce’s You Don’t Mess Around with Jim in it. Make sure to check out the others.
  • Commentary I also like Al’s social commentary that he includes with his songs. In TMZ he simultaneously makes fun of celebrities, the tabloid industry and the people who fund it all by wasting spending time and money obsessing over it.
  • Rhyming When he is singing about very specific topics and situations, I’m incredibly impressed with the lyrics. To figure out what words need to be used to make everything come together and be so entertaining is almost unbelievable. The man is a genius. But this could be just a side effect of me having such a terrible vocabulary so you might not agree with me here.

What Doesn’t:

  • Rhyming I’m not contradicting myself here. I did include a qualifier. I didn’t say his lyrics were always impressive. After listening to this album over and over, I started to notice there were times when his rhymes were just nonsense rhymes and really anything could have been used there. For some reason, that started to annoy me. You could rightfully make the argument that the nonsense rhymes are for comedic purposes. However, in the song Ringtone, he starts talking about all the people that hate his ringtone and he just starts listing the most random people/groups. And to me it just comes off as lazy when his other rhyming is just so amazing. Maybe I’m wrong here but this is what I felt.

In Conclusion: This is such a great album.  There are so many enjoyable songs throughout. If you never warmed up to the idea of listening to Weird Al, this would be a good place to start. Ever since Straight Out of Lynwood, he has been on a serious roll. His latest album, Mandatory Fun, was his first album to ever debut at #1. It wasn’t a fluke or an accident. It’s the result of a consistent output of strong material over the past couple albums. We are living in a Weird Al renaissance. Take advantage.

* – Assuming you don’t cheat. Junior Woodchuck’s honor here.

Music Video Links:
Weird Al Yankovic – Perform This Way (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – CNR (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – TMZ (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Skipper Dan (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Polka Face (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Craigslist (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Party in the CIA (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Ringtone (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Another Tattoo (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – If That Isn’t Love (Official Video)
Weird Al Yankovic – Whatever You Like (Official Video)

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

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
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Official Site

Week 31 Review

U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.8 out of 5 stars album. It’s not a perfect album but it is really close. There is a lot to like here and I fully agree with the statements of this album being U2’s third masterpiece. For me, it was the consistency in quality across this album that really impressed me as I listened to it all week.

Artist BackgroundReally? The background of U2? There’s probably entire books dedicated to this. Oh look at that. There are. I’m going to do my best anyways. They formed in 1976 and are from Ireland. The band’s lead singer, Bono, is always wearing sunglasses. The band’s lead guitarist is The Edge and he is always wears a beanie. Those two are really easy to pick out in a picture. Adam Clayton plays bass and Larry Mullen, Jr plays percussion for the band. They reached international super stardom in the 1980s with their album, The Joshua Tree.  In the 1990s, they experimented with their sound by incorporating different genres. Overall, this did not go as well for them as they probably would have hoped. In 2000, they decided to go back to basics which led to the album I’m reviewing. Their most notable recent moment was the fiasco with Apple where they gave a free digital copy of their new album, Songs of Innocence, to anyone with an iPhone 6. Not everyone was happy about this as U2 can be pretty polarizing. There are people that absolutely worship the band but there are also people that completely hate U2. If you are wondering, I don’t fall into either of those categories.

Album Background: The rock album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, is about 50 minutes long. The most notable thing about this album is that it won Grammy Record of the Year in both 2001 and 2002 for two separate tracks off of the album. This is the only album to ever do that so I think regardless of how you feel about U2, you need respect that accomplishment. But all together the album won 7 Grammy awards. Development took place from 1998 to 2000 and they brought back producers they worked with on Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby which are considered their other two notable albums. I assume it was done in an effort to recapture the sound of their earlier work.

Favorite Track: You would think I would pick one of the songs that won Record of the Year. You’d be wrong. Well, then you would think I would at least pick one of the 4 singles from the album. And again, you’d be wrong. So what in the world did I pick? I actually went with the sixth track off of the album: In A Little While. In terms of lyrical content, it’s your basic song about returning to one you love. It’s not surprisingly addressed to his wife who inspired Bono for many of U2’s songs. The song is also held in high regard by U2 because it was the last song Joey Ramone listened to before he died. While many songs have been done on the topic, it doesn’t really take away from the song in my view. If it’s good, it’s good. I really like the intro. It starts off with a nice guitar hook that draws you into the song. Bono’s voice has this raspy quality to it that I also really like. It adds to this idea of being worn out but still putting in all your effort to make it back to the person you care about most in the world. Bono also wrote an incredibly beautiful verse in this song that I think could easily be included in a book of poetry. “A man dreams one day to fly, A man takes a rocketship into the skies, He lives on star that’s dying in the night, And follows in the trail, The scatter of light” Maybe I’m partial to it because I’m in awe of what the human race has been doing in terms of space exploration over the past couple years. Or maybe it is actually an excellent verse. Overall, it’s a nice laid back song worth listening to a couple times. Hopefully, within a short period of time from now.

What Works: 

  • Edge One popular song off of the album was Elevation. Some of Bono’s vocalizations on the track probably are what make it stand out the most, but I think a major reason why the song works is the guitar playing from The Edge. It’s just this crazy wall of sound rocking your ears from start to end. And works so freaking well. This isn’t the only song that is a winner because of him, but it’s a good example.
  • Bono An aspect of this album that really stood out for me was how well Bono can make his approach to singing on a particular song blend so perfectly with everything else with the song. He’s like a vocal chameleon. Maybe it’s not so apparent with casual listening, but I was seriously impressed by the end of the week. In addition, Bono can write such beautiful lyrics as I already noted. Unfortunately, his lyrical prowess is not nearly as consistent as his singing.
  • Intros U2 knows how to write a track opening. Kite‘s opening is interesting since it sounds almost like the note is being playing backward with Edge on a sliding guitar. It’s a unique note to build a song around but it works. Many times they slowly eased into the song like an old man into a nice warm bath. Grace and Peace On Earth are great examples of this.

What Doesn’t:

  • Stacked I’m not a particular fan of front loading an album with your strongest material. I like it to be distributed evenly throughout the album. Reward me for sticking it out and listening to everything. And it’s impossible to not accuse U2 of doing this when the four singles from this album were the first four tracks of the album AND they were released in the same order that they appeared on the album. It is the textbook example everyone should refer to. And the second half does suffer because of it. The first six tracks for me are absolutely amazing. The weakest point of the album for me is probably track 8 through 10 where I kind of get my typical ‘lost in a U2 album’ lost. Thankfully, Grace is a strong closer.
  • Bono You know how I said Bono can write beautiful heartfelt lyrics? Well, sometimes I wonder if U2’s writing process is more like this:

    Bono: Okay, next!
    Larry: But that lyric doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it’s kind of silly.
    Bono: Does it rhyme, Larry? Does…it…rhyme?
    Larry: Well, yeah. But..
    Bono: Okay then. NEXT!

In Conclusion: If I wasn’t all that familiar with U2 and I wanted to get a better feel for their music, I would honestly start with this album. I know Joshua Tree is this incredible 80s album that’s probably on a good chunk of Albums to Listen to Before You Die lists but it also sounds incredibly 80s. I think ATYCLB still sounds very modern and almost timeless due to the mix of their attempt to go back and reboot their sound mixed together with everything they learned from experimenting with other genres in the 90s.

Music Video Links:
U2 – Walk On (Official Video)
U2 – Beautiful Day (Official Video)

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

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
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ikipedia Album
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Official Site

Week 30 Review

Girl Talk – All Day (2010)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.75 out of 5 stars album. Saying Girl Talk aka Gregg Gillis is at the top of the mashup scene is an understatement. He’s more like Zeus atop Mount Olympus throwing remixed thunderbolts at all the mere mortals. Describing him as anything other than a god is an insult to him and the perfection he has achieved of his craft. He’s that damn good.

Artist BackgroundGreg Gillis aka Girl Talk didn’t enter the music scene using the stereotypical slacker path. He studied biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University with a focus on tissue engineering. Girl Talk released his first album in 2002 while still in college. His early albums were of the glitch genre which to me sound like you’re listening to an Atari game on acid. Don’t expect me to review any of those. Eventually he quit his engineering job in 2007 to focus on music full-time. But how did I hear about Girl Talk? Rip: A Remix Manifesto, of course, which you can watch right now if you click on the link. I highly suggest watching it. It’s very entertaining and is a great introduction to remix culture. It’s probably even more relevant now than in 2008 when it was released.

Album Background: The album, All Day, clocks in at 1 hour and 11 minutes and is considered to be part of the mashup genre. If you don’t know what the mashup genre is, I’m going to yet again encourage you to watch Rip. That’ll explain it way better than I can. It’s divided up into 12 tracks buts it’s really meant to be listened to as a single continuous experience as each track flows seamlessly into the next. Want to listen to whole album? Well, you do all that by clicking here. It’s available as one continuous track or split up into 12 tracks. And it’s even available in FLAC if MP3 isn’t your bag. All Day was released for free in 2010 and his concert tour sold out shortly afterward unsurprisingly. So he definitely has found his audience. You can also find some videos on Youtube where people match up the music videos of the original songs with the mashed up versions. Here’s one I found. They’re pretty entertaining.

Favorite Track: Like I pointed out earlier, there aren’t actually 12 tracks on this album. There are dividing points to allow you to get to a certain part of the album easily. I could talk about the entire album in great detail since that’s the only favorite track I could pick or I could go with something a little more sane which is to talk about a couple standout moments for me. The album starts out really strong by combining Black Sabbath’s War Pigs and Ludacris’s Move Bitch. They’re both pretty intense songs that get your heart pumping right away which is really helpful if you’re going to a Girl Talk concert. That place will be overflowing with non-stop energy until Greg closes the lid on his Windows notebook. The combination of Jay-Z’s Can I Get A… and Tenderness by General Public works well because of the contrast between the two songs. ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky and Juicy J’s Twerk mashup work for much the same reason. Combining Radiohead’s Creep with Ol’ Dirty Bastard rapping the lyrics from Shimmy Shimmy Ya was something I looked forward to on every play of the album. The ODB should have been a part of the band. So much lost potential there. Later on Aphex Twin gets paired with Soulja Boy. I think I like that one because the idea of them together is hilarious. I also loved the pairing of Nicki Minaj and Blue Oyster Cult every time I heard it. Her voice works really well with the music. But I think my most favorite pairing on the entire album is combining Rolling Stones’s Paint It Black with Wiz Khalfia’s Black and Yellow. Brilliant.

What Works: 

  • Nostalgia Listening to a Girl Talk album is probably the most intense nostalgia trip you will ever take. It’s just off the charts. He covers quite a few decades in this album so it’s going to be pretty difficult to be immune to it unless you’re a 5 year old. In which case, I’m very impressed with your reading and comprehension skills. But anyways, nostalgia plays a huge factor in the appeal of his albums. It’s incredibly addictive once you start listening to it.
  • Everybody Having attended a Girl Talk concert with my editor, I can say without a doubt that he attracts a very wide audience. You will see the biggest music nerd standing right next to the most stereotypical sorority girl you could imagine. They might like Girl Talk for completely different reasons but I bet they enjoy him equally. Knowing this album can appeal to such a diverse audience while being part of a niche genre makes it that much more enjoyable for me. All Day is all about having fun regardless of who you are.
  • <insert here> I think the part I love most is noticing the little things that Greg throws into the album. Some samples can last well over a minute and they are really the heart of the music, but I love the samples that appear and disappear in a beat or two. I try to listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I didn’t even come close to knowing all of the songs used to make this album. When I could recognize an obscure lyric or note that quickly passed by, it gave me a little music nerd high. Like I said, his music is addictive. And I’m not the only one interested in figuring out what was sampled and when. Decoding the album was a pretty big thing when it was first released. For those of you who want to know, here is everything.

What Doesn’t:

  • Pony No, not the song by Ginuwine. Though it is actually sampled for this album. I’m talking about the fact that Girl Talk is a one trick pony. That’s probably the only valid complaint against this album which is that it’s the same thing over and over again for over an hour: take a rap song and combine with a pop or rock song. Repeat. But I won’t make that complaint because I think it’s like somebody complaining about being tired of eating chocolate too often. I’ve never heard anybody say “You know, I’m just really tired of eating chocolate chip cookies.” And I would say the same thing about Girl Talk’s music. Enough is never enough of the stuff.

In Conclusion: I couldn’t give this album 5 stars even if I wanted to because his prior album, Feed the Animals, is better. Coincidentally, that album is featured on Rip which is another reason you should watch the documentary. FtA is packed with even more nostalgia and fun, if you can believe it. However, I think All Day is technically superior in terms of actual mixing. Greg is always improving his skills and it’s clear he has advanced quite a bit between the release of the two albums. This is one of only a handful of albums that I’m going to be reviewing that you can go download for free right now so go take advantage and get ready to have some incredible fun.

Music Video Links:
Girl Talk – All Day (Official Video)

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Week 29 Review

Tech N9ne – All 6’s and 7’s (2011)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 6.76 out of 7 stars album. Tech is a very interesting figure in the world of hip hop and his albums clearly reflect that. All 6’s and 7’s is jam packed to the brim with intense energy and emotion covering an impressive range of topics. You need to listen to it just to hear one of the greatest rappers out there do his thing.

Artist BackgroundTech N9ne is the biggest independent rapper in the world as far as I can tell. He’s sold a million albums by 2008. So he’s doing pretty well. And he co-founded his own label, Strange Music, in 1999 with Travis O’Guin. I imagine he has far more control over and freedom with his albums than many of the other artists out there as a result of this. Tech grew up in Kansas City and makes sure his city is well represented in his music. He’s built a hardcore and devoted following for himself. Tech N9ne is known for his rapid delivery which is just incredible. But I think I appreciate him more for the content of his songs, which tend to be introspective and often philosophical in nature. If he’s questioning something about life, he’s going to let you know.

Album Background: The album, All 6’s and 7’s, is much longer than your average hip hop album at 76 minutes with 18 songs and 6 skits. This album was his first mainstream success as it was his first album to crack the top 5 of the US charts at number 4. This album includes a lot of guest artists including B.o.B., Hopsin, Yelawolf, Snoop Dogg, Jay Rock, Twista, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, E-40, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, and a bunch of other people. It’s pretty packed and the well chosen guest rappers are a big part of why this album is as good as it is.

Favorite Track: My favorite track is Am I a Psycho. It was a really close race though; it wins but just barely. The chorus is very memorable and catchy. Tech N9ne, Hopsin and B.o.B. let their imaginations go to a dark place and come up with some clever lines throughout the song. All three of them rap solid verses both in content and delivery. Their approaches to the topic of psychosis are different enough that it keeps your attention for the entire song. I could start listing the lyrics, but I really think you need to hear the song to get a sense of why I like the song so much. It’s definitely not the most technically impressive song on the album, but still very enjoyable because it’s so fun.

What Works: 

  • Four The first four songs on this album (Technicians, Am I a Psycho, He’s a Mental Giant and Worldwide Choppers) plus the two accompanying skits of The Pledge and Military is the greatest opening for any album I’ve ever heard. All of the songs are easily 5 star songs and the intense energy projected during these songs is through the roof. Put them all together and you have something I’m not sure anybody else will ever be able to replicate. For those looking to duplicate it, I found this really cool video put out by the guy who did the beats for Technicians and he explains how every sound used to make the beats was put in there. It’s pretty amazing to see all the work that went into the beat. I wish I had that kind of technical knowledge about making music.
  • Rhythm I know everyone is incredibly impressed with how quick Tech can spit. And I am too. His delivery is instantly recognizable. But I think I’m more impressed with rhythms used in his delivery. While Tech N9ne can go 200 MPH, he also knows how to and when to change it up. I love how he will flip back and forth between very distinct rhythms in his song without missing a beat. Or deliver 10 lines in a row using the same intricate pattern perfectly.
  • Exposure Tech is very much willing to let his fans into his world. In Cult Leader, he talks about the comparisons that have been with him to Jim Jones and David Koresh. I love that he basically trolls those making the comparisons by delivering a very cult like speech to a group of “followers” at the end of the song. O-W-H-H! The songs Delusional, So Lonely, If I Could and Mama Nem discuss some of the difficulties of his life. If I Could talks about the struggles of trying to provide for your family and still be there for them. I can definitely relate to this with all the hours I am putting in at work right now. Mama Nem may seem like your average cliche mother song, but the collection of songs preceding it clearly show Tech is nothing but sincere with his music. Unlike your generic cliche mama song, Tech fills his with numerous specifics that give you a real glimpse into his life and the pain he felt. It’s quite obvious he’s making this song for himself rather than trying to tap into something that he knows everyone would identify with in order to sell more records.

What Doesn’t:

  • Graphic Like really damn graphic descriptions of sexual acts. I honestly don’t have a problem with it. However, I’m not sure everyone is going to be comfortable listening to music with lines like ****** ***** **** * ****** or ******* **** **** ****** ****** *****. I’m going to go as far as to say the songs are really well done and do a fantastic job celebrating sex in its most pure and raw form. And surprisingly, it does so for both genders. In Pornographic, I feel like Tech is talking to one woman in particular and sharing something with her rather than having this feeling of all women being interchangeable. Unfortunately, Snoop Dogg ruins it with his misogynistic verses; very similar to what he was doing in 2001. To counter things like this, Tech dedicates an entire song to pleasuring women properly in the bedroom with Overtime. There’s actually a great part in the song where the rapper hands off the line “pack a stud in your luggage” to Stevie Stone. I don’t know how often trading lines like that happens but I loved it every time I heard it. On top of that, Tech N9ne starts out the collection of sex songs on the album with Kansas City Poet Camile’s graphic ripping apart of a boastful man who didn’t quite live up to his promises. I can’t really repeat any of it but I love how she ends it with “I love you, Tech N9ne! You inspire me!” Like I said, I think the songs are well done, but I think it might be really alienating to some people.

In Conclusion: Tech N9ne’s All 6’s and 7’s is such a great album. Tech deserves all of the praise that he gets. He is incredibly talented and pours so much of himself into his work. If you’ve never listened to him, this is where you should start. If after the first 4 songs you aren’t blown away like I was then you can stop listening and move on. But I think that you’re going to want to make a trip to Strangeland and, like me, never want to leave. And remember: Tech won’t go mainstream. Mainstream will go Tech.

Music Video Links:
Tech N9ne – Am I a Psycho? (feat B.o.B. and Hopsin) (Official Video) 
(I seriously hate this video. It doesn’t even come close to what they could have done with such great lyrics. So incredibly boring.)
Tech N9ne – He’s a Mental Giant (Official Video)
 
(I actually like this video since it’s done in the spirit of one of my favorite book series of all time: The Wizard of Oz.)

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Week 27 Review

fun. – Aim and Ignite (2009)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.5 out of 5 stars album that’s going to win you over with its completely over the top compositions and simple but often clever lyrics. Some Nights may have put fun. at the top of the charts and won them multiple Grammys, but Aim and Ignite is still very much worth your time.

Artist BackgroundThe band, fun., is made up of 3 main members:  Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost. There were 19 additional musicians that played on the album providing a wide range of instruments and vocals. You can’t do compositions like this without getting more people involved though Dost does play quite a few different instruments. The band started in 2008 shortly after Ruess’s band, The Format split up.

Album Background: The album, Aim and Ignite, is described as indie pop/baroque pop. (Now where have I heard that before?) It runs about 43 minutes with 10 tracks. It received many positive reviews when it was released. On an interesting note, Take Your Time (I’m Coming Home) is unusually long at nearly 8 minutes.

Favorite Track: My favorite track is I Wanna Be the One. It’s the 4th track on the album and is 3 minutes and 36 seconds long. While initially hearing this song, I thought Nate was singing about his daughter. But with further research, I think it is most likely about his newborn niece and him becoming an uncle given how long the song has been in the works. The song is about wanting to document a child’s life by writing songs about everything from their successes to their failures and all that lies in-between. In the age of Facebook, documenting everything about a child seems quite feasible. It includes several of my favorite lyrics such as “And I know that it’s been sang before but you’re my human holiday” and “Cigarettes are raining hard on the Upper East Side.” I particularly like the trombone, oboe and piano parts in this song. Overall, the arrangement is very upbeat and overflowing with joy. You can’t help but be happy after listening to it.

What Works: 

  • Vocals Given how fun. was basically everywhere after We Are Young exploded, maybe some people are sick of hearing Nate. Don’t include me in this group. I absolutely love Mr. Ruess’s voice. He’s in my top 5 for favorite male vocalists of the past 10 years. I love his tone and his phrasing throughout the album. In addition, many of the supporting vocals work quite well on several tracks. The female vocals in At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I used to Be) are particularly appealing with them having a singsong nursery rhyme like quality to them.
  • Lyrics The lyrics in this album are incredibly accessible because the word choice is simple as are the rhyming schemes. Given how complex the arrangements are on this album, the lyrics seem to be the perfect compliment. At the end of At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I used to Be), the line “I’m not a prophet, but I’m here to profit.” always stuck out for me. And in a verse from Light a Roman Candle with Me, I’m particularly fond of the rhyme between “…both wrote a sonnet, Together a sandwich with everything on it.” I think it’s a rather playful way to work sonnet into a rhyme. Walking the Dog also has a memorable couple of lines in the chorus with “If you could see me, Whoever I am. It’s not like a movie, It’s not all skin and bones.” This song reminds me a lot of the band, Vampire Weekend, for some reason. I think it’s the guitar part.
  • Composition From the very beginning of the opening track, Be Calm, the music lets the listener know that tracks on this album are going to be beautifully layered songs with elements of classical music mixed with indie pop. There is so much going on during the songs with so many instruments fading in and out as the song is in a continuous state of rising and falling. However, it never becomes overwhelming but it does mean that it’s going to take multiple listens to really appreciate everything fun. brings to the album at any given moment. Of particular interest is The Gambler because I believe it doesn’t contain a single percussive instrument and instead relies on the piano to keep the tempo moving along. I would also like to note that until I started writing this review, I had no idea that Take Your Time (I’m Coming Home) was so long. I think that says a lot of the quality of the writing that I never became bored with that song or wish that it would be over already despite listening to it numerous times during the past week. Since I’m talking about this song anyways, this is the only song I noticed that uses a swear word. Thankfully, Nate uses the greatest and most versatile of all of the swear words available.

What Doesn’t:

  • Nothing There really isn’t anything that is so disagreeable that I would make a change to this album. The only reason I took off half of a star is because I’m not sure it’s going to appeal to everyone. But I think everyone should give it a listen to see if it does.

In Conclusion: fun. put together a fantastic album with Aim and Ignite. It sounds like Nate was going through a lot of emotional stress after the break up of The Format, but it paid off tenfold in my opinion. This album is so much fun to listen to and can be returned to multiple times thanks to the elaborate arrangements. I liked this album from the very first listen and I don’t see that ever changing.

Music Video Links:
fun. – Walking the Dog (Official Video)
fun. – All the Pretty Girls (Official Video)

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