Week 43 (Just A Band 3)

beach_boys-pet_sounds

Artist: Beach Boys
Album: Pet Sounds
Release Year: 1966

My Perspective

Imma let you finish, but Pet Sounds is one of the greatest music albums of all-time. When I say greatest, I literally mean greatest. In many GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) album lists, Pet Sounds is listed at not #7, not #6, not #5, not #4, not #3, but #2 or #1. That’s right. Top 2. I’m sure there exists lists where it is rated lower, but I haven’t seen it happen in any of the lists that I read. That’s how often it is rated at the top. If Pet Sounds was your classmate, they would destroy the curve every single time. And you would curse them under your breath for being so damn good. On top of that, this year is the 50th anniversary which makes this review even more special to me.

I didn’t grow up during the era of the Beach Boys’ original popularity and my knowledge of their ‘80s resurgence is limited to an episode of Full House and a Tom Cruise movie. So while some grew up with them being America’s Band, I honestly didn’t know much about them until later in life. To me, they were that surfer band with some good songs. Actually, my first real interest of the Beach Boys came in college because of the song, Brian Wilson, by the Barenaked Ladies. Why would they make him the subject of the song? What’s so special about him? A lot, actually. Brian Wilson had an incredible influence on the music industry most notably through his innovation in the recording studio. With his complex and eventful life, he is definitely deserving of further investigation. I’m sure you can find numerous biographical videos on YouTube.

Album’s Star Power

What Do You Have to Say for Yourself? Gold Star
This album is going to make you ashamed that you spent a measly $7.99 on your current pair of ear buds or decided your Apple ear buds were “good enough”. This is one of the most beautifully recorded albums in the history of music. Every time I listen to this album, I am blown away with how good it is. It’s also incredibly hard for me to be tired of it, even after listening to it on repeat for multiple weeks. I still continue to notice new things I hadn’t caught previously. There is so much depth here. The way everything is arranged among the numerous gorgeous layers of traditional and non-traditional instruments makes you wish you had spent more money on your audio setup. Your ear is pleading with you, on every note, to give it the most authentic experience possible. Your ear wants to hear it as Mr. Wilson intended it. Every muddled instrument is an ear tragedy. If this album doesn’t make you into an audiophile, nothing will.

One of my favorite moments regarding Brian’s composition skills is on the second track, You Still Believe in Me, where Wilson creates this absolutely wonderful false ending around the two-minute mark. Everything slows down, gets quiet, fewer instruments are playing as the diminuendo comes to an end. You really think the song is over. Everything is indicating this is it and then he starts it all over again with a new diminuendo but with a bicycle horn added into the mix. This repeats several times as it fades out to the real ending. I’ve never tried to make a list of my favorite false endings, but this song would be in the top 3.

Creepy Pasta Beatles = Gold Star
I want to talk about the Beatles, since they are very much a part of the story of Pet Sounds, since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the other album in that Top 2 I spoke of at the beginning of this review. Now, feel free to disagree with me here, but when I listen to the Beatles discography (mostly the early part), I often feel like I’m listening to a stalker or somebody with a very screwed up view on what is a healthy relationship. The Beatles’ Run for Your Life is a perfect example of creepy Beatles lyrics. I’m going to warn you that once that stalker mindset kicks in, a lot of their songs feel creepy, including even the very innocent sounding I Want to Hold your Hand. I often imagine the woman in this song being stalked by the singer and is completely unaware of his feelings. Songs like Run for Your Life are in stark contrast to the relationship exploration done by Brian Wilson in Pet Sounds.

Let’s compare it to Here Today by the Beach Boys, which was released within a year of Run for Your Life. Both of them are post-break up songs from the point of view of a man who just came out of a relationship.

The Beatles start their song off with:

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won’t know where I am

That’s um…that’s seriously messed up. But let’s compare that with Here Today which focuses on the frailty of relationships:

Right now you think that she’s perfection
This time is really an exception

Well you know I hate to be a downer
But I’m the guy she left before you found her

Lennon is hyper focused on punishing the woman for leaving him while Wilson is even apologetic that he is being a little rain cloud in regards to the new relationship, but he feels the need to warn this guy about the potential heartache that might await him.  Similar situations. Two very different songs.

Connecting on a Fundamentally Universal Level Gold Star
First, I want to explain something about music that I despise so you can appreciate what Wilson has done on Pet Sounds. When musicians do this, I hate it to the point that I wish they would walk away from music forever. I call it “pandering by generalization” although there might be a better term for it. And it basically comes down to taking one of two approaches: write a song about some general feeling/event, but never give any specifics about what you are writing about (the “nuke it from orbit” approach). The second way (the “shotgun” approach) is to take the opposite extreme by including every possible freaking combination out there so that one of them is bound to match up with the listener. Everything is designed to appeal to as many people as possible to sell more music. The artistic value of the songs clearly takes a backseat to moving units. See if you notice it in other music you listen to after reading this review.

What’s the opposite of this? The writer having the intelligence to recognize a universally shared experience and being able to share it through a personal perspective. Wilson’s dealing of relationships and coming of age stories never feel like pandering. They feel like a man sharing his specific experiences with the rest of the world and you just happen to be able to relate to it. Going back to Wilson’s You Still Believe in Me, the song is talking about a very specific aspect of a relationship that many people can relate to, even if the song doesn’t fit perfectly with their own experience. And that aspect is being appreciative of the fact that your partner still has confidence in you, despite your numerous relationship failures. I know I’ve been there.

In Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulders), it’s not even an aspect of the relationship, but a single event of two people embraced in silence. We are getting a very specific moment, but it’s a relatable moment of physical contact trumping verbal communication. Outside of relationships, That’s Not Me covers that time in a young person’s life after going out on their own for the first time. They need to discover who they really are or aren’t. You never feel like he is describing anything, but his own life. However, you also connect with that universally shared moment that everyone goes through as they decide what it means to be an adult after leaving their parent’s house. I have so much respect for Brian Wilson as a songwriter.

Instrumentals Gold Star
Let’s Go Away for Awhile and Pet Sounds are two short instrumental tracks on the album. With the lack of lyrics and vocals, it’s up to the instruments to communicate all of the emotion to the listener. For classical music, this is expected. For a pop album, this is daring. This plays with your expectations and, if it fails to be anything short of amazing, you are going to notice it. You’re also going to wonder why they wasted your time with a sub-par track. Fortunately, neither song does this. Instead, both are beautiful arrangements. In Let’s Go Away for Awhile, the play between woodwind, percussion and strings leave me in awe of the sense of anticipation and optimism that is created. Nothing feels out of place and the acoustic fingerprint of each instrument is complimented perfectly, be it the striking drums, the deep bellow of the woodwinds or the waterfalls that flow out of the strings section. It’s wonderful how the different instruments take turns on who is leading the songs and all without creating a traditional melody. It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Game of Words = Gold Star
One reoccurring theme I noticed in Wilson’s lyrics is his playful use of words. One example is the word: dream. There are two distinct meanings of dream. One relates to dreaming during sleep such as “You would not believe the dream I had last night. You had wooden teeth.” The other relates to hope for the future such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.  In Wouldn’t It Be Nice, the singer spends the entire song discussing the hope of his future together with his significant other as a married coupled and all the great things that await them. This is their dream of the future, and the song ends with the lyrics of “Good night ba-baby, sleep tight, ba-baby” until the songs fades to nothingness, relating back to the dreaming you do when you sleep.

Wilson so articulately conveys the importance of dreams with the verse “You know the more it seems we talk about it, it only makes it worst to live without it, but let’s talk about it” It does not matter how much it hurts to want to fulfill our dreams because keeping our dreams alive is the only way we will fulfill them. This astute commentary goes in contrast with the song’s title, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, which implies a simple nicety, like a comfortable chair rather than this ache of young people wanting to grow up and spend the rest of their lives with each other. This only further illustrates Wilson’s playfulness with the English language.

Final Rating

Gold Star Gold Star Gold Star Gold Star Gold Star

Closing Thoughts

Before I leave you, I highly recommend the stereo version of the album because it helps separate the instruments. I listened to both the mono and stereo while listening to the album on repeat. Stereo felt vastly superior. And I would like to stress that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t sit down and listen to this album with your full attention. There is so much more going on here in terms of sound, composition and lyrics. Pet Sounds was a high mark for the music industry, both in 1966 and for all-time, and it deserves your attention.

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Week 42 (Just A Band 2)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)

Led_Zeppelin_-_Led_Zeppelin_III

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. This quote sums up the awesomeness of this album perfectly:

“Hey, I believe in God, man. I’ve seen him, I’ve felt his power. He plays drums for Led Zeppelin and his name is John Bonham, baby!” -Nick Andopolis, Freaks and Geeks, Pilot Episode

Well, maybe it doesn’t, but I’ve been waiting over a year to review a Led Zeppelin album so I could use that quote. So we’re just going to roll with it. You might have noticed Freaks and Geeks references in past reviews because the show is just filled to the brim with awesome music. If you are a music enthusiast and haven’t seen the show, you are really missing out. Alright, enough about the show. Let’s get back to Zeppelin. It is a review about them after all.

Artist BackgroundWell, here we go again. I try to summarize an incredible band in a very limited amount of space. I swear I’m going to just start copy and pasting a link to the Wikipedia page. This is our second, and equally important, UK group for the Just a Band series. Zeppelin formed in London in 1968. The band was formed out of the ashes of The Yardbirds, as The New Yardbirds, to finish up some concert commitments the band had leftover. The name was axed quickly, as the Yardbirds moniker was only agreed upon by the former members, to use for those last couple concerts. After changing their name to Led Zeppelin, they quickly scored a contract with Atlantic sight unseen, which is pretty impressive. The band consists of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. All four of these guys were incredibly influential on the rock genre for their respective roles in the band. “Among the greatest ever” is a term that gets thrown around often with these guys and with good reason. All members, except Bonham, are still alive. Unfortunately, John Bonham died in 1980 of a pulmonary edema caused by alcohol-related asphyxia. I really don’t like that description of it. It sounds like it came from a medical textbook. Led Zeppelin did not live some kind of Harvard textbook lifestyle. They lived (some say invented) the rock & roll lifestyle. They were famous for trashing hotel rooms. No, I’m sorry, trashing entire floors of the hotels they stayed at while on tour. A better fitting description of his death is he choked on his vomit after passing out from drinking 40 units of vodka. That’s how he went out. I don’t know what issues he was dealing with at the time that would cause him to drink so much, but it was an incredibly tragic lost. Zeppelin broke up after his death, but, before that time, they managed to be one of the most important rock bands ever. They are the second best selling band in the US with 111 million sales, and every album they put out reached the Billboard Top 10. Finally, every episode in season 5 of That 70’s Show is named after one of their songs. If that doesn’t show how important they were, I don’t know what does.

Album Background: First off, I just want to say people who grew up in the late 60’s/early 70’s are spoiled rotten when it comes to album releases. I touched on this earlier with the Grateful Dead releasing two incredible albums in such a short time period as being mind blowing to me. Led Zeppelin I through IV came in the very short span of 1969 to 1971. Houses of the Holy ****ing ****! We’re you people in your bedroom just swimming in a pile of amazing records ala Scrooge McDuck?

Led Zeppelin III is, obviously, their third album. It was released in 1970 and has a runtime of 43 minutes. Much of the album was composed in Wales where Plant and Page were taking a break from the strenuous touring schedule. The cottage they stayed in is named Bron-Yr-Aur, which means “golden hill” in Welsh. It’s pretty evident that the location had a great deal of influence on the band since it was included as part of the name for two of their songs. It’s no coincidence that spending a couple months in a cottage with no electricity or running water lead to an abundance of acoustic material. This drastic change in style confused both critics and the public alike, but it also earned them newfound progressive rock fans. Despite the initial mixed response, people eventually realized just how amazing and important this album was for the band and to music in general.

I just want to quickly mention the album sleeve because, at first glance, it’s a bunch of random flight-themed images on a white background. However, upon closer inspection, there exists a small disc of similar images behind it. By rotating it, you can change the layout of the front. This type of art, known as volvelle, was included in the album design by Jimmy Page and Zacron, an artist who had been working with rotating graphics for several years prior. I was actually unaware of this fact until I bought the 2014 Deluxe Remastered CD specifically for this review and turned it myself. It’s very freaking cool and definitely some of the most interesting album art I own. Here’s what the rotatable disc looks like so you don’t have to tear apart your own:

Led_Zeppelin_III_volvelle_

Favorite Track: There really is so freaking much to love on this album. This is a difficult decision. I will go on the record as saying that Since I’ve Been Loving You is the most impressive song on the album by far. I’ll touch on it under the What Works section of this review. It will probably be referenced multiple times given how amazing it is. However, my favorite track has to be Gallows Pole. If there was one song that routinely stuck out over the week, it was this song. It starts out soft with a simple acoustic riff and Plant singing the opening lyrics. Then, Plant turns it up a notch belting out the ever memorable, “Hangman! Hangman!” just as the mandolin kicks in. That caught my attention every single time when I was in the car. The gradual build up in this song is just amazing as the electric bass is added in shortly after.  Finally, they introduce the banjo and drums right as things just start getting crazy. Although, it’s crazy in a great way because of the gradual introduction of each part of the song. Imagine if the song started the way it sounds at about the 3:30 mark. It would be completely overwhelming. Yet, with how Zeppelin did it, it’s pure genius.

What’s interesting about this song is it’s actually based off a famous folk song, The Maid Freed from the Gallows, that is hundreds of years old and has been sung in the many regions of Europe with countless variations. Led Zeppelin wasn’t the only ones to record the song in modern times either. Most notably, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter recorded it as The Gallis Pole in the 1930s, and Bob Dylan recorded it in 1963 as Seven Curses. There are a lot of variations, even between these three versions. Regardless, the basic story is a person, often female but not always, begging for someone to buy their freedom from execution by bribing an official of the courts. Not only do circumstances change between versions, but so does the perspective from which the tale is told. Sometimes the bribe works and sometimes, like in Gallows Pole, it sadly does not. Despite the choice to go with the more sad ending, it’s still an incredible song.

What Works: 

  • Plant I am in awe of Robert Plant’s singing on this album. Obviously, his very famous wailing is a key part of that, but there is so much more. I especially love how playful he is with his phrasing of the lyrics. The way he approaches the verses, which does not quite match up with the obvious way of doing it, results in a very distinct style. I also love the dynamics in his singing. He’s not afraid to switch up between loud and soft, even within a single line of a lyric. Finally, I love his use of repetition. He masterfully knows exactly when and where to repeat a small phrase or even a single word. On Since I’ve Been Loving You, Plant starts repeating words and phrases very heavily towards the end. Most notably for me the “seven, seven, seven” which contrasts to the opening line of the song in which seven is only said once. This resulted in an image of a slot machine popping into my head. Could it be a reference to getting lucky with the woman? It probably was not his intention, but it resulted in an interesting allusion nonetheless. What it does do, and I’m sure this was the intention, is dramatically increase the emotional intensity of the lyrics.
  • Page There is no Zeppelin without Page. In reality, that applies to all the members, but that doesn’t make him any less critical. In Since I’ve Been Loving You, Page delivers this incredibly badass guitar solo that is critical to amping up the intensity of the song as it progresses. Besides solos, Page delivers so many now famous guitar riffs throughout the tracks on this album. He is one of the greatest guitarists to ever live, after all.
  • Accidents One of the best accidents to ever happen in a studio occured on this album. The beginning of Celebration Day was actually supposed to start with a Bonham drum solo, but an engineer accidentally deleted that portion. Instead, they seamlessly connected Friends with Celebration Day, with the Moog synthesizer, using the drone found at the distinctly sounding end of Friends. It sounds brilliant. I was amazed it was a “fix” for a studio screw up.
  • Darkness By the end of my final listen, I was completely surrounded in darkness. As the album progressed, I gradually began removing light sources from the room. First, I shut off the light. Then, I began turning off monitors. Finally, I held my hand over my eyes to remove the last little bit. Why? Was the light distracting? Actually, it was. If you ever really want to listen to an album, and I mean REALLY listen to an album, grab a pair of good headphones and go sit in a dark room by yourself. By cutting off all of your other senses, you can focus on the music with laser precision. I swear to you, your music will never sound better than it sounds in your sensory deprivation zone. Zeppelin III is so beautifully crafted and complex that, yes, the light was getting in the way of my growing need to fully appreciate everything they did with this album. The acoustic songs on this album, like That’s The Way, are incredibly beautiful and beg for your ear’s full attention.

What Doesn’t:

  • Lyrics I am not saying the lyrics are bad. The lyrics are freaking amazing. Well, they are freaking amazing when they don’t get lost in the music. Zeppelin lyrics tend to fade into the background incredibly easy for me in their mid/uptempo songs. I don’t know if it’s because there is just so much awesomeness going on at once or maybe it’s the way Plant enunciated on those faster songs, but I tend to miss out on a lot of good stuff. Immigrant Song, for example, has some seriously kick-ass lyrics that are historically important to the genre of heavy metal since the song started the viking/heavy metal connection. “Hammer of the gods” is an incredibly famous line from the song. I totally missed that line all these years until I read about it. This also explains why I tend to heavily favor their slower acoustic songs from their discography, where their lyrics do not have such tough competition for my attention. Maybe this is more a personal problem than Led Zeppelin’s fault. I would be interested to know if anybody else experiences this dilemma with their music.

In Conclusion: I would have to say if you are going to listen to the album, then sit down and listen to it. There are so many amazing things happening on this album. You might not notice that Since I’ve Been Loving You is the shortest seven and a half minute song ever recorded. The time passes so incredibly fast because it can keep your attention the entire time. I had no idea the song was that long until I looked at the playlist. You also might miss out on the craziness of the wah wah vocals for Hats Off to (Roy) Harper. Or you could completely miss that they basically restart the song over again toward the end of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. Maybe you’ll miss any one of the numerous false endings or wonderfully syncopated rhythms found throughout the album. Why purposely deny yourself all of this awesomeness because you decided to multitask and passively listen to it instead? Led Zeppelin deserves better than that. You deserve better than that.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos for the original release. You can find some live stuff recorded later if you look on YouTube.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Xbox Music

Spotify
Google Play Music
Amazon Music
iTunes

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

Week 25 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 4)

This week I’m reviewing my favorite hip hop album from 2013: Jarren Benton’s My Grandma’s Basement. It did chart but nowhere near as high as it should have. Actually, anything less than #1 is too low.

My_Grandma's_Basement_Jarren_Benton

Artist: Jarren Benton {Jarren Benton, emcee; Kato aka Christopher Ju, producer}
Album: My Grandma’s Basement
Year: 2013
Genre: Hip Hop
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Benton has an incredible flow that everyone should familiarize themselves with.

Twitter Review: The combination of Benton and his talented producer Kato make My Grandma’s Basement a fantastic album worthy of many repeat listens.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. My Grandma’s Basement
  2. Heart Attack
  3. My Adidas

Things to Look For:

  • Benton’s Flow. I love when Jarren raps. I love it. He can spit fire word after word while making it all seem so effortless but he’s smart enough to break it up occasionally with some really interesting rhythms. On PBR & Reefer, Benton starts out with a stutter step for the first couple lines which actually complement the chorus perfectly. Now contrast with his delivery in Life in the Jungle where he’s going at a frantic pace to reflect the intensity of innercity life. I think that Benton is so used to going fast that going slow throws him off. In Dreams, Benton actually has a fairly slow delivery reflective of the subject matter. And this song contains the only moment on the album where I think Jarren isn’t flawless. It’s actually awkward for a fraction of a second. I’m not going to tell you where it is. I want to see if you can pick it out. And it only sticks out to me because he is so amazing everywhere else.
  • Kato! Kato’s name is said in the beginning of nearly every track in one way or another for every track he produced on this album.  And he absolutely deserves the recognition. The first three tracks of the album (Razor Blades & Steak KnivesLife in the Jungle and Don’t Act) are produced by Kato. The beginning  is probably the most consistently enjoyable section of the album in large part thanks to Kato’s big beats. The production of Razor Blades & Steak Knives is particularly impressive thanks to the false ending. The first time I heard it, I thought a new song had actually started but nope. I was still listening to the first track.
  • OMG Hilarious. Even More No Homo (skit) is not the most politically correct skit to laugh at. But George Carlin said even rape can be funny and further explains: “I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is…because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.” And this skit absolutely nails it. My brother and I laughed about this skit for weeks. I think it is hilarious regardless of your outlook on gay rights. Feel free to disagree if you want. But I’m still probably going to keep laughing every time I hear it.
  • Serious Like A Heart Attack. I have to mention Heart Attack. The subject matter is very dark as it describes the brutal murder of an ex after an uncontrollable rage building up inside is finally let loose. Domestic violence is inexcusable, but Jarren does an excellent job communicating his rage to listeners. And thankfully, at least, has an ending with very real consequences with the cops closing down on him shortly after the murder.  The real surprise about this song is the last minute which sounds similar to Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky. Benton counts several non-rap musicians as primary influences so should I really be surprised to see some Pink Floyd pop up on his album? Probably not.
  • Even More Serious. The best song on the album is My Grandma’s Basement. Why? One reason is because this is one of the few songs on the album where Jarren does not resort to shock value in his verses. Now is probably an appropriate time to bring up that a lot of his delivery and word choice reminds me of Eminem’s Slim Shady LP. Even on Cadillacs & Chevys Jarren says “They say I sound like Eminem.” So I’m not the only one to notice the parallels. I honestly think that Jarren’s wordplay is a bit more inventive. So many times, I was impressed with the way Benton combines and relates ideas in his verses. Many times those ideas were meant to shock but they were impactful on me regardless. But in My Grandma’s Basement he seems to focus on some very real and universal fears about moving your life forward and making something of yourself before you become trapped. I really hope to see less shock and more tracks like this on his next album. I know he is more than capable of it with this track and My Adidas. Equally interesting is the beats used on the track, which make you feel like you too are going to be swallowed up by the basement with Jarren never to be seen again. Those are some seriously claustrophobic beats.

Low Points: While Big Rube Interlude is quite good and sounds like it belongs on a Quentin Tarantino movie with a beautiful trumpet solo, Dreams doesn’t appeal to me as much as the rest of the album. It seems too different from the rest of the tracks. It almost feels like an obligatory slow song more than anything. And with an album runtime of over 70 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have missed it if it was left on the floor of the recording studio. Big Rube, by the way, is known for doing these interludes. He has done them for several artists.

Anything Else: I just wanted to share the song that first introduced me to Jarren Benton. The song is Skitzo and it’s incredibly catchy. It highlights many of the reasons why I instantly fell in love with his music in the first place and it also has a great ending. If I remember correctly, Hopsin (who later signed Benton to Funk Volume) had mentioned it through social media. My brother caught hold of it and then showed it to me. And Skitzo is probably the only single I’ve bought since I got out of college, so that’s saying a lot of how much I wanted it. (I’m more of an album kind of guy if you couldn’t figure that out.) It was featured on a compilation and none of the other tracks really appealed to me so I bought the track by itself. And the rest is history. Now you all need to tune into his new album My Grandma’s Basement. I hope you like it.

Additional Links:

Week 24 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 3)

As I cross over the midpoint of EoSBU, I’m reviewing an album from perhaps the greatest musician of my generation, James Dewees.  More specifically, his Kickstarter album, No Country for Old Musicians.         

Artist: Reggie and the Full Effect {James Dewees aka Floppy Disk-0 aka Fluxuation aka Klaus of Common Denominator}
Album: No Country for Old Musicians
Year: 2013
Genre: Too Many to Count
Rating: (Infinity + 1)/5

Worth Your Time? I consider it a “Listen to Before You Die” album.

Twitter Review: J. Dewees transforms the elegant chaos of entropy into music with NCFOM. An extended range of emotions and genres make for a unique experience.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Who Needs Another Drink?
  2. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ralph’s
  3. 37

Things to Look For:

  • The Perfect Song. I know that’s a bold statement but I think I could listen to this song on repeat for an entire day and not get the least bit tired of it. I could possibly even go all week and do the first ever (and last) Project Lt. Morning review on a single track. I was madly in love with this song from the second it started with a man expressing his undying love for the 1992 Royal Rumble in Albany, New York where Nature Boy Ric Flair takes down…someone. Sadly, our wrestling fanatic is rudely interrupted before he could finish. But his enthusiasm isn’t the least bit dampened as the song which is more infectious than any STD known to mankind, Who Needs Another Drink?, begins. Floppy Disk-0 aka James is on the top of his game with this song. The lyrics are simple but insanely memorable. I loved singing the chorus in a nasally voice as loud as I could in my car during my daily commute. His other two interludes involving a discussion of smoking PCP and what I can only infer is Last Call at a Kindergarten classroom only add to appeal of the song. I know I am not alone in my love for this song as my friend informed me that the crowd went ballistic when this song started at the concert he attended. Like getting up on stage and dancing ballistic. Just imagining that makes me smile.
  • Ending on a High Note. One thing I noticed on the album that several of the songs have a short comedic bit at the end. In Guerrera, the song is about a brave Aztec warrior and his pet hawk who are traded by the Aztec empire to a group of aliens in exchange for the aliens not blowing up the empire. The aliens need his hero skills to fight other aliens. Pretty fair deal, no? Actually, this song has the fantastic line of “Stronger than one thousand spears that’s pretty strong if you ask me” which is extra hilarious because up to that point the song has a very serious tone. But as the drum beats start to wind down, the ending tops that when James shouts “Anybody see my bird?” which is then followed quickly by a  majestic hawk vocalization and a very short “Oh.” This brief moment of joy occurs again at the end of DMV where he is singing as Klaus, frontman of Finnish metal band Common Denominator.  Driving, Me, Victory at DMV also contains one of my favorite verse from the album “What are you looking at lady behind glass? My social security is I can kick your ass, For the last time so I can make it clear, A record of my birth is I’m standing right here.” The Department of Motor Vehicles has never sounded so metal.
  • Emotions. James is absolutely incredible at conveying a wide variety of emotions with pinpoint precision with his voice. The lighthearted silliness of 37 and We Make a Breakfast is such a stark contrast to his voice in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ralph’s which is very melancholy. Take it even further on the sadness spectrum and you end up with Disregard where you can’t help but be reminded of your own feelings of despair as a relationship collapses right underneath your feet. I haven’t even touched on the songs where he is doing characters, which just further illustrates his versatility.
  • Best Break Ever. In Sundae, Booty Sundae, where James plays the part of electropop sensation Fluxuation, there is quite possibly the greatest keyboard break in a song ever recorded. It’s so freaking incredibly catchy. I think I bobbed my head every single time it came on. And I always did it in this figure 8 motion. Not sure why but it felt right. Dewees is the King of Keyboard, the Sultan of Synthesizers, the Colonel of Composition, the Emperor of Electronic Musical Devices, the… you get the point. The man can write a melody like no other.

Low Points: This isn’t a low point for me really because I consider it genius more than anything but I think at first listen the album is probably confusing to the newcomer. The album does contain a song in which James says the word “chicken” over and over and over…and over. But if you saw the video for the Kickstarter page that was used to fund this album, it makes complete sense. Even the title is kind of weird. But once you know that he composed the album while living in an apartment in N. Hollywood and felt like he couldn’t relate to the 20-somethings in his building as a 36 year old, it also makes perfect sense. The song, To the Fruit Wizards of Donnington, is about James getting hit by apples thrown by wizards. Well, it’s actually based on a real situation in which he playing at a music festival and a group of metal fans with some long beards started throwing stuff on the stage. Unfortunate but not so weird anymore, right? The song, Gimme Back My Leg, which might seem strange to write a song about your dog humping your leg is actually a touching tribute to his bulldog, talullah, who died while James was working on the album. Finally, anybody that doesn’t know that James includes a variety of alter egos in his albums is also going to be confused but I couldn’t imagine the albums without them. They do so much to make a Reggie album what it is.

Anything Else: James has been described as your artist’s favorite artist. And I have no doubt that this is true. The eclectic collection of compositions on this album just blow my mind as a music nerd and I probably left out at least a dozen other lyrics I’m dying to tell you about. But proof that other artists recognize his mad skills is Dewees was touring keyboardist for My Chemical Romance. So if you’ve ever seen them live, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Dewees and didn’t even know it. And a whole ton of musicians have served as part of his touring band. I imagine it’s because it’s so freaking fun to play James’ material and because he is such an awesome guy.

I’d like to close with probably the biggest mistake of my life. Out of all the Kickstarter projects I regret most , it is not the many that have failed after 12+ months of waiting but the one that I didn’t back that was an absolute success in every sense of the word. I’m sorry, James Dewees, for not backing this album. If you want to make another album though Kickstarter, I will gladly back it. Maybe even enough to get a sweet hoodie or something this time.

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Week 20 Review

This week I’m reviewing the 2nd album of the mythical Santana trilogy which is made up of the first 3 albums of their discography. It was released in 1970 and rose to number #1 on the US charts.      

SantanaAbraxas

Artist: Santana {Charles Santana – lead guitar, backing vocals; Gregg Rolie – keyboards, lead vocals; David Brown – bass; Michael Shrieve – drums; José “Chepito” Areas – percussion, conga, timbales; Mike Carabello – percussion, conga}
Album: Abraxas
Year: 1970
Genre: Latin Rock
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Mr. Santana and his band deserve your time and attention.

Twitter Review: Santana’s Abraxas has incredible complexity layered on top of a keen rock sensibility and topped off with some wicked guitar solos.

 Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Hope You’re Feeling Better
  2. Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen
  3. Se a Cabo

Things to Look For:

  • Guitar God. I’ve never really given Santana a good listen prior to this album. I’ve heard their song, Smooth, featuring Rob Thomas like a billion times given that song was unavoidable in 1999. But that was about it. I knew he was quite the guitarist given his reputation. But I really had no idea just how good he was. Listening to Abraxas has been very enlightening in that regard. I thoroughly enjoyed his solos on the album. He absolutely deserves all of the praise he gets.
  • And Everyone Else. Santana’s guitar wouldn’t sound quite as amazing on this album if the rest of the band wasn’t also incredibly talented. It’s impressive how well they all complement each other. While Carlos is laying down a serious solo, you can be guaranteed his percussionists will be playing the perfect rhythm in the background while he is doing it. The concentration of musical talent in this band is jaw dropping. I loved the percussion and keyboard work on this album as much the guitar playing.
  • Opening Track. I love the opening track, Singing Winds, Crying Beasts, because of how it slowly builds up in sound with just a couple instruments coming in and out of existence as the song progresses.  It’s not very melodic but it’s interesting enough to more than compensate for the lack of melody. The song is almost 5 minutes long and it passes in time very quickly because my ears are so busy being entertained. Before I know it, the album has transitioned to Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen.

Low Points: It’s not a bad track by any means but Samba Pa’ Ti was not nearly as entertaining as the rest of the album. It’s just a little too laid back so I tended to lose interest and let my mind wander when it got to this part of the album which resulted in me missing out on some amazing guitar playing half of the time. It was probably a good call to have on the album since it comes between Mother’s Daughter and Hope You’re Feeling Better which are both pretty intense. It also gives Santana some time to experiment with some more jazzy concepts which is definitely part of the appeal of Abraxas but I favored the more traditional rock tracks that they spiced up as I listened to it all week.

Anything Else: I think the main reason why I like this album is because Santana was able to take rock music and elevate to a higher plane of existence with the incredible talent of the band and their willingness to take a road less traveled. I’m sure they could have been a great rock band without infusing all these different latin and jazz elements, but I doubt people would still care about this album over 40 years later like they do now. If rock was a cupcake, Santana added some really tasty chocolate sprinkles for everyone to enjoy.

Special Guest Review
by renowned Santana expert, Adolf T. Cat

adolf t cat

Santana’s Abraxas is easily one of the greatest latin rock albums of all…wait a second. Is that an exposed female nipple on the cover of the album? How dare they unleash this trash onto the world. I can’t believe they sell this disgusting pornography on Amazon and iTunes where any young child could have their innocence ripped away from them forever and leave them with no choice but to grow up to become a sexual predator. I absolutely refuse to support such vulgar trash. Do not listen to this album. Do not buy it. In fact, blacklist any links included on this page. You have been warned. (0/5 stars)

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Week 19 Review

In 1969 the Beatles released Abbey Road onto the world. It was the last time that all four were together in the studio and the final album released under their longtime collaborator George Martin.      

Artist: The Beatles {John Lennon – vocals, rhythm guitar; Paul McCartney – vocals, bass guitar; George Harrison – lead guitar, vocals; Ringo Starr – drums, vocals}
Album: Abbey Road
Year: 1969
Genre: Rock
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Since it includes some of the greatest moments in modern music history, it is a must listen for everyone.

Twitter Review: Despite relationships between the fab four being strained at this point, the Beatles put out a classic album filled with many surprises.

 Top 3 Tracks:

  1. The Medley
  2. Come Together
  3. Because

Things to Look For:

  • George’s Peak. Harrison’s songwriting tends to have a hard time shining on a Beatles album since he is always competing with Lennon and McCartney. But on Abbey Road, Harrison is absolutely at the top of his game with Something and Here Comes the Sun. Something is such a beautiful love song. In particular, I appreciate the lyrics: You’re asking me will my love grow, I don’t know, I don’t know, You stick around now it may show, I don’t know, I don’t know. Those lines beautifully capture the uncertainty of relationships that we all face. Here Comes the Sun is also expertly crafted as you can easily feel the snow melting and picture the animals coming out of slumber to enjoy the budding spring weather while the song plays.
  • The Medley. A significant portion of the second half of the album is dedicated to a medley made up of eight songs. It is includes You Never Give Me Your MoneySun KingMean Mr. MustardPolythene PamShe Came in Through the Bathroom WindowGolden SlumbersCarry That Weight and The End. It doesn’t flow perfectly at all transitions because there were some changes afterwards in ordering. And even though Lennon has referred to some of the songs he wrote for the medley as “a bit of crap,” I consider The Medley the high point of the album. The combination of the eight pieces far exceeds anything a single part could accomplish. Basically, John wrote the front half and Paul wrote the back half for those interested.
  • Ringo’s Drumming. Starr is not a fan of drum solos. So on The End, they turned Ringo’s playing into a drum solo by dialing back the other instruments that were being played at the time. It’s very fitting for him to have a solo on this track as Paul, George and John take turns playing 2 bar guitar solos for much of the song. I know it’s not a particularly complicated solo but I think it’s absolutely perfect. And he is, of course, rock solid on the rest of the album.
  • Hidden Track. Her Majesty, which was cut from The Medley originally, is one of the earliest examples of hidden tracks on a rock album. It’s incredibly short at 23 seconds but I love the innocence and simplicity of it. Referring to drinking alcohol to get up the nerve to talk to a woman as a “I gotta get a bellyful of wine” combines an adult activity with a childlike innocence to create an authentic portrait of the hopeless romantic.

Low Points: While I thoroughly enjoy Lennon’s contributions to The Medley and love the uniqueness of Because, I don’t think I Want You (She’s So Heavy) was an ideal execution. Nobody should be surprised here when I say the song is a love song about Yoko Ono. It is the Beatles second longest song in their discography at nearly eight minutes. It’s a fairly basic song in its structure but is dragged out through massive repetition and additional ever increasing white noise at the end. I understand how highly influential and important this song is with such a dark sounding riff being featured. But I would rather have them carried it out in a more straight forward manner such as they did in Oh! Darling where they did a flawless execution of a traditional sounding song. If you love the song, that’s great. I don’t.

Anything Else: Abbey Road created an incredibly unique experience for me during the week that no other album has done to date. Every morning on the way to work I would listen to the album and be in complete awe of how amazing it was. And during every commute back home I would loathe the album wondering if I could stand it another day. I know that makes no sense. Maybe the Beatles don’t lend themselves well to being listening to on repeat? Maybe I’ve listened to them too much in my lifetime as Come Together being played on a 7″ record by my mom as she showed me her collection is my earliest musical memory I have? Maybe it was all the stress from being extremely busy at work? I honestly don’t know. It will be interesting to see if this happens on another one of their albums.

Special Guest Review
by renowned Beatles expert, Adolf T. Cat

adolf t cat

The Beatles are an overrated boy band without a single musical bone in their collective bodies. Unless you’re a 12 year old girl stuck in 1963, you have no business liking this crap. Lennon is and should always be remembered as a pretentious twat. God, do I hate him. His other three cohorts Denim Dan, Shoeless Joe and Dufus have no business ever being in a band. All of their “songs” were secretly about sex or drugs. They corrupted an entire generation back then and continues to corrupt today’s youth. My current theory for the Beatles longevity is that incredibly bad taste in music must be a dominant gene. Abbey Road, like all of their other albums, sucks. Get over it and go find a real band. (0/5 stars)

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Week 13 Review (Readers Pick 1)

This week I’m reviewing the Super Fly soundtrack which was picked out by a co-worker for the first Readers Pick Review. Super Fly soundtrack has the distinction of making more money than the film.     

Artist: Curtis Mayfield
Album: Super Fly
Year: 1972
Genre: Soul, Soundtrack
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? So good it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie or not.

Twitter Review: It’s not only a great movie soundtrack, it’s a great soundtrack for life.  Headphones and Super Fly will have you walking around feeling 20% cooler.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Pusherman
  2. Think
  3. Superfly

Things to Look For:

  • Composition. Curtis Mayfield wrote an absolutely gorgeous funk filled soundtrack. The way instruments play off each other and work together throughout the 9 tracks is phenomenal. The way Little Child Runnin’ Wild crescendos into pounding orchestra hits that transitions to strings and a minimalist bassline and finally ends with just the strings as they fade out is just so beautiful.  There’s another part that I love in Junkie Chase where the bright horn sections plays off of the piano chords.  It helps to create the sense of urgency felt throughout the track. Think, which I picked as my second favorite track, is an instrumental that easily won me over with its bewitching laid back arrangement. Johnny Pate was the orchestra/arranger for this soundtrack and deserves to be recognized for his work on the album carrying out Mayfield’s directions.
  • Henry Gibson.  The percussion in Pusherman is just awesome. It is the grease in the machine that enhances the performance of all of the other instruments. Henry Gibson played the rototoms on the track and did an amazing job but that shouldn’t be a surprise since Mr. Gibson has appeared on about 1200 albums.
  • SaxamaphoooooneCurtis Mayfield played many instruments including saxaphone so it might be him playing tenor sax but I can’t really find any reference to who played sax throughout the album. Regardless, the saxophone sprinkled throughout several tracks is incredibly well done as it takes lead during the song or plays off of the other instruments. I loved every moment.
  • Why Curtis, of course. Mayfield’s silky smooth falsetto delivery is definitely one of if not the highlight of the soundtrack.  If anybody else sang these songs, I don’t think it would be so highly regarded. His singing in No Thing on Me (Cocaine Song) delivers a sense of optimism and tragedy juxtaposed on top of each other.

Low Points: This is such an incredible album. Complaining about this album is like trying to take issue with Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. If there’s anything to take issue with the album is that the movie Super Fly comes nowhere close to the level of excellence that the soundtrack achieved. Not that I thought the movie was bad or anything, but they just aren’t on the same level. The music is just so good it seems out of place.

Anything Else: After listening to this album for the first time, it brought an idea into my head. And that is the evolution of the drug dealer song. I don’t know if Pusherman is the grand-daddy of all drug dealer songs but I like to think it was an inspiration for later music such as Master P’s Mr. Ice Cream Man and Bone Thugs N Harmony’s 1st of da Month.

Also, Super Fly actually had two sequels. Super Fly T.N.T. in 1973 and The Return of Super Fly in 1990. Why do I mention this? Because of this jewel of early 90s awesomeness:

Superfly 1990 by Ice-T featuring Curtis Mayfield and can’t nobody make a song (or TV show) awesome like Ice-T.

Not everything about 1990 is awesome though. In 1990, an accident at a concert caused Curtis Mayfield to spend the last 10 years of his life paralyzed from the neck down until he died from complications due to diabetes. During this time he was able to still put out music. He recorded the vocals for his last album, New World Order, line by line as he only had enough breath to do one line at a time from his bed. Reading this made me really sad. It didn’t seem fair that a man who created such beautiful music for the world and inspired an entire generation during the civil rights movement would end up getting screwed over so badly by life.

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