Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” (1992)

Originally Published On February 14th 2013

I don’t know what to say about Sonic Youth’s “Dirty”, or rather, I don’t know how to express my feelings about the album in such a way that it meets my minimum word count for reviews. When I reviewed 4 Non Blonde’s “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!” I was able to creatively express how poor the album was, and how much it bored me. Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” isn’t a bad album, but I am bored by it, and that’s the pickle I’m in right now.

How do I go about talking about the finer points and parts of an album that really just doesn’t make me feel anything? Do I examine song by song, describing each like an exhibit in a museum of apathy? “Here, you can see how guitars are played in a fast, sloppy, distorted fashion – over vocals that are not altogether pleasant to hear… and up next you can see the exact same thing.”Okay, that’s a bit harsh. I do like a song on the album, “Theresa’s Sound-World”, so I can’t chalk up the whole album as unpleasant noise.

I fail to understand what’s so great about Sonic Youth, but I comprehend that the album isn’t “just a bunch of noise”. What I can say for certain, is that there’s nothing about Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” as a whole that will have me coming back any time soon. I’m glad I listened to it, I’m glad I now know what Sonic Youth sounds likes, but I found the album boring and hard to care about.

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Mew’s “Triumph For Man” (1997)

I saw Nine Inch Nails twice in 2009; once at the Jones Beach Amphitheater, and another time at Terminal 5. Mew opened for Nine Inch Nails at the Terminal 5 show, and they were an entirely enjoyable opening band if not a strange warm-up for Nine Inch Nails. I had no idea who Mew was, and I still don’t know much about them – but apparently they were around in the 90’s and so I’m going to go see what their debut album “Triumph For Man” (1997) is all about.

At first, Mew was not doing much for me. Lead singer Jonas Bjerre has a lovely, soft-spoken voice that is muffled out in the first three songs on the album by guitar parts that weren’t blowing me away. I was starting to wonder what the deal with Mew was, until the fourth track “Panda” started to show the band’s true colors. Bjerre’s voice starts to sound high-pitched and childlike in a way that I can really get behind, and the guitar parts divert a bit from their strictly alt-rock ways about halfway through the song, becoming dissonant and stress-inducing. From “Panda” until the closing track “Coffee Break”, Mew’s “Triumph For Man” continues to be an interesting listen.

“Then I Run” got a little scream-ier than I thought Mew would get, “No Shadow Kick” is a funky little track with gibberish lyrics (no, that’s not Danish), “Snowflake” has beautiful string and piano arrangements, and “Pink Monster” is forty-nine seconds of accordion. Tracks four through fourteen entirely make up for any of the first three songs’ shortcomings; and tracks like “I Should Have Been A Tsin-Tsi For You” and “Web” prove that Mew has what it takes to make memorable tracks out of formulaic alt-rock ingredients.

“Triumph For Man” is a pretty solid album, judging from my first-listen gut-feeling. If you can find this album somewhere, it’s worth listening to.

Radiohead’s “OK Computer” (1997)

I’m familiar with exactly two Radiohead albums, “The Bends” (1995) and “OK Computer” (1997). I quite enjoy both of the albums, and decided that reviewing one would be good for my soul, after the disappointment that was Snoop Dogg, and the struggle that was Michael Bolton. I figure I’d go and review the better of the two albums, “OK Computer” seeing as it has one of my favorite songs of all time on it – “Paranoid Android.”

I could probably write an entire piece about “Paranoid Android”; critically analyze the lyrics, dive into how it’s tempo and mood swings make me feel, but what about the album as a whole? Not every song on “OK Computer” blows me away like “Paranoid Android” but every song doesn’t need to. “Subterranean Homesick Alien” lulls me into an awe-inspired daydream with guitar and keyboard harmonies, “No Surprises” is just a downright beautiful song with a moving xylophone part; almost every song on “OK Computer” is pleasant to listen to at some point or another thanks to thoughtful instrumental composition and the delivery of emotion through Thom Yorke’s voice. I say almost every as “Electioneering”; with it’s rocking cowbell banger attitude, doesn’t sound like it belongs and doesn’t match the tone of “OK Computer” and its larger motifs.

One of the last things I have to say about “OK Computer” is that I find it emotionally flexible; which may have more to do with myself and how I interpret and feel out the songs, but nonetheless I felt like ending this piece by mentioning this. I don’t feel like Radiohead forces any single emotion throughout the album, or even in a single song. Everything is complex enough that given the right conditions any song could make me feel one thing, and then another the next time I listened to it. Whatever mood you’re in, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” has you covered.

Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” (1998)

(Originally Posted February 12th, 2013)

Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” is an eerie, funky, and uniquely melodic album. The drums and bass are almost always keeping a slow pace, educing a head-rocking syncopation  – which is accompanied by distorted guitars, choral chants, distant vocals, and other special effects that drape the catchy rhythms in sheets of dissonance. Hence, eerie and funky.

“Mezzanine” might be one of the most cohesive albums I’ve ever listened to. The songs don’t fade into each other or anything like that – but the tone of each complements another – every song sounds like it belongs on this album, every song sounds “Mezzanine”.  “Teardrop”, the recognizable theme to House MD is relaxing, emotional, and complete with a spine-tingling, haunting vocal performance by the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. “Teardrop” is worlds away from the album’s next song, “Inertia Creeps”; which mixes Arabic sounds with soft-spoken rap, and yet despite this the two songs sound very fitting next to each other. I also attribute the album’s composure to Massive Attack’s “Exchange” and “(Exchange)”, the song and it’s reprise sample Quincy Jones and Isaac Hayes. There’s something extremely refreshing about the pair, which are located at the album’s middle and end.

In any case Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” is an incredible album every song is excellent whether or not you’re listening to the album straight-through, so if album cohesion isn’t your thing – go listen to the emotional release that is “Dissolved Girl” or the catchy vocals of “Risingson”, or maybe the lyrical volley of “Group Four” is more your thing. “Mezzanine” is awesome, and you should give it a try.

Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” (1993)

I don’t like Snoop Dogg’s debut 1993 release, “Doggystyle. I thought I would; I assumed that I would enjoy a west-coast rap/g-funk album released less than a year than before Warren G’s “Regulate… G Funk Era” (1994), and yes while the albums can sound similar they feel worlds apart. Where Warren G delivered feel-good laid-back vibes that feel honest and down to earth, I feel like Snoop Dogg is selling me something. There’s this persona that Snoop is pushing, that people know who he is, and that he’s dangerous and cool – but that he pushes that angle so hard is off-putting.  I accepted that Warren G was awesome because he didn’t force it, and if you’re so cool I’ll figure that out without you telling me that Snoop Dogg, thanks.

While not all about Snoop, the album is either about chronic, sex, or murder. Not exactly things I’m itching to hear about, especially in the vulgar, immature-sounding choices of vocabulary that are on display in “Doggystyle.” Aside from the problems I take with the content of the album, I suppose I don’t have many criticisms for Snoop Dogg. You might not be surprised to hear that Snoop Dogg has impeccable rhythm, that he sounds cool, or that there’s a catchy flow to most of the songs on the album. “Gz and Hustlas” stands out as one of the few songs on the album where the beat is so fine that I don’t care what Snoop Dogg is rapping about anymore, I’m just enveloped in the music and I can’t be bothered by what stupidity the lyrics might be.

While  I liked songs on the album, I couldn’t get over the thematic bump that “Doggystyle” presents to me. Songs about chronic, sex, and murder can be what I’m in the mood for- but not while I’m doubting if the character of the man delivering those songs. For a man who probably shouldn’t have to try that hard at all, Snoop Dogg tries too hard to establish his credibility and  the album suffers for it.

A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory” (1991)

I’ve never heard of A Tribe Called Quest before, not until a friend recommended that I check it out for the blog. So going into “The Low End Theory”  (1991) I had no idea what to expect. I’ve ever heard anything that sounded quite like this album; there are perhaps some similarities to Warren G’s “Regulate… G Funk Era” (1994) in regards to the themes and positive vibes, but A Tribe Called Quest lays their relaxed lyrics over bass guitars and old-school drum beats instead of the funky synths of G-Funk.

Wikipedia throws this album in a genre called “Jazz Rap”, and while I’m no expert on musical classification I would agree that “Jazz Rap”  accurately describes what I heard on “The Low End Theory.” It’s really easy to lose yourself in the rhythms of each song; the drums, the bass, and especially the vocals act like a force of current bringing you down an incredibly relaxed, down-tempo state of mind. The album also has a tight aesthetic, as all of the songs deal with down to earth themes and tend to play with the same musical elements. The occasional scratch of the turntable is perhaps a little out of place, and breaks this mental image I have that I can only describe as coffee house rap. The old-school drums are simple and just sound right, and the bass, touch of keyboard, brass, guitar – they all sound part of this beautiful aesthetic, and the presence of turn tables is a little weird – like a hint of cubism in an impressionist painting.

I loved “The Low End Theory” and I experienced this incredible worlds-meeting moment listening to “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and realizing that it was the basis for the chorus of the Beastie Boy’s “Sure Shot” (1994). I suppose that’s who A Tribe Called Quest reminds me of the most, the Beastie Boys. Regardless,  A Tribe Called Quest  seems an important piece of musical knowledge to have while trying to assemble the 1990’s musical landscape.

Michael Bolton’s “The One Thing” (1993)

Remind me never to accept music review suggestions based on pure dare and absurdity. Sure, reviewing two Michael Bolton albums as a tribute to Game of Thrones sounds funny until you’re actually doing it. That being said, lets dig into Bolton’s 1993 release, “The One Thing.”

I cannot review an album in a vacuum, all past musical experience heavily impacts the way I think about what I’m listening to in the present. Having only listened to Michael Bolton’s “Time, Love & Tenderness” (1991) two days ago, listening to “The One Thing” (1993) is just insufferable. I don’t care about how nice Bolton’s voice is, not as long as I’m just listening to more of the same. A song from “The One Thing” is only distinguishable from a song on “Time, Love & Tenderness” in that you might notice that there’s more guitar, or you don’t hear those really cheesy keyboard presets. And there are songs on “The One Thing” that sound exactly like songs that Bolton released two years prior.

I could forgive the musical similarities between the albums if only there was some sort of lyrical/thematic evolution in Bolton’s songs; but there isn’t. “The One Thing” highlights an apparent problem with Bolton and the “adult-contemporary/love-song” genre, for me at least: if the one thing you do well is sing love songs or pseudo-inspirational garbage, then I’m going to stop noticing or caring about your talent and tune out. Like Bolton, I’m not made of steel – and I can only endure so much before I crumble. Like “Time, Love & Tenderness” it’s hard to say that “The One Thing” isn’t okay, but after consuming two hours worth of Bolton I can say without a doubt that I can’t stand it anymore – and that’s not okay.