Saturday, December 31, 2005

Top 10 Albums Of 2005

Kanye West - Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella) : The stakes got higher as the Chicago south sider aimed to trump his explosively successful debut album The College Dropout (2004). Kanye West grabbed the horns of his bull-sized talent and chruned out one of the year's smoothest single with "Gold Digger." Sampling the likes of Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, West once again explored new ground. On perhaps the most pivotal track of the album, the orchestral powered "Gone," West reveals a side to rap that seldom gets shown in the mainstream: imagination.

Coldplay - X & Y (Capitol) : Coldplay's third album wasn't working for the band in the early stages of recording, so, they cleaned the slate and started fresh. The result was something more than just an album; it was a painting of sounds which widened the scope of Coldplay's world of just a quality band into one of the blossoming greats of our time. The band slightly toys with their sonic textures to create something new yet familiar. By no means does Coldplay tred old water, but songs like "Speed Of Sound" and "Fix You" seem like they were on deck just waiting for their chance at the plate. A hidden track called "Til Kingdom Comes" (written specifically for Johnny Cash to perform before his passing) serves as a fitting end to an album racing towards the next horizon.

Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better (Sony) : They are the Scottish lads that put dance and style back into rock music and make it look fun again. The quartet add some more depth to themselves and avoid predictability. "Do You Want To" struts like a Las Vegas pimp on any given night, and "The Fallen" makes a nonchalant observation of the human desire to blow up one another ("What's wrong with a little destruction?"). But Franz Ferdinand deliver terrific transitions with "Walk Away" and "Eleanor Put Your Boots On." Here the band steps back for more understated performances that are both whimsical and breezy.

Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth (Epic) : During a musical campaign that has surpassed ten years, something that critics probably still can't get over, Noel Gallagher has managed to work a little magic from the small corner he and younger brother Liam have gotten Oasis into. No surprises are what listeners have come to expect from Britain's still reigning hit makers. With no original member left in the band other than the Gallaghers, Oasis has carried on while getting an injection of new blood from the likes of Andy Bell (Ride) and Gem Archer (Heavy Stereo). If you look beyond the fact that Ringo Starr's own son, Zak Starkey, gets behind the drum kit--offering a much needed kick--you will hear a band comfortable with resting on their past ("Lyla") while giving in to the idea that trying a new approach isn't so much a bad thing ("The Importance Of Being Idle"). Yet, somehow, Noel and company show off some fire that makes Don't Believe The Truth more of a whole album rather than a spotty one.

Paul Weller - As Is Now (Yep Roc) : The Modfather continues to get better with age, unafraid to display his softer side and more than eager to squeeze out some blistering guitar solos. Weller delivers his most straightforward rock song since his 1997 album Heavy Soul called "From The Floor Boards Up." There are no signs of Weller losing his touch throughout the album. On "Here's The Good News," Weller evokes Randy Newman with some saloon-style piano playing. Overall, there's a sense that Weller was going for a no-nonsense production and more for simply capturing the songs in the moment. As Is Now is quite possibly Weller's most direct solo album to date.

Chris Mills - The Wall To Wall Sessions (Ernest Jenning) : In three days and backed up by a 17-piece band, Chris Mills performed and recorded his fourth album The Wall To Wall Sessions. The process that Mills put himself through in such a short amount of time was the best decision he could had made at this point of his career. There is an excitement to the album that translates loudly with each song. "You Are My Favorite Song" romances with a smile, "Chris Mills Is Living The Dream" dances in buoyant spirits, and "Dancing On The Head Of A Pin" soothes like the softest of breezes. The heart of this album is its nakedness. Bypassing the trappings of the recording studio has opened new doors for Mills, and it is none more evident than on The Wall To Wall Sessions.

Doves - Some Cities (Capitol) : Since 2000's Lost Souls and 2002's The Last Broadcast the Manchester trio called Doves has enjoyed critical acclaim as one of the top acts in the U.K. music scene. What The Last Broadcast accomplished for the band Some Cities didn't quite reach--a leap forward. The Doves borrow from their own play book on "Walk In Fire," lifting "There Goes The Fear" (The Last Broadcast) for the song's overall structure. Even with its back to basics feel Some Cities still scores with songs like "Black And White Town" and "Ambition." If this is the sound of the Doves as an average band, then the Doves certainly come off as a damn good band with the ability to swith on greatness if they so choose.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl (Red Int/Red Ink) : The "acoustic" album happens at some point for any rock band. Just as this is B.R.M.C.'s third album it is also the band's attempt to produce Led Zeppelin III. The band sets down the abrasive howl of their previous two albums for more of a relaxed whisper, a bluesy moan. The piano-blanketed "Promise," perhaps the real soul of Howl, removes itself greatly from the Jesus Lizard-esque touch that has flowed B.R.M.C. As if content with the shadows, B.R.M.C. toys with the moody to create an atmosphere that quietly invites you in rather than rushes into your face. "Ain't No Easy Way" is the lone stomper that pumps with some smoking harmonica play backed by a good ole, down and dirty drum groove.

Son Volt - Okemah and the Melody of Riot (Sony) : Jay Farrar, singer/songwriter with a voice sometimes bigger than his own band, returns with Son Volt after a seven year hiatus. Although missing the original members of the band, Farrar produces one of the most melodically charged and socially conscious album Son Volt has ever made. "Jet Pilot" and "Endless War" take on the matters surrounding U.S. engagement in Iraq. Farrar seems to revel in the warmth of his electric guitar on "Afterglow 61." It's a rejuvenated vibe for Farrar as he feels out his newly transformed Son Volt. Closing with "World Waits For You," Farrar takes to the piano before the rest of the band enters in for the reprise. The song leaves very little indication on where Son Volt will go next, but, one thing is for certain, Farrar is at his best.

Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Sony) : It's the final chapter to a body of music that has spanned over twenty-eight years. John Williams' musical work, not only with the entire Star Wars saga, has given us some of the most memorable film themes in history. Once again at the helm of the London Symphony Orchestra, Williams charts out his absolute best work for Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, capturing the tragic transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. The emotions soar in themes like "Battle Of The Heroes" and "Anakin vs. Obi-Wan." Almost as if giving his own personal farewell to George Lucas' galaxy far, far away, Williams revists the most significant Star Wars themes during the end credit theme "A New Hope." They are classical scores that not only were key to the Star Wars films but were pieces of music that touched popular culture in ways reminiscent of Mozart. It's a fitting end for a composer that brought the opera to space and beyond.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Extra! Extra!

The 48th Grammy Nominees were announced today. To view the full listing of nominations, please use the following link:

The award show will take place on February 8, 2006 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA and broadcasted by CBS.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dinosaur Jr. @ Metro (11/30/2005)

Ok, I don't get it. I honestly for the life of me do not get it. This review is going to be rather different from what readers are normally used to when checking out my work. But I wouldn't be a good rock critic if I wasn't completely upfront about my feelings towards a record or a concert. In the case of Wednesday night's Dinosaur Jr. show at Metro, I must come clean and say I missed the memo that explained why this group was hailed as an important band from the 90s alternative era of music.

Metro held an e-mail promotion for those that subscribe to their newsletter where they offered the first 50 responses two tickets for either Tuesday or Wednesday night's show. To my recollection, the shows were not sold-out. I entered the contest thinking it might be a decent time. I would have a better time dealing with the show knowing I got in for free than knowing I wasted $30 that I could have put towards gas for the car or tickets to ride Metra to work. My girlfriend had expressed an interest in seeing the show in the first place but she knew I wasn't impressed by the band when I glanced at them at this summer's Lollapalooza. I thought that if I won I would take her and let her enjoy the show even though I wouldn't be the most excited person in the crowd to be there. Well, sure enough, I received an e-mail on Wednesday afternoon congratulating me for winning 2 tickets for that evening's show.

Now, my only memory of Dinosaur Jr. was probably when I was either 13 or 14. MTV--when it actually played videos-- used to have this Dinosaur Jr. video on heavy rotation where J Mascis (singer/guitarist) was riding around in a golf cart. That's it. That's what I walked into Metro with in the back of my mind about this band. I decided I would review the show having a pretty open mind about the band and that my opinions would be that of a first time listener. Sure, I didn't think much of them at Lollapalooza, but I'm willing to give a band a second chance (I did it with the Secret Machines and came to love them). Opening the show were Magik Markers and local band The Ponys. Liz (my girlfriend) and I saw The Ponys as part of this past Hideout Block Party. Both of us really liked what we saw and heard. So, we looked forward to seeing them again.

The Magik Markers certainly removed all of the connotation surrounding the word magic with their 18 minute set of feedback. I would actually be doing The White Stripes a disservice by comparing Magik Markers to them. Think of Jack and Meg White reversed in their musical roles and sounding like they came straight out of the worst mental ward you can imagine. Jaw dropping? You bet. It was so horrendous that someone in the crowd wrote a large sign and placed it on the stage, not too far from where the drummer was, well, drumming (the fact he needed to adjust the microphone on one of the drum heads seemed rather feeble in the big picture). The sign read, "PLAY A DAMN SONG ALREADY! SIGNED: YOUR MOM."

The Ponys sort of came and went. I don't think The Ponys at their best could have rescued the crowd from what we all just experienced. They put on a good show, but it didn't hit me quite as hard as when I saw them at the Hideout.

Then came Dinosaur Jr. in the original lineup. Mascis had this massive amplifier setup that reminded me of Pete Townshend's setup in The Who when he used to play with 3 full stacks of Hiwatts. I used to think there's no such thing as too much volume. I stand corrected. The opening song was this mess of drums, bass, and guitar. Somewhere in all that was some singing, but I couldn't tell. I understood the female singer of Magik Markers mumbling, "Bull shit! Bull shit!' more than I did Mascis' vocals. The bassist, Lou Barlow, drowned out Mascis entirely. Lucky us, Liz and I were positioned in front of Barlow and his PA system. After the first song, I turned to Liz and said, "We'll leave before the encore." There were some in the crowd that pleaded with Barlow to lower his amplifier volume. He laughed and said, "Stand over there," pointing to Mascis' side of the stage. I wanted to try and give this show a chance, but after six songs enough was enough. Liz also felt the same way as I did about making our early departure.

What wasn't I hearing that the guy playing air drums heard? Was I missing something? Would ear plugs have made the show better for me? Did I not catch the right beat to let loose? What was it?

Somewhere, someone must have said to Mascis, "The Pixies are cashing in. You should, too." Some doors should just never be reopened. All I saw on that stage was a troll of an old man, an aging Cousin It, with a fancy guitar effects panel and big amplifiers. What J Mascis was on stage was everything Paul Weller did not ever want to happen to him as the frontman of The Jam at the height of their success: a sad, old man trying to play rock music to a bunch of teenagers and 20-somethings.

The only thing that salvaged the night was the spectacular meter parking found in front of a McDonald's on Clark St. just 2 blocks from Metro. You know it's a bad concert when at the end of the night you're at your happiest for finding street parking around Wrigley Field prior to entering Metro. J Mascis, you and I weren't meant to be when I was 13, and it just wasn't meant to be when I was 24. Farewell...

Extra! Extra!

The December issue of Chicago Innerview is now available on-line.

I contributed a write-up on The Black Keys. The article may be found on the following page: