Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ben Folds - Supersunnyspeedgraphic

This compilation brings together some of Ben Fold's best work from his EP's and tosses them all into a weird ol' salad bowl. There's really only one reason I own this album: the superb cover of The Cure's "In Between Days." Everything else is just gravy. Most of the gravy is a little lumpy, but some of it goes down smooth.

Baleeted? No. Also, a clever comment about why not.

Ben Folds - Way to Normal

Ben Folds has always been one of the smartest musicians of his generation, but this album sounds like he actually outsmarted himself.

Baleeted? No, but I won't be listening to this a whole lot, either.

Ben Folds - Songs For Silverman

The prospect of a double disc Ben Folds solo album sounds like a gift from up above. Unfortunately the reality of this album is something less than its promise. When you go double disc, you better have written at least three discs worth of material because albums are generally made more awesome by what they exclude as much if not more than they are by what they include. In listening to this album, I felt like there was one solid disc's worth of material here. All the rest could be released later as b-sides and later on a rarities compilation where the pressures of cohesiveness are not as great.

Lest I knock this thing to the point that it sounds like it has no redeeming qualities, I must point out that "Landed" is one of Ben Folds' sweetest melodies and that the heartfelt "Late" is a perfect epitaph for Elliott Smith. If this were one disc, it would be one of Folds' best, but he doubled down and it didn't quite hit the way he wanted it to.

Baleeted? No, but I am tempted to recompile this album as a single disc.

Ben Folds - Rockin' the Suburbs

This is the album where two things started happening simultaneously. 1) We all breathed a collective sigh of relief because we could all stop pretending like we cared about the other two guys in Ben Folds Five (Sorry, other two guys in the band.  If it makes you feel better, I once played bass in a band where the guy who wrote all the songs, sang them, and played lead guitar could also play the bass better than I could. The only reason I was in the band to begin with was because the main dude didn't have two extra hands. The same is true for you and Ben Folds. You just gotta know the score and deal with it). 2) Ben Folds took his already nifty knack for pop songwriting and distilled it down to its purest and most potent form.

This album has some of the best songs Ben Folds has ever written which should appeal to everyone on the planet. Seriously, I defy you to dislike "Annie Waits" "Still Fighting It" and the poignant "The Ascent of Stan." Also, I know you put "The Luckiest" on a mix for your significant other. Don't even try to deny it.

Baleeted? Nope. As a fan of great pop, I am contractually obligated to keep this album and listen to it regularly.

Ben Folds Five - The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner

While Ben Folds Five has never had a tendency to lay back in the groove, this is the album where they really went for grandiosity, which I mean in the complimentary, not the pejorative. I simply mean to say that everything on this album feels bigger. Bigger swells, bigger orchestral arrangements, bigger chords requiring more fingers than ever before (I still have to fact-check that last one, so don't quote me on it).

The one thing I don't like about this album is that it feels like Ben Folds trying to tell me that he's smarter than I am. There's no question that he actually is smarter, but I don't want to be reminded of that fact. Even so, there are a number of very good tunes. I especially like "Don't Change Your Plans," which feels like a Bacharach song.

Baleeted? No, but on an unrelated note, the cover art for this album makes me anxious for some reason.

Ben Folds Five - Whatever and Ever Amen

This album is jaunty and timeless. Oh, and it has an all-time megahit that despite whatever you tell yourself, it is actually about abortion.

The 90's was a time when albums met controversy for a number of ridiculous reasons (stores wanted to boycott Goo Goo Dolls' Boy Named Goo because the naked boy on the cover standing in front of a grape vine with grape smears all over his face looked like a cannibal to the insane people who protest such things. In short, Goo Goo Dolls want your children to eat people. It's in their music and everything) but "Brick" had a legitimate reason for controversy. 40 years have passed since Roe v. Wade and abortion is still one of the most divisive topics available. People actually vote for soulless morons because they agree with their stance on abortion. I'm telling you this because people can't stop loving "Brick" even if they don't agree with its content at the very core of their being. It's that good of a song.

There are other songs on this album as well. They are all amazing. On the expanded version there is a cover of "She Don't Use Jelly" that I actually prefer to the Flaming Lips original. Ben Folds is amazing. The two other guys in the five aren't bad either.

Baleeted? No. Not until I really nail down my complex feelings surrounding "Brick."

Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds Five

Before "Brick" and the album surrounding it became one of the biggest and most controversial hits of the 90's, Ben Folds Five was already up and running, doing precisely what they have always done. The band's debut album shows that they have always had a metric ton of talent and a heaping buttload of vision. They pretty much were who they wanted to be from the word "go." Of course when I talk about the band, I'm mostly talking about the guy the band is named after who eventually went solo and kept doing what he does despite the lack of two other permanent members of the band. So yeah, any and all compliments for Ben Folds Five apply equally and retroactively to Ben Folds himself. I'm sure he'd want it that way.

Anyway, while you could point to at least a half dozen other famous piano rockers from the 1970's, the same could not be said for the 1990's. Ben Folds didn't have any company in the piano rocking department until that guy from Something Corporate came along, but he's not even technically in the same genre, so I don't know why I even mention him. Ben Folds and the other two dudes who make up the five were in a genre of their own when this platter hit the shelves in 1995. This is something unique and amazing. Every song on the album reminds the listener that Ben Folds has an uncanny grasp of his instrument as well as an equally uncanny knack for write oddly compelling pop songs. If you told someone who believes in UFO's that Ben Folds was a being from beyond the stars, they would believe it; partially because it seems a logical explanation and partially because they're a gullible whackadoodle. In summary, this album is really good and you will love it.

Oh, and big ups to me for not mentioning Todd Rundgren in this review. And no, me mentioning that I didn't mention him doesn't count as a mention. I make the rules and I don't break them, fool.

Baleeted? No, but only because I believe in UFO's. Not the flying saucer kind, but the kind with Michael Schenker. It's a bad joke, but I couldn't help myself.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love

At this point, I'd consider any Belle and Sebastian album to be gravy. Write About Love comes in the band's 14th year of existence. Very few bands hang around this long, and even fewer manage to still sound vital at this point in their careers.

While I'm more than happy to grant the band a pass, they don't need it. They have more than enough awesome to go around. They don't need my pity stars. They're still earning them. On a somewhat related note, "Calculating Bimbo" goes in ways I couldn't have predicted, even with 14 years of research into the Belle and Sebastian way of life. It's awesome and precisely the thing I was missing on The Life Pursuit.

Baleeted? No. I'm just happy that Belle and Sebastian is still going strong.

Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

The Life Pursuit is another step down the new stylistic road forged by Dear Catastrophe Waitress. When you listen to a track like "We are the Sleepyheads," it's hard to believe that this is the same band that gave us "Stars of Track and Field." There's a vibrant and zesty feel to the new Belle and Sebastian sound, and I happen to like it.

The only knock that I can lay on this album is that it's not quite as fun as Dear Catastrophe Waitress. There's no innuendo-laden "Step Into My Office, Baby" or shimmering "Wrapped Up in Books." While not quite as fun as I'd hope, The Life Pursuit is still highly enjoyable and a promising indication of where Belle and Sebastian are heading in this era of their career.

Baleeted? Nope. It's not surprising, right?

Belle and Sebastian - Books

Books is simply a victory lap for Dear Catastrophe Waitress. This is essentially a concept EP. Each song has something to do with books, including "Wrapped Up in Books," the Dear Catastrophe Waitress single around which this EP is built.

While this isn't Belle and Sebastian's best EP (I'm partial to Dog on Wheels) it does show that they had more than enough good ideas for Dear Catastrophe Waitress. This is just a sign that everything is going right, and as such is a more than welcome addition to the stellar Belle and Sebastian EP catalog.

Baleeted? As a former librarian, it would be wrong to delete this. Also, it's too good to delete.

Belle and Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Dear Catastrophe Waitress is the rebirth of Belle and Sebastian. They laid their wistful If You're Feeling Sinister ways by the wayside and sprouted new innuendo-laden slightly harder rocking wings.

The album begins with the greatest innuendo-filled track in the world (yes, it's even better than "Big Balls" by AC/DC, which takes the respectable silver medal in this category) in "Step Into My Office, Baby." I have listened to that one song more than 100 times and the jokes still haven't gotten old. It is a masterpiece of high art with low brows. This ain't your older brother's (you know the one, he was into all the right things in the mid 90's) Belle and Sebastian.

While this album is a lot more fun than Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant and The Boy With the Arab Strap (I'm thinking specifically of the allegations of homosexuality in "Piazza, New York Catcher." I still like to think that Piazza is gay, even though he denies it) it's also objectively better than those two albums. The uniformity of vision from from song to song is astonishing, which is only bolstered by the lyrical depth of each song. This is just a great album regardless of what else it means for Belle and Sebastian and their career.

Baleeted? No. Both my inner adult and my inner juvenile love this album.

Belle and Sebastian - I'm Waking Up to Us

I'm Waking Up to Us did two things simultaneously: it dispelled any myths surrounding Belle and Sebastian's ability to achieve continued musical greatness, and it set the stage for the band's sublime comeback enacted by Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

From an evolutionary standpoint, this is where Belle and Sebastian got a little louder. This isn't whispers like "Fox in the Snow," they crank the amps up to 5 and belt out "I Love My Car," which is my favorite Belle and Sebastian EP track. Seriously, go listen to "I Love My Car" right now if you haven't heard it. It's one of the most ingenious tracks in the band's catalog. While it feels like a track too short, this EP is still one of the best in the catalog of a band that takes its EP's as seriously as their LP's.

Baleeted? No. "I Love My Car" is one of my favorite things, musical or otherwise.

Belle and Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

An indie friend of mine - you might even say she's my most indie friend - told me on more than one occasion that this is her very favorite Belle and Sebastian album. If I had to guess, I would say that more than half of her delight in this album comes from the title alone. The actual music on this album is a much larger evolutionary step backward from the greatness of If You're Feeling Sinister than The Boy With the Arab Strap was.

"I Fought in a War" kicks of the album with a flourish. It's in the same realm of greatness as "Dylan in the Movies." "The Model," which follows, is almost as good as the opener, and it holds the promise of many great things to come. Unfortunately, those are the two best songs on the album, and the song which immediately follows them, "Beyond the Sunrise" is both boring and baffling. There are a few other mildly enjoyable tracks on this album, but given Belle and Sebastian's track record with awesomeness, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant feels like a disappointment.

Baleeted? No, but mainly because I like having lots of Belle and Sebastian albums.

Belle and Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap

After dabbling with a few different ideas (to great effect, I might add) on their three 1997 EP's, Belle and Sebastian returned to classic form on The Boy With the Arab Strap.

The sound of the band on this album is essentially the same as it was on Tigermilk  and if You're Feeling Sinister, but while those albums were literally filled with undeniable classics, The Boy With the Arab Strap doesn't have nearly as many great ideas. In looking at Belle and Sebastian's prolific releases from 1996 to 1998, it makes sense that they would eventually dip into the well and pull up a bucket that wasn't quite as full as it had been before. That's what this album is. It's a mostly, but not completely full bucket. It's still a delightful bucket with several good tracks, but it's not brimming with them like its predecessors were.

Baleeted? No. The bucket is full enough to keep around...and give 4.5 stars to.

Belle and Sebastian - 3...6...9 Seconds of Light

When a band releases three EP's in a single year, it seems reasonable to ask if they couldn't have just compiled them into a single album. The truth about Dog on Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane, and 3...6...9 Seconds of Light is that they are all so different that they wouldn't make a very cohesive album.

Dog on Wheels is a continuation of If You're Feeling Sinister's quiet greatness. Lazy Line Painter Jane is bizarre and delicious. 3...6...9 Second of Light feels French. So help me, "A Century of Fakers" and "Beautiful" could have been Serge Gainsbourg tunes and "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie" and "Put the Book Back on the Shelf" could have been written by Jacques Brel. The whole lot of them could have later been translated and arranged for Scott Walker to sing. Anyway, you don't take beautiful, bizarre, and French and try to mash them together into a single album. You let them stay in EP form where they do the most good.

Baleeted? No, not according to my magic 8-ball....and my taste in music.

Belle and Sebastian - Lazy Line Painter Jane

Lazy Line Painter Jane is the second of three EP's Belle and Sebastian released in 1997, which is almost impressive as the two transcendent albums they released in 1996.

Lazy Line Painter Jane breaks a bit from the Belle and Sebastian sound you hear on If You're Feeling Sinister. The opening chords of the title track sound like something The Raveonettes would have concocted early in their career, and the vocals sound like Neko Case's New Pornographers performances. If anything, Lazy Line Painter Jane shows that Belle and Sebastian have the power to do just about anything they want. The title track is surprisingly delicious, and "A Century of Elvis" is deliciously bizarre in all its spoken word glory. I really like this EP and all it's reverb.

Baleeted? My sources say no.

Belle and Sebastian - Dog on Wheels

When you look at Belle and Sebastian's LP and EP output, it becomes clear that they don't sit on good ideas for very long. If they have something worth hearing, they put it out. That's pretty much how they became one of the greatest indie bands ever.

Dog on Wheels is a fine example of how Belle and Sebastian's EP output is almost as vital and important to own as their LP output. The real gem of this album is "Belle and Sebastian" which, in addition to being a very fine tune, does precisely what "They Might Be Giants" did for They Might Be Giants. It's not a theme song for the band, but it's as close as you'll come.

Baleeted? The box says no. Also, that's a Homestar/Futurama mashup.

Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister

While Tigermilk is a nice slice of quiet indie pop, If You're Feeling Sinister cranks the amps from 1 down to .5. Listen to the album opener "Stars of Track and Field" and you'll hear music so quietly beautiful that you'd swear Stuart Murdoch was trying to whisper a secret in your ear.

If You're Feeling Sinister is my all-time favorite Belle and Sebastian album, and I don't think it will ever be topped. It's just laden with great songs. "Stars of Track and Field" "Like Dylan in the Movies" "Fox in the Snow" "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" "If You're Feeling Sinister" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses" are all among my all-time favorite Belle and Sebastian tracks. If it weren't for "Step Into My Office, Baby" you could just call these tracks numbers 1 through 6 of my favorite Belle and Sebastian songs. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that more than half of this album is transcendent, and the rest of it is merely very very ridiculously good. This is one of the greatest indie albums of all-time and if you don't own it I just feel sorry for you and your sub-par life.

Baleeted? No. This is a desert island kinda disc.

Belle and Sebastian - Tigermilk

Belle and Sebastian have been consistently awesome over the course of their career. This being the case, there's really only one way to figure out which part of their career an album falls in: the loudness. When Belle and Sebastian first kicked things off, they were part of the "quiet is the new loud" indie aesthetic. Actually, they were and have been the best at this kind of indie. Their only real competition for the crown has been Damien Rice and Iron & Wine, both of which came along 6 and 7 years after this album. So yeah, let's just say that Belle and Sebastian rocked it quietly in their early years and did so better than anyone else (yes, even better than Kings of Convenience, who named an album Quiet is the New Loud).

Tigermilk is Belle and Sebastian's debut album, which is evident in Stuart Murdoch's near-whisper vocals. The best thing about this album is the fact that the band hit the ground running. Everything you know and love about Belle and Sebastian is here. There are finely-honed tunes with meticulous arrangements (seriously, every instrument, harmony, and lyric works to form a cohesive and perfectly-blended whole. Not a strand is out of place on this album) and an almost Wes Andersonian balance, with no single element overshadowing any other. Hearing a band to come out of nowhere with this kind of vision and execution is both remarkable and commendable.

Baleeted? No.

First 10 - 2000 A.D.

I have been told by a number of people that I should never judge Judge Dredd by his poor imitations on film, but rather by his sublime appearances in the long-running British comic 2000 A.D. What I expected to find in reading this comic was something akin to Flash Comics where there would be one shimmering Flash story surrounded by less-inspired stories about less interesting heroes. What I found here was something entirely different.

2000 A.D. is a sci-fi lover's dream. It features several different stories, nearly all of which have a great deal of value and provide a high level of entertainment. The only exception is Harlem Heroes, which follows the lives of athletes who play the ridiculous game of aeroball, which is like quidditch with jet packs. Aside from that one boring and ridiculous story, everything else is awesome. I especially loved Invasion, which follows one man who dares to stand up for his freedom after the Volgans (a nondescript invading force which is equal parts Russian, German, and Chinese) take over Britain. Judge Dredd is simply the icing on the cake. I love the idea of judges who act as policeman, judge, jury, and executioner in order to simplify the process of capturing and/or killing baddies. I love everything about it. It's certainly better in comic book form than it has ever been or ever will be on film.

In addition to its sci-fi appeal (The comic tickles the part of my brain that loves MST3K, which is not to say that it's kitschy. It's simply to say that it's sci-fi from the era when the space race was still alive and the possibilities for science fiction were nearly limitless) the comic features honest-to-goodness violence. You'll see Savage shoot dudes in the face with blood spurting everywhere. You'll see dinosaurs bite guys in half. You'll see Judge Dredd causing all kinds of blood-spilling mayhem. It's great. It's not gratuitous or over-the-top, it's just the sort of thing the Comics Code Authority would never have allowed in the United States at the time. There isn't blood on every page, but there is blood where there needs to be blood, which is all you could ever want. In the first 10 issues of 2000 A.D., the only thing I didn't like was Harlem Heroes. 9 out of 10 ain't bad. As a matter of fact, it's pretty amazing. Everything else in this comic is so good, I can't wait to devour it. Here's where it falls in the First 10 standings:

  • Batman
  • Amazing Spider-Man
  • Fantastic Four
  • Silver Age Green Lantern
  • 2000 A.D.
  • Deadpool
  • The Flash
  • Booster Gold
  • Daredevil
  • The Punisher
  • Golden Age Green Lantern
  • The Avengers
  • Ghost Rider
  • The Defenders
  • Captain America
  • Excalibur
  • Golden Age Captain America
  • Golden Age Blue Beetle
  • Doctor Strange
  • Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics)
  • Aquaman
  • First 10 - Flash Comics

    Here's a question I ask myself when I'm doing these First 10 reviews, "Why do you separate the  eras for some series, but not for others?" When it comes to The Flash, I don't intend to do a separate review of the Wally West Flash. Why not? It mainly has to do with how I intend to read the comic. For the Green Lantern comics, I would want to read the Alan Scott and Hal Jordan eras separately because I know I would get anxious for the Hal Jordan years if I just started with Alan Scott. For The Flash, I would actually want to start with Jay Garrick and read all the way through Barry Allen and Wally West. There's a method to my madness, but it's not very organized and is mainly subject to my slightest whims and nothing else whatsoever.

    Anyway, I really enjoy Golden Age comics when they're well done, and The Flash is very well done in his Jay Garrick form. I don't really care for most of the other series in these issues (most of them feature non-powered tough guys who don't do too many things of interest) so after the first couple, I just started reading the stories that feature The Flash. While they were just as exciting and innovating as any of the other Golden Age series which have survived to the present day, there were a few things that made me roll my eyes a bit, like the fact that Jay Garrick is constantly spinning like a top to hide his identity while interrogating baddies. Wouldn't they be at least aware of the Tasmanian devil-ish tornado in the room? It makes sense that they wouldn't recognize the person in the blur, which seems to be the whole point of spinning, but you would definitely see the blur, right? Anyway, I'm sure that oversight is cleared up in later issues.

    I have a soft spot for the speedsters of the comic book world (which is part of the reason I don't want to just dive into the modern characters who have been called The Flash without taking time to appreciate the man who came before them all). I always wished Quicksilver (or speedsters in general) had a bigger role in the Marvel Universe, and I loved the crisis (I forget which one, but it might be Infinite Crisis) which brought multiple Flashes together to run on a treadmill in order to save the multiverse. I just love the idea of superhuman speed as a power. I knew I would enjoy this comic before I even bit into it. That said, as I do more First 10's, it gets harder to put things as close to the top as I'd like. There are just so many great series and so little time, which I guess is the point. Here's where The Flash falls:

    1. Batman
    2. Amazing Spider-Man
    3. Fantastic Four
    4. Silver Age Green Lantern
    5. Deadpool
    6. The Flash
    7. Booster Gold
    8. Daredevil
    9. The Punisher
    10. Golden Age Green Lantern
    11. The Avengers
    12. Ghost Rider
    13. The Defenders
    14. Captain America
    15. Excalibur
    16. Golden Age Captain America
    17. Golden Age Blue Beetle
    18. Doctor Strange
    19. Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics)
    20. Aquaman

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Video of the Moment - "End of the Planet" by Adventures of Jet

    Adventures of Jet is one of my favorite "why isn't anyone else as crazy about this band as I am?" bands. This is one of their best songs. Listen to it and fall in love with a great band that existed for all-too-short a time.