Album Review: Eminem – Recovery

June 19, 2010

I suspect every review of Eminem’s new album, Recovery, will rightfully open with these words: Guess who’s back?

After three straight masterpieces and some excellent contributions to the soundtrack of his movie 8 Mile, Eminem tanked on Encore and Relapse. He’s far too talented for those albums to have been completely worthless, but they were a pale shadow of his previous accomplishments. Exhibit A that something was wrong: Not only did he think “Ass Like That” was worth recording, he thought it was a worthy single.

He knows he let us down: “Them last two albums didn’t count. Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing ‘em out.”

Clean, sober, and determined to get his groove back, Eminem gets so back to basics that Recovery is more stripped down than his major-label debut, The Slip Shady LP. Gone are the stupid skits (the bane of far too many rap albums) and even the traditional album closer first line, “A lot of people ask me…” Recovery is all music, no gimmicks.

And fine music it is. While Recovery doesn’t quite reach the heights of the holy trinity of The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, and The Eminem Show, it comes damn close. The one bit of filler, the lame sex rap “Seduction,” is almost necessary to give the listener a chance to catch his breath before a furious second half that opens with an absolutely menacing cameo by Lil Wayne on “No Love” and never lets up for a second.

Along the way, Eminem notches what will probably be the single of the year, “Love the Way You Lie,” where an aching chorus from Rihanna (not content with only having 2007’s single of the year, apparently) anchors a wonderfully-strummed guitar bed for Marshall’s heartbroken rhymes. It’s a tremendous song, and it will seal his comeback the moment it hits radio.

Shady’s back. Tell a friend.

Eminem – “Not Afraid”

Eminem (with Rihanna) – “Love the Way You Lie”


Album Review: Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

February 25, 2010

The debut album of Florida band Surfer Blood absolutely rocks my shit.  There, it’s been said.  If you don’t wanna hang around for the rest of this review, that’s probably for the best, and unless you suffer from poor reading comprehension skills, that first sentence tells you that you should have immediately abandoned this review after reading said sentence, knocking over your crusty computer chair in a mad dash to grab your car keys and fly to your nearest record store to purchase Astro Coast.  Barring that, if you are one of them digital-type persons, you should have at least furiously aggravated your carpal tunnel in the rush to download this album from your nearest legal purveyor of digital music.  Seriously, are you still reading this?  Go on, you can come back later to have your feelings validated about how kick ass of a record this is.  Don’t worry, I’ll be here.

Oh, back so soon?  Well, at this point, you may have given this record one or two spins, and maybe you’re thinking, “That Jason guy from the computer is wack!  This album has yet to change my life in any profound manner.  What a dick!”  Well, stick with it, friend.  I myself had to give this record several spins before I realized what a jewel I had on my hands, and it took me even longer to realize just what Surfer Blood had created:  a perfect pastiche of all of the good things that have happened in indie rock since the late 80’s.

With every spin of Astro Coast, I hear a new glorious influence from some titan of indie rock.  Here’s a list of influences that I have spotted so far:  Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Built To Spill, the Shins, early Weezer, the Pixies, Vampire Weekend (although Surfer Blood derives their influence from the Tropicalia sound moreso than West African rhythms), Modest Mouse, Sonic Youth, Secaucus-era Wrens, Fugazi, etc.  Oh yeah, and throw a little Beach Boys in there, too.  If that list looks as awesome to you as it does to me, then please purchase this record.  Personally, it almost seems to me like someone interviewed me about what my favorite indie rock bands were, and then they proceeded to make an album based on those suggestions.

In addition to the bands mentioned above, Surfer Blood shares a lot sonically with now defunct Austin band Sound Team.  But while Sound Team were criticized (most notably by Pitchfork) for being pretentious, there is not an ounce of pretension to be found on Astro Coast.  This is guitar pop, pure and simple, and there is a simple little lead guitar run at the end of late album track “Anchorage” that summarizes everything I love about this album and good indie rock in general.  Put it on, nod your head, and have a blast with this great new album.

Surfer Blood – “Twin Peaks”

Surfer Blood – “Swim”


Hova’s Back

February 23, 2010

On Jay-Z’s latest album The Blueprint 3, the once and future king of hip-hop elevates bravado to an art-form not seen since his Black Album.  After Hov announced his retirement in 2002, he released two more albums that made you wish he really had quit the game.  It was confusing to say the least.  After clawing his way from being an unknown to being the president of Def-Jam records in ten years time, he left us after delivering the best rap album in a decade.  It’s not exactly a new schtick in rap music.  Too Short used to announce his retirement on every album.  The two albums Jigga released after The Black Album sold well but did not garner much chart success with Kingdom Come’s “Show Me What Your Working With” the only top ten single on either album.  American Gangster, released in 2007, fared even worse on the Billboard Hot 100 with no singles charting above number 55.

With sales already in excess of 1.6 million albums The Bluprint 3 put Jay-Z back on top.  Its third single, “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys earned the rapper his only number 1 hit.  “Run This Town” with the ubiquitous Rihanna made it to number 2, but it’s the first single, “D.O.A. (The Death of Autotune)” that made this writer yell “Oh snap!”  The song brings to mind great battle raps like Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” or “I’m Bad” by L.L. Cool J all set on top of brilliant production from No I.D.  The mix of trumpet and electric guitar gives the track a smooth yet edgy sound. He admonishes other rappers to “grow a set” and says the way to prove your street cred is to simply, “get violent”.  That sentiment appears to be at odds with his assertion on “What We Talkin About” that “Ain’t nothin cool about carrying a strap”.  But this is rap music, not a dissertation.  That’s one of the best things about hip-hop:  It doesn’t have to be a seamless world-view. It can be jumbled and contradictory just like its predecessor Rock and Roll.  Example:  the self-proclaimed hater of auto-tune uses an auto-tuner on “Hater” later on the album.

“On to the Next One” and “Off That” are interchangeable, theme-wise. Namely:  Jay-Z is a trend-setter.  What do you expect from the only MC that does yoga?  In “On to the Next One” he proclaims, “Used to rock a throw-back, ballin on the corner, Now I rock a Teller suit, lookin like an owner.”  This song is good but I was hoping against hope that it would be some kind of insane collaboration with The Foo Fighters. (See “All My Life” from FF’s 2002 album One By One) “Off That” continues in the “I’m so avant-garde” vein.  Jay’s awe-inspiring ego is on full display on this one as he reveals that he’s “so tomorrow they order mines on yesterday”.  He even takes a second to get political on “Off That”:

“This ain’t black vs white, my n***a we off that
Please tell Bill O’Reilly to fall back
Tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my balls
This 2010 not 1864”

Once again:  “O snap!”

The Blueprint 3 isn’t all machismo though.  The obligatory, One For The Ladies type song is usually a throw-away on rap albums.  Not this time.  “Venus vs Mars” is one of the best tracks on the album.  Jay discovers the yin to his yang and even likens he, and his fictitious paramour to James and Florida Evans.  But the thing that makes this song great isn’t all the nice “she’s the Bonnie to my Clyde” type of statements; it’s the last verse that really makes this song special.  That’s where the listener figures out that this is a break-up song!  That’s right boys and girls, even mega-rich, music industry moguls get their hearts broken.  The Florida and James comparisons turn to Shaq and Kobe in the final stanza with Hova lamenting that the girl took his “whole flavor, I call her Coke Zero” and even comparing her to Bernie Madoff.  Ah the longing, ah the bitterness.  It’s good to know that Jay-Z is just like you and me. Except baller as hell.

The last stand-out track is one of the six on the album produced by Kanye West.  “Young Forever” finds Jay-Z rapping over Alphaville’s 1984 pop hit “Forever Young”.  On one hand Jay is at his most philosophic on this, the fifth single from The Blueprint 3.  He is a man coming to terms with his own mortality.  He stresses remembering the good times and wistfully wishes that life could be like a rap video with pretty girls and champagne all the time.  On the other hand, this is Jay-Z.  He ain’t trying to be too damn sad.  He also infuses this cut with some thoughts on his figurative immortality.

“i’ll be alive for a million years, bye bye,
so not for legends, I’m forever young
my name shall survive”

There are a couple of tracks on the record that are throw-aways (“A Star Is Born”, “Already Home”, “So Ambitious”) but if you’re into hip-hop, rejoice.  The king is back.  Hell, even if you aren’t into hip-hop, give this one a try.   In the end it’s a return-to-form for the rapper who brought the term “Flow” back to the vernacular.  Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is about Hova that makes him so great.  It even puzzles the man himself.  He asks in “D.O.A”, “I’m a multi-millionaire, so how is it I’m still the hardest n***a here?”  Good question, Sean.


Broken Bells

February 21, 2010

Jay Mercer front-man and lyricist for “the Shins” teams up with Danger Mouse of “Gnarls Barkley” for an blah blah blah(just listen to the song). I was able to get my hands on the album which will be released on March 9th of 2010 and it is excellent. Mercer, in my opinion, is one of the best lyricist around. His epically sweet and self-deprecating lyrics inspire sympathy and awe simultaneously such as these lines from “Pink Bullet” off 2003’s Chutes too Narrow: “since then it’s been a book, you read in reverse, so understand less as the pages turn, or a movie so crass, and awkwardly cast, that even I could have been the star”. I could pretty much quote the entire album as it was all I listened to for the entire year of 2004. Here’s a little taste. Let me know what YOU think it sounds like.

Track 1: The High Road

Go down to wait all night
She’s bound to run him out
The rest of the nothing of any how
To each his own
The garden is sorting out
She curls her lips on a bar
I don’t know if you’re dead or not
If you’re anyone

Come on and get the minimum
Before you open up your eyes
It’s all being served in your hands
Your addled eyes
Come on and get to open yours
Collected at the borderlines
They want to get up in your hair

[Chorus]
Cause they know, so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour in your new life
Tell all of your friends getting warm

The dogs who ran all night
The son who hoped it would
Break from the warfare in your house
To each his own
The soldier is bailing out
And curled his lips on a bar
And I don’t know if the dead can talk
To anyone

Come on and get the minimum
Before you open up your eyes
It’s all being served in your hands
Are you one of us
Come on and get to open yours
Collected at the borderlines
They want to get up in your hair

[Chorus]
cause they know, so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour in your new life
Tell all of your friends getting warm

It’s too late to change your mind
You let laws be your guide
(repeat)

Track 2: Vaporize

What amounts to a dream anymore?
A crude device; A veil on our eyes
A simple plan we’d be different from the rest
And never resign to a typical life

Common fears start to multiply
We realize we’re paralyzed
Where’d it go, All that precious time?
Did we even try to stem the tide?

Why should we waste it on
Buying into the same old lies?
The longer we wait around
The faster the years go by

It’s not too late
To feel a little more alive
Make an escape
Before we start to vaporize

Doubtless, we’ve been through this
So if you want to follow me you should know
I was lost then and I am lost now
And I doubt I’ll ever know which way to go


The Hotrats cover (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)

February 20, 2010

I just picked up “The Hotrats” aka “Supergrass” album Turn Ons featuring all covers. Unfortunately, I was expecting some Zappa given their nome de plum, alas, not this time. However, I do dig their version of “The Crystal Ship”.

Here’s the track list.

  1. “I Can’t Stand It” (Lou Reed) – 2:40
  2. “Big Sky” (Ray Davies) – 3:00
  3. The Crystal Ship“(Jim Morrison/Ray Manzarek/John Densmore/Robby Krieger) – 2:34
  4. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” (Adam Horovitz/Adam Yauch/Michael Diamond/Rick Rubin) – 2:41
  5. “Damaged Goods” (Dave Allen/Hugo Burnham/Andy Gill/Jon King) – 3:07
  6. Love Is the Drug” (Bryan Ferry/Andrew Mackay) – 3:42
  7. Bike” (Syd Barrett) – 2:42
  8. Pump It Up” (Declan MacManus) – 2:41
  9. The Lovecats“(Robert Smith) – 3:03
  10. Queen Bitch” (David Bowie) – 3:02
    • Originally recorded by David Bowie
  11. “E.M.I.” (Steve Jones/Paul Cook/Glen Matlock/John Lydon) – 3:24
  12. Up The Junction” (Chris Difford/Glenn Tilbrook) – 3:21

Album Review: Black Kids — Partie Traumatic

December 17, 2009

black kids

The above image was Pitchfork’s review of the Black Kids’ debut, Partie Traumatic.

That about sums it up.

The second side of Partie Traumatic is entirely comprised of songs with “I” or “me” in the title. It’s a narcissistic suite, which is appropriate, because the Black Kids think they’re the shit.

That’s just one reason why this album is so supremely irritating. The Black Kids are obviously talented, but their Robert Smith and Jarvis Cocker meet Disco Stu schtick gets old in a hurry. “Listen to your body tonight / it’s going to treat you right.” Good Lord. Hipster hell.

On the occasions when the Black Kids get serious (“I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again)”) the results aren’t bad, but those songs sound out of place and are overwhelmed by more propulsive numbers with crappier lyrics.

So that’s what you get with Partie Traumatic–respectable Pulp impersonations surrounded by overly self-conscious tunes that are too cute by at least half. Their eyelids must be sore from all that winking.

As I said, the Black Kids are talented. There are folks out there who will really enjoy this album; I’m just not one of them. I suppose there’s the possibility that they could develop into a good band, but I suspect their case of hip may be terminal.

Black Kids – “I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You”

Black Kids – “Hurricane Jane”


Album Review: the Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

September 24, 2009

I’ve always told people that I wanted to start a band that mixed Bluegrass and Punk Rock.  Most people looked at me like I was crazy, but now one band has made sense out of the idea.

For those that haven’t heard the Avett Brothers, they combine bluegrass and country instrumentation with a punk-ethos to form their own style of music.  They have a simple live setup, consisting of four band members rotating through acoustic guitar, banjo, piano, a hodgepodge of drums, violin, and cello.  Overall, the music lands somewhere in between the Band, Old Crow Medicine Show, and early Ryan Adams.

Now, I’m not usually the type of person to buy in to hype.  I’ve even been known to drop a band once they “make it big”.  With the Avett Brothers, it’s a little bit different for me.  I only recently discovered them after an article in Paste magazine caught my attention.

The band’s story of small town roots, insanely devoted work ethic (and subsequently insanely devoted fans), and an indifference to major label success really hit home with me.  But then again, isn’t that every good band’s story?

So after a month or so, I stumbled across the single “I and Love and You and was immediately hooked.  I went out and got their 2007 release, Emotionalism and I’ve honestly not been able to keep the Avett’s out of my rotation since.  The songs are extremely well crafted, in terms of melody, lyrics, and musicianship… which is a deadly combination.  Mainly dealing with relationships, heartbreak, and “the road”, nearly every song on Emotionalism has the kind of lyrics you immediately relate to and a hook that you wake up singing.

But that was Emotionalism, and now comes their major label debut, I and Love and You.

Working with producer Rick Rubin, the Avett Brothers latched onto the emotional side of their hybrid bluegrass/ punk style and added a TON of instrumentation.  Relying heavily on the piano, songs like “Kick Drum Heart” are more indie-pop than country or bluegrass.  Still, other songs like “Ten Thousand Words” are hook-laden back road anthems.  The best track on the record (in my opinion), is the ballad “Laundry Room”, reminiscent of Wiskeytown’s Pneumonia, but somehow morphs into a hoedown.  Another part of the music that Rubin was able to bring out is the use of harmonies between brothers Seth and Scott Avett, as evident on the title track and first single.

So, long story short, I and Love and You is extremely addicting record, and probably won’t leave my playlist for a while.  I also broke down and bought an $85 single day pass to the Austin City Limits Festival next Friday just to see their set.

The album comes out next Tuesday, but you can stream it now at NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112973444


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