Archive | April, 2013

Operation Space Opera – Songs From the Black Hole

21 Apr

Free Download at Operation Space Opera’s Bandcamp

Operation Space Opera is the name of the project a group of Weezer fans decided to record after years of speculation of how the long lost Weezer album would sound. Songs From the Black Hole originally supposed to be Weezer’s second album after their self titled debut, but was later scrapped and was transformed into the cult favorite Pinkerton. The album was supposed to be a space rock opera with all the songs flowing seamlessly together. There are several demos of the unfinished album floating around. There are a few songs from it in Pinkerton, some have also become B-sides from Pinkerton, and the rest in Rivers Cuomo’s Alone recordings. Operation Space Opera has taken these demos and fully recorded them with their own vocals and this is what has become of it.

Now for the review of Operation Space Opera’s work. Since this is an amateur group, some aspects should be taken with a grain of salt, and even though it’s easy to find comparisons with Weezer, they do a fairly decent job with this album, and the results are quite satisfactory. Production-wise, it was very well done, it doesn’t sound like a poorly recorded album in their basement, and in many aspects, are better recording quality than some of the demos that Cuomo has released. They even faithfully have the songs flow into each other for the “authentic” feel of how it’s supposed to be. Vocal wise, it’s a bit lacking in some places, but they are amateurs and this is a fan project, so I won’t be too harsh on them. They sound like they were in their school choir, but at least it was tolerable. What made this different than the compilations of the Weezer versions of these same songs floating around the internet, they have different vocalists singing the different characters, whereas the Weezer versions are all sung by Rivers (except for one song).

The quality of the songs are very well. There are a few songs that those who have listened to Pinkerton would recognize, since they were intentionally supposed to be on this album. For the “new” songs, I’ll discuss those when I do a review of the Weezer version, so stay tuned for those.

So those who are impatient and are really looking forward to Songs From the Black Hole and are either unsure of which of the multiple tracklistings of the demos floating around the internet, or just want to hear a good Weezer cover album, this gets the job done.

Grungie’s rating: 4/5

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Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

20 Apr

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Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album came out of nowhere in 2008. But once it hit, it hit. Musically there are few albums that are more appropriate for summer listening. Obviously influenced by reggae and afrobeat, the forces that propel this album into bouts of joy are instinctual. The drums imported from Mandela’s homeland are effectively simple and fitting. Rather than force the tempo, they let it flow along like a tumbleweed gently rolling along with the direction of the majority. The tone of the guitars is similarly soothing and agreeable. But the subtlety of the keyboards is what benefits the music most to the attentive listener. There is enough sound to be original and interesting, with enough space and restraint to not drive people away. You have the freedom to turn it off.

The lyrics are vividly descriptive and discuss northeastern and worldly points of interest. As an uncultured person who has grown up in mid-south-west USA, I have no idea what the fuck the implications are of these sites. As a result, they can come off as pretentious and cultured to the point of annoyance. But then again, I’m not convinced that they would mean anything to the cultured listener either. In spite of the inability to relate, the lyrics are still incredibly fun. They are delivered in such an original fast-paced manner that I don’t even care that I don’t get them. They are so well crafted and detailed. In “Campus,” the best all around track on the album, singer Ezra Koenig uses the line “Spilled kefir on your keffiyah” which only makes sense thanks to Google. Such odd references make the album interesting, even if they are in the long run meaningless.

The only real downer on the album is “I Stand Corrected” which has a boring melody in comparison with the others. I am also concerned about their disdain for the oxford comma. The boys are well-read and look as preppy as they sound. The music is great for late-afternoon summer spins in your Yacht off the shores of Cape Cod. It’s also good for a spin in your ears throughout the summer regardless of location. Pretentious? Maybe. Lyrically meaningless? Ask The Ramones. Joyous and enjoyable with off-the-charts replay value? Lil’ Jon says yes, and he always tells the truth.

bbbrad’s rating: 4/5

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

20 Apr

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John Darnielle can be summed up as a songwriter in one word: prolific. Transcendental Youth marks his tenth full-length album as The Mountain Goats since the 2000s, with four others prior to the new millennium. He’s come a long way from the days of recording tunes via boom box, acting as the definition of lo-fi, and the extent of his growth has only recently come to notable fruition.

Admittedly, I have always preferred his lo-fi work. In fact, I could not get myself to enjoy his produced, full-band work simply because I associated John Darnielle with the romanticized imagery of a singular lone-ranger type with only an acoustic guitar in arms. It’s not that he stopped making good music, only that I could not cleanse myself of that bias and listen to his newer releases objectively.

But now, thanks to Transcendental Youth, I can say good riddance to that bias, a testament to the greatness of this work. When “Cry for Judas” was released, I listened to it expecting to think in accordance with that bias. Instead, I found myself tapping my foot and wholly enjoying the experience. The song features glorious horns, harmonies, and a booming chorus. All of these things would prove to be prominent throughout the album, particularly on the beautiful harmonic horns in “White Cedar,” a song with sensitivity unexpected from Darnielle. Often times, the upbeat jazzy music juxtaposes the dark lyrics, which only makes it all the more interesting.

For those who are bigger fans of the older, less poppy, and more solitary Darnielle, don’t worry. “Spent Gladiator 2” and “Harlem Roulette” both offer tunes typical of his straightforward, acoustic method. However, it should be noted that these tracks lack the vitality of the catchier and more developed songs on the album. They are good in their own right, but in the context of the album, from a purely aural standpoint, they aren’t lively enough to keep up with some of the others.

One area with no room for doubt when it comes to The Mountain Goats is the lyrics. To quote humorist and friend of Darnielle, John Hodgman: “Transcendental Youth is full of songs about people who madly, stupidly, blessedly won’t stop surviving, no matter who gives up on them.” Death and conflict do not plague the album; instead, Darnielle gives hope and optimism through the narratives. It is not new territory for Darnielle. The album opens with, “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1,” which forms the foundation of its themes. Darnielle pleads “Just stay alive,” at all costs, in a refrain that carries the album on its back and then is heard on the sequential “Spent Gladiator 2,” some 25 minutes later. The abundance of underdog stories and individualism invites the memory of great classics such as “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton,” a song with status that may one day be achieved by one of the tracks on this album.

With Transcendental Youth, growth proves exponential. Previously, especially on the earlier lo-fi Mountain Goats albums, the lyrics acted as the muscle that balanced out the simple chord strums. The dense lyrics carried the music which often contributed to the aesthetic of lo-fi recording. Now with significantly better resources, Darnielle had to step up his game as the creative force of The Mountain Goats. In many spots on the album, lyrical depth and bright musicianship find a way to coexist. He has stepped up his game and created a two-dimensional aural force. In doing so, he acts as the prime example for the title and themes of the album. In spite of his growing age, he found a way to remain youthful and live.

bbbrad’s rating: 4/5

Tommy Stinson – Village Gorilla Head

19 Apr

Who is Tommy Stinson you ask? Well I’ll tell you, for those who don’t know him, Tommy Stinson is currently the bassist for the Axel Rose Project current Guns N Roses lineup and played bass on the album Chinese Democracy. Though people would be more familiar with him as the bassist of 80’s alternative rock revolutionaries, The Replacements. After The Replacements called it quits, Stinson started and fronted two bands: Perfect and Bash & Pop, but they sadly crash and burned after one album, it seems like Stinson has decided to go solo.

You won’t really hear much GnR influence in this album, you’ll hear some of Stinson’s other influences like the Rolling Stones. The sound differs between the 80’s-90’s college rock scene that Stinson stayed in until joining GnR and some standard pop-rock. Though Stinson does a decent job with his first solo album, many of the songs don’t really hit you on the head saying “hey, this is a damn good song”, though don’t get me wrong, it’s a fairly decent album. Some of the highlights would be the ballad “Light of Day” and “Someday”. With the song “Light of Day” many people would automatically try and draw similarities to fellow Replacement, Paul Westerberg’s famous ballads like “Here Comes a Regular”. Sadly there are also very forgettable tunes like “Couldn’t Wait” and the okay “Ok”.

Luckily Stinson steps up his game for his second solo album One Man Mutiny, which is a very solid album, but with Village Gorilla Head, you can see that Stinson at least learned from this album and brought its strengths to his next effort.

Grungie’s rating: 3/5

The Strokes – Is This It

18 Apr

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The word is consistency. When Is This It was released by The Strokes in the wake of the 21st century, it paved the way for the movement of alternative and garage rock revival bands to enter the mainstream, with some assistance from The White Stripes. The popularization of modern alternative rock music owes its gratitude to The Strokes. The album contains a certain flair reminiscent of in-your-face rock outfits from the past, and it’s no shock that the band members were influenced by vintage art-rock legends The Velvet Underground. Lyrically, the influence of Lou Reed is there from the beginning track, which sets the tone of sexual antics to come. Julian Casablancas’ distinct monotonic drawl is the post-millennium rock equivalent of Jim Morrison, if the Lizard King gave less of a fuck. Often inaudible, his voice compliments the raw, yet catchy guitar work throughout the album.

The album is hardly anything revolutionary or awe-inspiring, however it fuses catchy melodies with to-the-point rock instrumentation. But they don’t let the prominence of their influences detract from their own artistry. From the syrupy title track which opens the album, to the buildup to the chorus of “Hard to Explain,” to the fitting exclamation on the closer “Take It or Leave It,” there are no stray hairs on the album. Listening to it is effortless. Is This It’s greatest achievement is it’s ability to convey a straightforward and carefree attitude. They aren’t hiding anything. Many bands couldn’t release this album without it feeling contrived and void of authenticity. Then again, many bands are not The Strokes. Criticize them and they’ll simply finish lacing up their Chuck Taylor‘s and take a few puffs from their cigarettes. The message is clear. It’s punk for those who like pop; The Strokes don’t give a damn. And in a world of try-hards, not giving a damn is pretty cool.

bbbrad’s rating: 5/5