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Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

13 Feb


After the release of their highly successful album and groundbreaking album Siamese Dream, the Smashing Pumpkins were on a roll musically, and decided that rehashing the same album wouldn’t cut it, and decided to expand their sound even more. Not only would the album feature a wider array of styles, but would be a monster sized double album with 28 tracks. After another string of hits, this album became another commercial success, being awarded with the Diamond Certification of 10 million copies shipped. Though technically it really only sold 5 million, as the RIAA counts both discs individually, a bit unfair. The success of this album gave us some more songs that are considered not only classic Smashing Pumpkins songs, but also considered classic rock, with some songs still considered radio staples. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “1979”, and “Tonight Tonight” are still heard on today’s radio.

Even though Mellon Collie is a solid album with many great songs, it does have the problem many double albums have. It’s really long. With 28 tracks and two hours worth of music, to sit through its entirety is definitely reserved for someone who either has the patience, or for really long car rides. So it’s best that one listens to each disc separately. The album does have a focus on having a wide arrange of styles, and you can tell just by listening to the first three tracks that this album shows diversity. The first track, the title track, is a solo piano instrumental, then moves into the “Tonight Tonight” which features a string orchestra, and Jellybelly is an alternative metal track. There are a few songs that are psychedelic and dreamy, reminiscent of their Siamese Dream era, so coming from Siamese Dream, it won’t scare you away. There are also a couple songs that have aspects of electronic rock seeping in, with electronic drums, but the one that really shows the electronic aspect is their famous hit 1979.

Even though the album does focus on a variety of sounds, a good portion of the album does tend to fall under the typical 90’s style heavy alternative rock/alternative metal. Thanks to these types of songs, it causes the confusion for others that make them think the Pumpkins are a grunge band, especially with the Bullet With Butterfly Wings having the similar dynamic changes like Nirvana. Also with these songs, it does add some stability to the album, as sometimes having too much diversity can detract listeners, and feel either disjointed, or chaotic. It definitely tries to find a balance between being a heavily disjointed album, and from having all the songs sound too similar, as that can also be a drag for listeners.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is definitely a monstrous album, and is definitely not short-changed in content. With its diversity, there is guarantee to find a track that will appeal to you. Though with its 28 songs and two hour run time, listening to its entirety is definitely not for the feint of heart.

rating 5/5

Sad Day for Puppets – Pale Silver & Shiny Gold

11 Nov

Sad Day for Puppets is a female fronted Swedish Indie quintet whose sound is based around the mixture of Indie rock and Shoegaze; with some songs leaning more towards one side or the other. Some have even labeled the band as part of the Nu Gaze movement, which is a Shoegaze revival movement, but whether or not it should be considered a separate genre is likely for debate. Released in 2010, this is their sophomore effort.

Unlike some other Shoegaze bands, Sad Day for Puppets don’t bury the vocals under the miasma of fuzz, so vocalist Anna Elkund can be heard very clearly.  Even though they’re a Swedish band, all of their songs are in English, so there’s no language barrier to break through. Also Elkund’s accent is a little thick, but the lyrics are fairly easy to understand. Also many of the songs have more of a traditional pop song structure, with a lot of focus on melody. So unlike some of their contemporaries, their songs get to the point. They skip out on noisy instrumental sections and many times stick to the simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge structures. So their songs aren’t exactly as chaotic as My Bloody Valentine, or Astrobrite. Closest to chaos might be their song “Such a Waste.”

Despite the gloomy looking album cover, the overall feeling of the album feels pretty bright and musically upbeat, but the lyrics at times may not be exactly happy. The songs have a variety of dynamics and sounds, so they differ from some of the more traditional shoegaze bands by not focusing on max fuzz in all of their songs. The song “Beads” consists of just vocals and a fingerpicked guitar with some keyboards and woodwinds for atmosphere, and “First Time” consists a slightly distorted guitar with atmospheric sounds. Some of their fuzz focused songs aren’t so fuzzed out, so you can easily hear the guitar melodies within it. So it adds a bit more to the soundscape instead of just focusing on a wall of sound on every single song.

Sad Day for Puppets may not be as “pure” of a sound that other Shoegaze bands, and would serve as a great band to introduce someone into the genre, but that’s not to say they’re a bad band. Their sound of pop melodies mixed with noisy fuzz guitar with Elkund’s vocals are a nice addition to anyone’s library, especially for someone looking for some more female lead music. Though at 37 minutes and at 10 tracks, this might be a bit too short for some people’s likings, but it is also missing any filler material, so consider that a plus.

You can stream the album for free off of their Bandcamp page:

Rating: 5/5

The Replacements – All Shook Down

7 Nov

Just by looking at the cover, All Shook Down looks a bit dreary and it’s easy to see why. It’s the final album from The Replacements, and the cover seems to fit the mood of a band on its last legs. Especially considering that this was actually supposed to be vocalist Paul Westerberg’s first solo album. With its numerous session musicians with only a few tracks featuring the full band, it seems to lack the energy of most of their previous albums. While it lacks infamous anthems like “Left of the Dial”, “Unsatisfied”, and “Here Comes a Regular”, that’s not to say it doesn’t have solid tracks.

Paul Westerberg was more or less a voice of a generation for many college rock fans, and even inspired much of the boom in alternative rock in the 90’s, it seems that along with his audience, Westerberg was growing up. As a 30 year old man, it seems like he knew he was getting too old, and probably too tired to be singing about adolescent angst. This is pretty evident as their albums were progressively getting more mellowed out, almost like he shook out much of the anger he’s had before.

Despite being one of their more mellow albums, it still features typical Westerberg lyrical tropes, like his heart on a sleeve feelings that are largely self depreciating, and misfits trying to find a place Most of the tracks are very acoustic guitar driven, with roughly 3 out of the 4 tracks without them are fully electric with the other one being a piano driven track, with its appropriately titled “the Last”, with its multiple meanings, and strategically being placed as the last track on the last Replacements album. Even the lyrics can almost be interpreted towards being about the listener, especially with the final line: “It’s gotta last for always” is a great final nail in the coffin for a band with such a large legacy.

While definitely not as ambitious or as memorable as albums like Let it Be or Tim, it’s definitely a decent album. So while it won’t cater to fans of their rougher, it does cater to those who are fans of adult alternative rock. With bands like The Wallflowers, and Train, especially with the latter drawing influence from Westerberg’s music. Though in shear honesty, it’s not their best album, but it’s definitely not their worst.

rating 4/5

Weezer – Maladroit

21 Sep

Maladroit is sort of a forgotten album among Weezer fans, everyone talks about the Blue Album and Pinkerton and a few rungs down you’ll hear praise for the Green Album and most critics would then consider anything past those three as a lost cause.  Most people talk about their distaste for Make Believe, Red Album, and Hurley. Anything afterwards is at the point where people stopped keeping up with Weezer, but nobody talks about Maladroit. It seems most people go from Green Album and skip straight to Make Believe, it’s like everyone seems to have forgotten this album. But is this album worth listening to if people have forgotten it?

Maladroit has a bit of a hybrid sound when compared to some of their other albums, it’s sort of like a progression from the Green Album and mixes it with some aspects of the previous albums. It has the poppier aspects of Green, and mixes it with the edge and agression of Pinkerton and Blue. With the hybrid sound between “new” (at the time) and old Weezer, it throws in some of the heaviest riffs of their career. Even the guitars are thicker and crunchier compared to the previous releases.

Musically there’s plenty of fun guitar work, while there’s still a bit of simple three or four powerchord wank like of their typical style, but they have some interesting guitar lines and some pretty good solos. It does seem that there’s lots of overdubbing in the songs to give either the riffs a thicker sound, or a bigger bite to the solos. Lyrically it may not be fantastic, but Weezer lyrics were usually not anything many people would write about, so unless you’re a lyric snob, you shouldn’t be too worried about the lyrical quality of the album.

The biggest letdown of the album is the running time, at barely over half an hour with 13 tracks, and the longest song is 3:09, you can feel a bit disappointed and wanting more out of a few songs, wishing they were a bit longer. So with some songs feeling a bit underdeveloped, the album is still a very solid listening and is probably one of the most underrated aspects in the Weezer catalog and a must listen for a Weezer fan who wants more to Weezer than the first 3 albums.

Grungie’s rating 4/5

(∆) Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

1 Aug


Alt-J is a British Indie quartet named after the Mac command ∆ and this is their debut full length album. Heralded by many critics as the next Radiohead, An Awesome Wave is a very eclectic album, albeit quirky at times.

An Awesome Wave at its base is an electronic rock album that blends in aspects of folk and psychedelic rock and sung with vocalist Joe Newman’s nasal voice. They follow a standard guitar, drums, keyboard aspect, but their unique sound is incorporated by having some of the songs missing either the bassline, and/or the bass drum. The band claims this sound came about from practicing in their university dorms, and the bass would have been too much of a disturbance. That is not to say that the bass is missing from the entire album. Some songs like Fitzpleasure has a thick synthesized bassline that overpowers the rest of the mix, while Tessellate features your standard bass guitar lines.

Despite having a standard band setup, there’s a wide variety of sounds that go into play. While a lot of the diversity in the various sounds is largely done through they keyboardist, if you watch some of the live performances, it shows that he isn’t the entire backbone of the band. For a band that’s an odd mixture of electronic rock, it features some guitar playing that isn’t really standard for the genre, this is where the folk rock aspect comes into play. There’s a large bit of twang involved in some of the guitar playing, and much of the guitar work is fingerpicked. The second guitarist is incorporated in quite interesting ways when it’s present in the songs. The second guitarist is largely there to add more texture to the songs to add more diversity with what they keyboards are already doing. This is all played magnificently over the drums which play some very interesting beats which can at times make you think is a drum machine, but if you see it live, it’s all done with your standard drum set.

I think the first thing people will tend to notice about Alt-J is the quirkyness of the vocals. Some of the songs just feature Newman’s voice  just being a nasal pitch which some might find unappealing. Then there’s a few scenes in the songs where the other members join in with singing with strange vocal chants likes “please don’t go please don’t go, I love you so I love you so” in Breezeblocks and the “tralalala” opening in Fitzpleasure, or the acapella interlude, leaves some listeners scratching their heads wondering what the hell they’re listening to. This is also one of the few times you’ll hear a sniff used strategically in a song.

Lyrically, this is not the album’s strongpoint, but as you stroll through the album, you’ll realize that the lyrics aren’t the actual focus of the song and are really there to add texture to the mix. If you tried to decipher the lyrics, you’ll be wondering why they’re singing about triangles being their favorite shape. There will also be times where you won’t even know what the singer is saying.

For many, An Awesome Wave is going to be an album where people leave loving the album, or one of those where you’ll be wondering what the hell you just heard and feeling that there was something that you just didn’t get.

Grungie’s rating 5/5