Archive for the time capsules Category

Time Capsules 2008: the Inevitable Best Albums of the Year List Thingy

Posted in music, time capsules, top 10 lists on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later. Here’s the best of 2008:

THE BEST
The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely

THE RUNNER UPS (OR IS IT RUNNERS UP?)
Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash
Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creations Dark

THE BEST EP OF THE YEAR
One Day as a Lion – One Day as a Lion

THE REMAINING TOP 20
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig! Lazarus Dig!
Felice Brothers – Felice Brothers
My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis – Two Guys With the Blues
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Metallica – Death Magnetic
The Roots – Rising Down
Beck – Modern Guilt
KRS-One – Maximum Strength
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cardinology
Nas – the untitled album formerly known as Nigger
TV on the Radio – Dear Science
Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
Black Keys – Attack and Release
Mike Doughty – Golden Delicious
Bob Mould – District Line
Old 97s – Blame It on Gravity
Dr. Dog – Fate

THE ONE THAT DESERVES ITS OWN CATEGORY
Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs

THE BEST REMASTER/REISSUES
The Replacements – Tim and Pleased to Meet Me
U2 – Boy
Whiskeytown – Strangers Alamanac

THE ’07 ALBUMS PLAYED A LOT IN ’08 AS NEW TO ME
Public Enemy how you sell soul to soulless people who sold their soul
Magnolia Electric Company (Sojourner box… and all their stuff)
Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch
Radiohead – In Rainbows
They Might Be Giants – Here Come the ABC’s


As always (if possible), don’t buy any of this stuff at BestBuy, Target or on Amazon. Support your local independent record store (while it still exists) and buy from them.

Time Capsule 2005: Another Side of the "New Dylans"

Posted in music, time capsules on Saturday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later. The following review was written in 2005:

With the release of 2005’s first handful of great records, four of America’s finest singer/songwriters have offered us yet another study of the duality of each of these recording artists: Beck, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, and Ryan Adams. While all four have at different times (and to various degrees) been cursed with the “new Dylan” label, one of the things they all really have in common is a refusal to be pinned down and labeled again. Perhaps by subconsciously taking a page from Dylan’s book, they’ve each managed to explore their own duality as a means of throwing us curves and proving that sometimes following a muse means making lots of left turns.

Beck has been almost deliberate in presenting his two sides. His albums alternate between his funky playful mix-tape collages and his more somber acoustic folk material. After his wildly eclectic debut Mellow Gold spawned the unlikely hit “Loser” and offered an original mix of both of Beck’s sonic personas, he re-released some earlier recordings: the first a noisey experimental affair, and the second a stripped-down song-oriented set. In 1996 he released what would prove to be his signature recording: Odelay, a masterpiece collaboration with producers the Dust Brothers. True to form, he would then get all somber/acoustic on us with Mutations (1998) before returning to the neon lights and party vibes of Midnite Vultures (1999) and then back to introspection and heartbreak with 2002’s Sea Change. Critics loved it, hailing Sea Change for its mature songwriting and lush sound. But close to a decade after Mellow Gold and Odelay, critics and fans alike wondered if Beck would ever put all of his styles back together again.

Bright Eyes, the “band” that serves as creative vehicle for singer/songwriter Conor Oberst, became a critical and cult success with the release of Lifted, or The Story’s in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground in 2002. With sprawling narratives, stunning/clever/rambling lyrics, and musical diversions that ranged from the stark to the symphonic, Lifted was at times as bloated and pretentious as its title. But it was also brilliant, earning the then-22-year-old Oberst the unenviable and predictably clichéd titles bestowed by the label-happy media of the new century: “alt-folk boy genius of the emo generation.” Yet another “this generation’s Bob Dylan.” Recording since his first demo at age 12, this protégé from Omaha, Nebraska could’ve awoken in the aftermath of such success in danger of crumbling under the weight of the lofty expectations, his own prolific output, or both.

Bruce Springsteen, the veteran hall-of-famer and most rich and famous of this grouping, has been showing us both of his sides for more than 30 years. Signed as an acoustic singer/songwriter and perhaps the first in the long line of New Dylan’s, he shook the comparisons with his wall-of-sound rock classic “Born to Run,” and epic stories like “Jungleland” and “Thunder Road.” He also established himself among rock’s greatest live acts, building his reputation with marathon concerts. His dualities really started surfacing in the 1980’s. After having a hit with “Hungry Heart,” he took a chance and released a brutally stark acoustic album, Nebraska, that was essentially home demos. This was followed by the multi-platinum juggernaut Born in the USA that spawned 7 Top Ten singles and made Springsteen a pop superstar. So, he really started throwing some curves: the quiet Tunnel of Love examined self doubt and his failed first marriage; the arrival of the 1990’s signaled the end of the E Street Band as Bruce simultaneously released Lucky Town and Human Touch in 1992 with a new batch of studio musicians; 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad found him back in solo/acoustic mode; after releasing a boxed set of previously unreleased material and a greatest hits disc, he reunited the E Streeters for a tour and then a full-band album The Rising. So, 30 years after Born to Run, “Epic Springsteen, The Boss of Live Rock’n’Roll,” is still battling “Joe Everyman, Acoustic Troubadour of the Dark Lonesome Highway” for creative control. Which Bruce would show up in 2005?

Asking which one will show up has been one of the few constants in the career of Ryan Adams. Would it be the heartbroken country singer with the golden voice or the bratty self-absorbed rocker, so drunk that he breaks his wrist falling off the stage? A detailed look at some of his solo work can be found HERE, but, like the artists mentioned above, Adams has an acute duality that’s evident in his work: the acoustic Heartbreaker, followed by the more upbeat folk-rock of Gold, followed by Demolition, a diverse collection of unreleased tracks and demos. Then the lush and mellow mopey songs of Love is Hell, released concurrently with the disposable guitar-rock of Rock’n’Roll. Despite a few shortcomings, everyone agrees that Adams is an amazingly talented songwriter, perhaps too prolific for his own good. So, like in the case of Beck, people wondered if Ryan could stop messing around and put it all together.

As the sun rose on 2005, all four of these guys were readying new releases. On January 25th, Bright Eyes showed up first, releasing two separate albums at once, just as Springsteen and Adams had once done. That’s always a tough trick to pull off. Bright Eyes succeeds, mostly because the albums, both lyrically driven, are very different in sound and instrumentation. He had originally considered splitting the ambitious Lifted into two separate releases, and by doing so with these new albums, he shows us the stark contrast of his two sides. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn lays a cold and modern electronic foundation for Oberst’s whiny wails (not unlike the Cure’s Robert Smith) and deathly meditations. It’s a solid yet unspectacular effort, but the real gem is it’s acoustic-based companion, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. This terrific set of folk tunes won’t help Bright Eyes escape the Dylan comparisons, but it does cement his growing legend as one America’s great young songwriters and recording artists. Wide Awake is just a simple and purely great album, highly recommended along with Lifted.

In March, Beck returned with Guero. The Dust Brothers are back at the production controls, and, at first listen, Guero sounds like Beck has once again followed a gloomy, mellow release with another funkfest. But further spins reveal a well-crafted and deeper album than the throwaway party hits of Midnite Vultures. It’s not quite a true return to his peak form of Odelay, but more like a mature effort that proves Beck can unify his folksinger/songwriter self with his more outgoing mix-tape party host alter-ego.

A month later, Bruce Springsteen left the bombastic Bossman bandleader at home as his solo storyteller incarnation returned with a fine new CD, Devils & Dust. This mostly acoustic 12-tune set alternates between folk ditties, somber narratives, and a couple of formulaic upbeat rockers. Springsteen’s songwriting is in fine form, as his ability to craft stories and characters benefits from Brendan O’Brien’s production and more instrumentation and melody than the quiet, often-droning Tom Joad release. Devils & Dust, while embracing the twangy folk and country sounds of violin and steel guitar mixed with his own effective acoustic guitar work, also finds Springsteen exploring some uncharted territory of his vocal abilities as he employs a high falsetto on a few tracks. By meshing his quiet acoustic sound with some light and catchy rock tunes, Bruce is finding a potent middle ground where his two personas merge into one, or at least cross paths with great results.

Finally, in early May, Ryan Adams released the first of a reported three new albums slated for 2005: Cold Roses, with his band The Cardinals. Wow. This is the one that his fans have been waiting for: a finely crafted double album combining the subtly stellar songwriting of Heartbreaker with the full-band sound and accessibility of Gold. Adams and his band cruise through the 18 tracks as the acoustic, electric, and lap-steel guitars spiral up, intertwine, and cascade down as if they were conjured up by Jerry Garcia himself. The lyrics and titles, complete with references to roses, magnolias, friends, “stranger’s angels,” Cumberland, sweet illusions, and dancing all night, are more reminders of the Grateful Dead. But this is no boring set of trippy instrumental noodlings. There are some great, great songs here.

Packaged like a miniature gatefold LP, this folk-rock throwback features two Ryan trademarks: clever word play (“Let me go, I’m only letting you down” and “Telling me to take it easy but I took a photograph”) and occasional wrist-slitting depression (“I aint afraid of hurt, I’ve had so much it feels just like normal to me now”). But while 2003 found Adams a bit brooding on Love is Hell and full of self-aware mockery on Rock’n’Roll, 2005’s Cold Roses smells of the sweet fulfillment of a great talent who’s finally letting his terrific songs speak for themselves.

———————–

As always (if possible), don’t buy these albums at BestBuy, Target or on Amazon. Support your local independent record store (while it still exists) and buy from them.

Time Capsules: the first half of 2008

Posted in music, time capsules, top 10 lists on Friday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later.

From the first half of 2008…

THE BEST:
Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash

The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely

Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creations Dark

Nas – the untitled album formerly known as Nigger

THE REST:
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig! Lazarus Dig!
Felice Brothers – Felice Brothers
My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
Vampire Wekend – Vampire Weekend
Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis – Two Guys With the Blues
Countin Crows – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Old 97s – Blame It on Gravity
Mike Doughty – Golden Delicious
The Roots – Rising Down
Beck – Modern Guilt
Girl Talk – Feed the Animals

THE JURY’S STILL OUT:
Black Crowes – Warpaint
Portishead – Third

Some 2007 albums getting lots of play for me as “new”
Public Enemy how you sell soul to a soulless people who sold their soul
Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch

Time Capsule 2003: Rock Is Hell

Posted in music, time capsules on Monday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later. The following review was written in 2003:


For those of you just joining Ryan Adams’ career, let me bring you up to speed. Hopefully the longtime faithful fans will forgive me while I try to quickly put him and his music into a neat little box.

Of course that will be difficult. As a young teenager in North Carolina, Adams traded in his skateboard for a guitar and started playing in punk bands. He would eventually migrate from his punk rock roots and form Whiskeytown, the critically acclaimed but commercially unsung band at the forefront of the alt-country movement of the mid-to-late 1990’s.

His first solo release, 1999’s Heartbreaker, was received as a stunning and influential debut. One critic called it “the greatest break-up album since Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.” Elton John called Heartbreaker the most inspiring record he’d heard in decades, and even went so far as dedicating his next album to Ryan Adams for “making me want to do better.”

That led to a major label record deal with Universal’s Lost Highway and a reputation as a talented and prolific young songwriter. (His live shows and New York City lifestyle also brought on being labeled as a self-indulgent brat who enjoyed the excesses of alcohol and drugs.)

With 2001’s Gold, he had a minor hit with “New York, New York,” along with a simple but eerie video shot less than a week before the September 11 attacks featuring Adams strumming and singing the tune with the towers still visible in the background.

He was writing and recording at a pace way ahead of the music industry standard of only releasing albums every couple of years. He allegedly recorded four albums’ worth of material within a year after releasing Gold. Some of the songs were released in 2002 on Demolition, which was essentially an uneven sampling of some of his many demos. While Demolition has its flaws, it just underlined the fact that this guy’s trash contained lots of treasure.

So Adams put together a new album he was proud of, Love Is Hell. Well, his label Lost Highway rejected it. They said it was too dark. With Adams’ history for writing gut-wrenching tales of heartache, what did they expect? Were they hoping for bubble gum dance pop?

When this sort of thing happens, the label is almost always missing the boat. See (or hear) Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Aimee Man’s Bachelor No. 2 for proof.

In a recent interview with the London Times, Adams called the tunes on Love Is Hell “death threats to myself.” He went on to explain:

“It’s a very damaged, very excessive record, the sound of someone in trouble and not dealing with it and going out of their head. Something like Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night.”

After the rejection, a frustrated Adams says, “I was so angry, I quit. I thought I’d reached the most honest I could be about my feelings on Love Is Hell. It was totally naked. And it was rejected. I put my guitars away and said to hell with it.”

Well, Adams eventually got his guitars back out again. The result is Rock N Roll, the “official” new album. It’s upbeat, guitar-driven material with a modern retro feel, if that’s possible. The label is apparently happy, and, perhaps in a compromise with Adams, they’re releasing Love Is Hell as two EP’s. Part 1 was released simultaneously with Rock N Roll, with Part 2 following a month later. Of course, the label will put all its marketing and promotion behind Rock N Roll, while not even sending advance copies of Love Is Hell to the media.

What a shame. While it’s too early to deem Love Is Hell a masterpiece, it is a finely-crafted and well-produced collection of songs; a deep and introspective journey. Sure, it’s dark. This ain’t a party record, that’s for sure. But it offers a glimpse of the depth and quality that everyone suspected this singer-songwriter to be capable of.

Rock N Roll is the party record. It sounds like Adams approached this album with an attitude of, “You want some upbeat material to capitalize on the any-retro-guitar-band-as-savior-of-rock trend? Here you go…”

It’s almost like he’s showing off. Here’s a guy who, with Love Is Hell, proves he can write gloomy alternative pop good enough to stand next to the likes of Radiohead or dare-I-say Coldplay. When the label rejects it, he turns around and gives them a trendy rock record full of more hooks than a bait shop. It seems the only thing he can’t do is sound like Dr. Dre or look like Britney Spears.

If Love Is Hell is a beautifully sad painting, Rock N Roll is a cartoon. In other words, Rock N Roll is candy to Love Is Hell’s filet mignon. They both taste good, but they’re very different. One might break your heart while the other will rot your teeth.

The irony here is that, stripped down to the core, the songs on these records aren’t that different. They sound drastically different, but the lyrics on Rock N Roll still have dark moments sprinkled amid the light-hearted tongue-in-cheek vibe. He just dressed them up like an 80’s cover band being driven around by Morrissey with the Strokes Is This It CD on repeat. One thing both albums have in common is Adams’ great voice. Sometimes he sounds as smooth and syrupy as a country crooner, and other times he’s as raspy as an ashtray shared by Kurt Cobain and Paul Westerberg.

In the end, Love Is Hell is a truly great album and Rock N Roll really isn’t. It’s good, but I think time will be much kinder to Love Is Hell. (LIH is being re-issued on one disc. Too bad the label couldn’t have just done that from the beginning and promoted it.)

Adams advises, “If you want to have fun, go buy Rock N Roll. If you want to hear something extreme that’s coming from a really interesting place, and is all about suicide and ghosts and flirting with death, then go buy Love Is Hell.”

———————–

As always (if possible), don’t buy Love Is Hell or Rock N Roll at BestBuy, Target or on Amazon. Support your local independent record store (while it still exists) and buy from them.

Music Time Capsule: 2004

Posted in music, time capsules on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later.

PJ HARVEY: Uh-Huh Her
Grinding, grungy, urgent, immediate, personal, raw, catchy, folky, punky, mature, frivolous, yearning, cathartic, confrontational, sensual, and empowering. Find all of this and PJ playing the majority of the instruments herself and singing, howling, whispering, shrieking, and grunting her way through a disc-full of great, great songs.

WILCO: A Ghost is Born
Sounds like Jeff Tweedy riding Neil Young’s Crazy Horse down Abbey Road. One of America’s best singer/songwriters hits his stride alongside a fine band that might change members, but continues to peak. The hypnotic bounce of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Tweedy’s voice on “Hummingbird,” the way he sings “A cheap sunset on a television set can upset her,” and the chord changes underneath are just so sweet. The pure heartache of “The type of sound that floats around and then back down… Like a feather.” Probably my favorite album of 2004.

BJORK: Medulla
Once again Bjork gets weird on us, but would we want it any other way? This time out, she fills a CD with songs that are mostly a capella. Now, in this case that doesn’t mean there’s no music, just means that she created almost all of the music tracks, bass lines, and beats with voices. (There is some instrumentation, but most of the sounds are created by voices.) Medulla makes for an innovative and interesting listen, but certainly not her finest album. Funny, if she wanted to make a quick cool million, there’s no doubt she could have a major dance club hit. On almost every album she manages at least one really great one, and often buries it like a gem lost beneath all her other artistic endeavors. Still, she proves she’s got the musical intuition and creative flair of some genius/child she seems to have trapped inside of her.

GREEN DAY: American Idiot
I gotta admit, I never really liked Green Day and I don’t care for the generation of limited imitators who walk like them, dress like them, but not quite them. That said, American Idiot is a really solid record. Good political lyrics without whining or preaching. Crisp, punchy production without sounding too slick or overproduced. Riffs that rock, tracks that beg to be cranked, and some really great drumming.

KANYE WEST: The College Dropout
As much as I love hip-hop, I haven’t heard much in the last couple of years that got me too excited. But Kanye’s CD is a blast from the not-so-distant past, when a hip-hop CD could blend bangin’ beats, clever rhymes, and a few good skits (but not too many!) into an hour of fun. There was a lot of hype on Kanye in 2004. There’s good reason for it.

SONIC YOUTH: Sonic Nurse
Kim Gordon and the boys make house calls, not far from Murray Street. Another perfect mix of experimental noise rock and pop melodies.

ELVIS COSTELLO: The Delivery Man
Well, it was easy to find plenty of reviews where hip and aging rock critics turned an easy phrase and simply declared that Costello delivered again. And I guess in some fashion he did. The Delivery Man is pretty decent, but it’s getting a bit tiring that every time E.C. stops messing with show tunes and other tin pan alley rubbish he’s delved into recently, we get to read a “return to form” review. While his last rock album (When I Was Cruel) certainly lived up to that billing, The Delivery Man just proves that Costello still has enough talent to knock out a punchy rock record in his sleep. Unfortunately, sometimes it sounds as if he’s done exactly that.

LORETTA LYNN: Van Lear Rose
Okay, I’m a sucker. I never would have heard this album if I hadn’t read about the White Stripes’ Jack White producing and playing guitar on it. Call me a trendy hipster, blindly following the alt-rock critics darling Jack down a country road all the way to a Loretta Lynn album. Either way, this is a truly great album that finds Lynn’s voice as strong as ever, and the unlikely pairing of White and Lynn spawned a gritty country album that rocks.

U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
I just had to put this into the 2004 Time Capsule. According to most mainstream media, THIS was THE album of the year. Yea, the hype machine was cranked up to 11 for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big U2 fan, and I don’t usually subscribe to the all-too-easy “U2 sucks, I liked the old stuff when they were good!” approach, but this time around the promotion was better than the actual album. It sounds like a shell of an imitation of 2001’s All That You Cant Leave Behind, except without all the great melodies and decent lyrics. “Vertigo” is a pretty good tune the first 50 times you hear it, and “Love and Peace or Else” is a standout track. Once again, Edge and the band are in fine form, but too many of the songs seem a bit forced, contrived, and over-the-top with syrupy Bono-ness. Imitation isn’t flattering when you imitate yourself. Seems like maybe this is the album that should have had the phrase “Can’t Leave Behind” in the title.

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