Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Stevie Wonder - Fulfillingness' First Finale

Released in 1974, Fulfillingness' First Finale was the 20th album from Stevie Wonder. Smack dab in the center of Stevie's "Classic" funk era he released this album right after another classic, Innervisions.

While the sound is a more mellow than his previous effort, this album continues to show Wonder's ability to write, arrange and sing his songs like only he can. Songs like Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away and Boogie On Reggae Woman show a real diversity throughout the album that other artists just weren't able to do at the time. I've never really felt stifled and bored listening to Stevie Wonder's music, as opposed to other albums released around this period by artists like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Stevie Wonder has always been a soulful kind of guy, with a great pop edge, and Fulfillingness' First Finale is just another essential album from Stevie Wonder. It went to #1 when it was released, and it still sounds great.

Caribou - Andorra

Caribou is the stage name of musician Daniel Victor Snaith. His latest album Andorra reminds me of Of Montreal. I think it's important to get that out of the way as soon as possible. Their style is very similar, lots of synthesized songs that sound almost like dance songs with overwhelming lyrics and tons of production.

I don't want to sound too harsh, considering I do really like this album. But I suppose I just am not that into this new style of indie music that groups like Caribou and Animal Collective are creating. It's almost comparable to trance music, with endless loops of droney patterns and loops. I thought the song Niobe in particular would never end.

But to truly LOVE an album like this would require a lot of listening, and maybe even seeing the artist perform live. Considering I have done neither of these things I can only respectfully say I think this album could be better. The album shows a great deal of work and is very beautiful, especially the song Sandy, but I felt a little disappointed after listening to it several times, almost like something was missing.

While I don't know if I will ever know what is missing from this album, maybe you will. Andorra is a great CD for the right audience, that part is clear. It is definitely worth a listen and you should find out if it is right for you.

Belle And Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister

I'm always a little bit nervous to write a review of an album that a lot of people feel very passionate about. I'm almost afraid of the backlash that a negative review could earn me. But fortunately, I love this album just as much as all the other Belle and Sebastian fanatics.

Released in 1996, If You're Feeling Sinister is the second album from the Scottish indie pop legends Belle and Sebastian. The sounds heard within are often confusing and beautiful. I say confusing because their music often sounds very out of place. Almost like its from another period of time, somewhere between Simon and Garfunkel and The Smiths, with all the pop aesthetics of the great bands in between. Belle and Sebastian have a huge bag of influences and their second album shows that diversity and merges it into their songs perfectly.

Another thing I love about this album, is just how cute it is. Every song is written about something most of us can relate to, and that sentimentality is what has won over so many fans and critics alike.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this album. I'd suggest that you go buy it, but I bet you already own it. Why not go put it back in the record player for old times sake?

Cursive - The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ is my favorite album by Cursive. Coming from Nebraska, and the same area as the over-emo group Bright Eyes, Cursive released the Ugly Organ in 2003 on Saddle Creek Records. While remaining essentially the same (sound-wise) as their previous album, The Ugly Organ had one huge improvement to their sound for this album, the addition of Gretta Cohn on Cello. Gretta is a brilliant cello player, and her cello lines really make the album for me. They really got a lot of definition at that point as the indie rock band with the cello.

But I digress, The Ugly Organ is basically a concept album about "The Ugly Organist" and his lonely existence. It's also a pretty solid album. I love the tracks Art Is Hard, The Recluse and Driftwood. Considering that I hated Cursive when I first heard them, I have come a long way to be able to say, I really do like them a lot.

I still hate Bright Eyes though. Sorry.

Cursive - Domestica

Domestica is the 3rd album from indie rock band Cursive. In my opinion this album is where they really hit their stride. Domestica is a concept album with a string of great songs that really work together. Tim Kasher, the group's lead singer sounds really great on all of these songs, and it is a very high energy album that I like to listen to whenever I want to think about relationship troubles.

My only real complaint about this album is that I heard it after The Ugly Organ, so the sound just feels sort of empty to me without that cello. I really wish they had found that cello from day one and kept it. For me, Cursive will always have a cello. At least in my heart.

Gorillaz - Demon Days

Demon Days is the second studio album from the fictitious band Gorillaz. However, behind the characters that represent Gorillaz the creators of the band Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett have been hard at work making the follow up to their successful self titled debut.

The album itself doesn't stray very far from the first album musically, with lots of hip hop beats driven by thumping bass lines and generally catchy lyrics. It really is a fool proof schematic that has propelled the Gorillaz world wide. They have even started performing live with a series of musicians standing for the animated members and with the cartoons on a screen behind the live musicians. Perhaps not a first, but its always awesome to see something like that.

After a short introduction to the album, Demon Days offers the tremendously catchy Last Living Souls. The song is a good example of what the band will offer throughout the whole album: lots of drum beats and catchy lyrics. However, this particular song has one awesome build up with a collection of strings that make this one of my favorite tracks.

But it's after this first song where the album loses a lot of focus. Tracks like O Green World and Kids With Guns feel slightly meaningless in the album, and almost like filler material. Endless droning on over the same pattern just really makes me feel bored. And the song Dirty Harry, despite being a minor single from the album fails to garner any interest either. The song suffers from the same endless musical pattern that just becomes torturous to listen to. However, if you can make it to the rap section in the second half of the song this track really does pick up.

The big hit from the album Feel Good Inc. comes on next and always makes me feel awesome. I love that bass line, and the second section of this song really adds a lot of variety to this song that most of the other songs on the album really lack. One of my absolutely favorite things about this song is the great rapping from De La Soul. He is just so good at rapping I don't know why they don't just ask him to be a permanent member of their group. But I digress, Feel Good Inc. is an awesome song and it always will be.

From here on out the album really mellows out. The track El Manana is terribly droney, but I still like to listen to it occasionally. It is very reminiscent of a Spanish style song, but it is pretty sad as well. Things continue at a slow place with Every Planet We Reach Is Dead and November Has Come. Both are driven by this rather annoying clapping and just doesn't do it for me. They both feel like more filler material to me.

Things do pick up pretty quickly though after the second half of the album. I love the songs All Alone and White Light. They both are very original tracks and try to change up their sound before things get too repetitive. I also particularly like the chant of White Light before it leads into the other big hit of the album, DARE.

DARE is an awesome dance track, with a neat video of Noodle dancing around in her room with the giant disembodied head of Shaun Ryder (of the band Happy Mondays) in her closet. It's a bit strange, but it's an awesome dance song that shockingly never gets stale, and its easy to see why it was such a big hit all over. Even my dad liked it!

But after that song, the album is really done for me. The rest of the songs, Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head, Don't Get Lost In Heaven and the title track are too long, drawn out and just plain boring. I just don't like listening to them. Which is a shame to end an album in such a predictable way.

So while Demon Days at certain points is an awesome album, too many of the songs are just plain boring and drawn out. For such a successful band I really feel like they should be trying harder to write more creative music that will challenge their wide fan base. I really hope to see better song writing on their next album and hopefully more upbeat songs like Feel Good Inc.

God I love that song.

Blink 182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket

Before anyone says "Blink 182 are lame! Why on Earth would you want to review them?", just let me say I never really liked Blink 182 when I was younger when they were still on MTV and the radio. I really only started listening to them after they broke up and they were no longer grounds to get made fun of.

That being said, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket is my favorite Blink 182 album, and although it was never as successful as their previous album, Enema of the State, I feel like this album has a lot more to offer fans and non listeners alike. I've always liked Travis Barker's drumming, even when he was with the Aquabats and the vocal chemistry between guitarist and bassist Tom Delonge and Mark Hoppus is undeniable. This album is unmistakably a pop album with all the hooks and sing alongs to prove it. All the songs on this album are really good quality songs running the gamut from hilarious to utterly bummed out, and I've always had a thing for songs that are more sad than I am. It gives me a teeny bit of hope.

Anyway, I'm sure my review of this album would have been massively different had I written it when it first came out. I was always very anti-emo, and my naive young self was quick to label anything with the word "love" in it emo, and this album certainly has enough of that.

I suggest you pick up this album if you're ever in the mood for a nostalgic trip back to middle school...or elementary, or where ever you were when you first heard this stuff. I love nostalgia, and I love this album too.

America - History: America's Greatest Hits

Released in 1975, this album is a compilation of America's greatest hits (at that point) and is their best selling album. And rightly so! America's albums have always been plagued by inconsistency, one incredible song and then a few filler songs that you often skipped over. But History gets rid of that problem and brings you all their essentials.

America has always been one of the best acoustic soft rock bands, and I really love hearing this album. If you do like America, fans will recognize songs like Sister Golden Hair and A Horse With No Name, but I was extremely surprised when I heard some great songs on here that I had never heard before.

After the amazing track Sister Golden Hair is a forgotten classic called Daisy Jane. It's just an incredibly beautiful song that I used to listen to when I wanted to get in a great mood and fall sleep. I even sat down at my piano one night and figured out how to play it, and in the process discovered how beautiful Major 7th chords are.

After Daisy Jane fades out the album ends properly with a disco influenced tune, Woman Tonight. This song too is a classic from the early disco/funk era with America staying true to their style while fusing with the R&B music common at the time. I also love the bass and guitar solo trade off in the middle of the song. This one is really great and worth many listens.

All in all, this album is just a great refresher course on the music of the band America and includes all of the hits, but some of their less known music really made this album for me. You should absolutely own this album.

ABBA - The Visitors

The Visitors was the last album released from the Swedish pop mega stars ABBA, and this sad fact is more than obvious when listening to this album. It seems as though the boys and girls of ABBA had nothing to be happy about. In real life their marital troubles and divorces had torn the members of ABBA apart, and although they remained productive in the studio, this final album just couldn't lift my spirits at all.

While I admit that the album is a very mature and complex work of art, its just a tragedy to hear. ABBA had lost their youth and the undeniable chemistry that their earlier work had. Both songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were writing songs that reflected the deep sadness they felt inside, and no matter how beautiful the music was that they wrote, this sentimentality was utterly inescapable.

Other than the obvious sadness of their music, by 1981 ABBA had completely saturated their music with synthesizers which dramatically changed their sound from their early days. A lot of great bands have broken up (or nearly broken up) after venturing into the world of synthesizers, one great example is Black Sabbath and their 1976 album Technical Ecstacy.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is, even though the Visitors is still a perfect pop album with beautiful, full harmonies and great songs, ABBA should never have put so many heart wrenching songs on one album. It's almost a bit painful to have to listen to such heart breaking singing from the girls of ABBA, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Their voices are absolutely perfect and the music is great accompaniment too.

This album is almost comparable to a Shakespearian tragedy when you think about the circumstances surrounding this release and the lives of the artists who made it. I'm just so glad I still have their earlier, more happy releases, but no matter how hard I try, I always end up coming back to this inevitable ending to one of the best pop bands of all time.

ABBA - Arrival

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Acid House Kings - Sing Along With Acid House Kings

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The High Llamas - Cold And Bouncy

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The Honeys - It's Like Heaven

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Sweet Diss And The Comebacks - Coulda Been Worse

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My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

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Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

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Big Star - Radio City

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Acid House Kings - The Sound Of Summer

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Acid House Kings - Mondays Are Like Tuesdays and Tuesdays Are Like Wednesdays

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