Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Doors - The Soft Parade

8/10

This is the album with the horns and strings on it, and it gets shit on a lot because of that. I can't say that the marriage between the Doors and the overblown arrangements is entirely successful, but it's a lot more interesting than the banal, dull pop songs on Waiting for the Sun, and the orchestra isn't on every track so it doesn't get too old. This orchestra doesn't try to sound like classical music or a movie soundtrack at all; the best way I can describe it is that it's used the same way that some disco songs would use strings a decade later; they're cheesy but fun as hell. At least they don't smother the actual band members completely.
Even the non-orchestral parts are unusual for the Doors, but fairly well done. "Do It" and parts of "The Soft Parade" are surprisingly funky for a rock band in 1968, and Krieger busts out the twangy slide guitar a few times (which he'd rarely relied on before). Krieger's hillbilly vocal on "Runnin' Blue" is just godawful, though- what the hell was he thinking? The title track is also pretty good, if a bit disjointed; it feels more like a bunch of songs stuck together than "The End" or "When the Music's Over". The Soft Parade may be one of the more unusual Doors albums, but it's still fairly strong.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Doors - Waiting for the Sun

5/10

I don't really like music that tries to be light and happy much. It just comes across to me as being dumb and contrived as hell. Songs like this don't make up that much of Waiting for the Sun, but they're prevalent enough that it I have to give it a relatively low rating. There's less dark weirdness than their was on the previous two albums; there are just too many stupid happy pop songs (Hello, I Love You, Love Street, Wintertime Love) and dreary ballads (Summer's Almost Gone, My Wild Love and Spanish Caravan- why yes, the later does feature some awful, cliched flamenco guitar! The second half is actually pretty good, though.)
Fortunately, the more typical dark Doors songs are really good; "The Unknown Soldier" is creepy and political at the same time, "Five to One" is deservedly the best-known song off of this album, and "Not to Touch the Earth" is a great excerpt from the 17-minute "Celebration of the Lizard" which was originally supposed to make up the second side (we'll get to a live rendition of the full version later on). Unfortunately, there's too much banal stuff here to make up for the few tracks where the Doors do what they did best.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The best Metal-Archives page

NOTE: Some of the album covers linked to in the link are very graphic, so be warned.

The Encyclopedia Metallum is a website dedicated to cataloging all metal bands, no matter how obscure. Obviously, there are a lot of pages for obscure acts that are just hilarious, and my very favorite is the page for one Bob Egler. Bob has about a dozen projects to his name, and he has not once worked with another musician, unless you count a few splits. And he's so prolific- he released nine albums under the name Chainsaw Dissection in 2005 alone! And his appearance is just the icing on the cake- I did not need to see him topless, thank you very much, and his attempt to look "black metal" in the picture for Satanic Impalement is one of the funniest things I've seen in my life. I haven't actually heard any of his music, but I've heard people compare it unfavorably to Mortician (a band which doesn't exactly have the best reputation even among extreme metal fans). Egler makes Anvil look successful beyond their wildest dreams.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Doors - Strange Days

9/10

This is just as strong as the debut, if not quite as readily accessible, because it's even darker than its predecessor; I doubt that any release by a mainstream band had been this gloomy before 1967. Even stuff like the silly effects on Morrison's voice on the titular opener and the dumb pop song "Love Me Two Times" works (the former because it fits the mood perfectly, and the latter because of Jim's ever-so-slightly detached delivery). Even the basslines are surprisingly good for a band without a full-time bassist. The only part where the debut was darker was in the lengthy final track; "When the Music's Over" is quite good but a little more repetitive and considerably lighter in tone than "The End".
The only real stinker is "Horse Latitudes," which is just a terrible poem accompanied by noise, but I can forgive this because it's only 90 seconds long and it's not like they released an entire album of Jim's shitty poetry. Still, it's the only real blemish on an extremely strong album.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Doors - The Doors

9/10

This is one of my favorite debut albums ever, right up there with In the Court of the Crimson King, The Transformed Man and the self-titled Van Halen and Black Sabbath debuts. There's so much that's been said about the Doors that it's hard to think of anything new, but I really love the lengthy solos in "Light My Fire," the somewhat goofy yet fun covers "Back Door Man" and "Alabama Song," and the opium-drenched "Crystal Ship". (At least, it reminds me of what I think taking opium would be like. My entire experience with illegal drugs consists of one party where someone brought a joint- it wasn't exactly the Algonquin Round Table).
And then there's The End, made famous by its appearance in "Apocalypse Now". I personally think it could have lost a minute or two without losing anything, but it's still wonderfully atmospheric and gloomy- when people talk about the Doors being the first "gothic rock" band, this is the song they're probably referring to. I actually prefer the censored version, though- you get the full point of the Oedipal part without the use of the word "fuck".
And yeah, "I Looked at You" is just dumb, but it's the only real clunker and it's less than two and a half minutes long.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Doors - Intro

The Doors were one of the first dedicated psychedelic bands to break into the mainstream. Everyone else goes on and on about how great Jim Morrison was, but I always thought that Ray Manzarek's keyboards were just as important. They've become a bit of a cliche through the use of their music in Apocalypse Now, but the fact of the matter is that some of their strongest material is stuff that neophytes haven't heard. Unfortunately, Morrison's tragic death led to two mostly forgettable albums without him and one absolutely horrific cash-in, but we'll get to that later.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bingo Gazingo - Bingo Gazingo

8/10

Other than the nebulous category of "outsider," I really can't think of what genre this disc falls into. Bingo Gazingo is a senior citizen spoken word/performance artist, and his lyrics are just silly (and filthy) as hell. I've heard him described as a rapper, but it's been scientifically proven that there's nothing less funny than an old person rapping, and he's pretty amusing. His rhyming is often obvious and awkward, but that's part of the charm, and even when his lyrics aren't that interesting, the words usually just go well together and are still somewhat captivating. (Then again, I've probably just listened to this album too many times.)
This is his only album, released in 1996 on the label run by freeform radio station WFMU, consists of him reciting his poetry while musicians improvised in the background. Some of the results are great; "Psycho/Psycho" is just Mr. Gazingo accompanied by a theremin and it gets things off to an awesome start, "I Love You So Fucking Much I Can't Shit" is as hilarious as its title, and the 14-minute album closer, "Bingo Gazingo's Bolero," starts out boring and repetitive, but repeats so often that it becomes almost sublime. Bingo flubs his lines a few times, but it just adds to the tossed-together atmosphere that I like so much here. "Everything's OK at the OK Corral" starts with him delivering his lines in manic manner, but as the song goes on, he slows down. It took me dozens of listens to figure out that it was about an old man in a retirement home remembering Westerns from his youth; knowing this, it's a startlingly poignant counterpoint to the goofy-but-hilarious nonsense on most of the other tracks.
My only real issue with this album is that it's over an hour long and some of the songs just aren't even remotely interesting, either lyrically or musically; "Baba Booey," "Artie Wexler," and "Are You A Lover?" just shouldn't have made the cut. Still, Bingo Gazingo is well worth a listen.
This album is out of print, but it's available on amazon.com mp3s here. Apparently, there's a cassette version somewhere out there that's a bit different from the CD version that I have, but I've never heard it so I can't comment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Meads of Asphodel - The Early Years

4/10

There aren't a whole lot of demo recordings that I really find essential, and these early demos from the Meads of Asphodel definitely don't qualify. Metatron hadn't found his sarcastic vocal style yet, and the synthesizers are just beyond cheesy and don't gel with the metal parts at all. There are also a few unreleased tracks and bonus tracks that only appeared on some editions, but they just aren't as strong as the actual album tracks.
I just don't have much to say about this release, so I'll just say that it's for diehard fans only and leave it at that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Atheist - Unquestionable Presence: Live at Wacken

6/10

This is a pretty solid live performance by the recently reformed incarnation of Atheist. Unfortunately, some bizarre decisions drag this release down. For some reason, they named this after Atheist's second release despite the fact that there are live tracks from Piece of Time as well. But the biggest mistake they made was making this a two-disc release, with the second disc being a compilation of studio tracks. Why the hell did they do this? Atheist only had three studio albums, and anyone interested in this disc would probably own them already. Put out a compilation if you must, but don't attach it to a live album.
And what makes matters even worse is that out of the eleven songs on the second disc, no less than six were performed live on the first! More than half of the second disc is made even more redundant as a result. This is nothing but money-grubbing on the part of the record label, and mars an otherwise great live effort.
It's a crying shame that they didn't make this two separate releases, because the live performance is really good, with everyone in fine form (although I'll admit that Kelly Schaefer's stage banter is beyond retarded, and I would have liked to hear something off of Elements). It's just a shame that there's no 1-disc release (at least so far).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - A Midwinter Night's Dream

6/10

Loreena McKennitt afficionados will notice that I skipped over a Christmas EP she released in 1995 called A Winter Garden. That's because all five of the tracks from that album appear on this album in remastered form.
The new tracks tend to be a little bit weaker than the old ones. A few of the original tracks seem to have an overly-polished sheen that puts me off a bit, and there's also a rendition of "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle" that could have come off of any generic Christmas muzak record (as opposed to the wonderfully organic-sounding "Breton Carol" off the original EP).
That's not to say that the original EP was perfect, of course- although most of the songs from there sound pretty good, with relatively understated production, "Seeds of Love" goes on a bit too long and has some really cheesy-sounding bagpipes. A Winter Garden is out of print now, though, so this is the only place you'll be able to get it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - Nights from the Alhambra

5/10

This double live album is a bit too similar to Live in Paris and Toronto for me to get a whole lot out of. Aside from a few songs off of Muse, almost all the songs are drawn from the same albums that made up the Paris and Toronto setlist; there are two songs from Elemental and one from Parallel Dreams, but those are the only exceptions. Oh, and there's also the song "Raglan Road," which was an iTunes-only bonus track on Muse (now there's a trend that needs to die)
Also like the previous live album, most of the songs are performed faithfully to the studio versions, although there are a few instrumental differences (most notably the electric guitar on "Stolen Child"). However, the biggest difference is that many songs are again shortened greatly from their original versions.
I hate to go back to comparing Nights from the Alhambra the other live album, but it just doesn't do much that that album did better (the only improvement being production that sounds open without feeling empty). It's not terrible or anything, but it just feels unnecessary. This concert is also available on DVD, but I rarely buy music DVDs, so it may well be better in that form.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse

6/10

Loreena McKennitt's first studio album in nearly a decade is by far her most Middle Eastern-tinged effort, as should be obvious from the song titles ("Caravanserai," "The Gates of Istanbul," "Sacred Shabbat," "Beneath A Phrygian Sky"). Other than that, though, An Ancient Muse isn't that much different from the Loreena McKennitt albums before she took her hiatus. It sounds a bit rehashed at times, but it's mostly competent.
There are some parts that just don't work, though (hence the 6); Caravanserai has a boring opening that goes on for way too long, The Gates of Istanbul is marred by the fact that the rhythm section is playing the same beat used in every reggae song ever (a fact that's only slightly disguised by the folk instrumentation), and "The English Ladye and the Knight" has some lame-as-hell choral vocals. While it's nice that Loreena McKennitt is recording again, miscues such as these and the feeling that one has heard much of this material before make this a less than essential purchase.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Loreena McKennitt - Live in Paris and Toronto

7/10

Live in Paris and Toronto isn't a bad album at all; it's just kind of redundant. The first disc is just a song-for-song replay of The Book of Secrets, and the second disc is exclusively made up of songs from The Visit and The Mask and Mirror. There's nothing at all from the first three albums, which is a shame because those songs would probably have been the most changed in a live format, and therefore would be more interesting.
It's still perfectly competent, though, and the performances are consistently good, although not noticeably better or worse than the original studio versions. I guess it works pretty well as a compilation of tracks from those three albums, but it's not exactly essential. Some of the songs are shortened a little, which I liked for the lengthy ones based on poems but didn't like for all the others.
This would be Loreena McKennitt's last album for seven years; she went on hiatus from recording new material after her fiancee died in a boating accident while she was working on this album.