All posts by Todd Totale

Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury

Clipse - Hell Hath No FuryClipseHell Hath No Fury – (Star Track)

Let’s not sugarcoat the obvious: hip hop has become a bloated caricature of its formal self, and every time you have to program out a pointless skit on a rap disc, you’re fueling my argument. I mean, am I really supposed to take a gangsta seriously after they’ve scripted out a few “scenes” on a fucking music cd, detailing the imagery of their lifestyle, neighborhood, or profession before landing that lucrative record deal? Who has the balls to call bullshit here?

I’m betting that Clipse would call out every single rapper that’s filled their disc with redundant filler and songs “featuring” every motherfucking MC that happened to be in the studio the night it was recorded. They’ve completely liposuctioned the fat out of Hell Hath No Fury and brought gangsta rap back to the level it needs to be: uncompromising, uncommercial, and legitimately frightening.

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Chin Up Chin Up – This Harness Can’t Ride Anything

Chin Up Chin Up - This Harness Can't Ride AnythingChin Up Chin UpThis Harness Can’t Ride Anything (Suicide Squeeze)

The notoriously difficult sophomore album is made even more difficult when your band has released a worthy debut, which Chicago’s Chin Up Chin Up did with We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers (mp3), an album rendered even more impressive concerning the heartbreaking events they endured to finish it.

Tragedies can inspire, but there’s little evidence that the tragedy surrounding their debut have lit a creative fire on their follow-up. This Harness Can’t Ride Anything manages to replicate the same formula of the debut with a shade more proficiency and accessibility. Which is strange, given the circumstances, as this kind of guitar interplay should be the perfect field for a band that needs to exercise some personal demons.

There are hints that this request could be achieved: the title track (mp3) starts with a quirky, staccato guitar before transitioning into a larger-than-life surge of chords. By the 2:21 mark, the strings appear and you’re thinking that all of the expectations planted from We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers are coming true.

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Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3 – Ole Tarantula

Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3 - Ole TarantulaRobyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3Olé Tarantula (Yep Roc)

It all started with the Soft Boys. Somebody made me a copy of their odds ‘n sods collection Invisible Hits, an assortment of leftovers so good that other bands would be proud to call them the main course. My Maxell cassette of that album got so many spins that I nearly wept when it eventually got destroyed in the car stereo of a friend. This was before Robyn got a major label deal with A&M Records, you understand, so Invisible Hits was totally out of print and the friend that made the copy, well, like your pot dealer in college, he was long gone.

Add to this, a chick that I really thought I had a connection with, a music hipster no less, mentioned that she really liked that album after I played it. So like a schmuck, I found a tremendously priced import copy of the album and, are you sitting down, gave it to her as a Christmas gift, an action that haunts me to this day, especially considering the emotional guillotine that is falling in love with someone more than they actually love you.

I stitched my head back on when I found another copy for myself and christened myself a Robyn Hitchcock disciple. He sang songs to me that sounded great stoned and they sounded just as good sober, although the words became a tad more warped.

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The Clash – The Singles (box set)

The Clash - The Singles (box set)The ClashThe Singles (Legacy)

It’s not lost on me that when London Calling and Sandinista! were originally released, The Clash forfeited their royalties so that the multi-record sets could be sold for the same price as a single album. A quarter century has passed, Joe Strummer is gone, and Mick Jones has traded character for cocaine, so it should surprise no one that the band’s label is doing everything possible to eek out every last dime that The Clash’s limited catalog has to offer. Gone are the days of consumer-minded pricing; the latest catalog revamp places every one of the band’s 19 UK singles in a 19-disc box set that spans their entire career. The Singles is a completist’s dream and is priced high enough to sway new listeners away from using the release as a starting point.

But I’m willing to bet that novices who spin London Calling for the first time will jump head first into the rest of the catalog and, quite possibly, end up at the same point that I was when I shelled out the $64.95 needed to say “I have every one of the Clash’s singles in one convenient package.” Call me a music geek, a completist, or a sap for buying into Sony’s thinly-veiled marketing efforts; I’m perfectly content, nay, happy, about my purchase of The Singles.

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George Jones and Merle Haggard – Kickin’ Out The Floodlights…Again

George Jones and Merle Haggard - Kickin' Out The Floodlights...AgainGeorge Jones and Merle HaggardJones Sings Haggard, Haggard Sings Jones: Kickin’ Out The Floodlights…Again (Bandit)

Twenty-five years ago, country music legends George Jones and Merle Haggard recorded their first album together, A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine. A lot has changed since 1982; Merle and George are still be revered among country’s current contenders, but they’re certainly not selling the same amounts as the young’ens.

Kickin’ Out The Floodlights…Again is better than their previous collaboration, due in large part to the lack of pressure of trying to make a commercially viable record. With this burden gone, the two set out to make, and ultimately achieve, a true country music album that’s heavy on camaraderie and highlighting their talents while avoiding any hint of trying to rekindle the careers of two legends that’ve already burned brighter than most current country music stars could even imagine.

Make no mistake: their voices are completely in tact. If anything, Floodlights is a testament to how two elder statesmen of country music can overshadow minor production shortcomings with the use of their impeccable voices.

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Mastodon – Blood Mountain

Mastodon - Blood MountainMastodonBlood Mountain (Reprise)

For some time now heavy metal has needed an album that shakes the genre to its core. A reminder that, in order for it to remain relevant, it needs a few watershed bands to move things forward. And while there are certainly bands that help fit this description, the reality is that the majority of these releases remain speckled in the underground, avoiding detection by a record buying public that may have written off the genre, choosing instead to reminisce about pre-Black album Metallica, old Slayer, and buying Iron Maiden re-issues. I say this because I’m one of those people.

But I have hope.

It lies, at the moment, in the hands of Mastodon’s major label debut (third overall), Blood Mountain. The hope is that with the resources of a major their impact will be wider. Immediately after impact, the desire is that their influence will take hold so that other bands within the genre can feel the freedom to push their own creative envelope. The Lord, and Satan in this case, knows that metal as we know it today needs more bands like Mastodon who understand more about shredding than they know about Soundscan.

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Pernice Brothers – Live A Little

Pernice Brothers - Live A LittlePernice BrothersLive A Little (Ashmont)

You won’t hear a bad word from me regarding Joe Pernice. His talents are obvious and consistent, but you may hear a few grumblings from me about Pernice Brothers’ sixth album, Live A Little. So before I get to the bitchin’ and moanin’, let’s preface by saying that most of my complaints are merely the result of this album not being as heartbreakingly awesome as Discover A Lovelier You, The World Won’t End, or their debut, Overcome By Happiness.

On paper, it looked promising. Joe and the band re-teaming with Happiness producer Michael Deming could only mean either 1) another cinematic sweep of chamber-pop mastery or 2) a revision of Joe’s initial country-tinged work with Scud Mountain Boys. I wasn’t expecting 3) the first Pernice Brothers record that didn’t have me lobbying to put Joe’s name in the same arena as Brian Wilson.

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Iron Maiden – A Matter Of Life And Death

iron-maiden-life-and-death.jpgIron MaidenA Matter Of Life And Death (Sanctuary)

True story: I was driving around with the little dude in the car seat, listening to Iron Maiden’s Killers. The song that grabbed his attention was “Wrathchild,” which he thought was pronounced “rockchild” because he understood the track is pretty rockin’. So he’s doing the obligatory head-nodding, throwing up the horns like I taught him, and trying to get my attention in the rear view mirror buy saying “Look at me! I’m a wrathchild!” It was one of those bonding moments that make you think the kid will turn out all right.

Later on, we were watching “Full House” together (his choice—he has a thing for toddler-era Olsen twins) when John Stamos appeared in a scene. Stamos was dressed in black, had an electric guitar and that silly looking mane on his head, which prompted the little one to declare “He’s a rockchild too, Daddy.” I had to correct him, of course, because there’s a huge difference between Iron Maiden and John Stamos.

There’s also a huge difference in my musical tastes now than when I first purchased an Iron Maiden album. I’ll admit to not following them too closely for quite some time; I lost track of them during my obligatory “purge everything metal” phase, which I’ve realized was completely stupid as I’ve come to terms with my metal influences. Maiden was one of them, of course, but by the time I reconciled with the genre, Maiden had replaced vocalist Bruce Dickinson and who wants that?

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Mew – And The Glass Handed Kites

Mew - And the Glass Handed KitesMewAnd the Glass Handed Kites (Sony)

I really want this album to be stronger than it actually is: a forgettable throwback to those halcyon days when the term “shoegazer” was somewhat novel and when bands effectively created epic swells with nothing more than feedback, guitar pedals, and a dash of studio trickery.

It’s not that I’m against “epic swells,” and Lord knows that I’ve listened to enough Spiritualized and Pink Floyd to appreciate symphonic arrangements. What I do have a problem with is a band that teases me with lush atmospheres, hinting at My Bloody Valentine the entire time, and with barely a hint of the guitar leaving Cape Canaveral’s launch pad. If you’re going to come off as a “space rock” band, then for God’s sake, leave the atmosphere and don’t forget to actually rock when you’re weightless. Mew takes their influences and somehow manages to completely devoid them of any bite. What’s left is the equivalent of leaving an opened two-liter bottle of Coke in the fridge for a week: cold, flat and with plenty of sugar.

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