All posts by Paul Robinson

The Aquabats – Charge!!

The AquabatsCharge!! (Nitro)

Look at me, look at me, look at me, I’m a winner!

It’s just as simple as that.

Don’t you agree, don’t you agree

Don’t you agree that I’m a winner?

You just can’t argue with that!—”Look At Me, I’m A Winner”

Forget the costumes, the goofy monikers, the monster battles, and their abortive attempt to become a Saturday morning kid’s show. The most improbable ska band in history is back, and they’re only doing one thing– kicking ass with some of the tightest, most uncompromising power pop ever crafted. They’ve reduced the ska by about 20% while boosting the rock, trimmed just a tiny bit of wacky off, and (wisely) kept the psychotronic levels exactly the same. The result is the best Aquabats album yet.

The songs are classic, off-center Aquabats, odes to doomed beach romances, giant robot apes, and of course, anthems to their own awesomeness.

…And it makes you want to don a helmet and jump through plasterboard walls to clobber bad guys (who are helpfully dressed in striped shirts and bandit masks). It’ll make you 11 years old again. You’ll want to jump in the air and pump your fist, do back flips and slam dance, and you should. If you don’t, you’re a soulless mope who doesn’t know how to have fun.

Charge!! is one of the best rock albums of the year, and it’s definitely the best Aquabats album ever.

Owen – The EP

OwenThe EP (Polyvinyl)

Twee. It’s an indy rock buzzword, usually applied to bands like Travis, or Belle & Sebastian. But what exactly does it mean? I found this definition in the dictionary:

twee {ital}

adj : Affectedly dainty or refined. Overly precious.

The two afore-mentioned bands are twee indeed, but they have an advantage over other, lesser twee rockers – they’re actually interesting and have more to say than what they’re feeling the day they wrote that song.

Not so with Owen. This is high-octane navel-gazing. The trouble is, we don’t find the singer’s heartfelt, sensitive warblings (over repititous, accoustical dronings) about his twee life very interesting or insightful because, being extremely twee, there’s no room for anything else. A sample of the lyrics:

“We’re two bicycles. Ridden, too tired to know which of us two was dumb enough to choose the other as a lover.” Zuh?

If you’re an achingly sensitive art student or aspiring twee rocker, this is for you (mp3). You’ll commiserate nicely with Owen over your painful, yearning existence. For the rest of us, I’d recommend Prefab Sprout, Lloyd Cole or Billie Holiday. In fact, I’d recommend almost anything else.

Guided By Voices – Half Smiles Of The Decomposed

Guided By VoicesHalf Smiles Of The Decomposed (Matador)

Well, so long and thanks for all the fish. Bob Pollard closes the books with this album on Guided By Voices, and this is either a bitter-sweet farewell or long overdue exit depending on which camp you fall into. If you’re an indie snob purist, you’ll write this album off like every other one since Under The Bushes Under The Stars (or if you’re kind, Mag Earwhig). Slavish fan-boys (like me) will shrilly impose this album on all their long-suffering friends. But to the point: has Uncle Bob and his boys over-stayed their welcome? Well, ahem – maybe.

Like most of GBV’s post-lo-fi days, Half Smiles Of The Decomposed has its ups and downs. Yes, there’s filler; yes, there’s goodness. However, unlike recent albums like Earthquake Glue or Isolation Drills, there doesn’t seem to be any fruitless search for a hit. Their own early critical success has hemmed them into an indie circle-jerk; the mainstream can’t hear them, the critics are still pissed at them for Do The Collapse. Pollard realizes this, I think. Thus the reason for the breakup.

So how’s the album? Like I always say about recent GBV albums (Earthquake Glue is the exception—excellent for anybody): pick it up if you’re a fan. If you’re not, this won’t sway you. And wait for Pollard’s solo ouput. I have a feelng he’s saved some of the best stuff for Act 2.

MP3s available from Matador and

John Vanderslice – Cellar Door

John VandersliceCellar Door (Barsuk)

John Vanderslice may reveal a sense of humor on his website, but in his songs, he doesn’t have a lot of uplifting things to say about life. What he does say, however, he says beautifully. His patented “sloppy hi-fi” sound is amazing – lush, deep and raw at the same time. Cellar Door is one of the best-produced recordings I’ve heard, and it’s where Vanderslice shines. Of course, it’s no surprise since he owns Tiny Telephone, an analog recording studio in San Francisco. It affords him tight control over the recording process, and that comes through in the music.

His songs come across as a blend of Nick Drake and early Peter Gabriel. They’re as beautiful as a frozen bird. Example from “Pale Horse” (mp3): “from the haunts of daily life / where is waged the daily strife / common wants and common cares / cuts the human heart with tears.” The whole album is full of observations like this. If you’re feeling depressed, this thing won’t cheer you up. But if you’re relatively stable, Cellar Door is full of bleak, beautiful sadness finely wrought with exquisite music.

Tons of free Vanderslice mp3s are available from his site.

Paul Westerberg – Come Feel Me Tremble

Paul WesterbergCome Feel Me Tremble (Vagrant)

One thing Paul Westerberg should understand: repeating a chorus and a guitar lick for 3 minutes does not constitute a song. On Come Feel Me Tremble he does this far too much. Songs like “Hillbilly Junk,” “Soldier Of Misfortune” and “Making Me Go” barely make complete thoughts, let alone a song. Westerberg can usually get away with this, because his skewed viewpoint and spot-on guitar can override the repetitiousness. This time, he doesn’t always make it work. On some tracks, he either didn’t have enough to say or enough music to say it with. Lots of filler.

The irony is that Westerberg’s filler is pretty good stuff, and when he shines he can blow you away. “Knockin’ Em Back” is a standout, whipsaw-rock track and a perfect example of what Westerberg does best. Other strong tracks include the thoughtful “These Days” and “Dirty Diesel,” a Stone-sy blues rocker.

Bottom line? There’s a lot of inconsistency. But Westerberg’s off-kilter approach (and stumbling-but-catching-himself-at-the-last-minute execution) somehow makes it more than the sum of its parts. Even though you might skip a track or two.

Guided By Voices – Earthquake Glue

Guided By Voices – Earthquake Glue (Matador)

If you’re a die-hard skeptic of Guided By Voices, and wish that they’d make another Bee Thousand and quit riding the ‘wish we were popular’ horse they’ve been on for years, quit reading. And skip Earthquake Glue. The old lo-fi, frustrated-math-teacher days of GBV are long behind them and aren’t coming back. For their past few albums Bob Pollard and his boys have tried to point themselves in the direction of a hit, and it looks like this time they might have one.

Earthquake Glue is good solid rock, coated with that faux-Dada patina that Pollard has refined over the years. And it features some of Pollard’s best songwriting. At times it sounds like GBV is channeling some lost Who rock opera, as written by Marcel DuChamp. And that’s good.

And gone is the filler – this one is tight. Standout tracks include “My Kind Of Soldier,” a buoyant rocker that sounds amazing live, “Useless Inventions,” a brilliant take on the technology of modern life (and a seriously rocking tune), “The Best Of Jill Hives,” very close in spirit to “I Am A Scientist,” and “I’ll Replace You With Machines,” a warp-drive anthem with a catchy guitar core. This is great stuff – “Useless Inventions” is one of the best recent GBV songs I’ve heard, and deserves to be heard by everyone.

The rest of Earthquake Glue is almost as good. That GBV album you’ve been meaning to pick up for the last few years but never got around to buying? Make it this one.

You can stream the entire album, watch the “My Kind Of Soldier” video, and download the “I’ll Replace You With Machines” mp3 and the “My Kind Of Soldier” mp3.

Wasted: Guided By Voices Keep Playing

Pollard and friendGuided By Voices

The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 26, 2003

We took our seats as the opening act was setting up. The Intersection is a nice little venue with a well-stocked bar and a relaxed atmosphere. Not the cozy old shithole it was before relocating, but still a good place to see a show. My pal Ivan ordered a well-deserved Guinness, while I, recovering old drunk that I am, made do with Diet Coke. We settled in among the placid crowd of a couple hundred Grand Rapids hipsters and indie kids and waited. (Ah, those perky little indie girls in their tight jeans, almost half my age…)

Continue reading Wasted: Guided By Voices Keep Playing

MC Honky – I Am The Messiah

MC HonkyI Am The Messiah (SpinART)

E of Eels fame takes a shot at Cocktail Nation kitsch/techno under the moniker of “MC Honky”. He’s about 10 years too late, but so what? I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff (Combustible Edison, Tipsy, Thievery Corps, Euro Boys). But is E’s late arrival to this genre worth the ticket price? The story E cooked up is that MC Honky, a reclusive, middle-aged sound engineer, decided to take his massive collection of records and make an electronica album of what he calls “self-help rock.” That fiction sets the tone for I Am The Messiah, which works pretty well overall. There’s some tricky mixing going on (“The Baby That Was You”), and some priceless samples of kitschy old records. E even throws down the gauntlet at Beck (“3 Turntables & 2 Microphones”). Some of this would be right at home in the club scene (“Sonnet No.3 (Like A Duck)”, “The Devil Went Down To Silverlake”); other cuts lean toward ambient/trance. And some other cuts sound like B-side Eels tracks (“My Bad Seed,” “Soft Velvety ‘Fer”), and add only filler.

So what to make of it? This isn’t exactly a retro-purist’s dream come true, but it is interesting and does expand the genre. If you’re looking for truly great lounge electronica, get Tipsy. Taken another way, it’s an unusually upbeat Eels album, although not a great one. “Sonnet No.3 (Like A Duck)” does rock, and wonderfully mixes a Shakespearean sonnet with an exercise record. That will make you put on yer dancin’ shoes.

Also included is a Quicktime animated video of “Sonnet No.3 (Like A Duck),” and it’s a gas. You can also sample it (and the entire album via RealPlayer) at The Eels’ website.

History’s Greatest Hits

Paul Robinson is a frequent contributor to GLONO’s message boards and reviews.

The future of music?There used to be this cool comic book back in the 80’s called Aztec Ace, which featured a time-traveling hero getting into all kinds of adventures a la Dr. Who (except he was much cooler). Among other things, he had a massive Wurlitzer jukebox filled with history’s greatest hits. From Gregorian chants to Dion & the Belmonts, it was all in there, the greatest music of all time. I always loved that idea, having a massive collection of music in one package. Of course, back in 1985 no one could have foreseen MP3’s (or iPods). Now everyone can have history’s greatest jukebox everywhere you go, and that’s changed everything.

Continue reading History’s Greatest Hits

Liars – They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top

LiarsThey Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First/Mute Records)

As Abraham Lincoln so famously said, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” If you like po-mo pseudo punk that seems a lot more clever than it really is, and sounds good in the clubs, this is for you. I thought it was kind of boring, myself.

Based on the CD title, I was expecting some ferocious, angry agit-prop noise that was going to bitchslap me for being part of the problem, like an even angrier version of International Noise Conspiracy. Instead I got wankeriffic art-noise that sounds like Sonic Youth with a sampler. I ended up listening to Dirty instead. You will, too.

MP3 of Mr Your on Fire Mr available via their site. Buy it from Amazon.