Tuesday, July 16, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1751: Amy Speace

I made it out for a run and a workout today, which always does wonders for my mood. Fresh air and exercise - the secret that’s not a secret.

Disc 1751 is…There Used to be Horses Here

Artist: Amy Speace with the Orphan Brigade

Year of Release: 2021

What’s up with the Cover?  I’m not much of an equestrian (I have ridden horses, but it was a long time ago), but based on the album title I’m going to suggest this building is an abandoned stable.

Why do I think it is abandoned? Reading comprehension.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review back in 2021 and it sounded interesting. This was my first encounter with Amy Speace, but the record ended up being harder to get than I expected, and I only found it a couple weeks ago.

How It Stacks Up: I now have four Amy Speace albums (and I am on the lookout for three more). Of the four I have this one comes in last.

Rating: 2 stars but almost 3

Lots of the best folk music features songs about very little. Pastoral scenes, and ruminations on family, friends, and local travails of regular folks living regular lives. Amy Speace’s “There Used to be Horses” takes this exact approach. Unfortunately, while there are a couple of gems, there were also large stretches where these stories just come out…boring.

Speace shines brightest when she’s recalling good memories and framing them in the context of loss. Listening to these standouts I was reminded of Tennyson’s line from In Memoriam “the past will always win/A glory from its being far”.

The first and best song is the title track, with evocative stanzas like:

“There used to be horses here
My father knew the owner from church
They’ve torn down the old brick house
Now there’s just a big hole in the earth”

Accompanied by a tune that isn’t so much of a gallop, as the ghost of a gallop. Well played, Amy.

Later, on “Shotgun Hearts” Speace sings about the wild abandon of youth. The narrator, seeing a man on the train that reminds her of a breathless all-night affair, is pulled back in time. The song is partly a celebration, but there is an undertone of loss that feels less about that one moment, and more about all the long years that have passed since.

Unfortunately, that’s the majority of the good stuff. On most of the tracks I found myself fading in and out, with a recurring desire to change the channel (which as we know from Odyssey Rule #3, is not allowed).

These lesser songs felt like an after-school special where kids and grandmas learn valuable lessons from one another on the wisdom in being old or young. Or maybe a low budget romance movie on the W. network where the characters are all florists, art-dealers and chocolatiers.

It was not all bad, though. Speace knows how to write a song, and her rich vocals compare favourably with other folk/country crossover artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter. It is pleasant just to hear her sing, and she has a strong sense of phrasing that lends story to tunes that, many of which, have used more story.

Instead, once we’re done with mass transit love affairs and absent horses, we’re left with a whole lot of songs about fathers and mothers, and growing up and all those basic themes I noted in the lede. I know from other reviews that these topics deeply resonated with Speace at the time, who had just become a mother and lost a father. Unfortunately while the feelings are genuine the songs don’t do the depths of emotion justice. When she does stretch into metaphor on “Mother is a Country” it comes across strained.

The record recovers with a third great song right at the end, with a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”. Touching and raw in equal measure, Speace sings this song with simple and honest grace.

So a bit of column A and a bit of column B, but overall I don’t think there is enough here to keep this record. I will send it on its way to a better home than mine.

Best tracks: There Used to be Horses Here, Shotgun Hearts, Don’t Let Us Get Sick

Saturday, July 13, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1750: Neil Young

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey. I’m up early to seize the weekend. I had planned to watch the women’s Wimbledon final live but missed it by…that much.

So, having spoiled the outcome (I turned the TV on during the trophy ceremony) I will return to the safe and welcoming arms of music.

Disc 1750 is…Freedom

Artist: Neil Young

Year of Release: 1989

What’s up with the Cover?  Neil Young, 43 years old here but with a haggard look that suggests closer to 58.

Yeah,” Neil retorts, “but the hat suggests youth and enthusiasm.”

No, Neil, it does not.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve been a Neil Young fan for years and have a lot of his records. This is one of ‘em. I knew the song “Rockin’ in the Free World” and also “Wrecking Ball” so it was a bit of a known quantity.

How It Stacks Up: I have (or have had) 24 Neil Young albums. This may seem like a lot but it is only slightly more than half of his studio albums. Neil is prolific. Of the 24, I’ve sold two, and three others remain unreviewed. One of those is #1, and the other two I’m not sure. For now, “Freedom” comes in at 14 but it could be as low as 18 on a good day, as it sits equal among many other “good, not great” Neil Young records.

Rating: 3 stars

In Ang Lee’s Incredible Hulk movie soldiers have a code to alert everyone that Hulk has escaped a military facility and is on a rampage. The line is “angry man is on the loose” and it applies well to Neil Young’s “Freedom”.

“Freedom” is Neil at his angriest. Not that Neil was ever going to be a fan of the vibe the 1980s gave off, but it is clear by 1989 that he’s fed up and not going to take it anymore. The result is an album that mixes angry hard rock, mixed with stark and stripped-down tales of love and loss.

The record gets off to a rocky start, with a loose and ranging live version of “Rockin’ in the Free World”. Halfway through I started doubting why I had ever loved the song. The production is hollow, with distracting background cheers that make it feel like it was recorded on someone’s phone at a festival, and that person is now making you watch it.

The problem is not the song, however, it’s that live version. The record ends with the studio version and it is just as amazing as I remember it, with its distressing observations of homelessness, poverty, and drug abuse wrapped up ironically in patriotic imagery of freedom. For Neil, rocking in the free world looks a lot like fiddling while Rome burns.

Crime in the City (Sixty to Zero Pt. 1)” doubles down on Neil’s “life sucks” vibe. It’s nine minutes long and ranges through crooked cops, good cops struggling, and evil record producers looking to take advantage of starving artists. It is just generally depressing throughout, but they strong lyrics and insistent and intricate guitar work together make the depression a joy to listen to. Mostly. Three minutes in a noodling saxophone makes an appearance that is unwelcome.

Other than that saxophone, Neil mostly avoids the late eighties production challenges that beset so many other artists around this time. The record doesn’t have a lot of bottom end, but it avoids the tinny sound of the time, and the lightness of the mix matches well with Neil’s airy vocal style.

While the record features a lot of poverty and social criticism, Neil at his heart is a romantic, and there are some touching love songs. “Hangin’ on a Limb” and “Wrecking Ball” are both slow, deeply vulnerable songs, featuring lovers who cleave to one another through hard times. “Hangin’ on a Limb” is lifted by the guest vocals of Linda Ronstadt. “Wrecking Ball” would be beautifully remade by Emmylou Harris on her 1995 album of the same name. Neil’s version is great, although no one can compete with Emmylou’s quaver, and most people probably associate the song with her at this point.

Despite plenty of good songs, and some great guitar work, at 60 minutes the record tends to drag in places. This could be easily solved by killing the live version of “Free World” and maybe cutting down on the over six minute long “No More.” No more isn’t quite enough of a directive here, Neil. Think in terms of less.

However, overall this is a solid effort, and while there were times when I wanted Neil to lighten up, that’s not the kind of record this is.

Best tracks: Crime in the City, Hangin’ on a Limb, On Broadway, Wrecking Ball, Rockin’ in the Free World (studio version)

Monday, July 8, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1749: In This Moment

For the second time in three albums, the CD Odyssey has provided some heavy metal with a female lead singer. Cool!

Disc 1749 is…A Star-Crossed Wasteland

Artist: In This Moment

Year of Release: 2010

What’s up with the Cover?  Even after the apocalypse there is still an opportunity for beauty. Sure the city in the background is destroyed and the conditions of those tracks suggests the trains are no longer running on time (or at all).

Despite that you can still get around by horse (if you can catch one) and with nuclear winter finally ending some sunlight has pushed through and caused that lovely tree to bloom. Ah…the apocalypse; so peaceful, so restful.

How I Came To Know It: My coworker Gerad has a niece that is a fan, and so I heard about In This Moment from her, through him (I’ve never met her). This was just me digging into their back catalogue after thoroughly enjoying 2012’s “Blood” (reviewed back at Disc 1684).

How It Stacks Up: I have four In This Moment albums. “A Star-Crossed Wasteland” is #3.

Rating: 3 stars

There’s a lot of screaming. That’s the first thing to know about In This Moment. It is very viscerally powerful, invigorating, empowering screaming, but it is screaming nonetheless.

That In This Moment lead singer Maria Brink can scream this loud and make it musical is the essence of her diabolical talent. Like a stadium full of fans cheering on their favourite team, In This Moment takes animalistic emotion and converts it to an anthem that lifts you up.

I know we’re into the third paragraph of the narrative at this point, so if you haven’t picked up on this being heavy metal please be formally warned at this time. This is heavy metal, and it isn’t your grandmother’s heavy metal (you know, Cream). This is modern metal, with thump and crunch to spare.

I am a long-time metal fan, but there are times when A Star-Crossed Wasteland was a bit too much for me. They have no reservations about throwing in multiple layers of sound and the result can be a very dense production that would usually put me off. There were times where it did put me off, but for the most part I just surrendered to the primal power of it all. I couldn’t sing along (frankly, how Brink’s vocal chords aren’t shredded bloody ribbons is a minor miracle) but I loved letting the experience wash over me.

The record starts with a bang (metaphorically and literally) with “The Gun Show”. Brink welcomes us to the gun show, but it isn’t some dude flexing his muscles. It could be about sex, and it could be about some Western-inspired post-apocalyptic confrontation, or it could be both. I think it is both. I just know when Brink welcomes you to the gun show, you are glad you…er…came.

The other star on this album is Jeff Fabb on drums. Fabb is fabulous, with a sharp snap to his playing that can turn into furiously precise rhythmic attacks at any moment. There are plenty of great moments, but I was particularly partial to his work on “Standing Alone” which has an eclectic mix of “hey, a marching band!” and “double-bass assault!”.

The album isn’t perfect. On “The Promise” we have Brink duetting with guest vocalist Adrian Patrick of the band “Otherwise”. I don’t know that band but listening to him struggle to keep up with Brink’s power made me decide to feel otherwise about checking him out further.

There are also times when Brink’s snarl is so close to insanity that the lyrics are hard to pick up, but here it is more of a feature than a bug. She’s so damned energized the words are secondary to the emotion they are transmitting – mostly a whole lot of aggression, passion and some of that classic Wendy O. Williams “It’s my life, and I’ll do what I like” kind of F off vibe.

The record ends with “World in Flames,” a power ballad that is at odds with all the scream and furor that precedes it. However, it is just the right palate cleanser to end with. Lest you think Brink is a one trick pony as a vocalist, on “World in Flames” she shows she is perfectly capable of holding big notes, and belting out a melody that feels the feels. A lot of the songs that precede this one are about burning it all down, but here Brink says she’ll stick with her partner even if everything burns around them. It’s positively romantic, and a reminder that all this time she wasn’t screaming at you, she was screaming with you.

Best tracks: The Gun Show, Standing Alone, A Star-Crossed Wasteland, Blazin’, World of Flames

Thursday, July 4, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1748: Cut Worms

Greetings, gentle readers and my apologies for my long absence. It has been a busy week, and this next record was very long so getting in full listens took a lot more out of my day than usual.

I’ve been watching documentaries lately that feature a lot of gambling, so let’s set an over/under of 2.5 for this review for “number of times I diss the Beatles.” Wagers set? OK, off we go…

Disc 1748 is…Nobody Lives Here Anymore

Artist: Cut Worms

Year of Release: 2020

What’s up with the Cover?  Creepy window picture. Here we have a guy who looks to be cleaning the window with a paper towel. Probably wiping down the blood from the family he’s murdered. Hence the album title…

Creepy window album covers are their own sub-genre. Marissa Nadler lightly dabbles on “July” (Disc 1314) and Opeth does it twice. Once on “Ghost Reveries (Disc 1083) and again (with an extra helping of creepsauce) on Watershed (not reviewed yet, but you can see the cover here).

How I Came To Know It: I read a review and gave it a listen and…here we are. It’s more fun when someone recommends an artist (because people are fun!) but more often than not it is just my own natural love of musical discovery.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Cut Worms albums, and “Nobody Lives Here Anymore” is the better of the two.

Rating: 3 stars but almost 4

Cut Worms is not a band, but one of those hipster musicians who like to give themselves stage names that make it sound like they’re a band. In this case it is singer-songwriter Max Clarke. This naming convention not my favourite trend in music. I feel like if a boring old name was good enough for Gene Clark back in 1974 it should be good enough for Max a few decades later.

It isn’t important what Cut Worms calls himself, it is what his music is like that matters. Here, Gene Clark is once again relevant, only this time it is stylistically. Cut Worms music has a wistful jangle halfway between folk and rock that is reminiscent of any number of late sixties and early seventies bands like the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and their spinoff acts like Gram Parsons and, yes, Gene Clark.

I love this sound, so this is a feature not a bug. It also makes Cut Worms have a timeless quality, like it could have come out in 1974, 2024 or anywhere in between. His voice would fit right in with those folks as well. He sings mostly in his head voice, with a high and airy quaver which was mostly enjoyable except on some songs that ventured annoyingly into early Beatles territory, where he sounded – unfortunately – like John Lennon.

Generally, Cut Worms is better when he’s landing on the folk side of the ledger. When he gets a bit more pop the guitar has a nice “beach bum” quality to it, but the songs themselves tend to lose oomph. This is important because Cut Worms’ vocals are not going to bowl you over with power; they need all the ‘oomph’ they can muster. When they fade away a bit into the song, I sometimes would find my attention span wandering.

Lyrically, the album features a lovely assortment of delightful phrases, but I didn’t get a strong sense of narrative. More of a feeling that left me a bit uncertain and wondering where to turn. This is an interesting juxtaposition to the songs’ composition, which are well thought out and flow naturally and effortlessly. These are the kind of songs that you’ll swear you’ve heard before, but that’s just because they travel so easily. I walked, ran, drove and worked out to this record over the past seven days and it felt right in every environment.

That said, there are songs that are trying to channel early Buddy Holly. It’s a noble goal but it converts some tracks from timeless to dated (the line is thin). Much like the Beatles, Cut Worms falls short of achieving Buddy Holly’s mid-fifties magic.

“Nobody Lives Here Anymore”’ has so many great songs that it could have easily achieved 4 stars if it had just known when to say when. The record is 17 songs and a bloated 76 minutes long. Cutting just 5 or 6 tracks would have put this record into “near greatness” territory. I was tempted to give it that designation anyway, but good as it is, I didn’t want to overdo the praise. Like people do with, you know, the Beatles.

Congratulations if you bet on the over. Beatles fans – please calm down. If you’ve read my Beatles reviews you’ll know I like them just fine. Mostly.

Best tracks: The Heat is On, Last Words to a Refugee, All the Roads, Every Once in a While, Veteran’s Day, Sold My Soul, Cave of Phantoms

Thursday, June 27, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1747: Halestorm

It has been a busy week and while I meant to review this record yesterday, fate conspired to prevent that from happening. I got an extra listen in the meantime, which was just fine with me.

Disc 1747 is…Back from the Dead

Artist: Halestorm

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Giant Head Cover alert! Here we have lead singer and band leader Lzzy Hale’s Giant Head looking fiercely serious.

This is the deluxe edition of the album. The original version has Hale engaged in a scream and a red filter rather than this silvery gray treatment. The red version looks way cooler, but has less songs so…there’s that. Make your own choice.

How I Came To Know It: I recently got into Halestorm and was on the lookout for four of their albums (basically everything except 2012’s “The Strange Case Of…”, which I already had.

I was all prepared to patiently wait for them to show up when three weeks ago I went to the mall. Yes, dear reader, the mall. While there I went into a uninspiring mall record store where, against all logic, I found the entire Halestorm discography sitting there waiting for me.

I promptly bought everything they had with the exception of “The Strange Case Of…” (see above). And here we are.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Halestorm albums, which is all of them. I like them all, but the truth is I bought four of them just three weeks ago, and I’m not yet sure how they are going to stack up. I’ll start with this record in…fourth. I may be wrong, but for now I’ll assume it is good enough to beat out one “album to be named later” and all the others are even better, giving me something to look forward to!

Rating: 3 stars

Is “Back From the Dead” a true metal album, or is it just a rock record dressed up with a bit of extra oomph in the arrangement and production? I thought this often while I got to know it better, and while I landed on “classic metal” in the end, that wasn’t terribly important. I had a good time, and that’s what matters.

There are many kinds of metal. There’s the kind that pounds relentlessly on you as you sway in the mosh pit. There’s the kind that makes dread vibrate through your bones. These other forms are lots of fun, but in the case of “Back From the Dead” you get anthemic metal. This is the kind of metal that is for singing along to, for throwing your horns in the air knowing that everyone else in the crowd is going to do exactly the same thing, at exactly the same time. It is anticipatory participatory metal – the kind of community we metal heads love the most; the community of free thinking iconoclasts.

One thing you should know right up front though. You can sing along with Lzzy Hale, but you will never sing as good as Lzzy Hale. She is one of metal’s greatest voices. Instantly recognizable, bigger and bolder than life, and yet tender and emotionally evocative even when she’s in full throat. So sing along, just realize you are the backup here. It’s Lzzy’s world and until the last note dies, your job is to celebrate living in it.

Sometimes it is just raw crunch accompanying Hale, and she rises to the occasion. The title track and “Brightside” are great examples where the band digs in deep and heavy and Hale somehow manages to add to the crunch and also soar above.

There are plenty of “stand with me” kind of anthems. “The Steeple” is a fine example, one of many songs from Halestorm over the years the celebrates the band’s community of fans. It reminded me favourably of Judas Priest songs like “Take On the World” and “United.”

Other songs are sparser in the production, and Hale does not disappoint. “Terrible Things” and “Raise Your Horns” are somber and affecting experiences. Many of the songs are written during COVID lockdown, and while “Terrible Things” could refer to COVID, it is more powerful for me as a song about the horrors of drug addiction.

As for “Raise Your Horns” this song gets me every time I hear it. It is an anthem for being different, a reassuring call to keep going even in dark times, and a shared moment of personal rebellion for anyone finding themselves in a black moment:

“Burn every fear, every doubt like a funeral fire
Scream every anthem and follow your reckless desires
Take back the crown that hangs at the gate
Ready your march, steady your aim
For the heart is a soldier that never loses its way

“So raise your horns - Raise 'em high
Let 'em soar - Let 'em fly
Up through the heavens - Forevermore
Let 'em reign down - Raise your horns”

Whew. The heart is a soldier that never loses its way. Indeed. This is one of Hale’s finest vocal performances on any Halestorm record, which is saying a lot. Also, the way she sings the line “up through the heavens” had me fondly remembering Chris Cornell singing “say hello 2 heaven” in Temple of the Dog. Gave me an extra bit of the feels. (Rare biographical note – Hale started a #raiseyourhorns movement in support of mental health after the suicide of fellow singer Jill Janus of Huntress fame).

So, with all these good things, why only three stars?

First of all, this is the special edition record, lifting the album from a respectable 11 songs to a bloated 18. Of the extra seven tracks only one – “Heavy Mental (Fuck Yeah)” is worth the effort. Worst of all, it moves the perfection of “Raise Your Horns” from the triumphant conclusion of the record and moves it to the mushy middle.

Finally, the songs are a bit emotionally manipulative, but that’s OK – the line between evocative and manipulative in art is a fuzzy one. Most of the time, even when it felt overly obvious, Hale’s honest delivery lands things on the right side of that line.

Best tracks: Back From the Dead, Brightside, The Steeple, Terrible Things, Bombshell, Raise Your Horns, Heavy Mental (Fuck Yeah)

Saturday, June 22, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1746: The Chats

Later tonight I am excited to listen to my two newest musical acquisitions – new releases from the quietly graceful Anna Tivel and the pensive majesty of Ezra Furman. This next record is decidedly unlike those records.

Disc 1746 is…High Risk Behaviour

Artist: The Chats

Year of Release: 2020

What’s up with the Cover?  From last review’s stylish art piece by KMFDM we come this week to a drawing that is more…rudimentary. If you want to know what Eamon, Matt and “Pricey” (guitarist Josh Price) look like, this is it…very basically.

How I Came To Know It: I got to know the band originally through my friend Nick discovering them on Youtube. This was me buying their first full length LP after searching them out.

How It Stacks Up: If you count the compilation of their first two EPs as one record (which I do), I have three albums by the Chats. When I reviewed “Get Fucked” I put it #1 but warned that it might drop when I reviewed their other records. This has now happened, with “High Risk Behaviour” taking over at #1. As this completes my Chats collection (for now) here’s the full accounting:

  1. High Risk Behaviour: 5 stars (reviewed right here)
  2. Get Fucked: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1619)
  3. The First Two EPs by the Chats: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1730)

 Rating: 5 stars

“Smoko” was the song that introduced me to the Chats, but it was “High Risk Behaviour” that showed me they were far more than a one hit Youtube phenomenon. This record is 14 songs, 27 minutes, and every moment grabs you by the front of your shirt and shakes you. My only regret was that it was over too soon each time.

This is pure punk rock and like most good punk bands (in my opinion) they are sneaky good musicians. Josh Price plays guitar with an enthusiastic garage rock style that tastes to the ear a bit of how a can of cheap bear tastes to the tongue: refreshing and vaguely metallic. This is the last album to feature Price (he is not on 2022’s “Get Fucked”) and while the band is still awesome in a different way, I do love what he brings to the sound on this record.

The punk vibes come on strong from drummer Matt Boggis and particularly from vocals/bassist Eamon Sandwith. Sandwith’s bass is great, but his vocals are what elevates the band to greatness. He sings with a strong Australian accent, and a natural snarl that would give Johnny Rotten a run for his money. Also, these songs are better than Sex Pistols songs, adding to his advantage. Sandwith is the voice of a generation of degenerates, and pub-crawling alcoholics. It isn’t a healthy approach for actual living, but it makes for great rock and roll.

The record’s topics are generally focused around the usual Chats fare of getting hammered, and being broke, but with a strangely specific focus on food. On “Dine n Dash” Sandwith laments:

“I wanna go out and fill my gob
But I don’t have a fucking job”

Solution? Flee the restaurant without paying. You’d think one song about drinking and eating at the pub would be enough, but no. “Pub Feed” is about the glorious feeling of cramming greasy late-night food in your ‘gob’ after too many pints earlier on. We know from “Dine n Dash” this won’t end up costing anything. Maybe a night in jail if the bouncer is fleet-of-foot.

The cost comes on “Keep the Grubs Out” a song about being barred from the pub. I once had an uncle barred permanently from a pub and it is amazing when the waitstaff can remember someone for the wrong reasons that many years later. The eventually relented and let my uncle in, but the Chats were not so lucky, as they are advised:

“We appreciate your understanding sir
Feel free to come back when you get a haircut”

Sounds like one of them fancy places, so not likely where our heroes were going to have the best time anyway. With that haircut comment, I’d likely be turned away as well.

Other standouts on the record include “Stinker” and “Drunk n Disorderly” both of which are along the same lines regarding drinking too much, but minus the food.

The Clap” features enthusiastic hand claps, but it isn’t the kind of clap that the song is about. More of the doctor visit/take antibiotics variety.

Near the end of the record the Chats give us a signature moment with “Do What I Want”. One of the more melodic songs on the record, the song’s refrain is “Don’t tell me what to do!” which is a good summary of how the Chats approach music. They channel old school punk but they do it in their own unique way, and offer no apologies while doing so. Keep doing it exactly the way you want, Chats - it’s working.

Best tracks: All of them. Particularly strong love for: Stinker, Drunk N Disorderly, The Clap, Identity Theft, Keep the Grubs Out, Pub Feed, Do What I Want

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1745: KMFDM

It’s been over 10 years since I reviewed an album by this next band. I took a break from them in between, and only recently began adding their records to my collection. As a result, while this next record came out almost 20 years ago, it is new to me this year.

Disc 1745 is…Hau Ruck

Artist: KMFDM

Year of Release: 2005

What’s up with the Cover?  There are bands that have better album covers by KMFDM, but not many. The stylized graphic novel feel you see here is their stock and trade and they do it well.

This is one of the better ones, as we see a fierce woman, fresh from stabbing some suit wearing dude who – we must assume – had it coming. Disagreeing with this assessment are the cronies drawing their pistols on Assassin Lady, intent on avenging their boss. Something about the look of this woman makes me not like their chances.

How I Came To Know It: For a good 10 years my local record store has had a slowly depleting collection of used KMFDM albums. It’s where I bought my first two (“Angst” and “Nihil”) back in the day and of late I’ve been going in and nabbing a new KMFDM album – unheard – whenever the mood strikes me.

It is pretty picked over at this point, but it has been a fun experience.

How It Stacks Up: I have five KMFDM albums, with plans to get at least two more, although the plans are a bit unclear, I admit. I’m just as likely to not do that. Of the five I do have, I put “Hau Ruck” in at #4.

Rating: 3 stars

KMDFM is like ACDC. Not the music, mind you – their industrial metal vibe is very unlike ACDC. They are like ACDC in that all their songs sound vaguely similar to each other, but you don’t mind, because they are all good.

KMFDM specializes in driving riffs and synth-derived power grooves, overlaid with dystopian anarchistic lyrics that shout out FTW for all who would listen. This includes any unfortunate neighbours living beside the person playing it. Don’t judge me too harshly for playing it loud in my car. This stuff naturally carries and sounds best loud.

“Hau Ruck” is more of the same (see “ACDC” comment above) and that suits me just fine. It is the third record featuring their reformed lineup with longstanding member Sascha K, as well as core “second wave’ members Lucia Cifarelli (vocals) and Andy Selway (drums). This second iteration of the band (starting in 2003) has some differences from the nineties version of the band, with a bit less white noise and a bit more groove. A lot of that is the arrangement decisions, and the hard driving groove is the everpresent aspect of the band that makes them so Goddamned awesome through the ages.

Hau Rock’s opening two tracks are also its best. “Free Your Hate” gets us started with a classic “F U” track from the masters of that particular message. The music is pure aggression, getting the blood pumping with an oppressive opening riff, juxtaposed with an electronica dance mix feel. The main lyrical refrain of “the beatings will continue/until morale improves” lack originality, but the sentiment aligns well with the song’s vibe.

The title track comes next and is the album’s best. “Hau Ruck” has an inexorable and menacing build, hitting you like a pickaxe glancing off a boulder – the embodiment of an unstoppable object colliding with an impervious groove.

The rest of the record is great to varying degrees, although it never matches the intensity and creative power of the first two tunes. “Professional Killer” comes close, with an awesome synth riff that demands swirling arm movement and a complete surrender to the demands of the dance floor. Also good for driving, although obviously not while dancing. Safety first when rucking out, dear readers.

Lyrically, “Hau Ruck” does not inspire, but you don’t listen to KMFDM for the poetry. Accept that the lyrics are just part of the descent into the industrial maelstrom of sound, with a few provocative phrases that are suitable for singing along in the moments where the tune allows (or demands). Shout out “Ready to Blow” along with the band, exclaim “hau ruck!” in time with the beat and feel connected amid the disconnect. It’s rebellious, compulsive and therapeutic all in one, and exactly what this stuff is for.

Best tracks: Free Your Hate, Hau Ruck, Professional Killer, Ready to Blow

Saturday, June 15, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1744: Lake Street Dive

After a busy week at work it was nice to get out last night for a pub dinner with my lovely wife followed by a quiet evening at home. Today holds many missions and possibilities, but for now, let’s start with a music review.

Disc 1744 is…Free Yourself Up

Artist: Lake Street Dive

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover?  Very little. They all have different arm placements, so maybe this is like the Beatles’ “Help!’ minus the enthusiasm. Less “Help!” and more “Hello”.

Or maybe this is a police lineup trying to identify the perpetrators in a string of H&M clothing heists. Singer Rachael Price has her arms up, making her look particularly guilty.

How I Came To Know It: I loved the band’s previous album, “Side Pony” and had heard a couple songs off this record that showed promise, so I dove in.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Lake Street Dive albums and “Free Yourself Up” comes in at #2.

Rating: 3 stars

At its heart, Lake Street Dive is a R&B/Soul band, but it is a band filled with music nerds who aren’t afraid to throw in influences of many other genres to keep themselves happy. Pop and rock yes, but the big influencer is jazz. Given my usual reaction to jazz, you’d expect this to land poorly here on the CD Odyssey, but the album lives up to its title, freeing me up to enjoy the experience.

The biggest reason for this is the vocal prowess of lead singer Rachael Price. Price’s alto vocals are quite simply, revelatory. She belts with power few singers can dream of but does it with a tone that draws you in, rather than blowing you over. Those jazz influences I mention earlier are a benefit here, giving her a natural feel for where to explore a melody creatively, without ever leaving you behind.

On “Good Kisser” Price effortlessly moves through a complex arrangement, bouncing off the natural groove in the song in a way, like a veteran sailor reading a swell. On “I Can Change” she is pure emotion, elevating what would be a good pop song into something revelatory and transcendent.

The other reason is the songwriting of bass player Bridget Kearney. While the whole band takes a turn or two at writing or contributing to composition, Kearney is the star and most of the memorable tracks here are hers, including the two I mentioned above (“I Can Change” being co-composed with Price).

I Can Change” is particularly powerful. Very unlike the R&B feel of the rest of the album, with a majestic slow march of understanding from hate to love; self-loathing to resilience.

Good Kisser” is a clever break up song. The narrator has been involved in a clandestine affair that is now over, and confessions of infidelity are on the horizon for all concerned. It could be grim, but the mistress in the tale isn’t owning any shame or sadness, opting for a sassy refrain of:

“If you’re gonna tell her everything
tell her I’m a good kisser.”

Nice notion that is reinforced in the song’s structure, which features a natural rise in the melody and a jump in the delivery. The combination makes the song self-assured, triumphant and more than a little feisty.

The album’s first four songs are all Kearney compositions and the best songs on the record. After that, quality drops away. “Dude” (Track 5) is an overwritten song that tries to mix jazz and hard rock and just comes off noisy. “Musta Been Something” (Track 9) is a slow jam that meanders too much and takes too long doing it. Price’s vocals hold you in their spell as always, but this was the one song where I felt the jazz rubbing me wrong.

The best late-appearing track is “You Are Free”, is the one not written by Kearney that stands out. A funky guitar riff leads things off, and then slips into a ska-adjacent groove that is danceable, but only if you’re willing to get creative and use your arms. Note that this should be instruction for all dancing. The kids these days I see shuffling and floor-staring are really missing out. Free yourself up, kids! Eye contact! Full Extension!

But I digress…

Overall, while “Free Yourself Up” is uneven, with the exception of “Dude” all the songs are listenable and fun. There are some true anthems that will lift you up and have you singing along, or (for the slow jams) giving you a safe space for some quiet contemplation about life, love and everything.

Best tracks: Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts, Good Kisser, Shame Shame Shame, I Can Change, You Are Free

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1743: Rick James

I’m back at work after a lovely week off spent doing fun things and generally recharging the batteries. I was so chill that I haven’t reviewed a record in almost a week. Sincere apologies for that, dear readers, and let me remedy that without further delay.

Disc 1743 is…Bustin’ Out of L Seven

Artist: Rick James

Year of Release: 1979

What’s up with the Cover?  Comic Book Art! A triumphant Super Rick bursts through the walls of the L7 penitentiary (aka “Squaresville”) with the power of his mystical, magical Guitar of Groove.

I’m not sure about the superpower of his fellow heroes here. We know they aren’t werewolves, given the full moon in the background. If they were on the inside with him he might want to reconsider bustin’ out. Or maybe they were waiting for him on the other side of the wall, in which case I get it. Or maybe they knocked the wall down and he just ran through the breach.

This comic clearly needs a few more panels.

How I Came To Know It: I have been digging through Rick James’ discography since 2021. This particular album is hard to find on CD, but I was able to snatch up a used copy at my local record store. The store also knew what they had, and as a result I paid a fair bit for it, but it was worth it.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Rick James albums (plus a “Greatest Hits” compilation, but that doesn’t count). Of the four, I put “Bustin’ Out” at #4. Hey, something had to finish last.

Rating: 3 stars but almost 4

If the only thing you’ve ever heard by Rick James is “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” you are missing out. “Bustin’ Out of L Seven” doesn’t have either of those classic hits, but it has all of the things a Rick James album needs to be great.

First and foremost of these is funk, a genre where Rick James has few equals. Parliament, sure, and Prince but there aren’t many artists that can hold a candle to that Rick James groove. When he decides to get you moving, expect no half measures. These songs are loaded with groovy guitar, horn sections, hand claps, and random people going “whoo!” in perfect time. A Rick James banger is a party in a box.

It will take a while to fully groove you out – five minutes is common and seven or more not unheard of. Worry not, though – you will not at any time get bored.

On “Bustin’ Out of L Seven” the signature songs hit you 1-2 right out of the gate. Track One is the jab - “Bustin’ Out” – is a sinful dance about having a good time and doing it with no regrets. Track two is the haymaker – “High On Your Love” - seven and half minutes of musical excess. You won’t be able to tell if James is more excited to be getting high or getting off. He says he’s high on love, but with Rick the two topics are often intertwined.  

A Rick James album is a lot like a Cypress Hill album in that the topics are limited, but brilliantly explored. For Cypress Hill the exploration is smoking dope, killing folks, and killing folks trying to take your dope. Rick James is the friendly party version: smoking dope, getting laid and…parties! If James deviates from these three themes on this record it happened so fast I missed it.

A Rick James album is all about excess. Excess in how he approaches his chosen themes, and excess about how he approaches his music. There is a LOT going on in these arrangements, but it is all meticulously tied together to create a single groove. It being 1979, there is some disco adjacent funk, but Rick James is such a force of nature he makes disco adjacent to him, not the other way around.

The excess doesn’t always work, unfortunately. Weird filler tracks like “Love Interlude” are supposed to be sexy but are just kinda…gross. “Spacey Love” is supposed to be a slow dance, but James is not as natural in slow motion. He needs frenetic energy to excel.

Side Two’s longer tracks (“Jefferson Ball”, “Tool on the Street”) are a case study in kitchen-sink composition, where James throws every musical construct he can into a both songs. Does it always work? No, but you will always admire the effort, and as these two seven+ minute behemoths move through different musical concepts they will positively catch your attention at least half the time. It is like Rick James is to funk what Rush is to Prog – never content with a single funky groove for a whole track, he's gotta change it up just so he can.

In the end, even when I was saying “what the hell?”, I was saying it with a smile. This record is, simply put, a great time. It’s too crazy in places, yes, but I can’t think of how toning it down even slightly would make it any better.

Best tracks: Bustin’ Out, High on Your Love Suite, Cop ‘n’ Blow

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1742: Aerosmith

I had plenty of time to listen to this album yesterday when Sheila and I took a fun-filled trip to Sidney to go thrift shopping (and ended up in rush hour traffic on the drive home).

The trip was worth it, though. I found a bunch of albums of dubious quality, but that I bought anyway because they cost between one and two dollars. Many were records I’d owned years ago on CD or tape back that I’d sold for cash in times of need. I wonder if any of them are the same copies I sold? It is certainly possible. The fact that I sold them in the first place means they won’t be great, but if they survive the first listen, you’ll read about them down the line.

Disc 1741 is…Self-Titled

Artist: Aerosmith

Year of Release: 1973

What’s up with the Cover?  A fairly straightforward band picture album cover, superimposed on a background of a water n’ sky planet that looks like it was pulled straight from a wallpaper option in MS Publisher.

See how all the clouds perfectly align both inside the band cover and outside? In 1973 that was probably a cool effect, now it is something I could do on my home computer in about 20 minutes.

How I Came To Know It: I knew the album through reputation and everyone with an FM radio in the seventies knew the song “Dream On.” This particular CD copy was me finding this album used at a good price in a local bargain bin. One step up from the thrift shop experience I noted earlier, but only a small step.

How It Stacks Up: It may surprise you to know that this is my only Aerosmith album. I may get more in time, but it has been years and hasn’t happened yet.

Rating: 4 stars

The early seventies was a great time for rock and roll. Artists were branching out from the tried and true, and experimenting with new influences, new melodic approaches and overall embracing the grime and heaviness of what the new genre could do when pushed.

This innovative spirit is front and centre on Aerosmith’s eponymous debut. This is a record that is made for the love of the music, and you can hear the care and craft that goes into the composition of every song.

The record’s foundation is the blues, which given the era is hardly surprising. The boys would have grown up in the era of blues revivalism, as evidenced by the record’s final track, a cover of Rufus Thomas’ 1963 hit, “Walkin’ the Dog.”

The rest are original tunes, but the salty sway of the blues remains the underpinning to their structure. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Aerosmith to settle right into that pocket. The result would be recognizable as any live act playing Wednesday nights at the local dive bar, but hardly a classic.

Fortunately, Aerosmith had greater ambition than to be a blues cover band. They add in elements of progressive music, proto-metal, and boogie woogie. The mix creates a surprising range of sound and style across its modest eight songs and 35 minutes.

Steven Tyler’s vocals are wantonly wonderful. His delivery of the record’s standout track, “Dream On” is about as perfect as it gets, a slowly rising crescendo of youth, exuberance and the will to reach beyond your grasp. Years later Tyler’s vocals would become a caricature of his delivery here (albeit delightfully so) but on “Dream On” he is nothing more than an overwrought kid dreaming big, and it shows.

Joe Perry’s guitar solos are brilliant on multiple fronts. He has a classic rock sound to his delivery, and the guitar feels full and ballsy throughout. He also delivers solos throughout the record that go in interesting and unexpected ways, while always serving the song. I’ve never thought of Joe Perry as anything special, but listening to him on this record has me resolved to give him a second chance. Check him out on “Movin’ Out” in particular if you are seeking a late-record gem, as he deftly drops all the interesting bits between Tyler’s bluesy vocals.

I admit, I have been a bit gun shy about Aerosmith over the years. I remember them most during the eighties when they’d become overly commercial and were getting listened to by all manner of people who I thought had no business enjoying real rock music. They also got very glammy and commercial. Were those songs catchy? Damn right they were, but as an avowed metalhead they felt artificial and tinny to me.

By contrast, Aerosmith’s first record shows a band down in the trenches, banging out gritty, creative tracks that get into your bones like rock and roll is supposed to. I liked it so much I may explore their discography a bit more going forward and see if age and time has helped season my appreciation. For now, their debut record is a welcome part of the CD Odyssey.

Best tracks: Make It, Dream On, Mama Kin, Movin’ Out