Sunday, January 22, 2012

This Is Our Emergency

“When you've finally thrown up your hands
Poured your heart out, yet nothing stands
It seems our efforts are wasted
But yet it hasn't been in vain”

1991 was a terrible year. It started out with a three week intensive college course named “The Holocaust,” which was worse than it sounds. Then I had to drop out of school, because my mom’s horrific medical issues meant I was needed at home to help. Unfortunately, instead I spent nearly two months in the hospital after a surgery went poorly. The bulk of the year was spent working part time and driving my mom to and from her dialysis treatments out of town. It was all too late to help her though, because by September, she was gone. My friend, Wil, wasn’t having a great time of it either. He had been hospitalized for extended stretches and when home, found that he was so heavily medicated that about all he could do was sleep. Yet, out of all this darkness, something sparked between the two of us and we found a way to create something that helped inspire us and brought us closer together as friends. It was a little over 20 years ago we began a small ‘zine named This Wreckage. A project, which in many ways, got me through that terrible time and the reason why I still make half-hearted attempts at writing today via this site.

For those unfamiliar with ‘zines, they were in some sense a precursor to so many of the millions of blogs out there on the web now, but instead we used paper, typewriters, scissors, paste and photocopiers to get our message to an audience. The term ‘zine, which we hated with a passion, came from “fanzine.” Fanzines were homemade, self-published tomes, generally about one particular subject. We named our ‘zine after the 1980 Gary Numan song and produced seven issues over about a two year span. Along the way, we destroyed Mike’s photocopier (Mike, the owner of Driftwood Mac, Lincoln City’s record store, in a sense, was our benefactor), gave L.M. Tomiself a place to seemingly incite fury in anyone who read his writings, we wrote about the L.A riots, religion, and music, and Wil’s demented cartoons always adorned several pages. At one point, a na├»ve culture paper named Perpetua, published in Seal Rock, gave us a page in their much bigger paper (they had ads and a staff!) for a couple of months. We bit that hand by publishing a rant about the hypocrisy of hippies at a Kenny Loggins environmental rally, featured a questionable cartoon about Somalia and wrote negative reviews of all the promo CDs Perpetua wanted us to write about. That relationship ended after we were chased down by security at the Galleria for leaving Perpetua all over the mall without permission. It all ended in the fall of 1993 with an issue printed on newsprint instead of a photocopier (the pinnacle of ‘zinedom!). Unfortunately, by this point, we had become discouraged by the lack of real response from anyone, besides a few of our friends who submitted art and writing along the way. Plus the expense of printing it entirely out of our pockets became frivolous, because we now had rent and food to cover. The ultimate slap in the face came months after we printed that final issue, when another ‘zine that reviewed ‘zines gave us a glowing review for content, but in the end gave us poor marks, because there was no price included on our cover (it was always free), so the writer assumed that it would be too expensive to recommend to his readers.

Sometimes that same feeling of discouragement overcomes me when I post entries onto this new single minded version of This Wreckage. There’s a need inside anyone who creates art of any type for an audience. When there’s little or no sign of an audience, that artist inevitably questions the point of creating in the first place. It’s only natural. Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling what I’m doing here “art,” but I do find myself wondering why I bother to share these things, because there’s no audience for it. I wonder where the motivation comes from.

“Unfulfillment is killing you
Seems like no one shares the same view
We may have never met but
It might you who pulls me through”

Music has always been my motivation. My love of music and inherent need to share the new music I love with my friends has always been a part of who I am. It is undeniable, so I just go with it. When Wil and I first started doing This Wreckage a little over 20 years ago, music was the driving force for me. It was never featured particularly (every issue ended with music reviews), but it was always there. To be frank, I was hoping to get a bunch of demos and promos for free, so I wouldn’t have to keep spending all of my money on new music. Looking back now, after all these years, what I realize is that the importance of the work we did then was not what we thought we were seeking (an audience, free music, new friends and contacts, and in our most grandiose moments, a dream of earning a living by doing cool stuff and revolution!), instead it was the work itself. Rarely have I felt so inspired and driven as I did when we put those old ‘zines together, plus I don’t think Wil and I were ever closer as friends then when we were collaborating. We had so much fun making those issues that we still talk about recreating it in some form to this day, mainly so we have an excuse to hang out with a purpose and recruit our other friends to join us.

“Don't forget that when you doubt
That anyone will care about
A thing you do and when you're lost
Someone else is always found”

This Wreckage’s final issue may have gotten screwed by a misinformed review back in the day, but its epitaph came along nearly a year after it had been distributed. A small trickle of letters started to appear in the PO Box from mostly High School and college kids who liked what they saw and wanted to let us know that our work impacted and inspired them. We received our first paid advertisement (which was reluctantly returned rather than making a new issue simply because we finally had an ad), and along the way, we met some really cool people who have become long time friends. We met people we may not have otherwise (like when I found myself asking advice from Tsunami’s Jenny Toomey over the phone!), and we did indeed receive some pretty cool demos along the way from various bands such as Versus, Tugboat Annie, and 17 Relics.

Speaking of which, my recent posting of 2011’s best music shockingly has garnered some new music from a band looking for a feature on this very blog. This is the sort of thing I daydreamed about when we started the ‘zine, and now I’m not sure what to do, so I’ll review it and continue to enjoy the process of writing and communicating, no matter who is or isn’t paying attention.

Tremor Low
Kingmaker EP

Here we have a 5 track EP that harkens back to the goth-tinged romance bands of the early 80s like The Cure. This Bay Area four piece has tapped into some nice energy here. An early 80s post-punk vibe is clearly a touchstone here, as the first track is named “Peter Murphy’s Dead” and musically fires on all upbeat raincoat rock cylinders. Actually, their sound reminds me of a nice matching of L.A. band The Autumns and the UK’s Ray (see their Death in Fiction from a few years back). It’s amazing how these sorts of sounds make their way back into the consciousness of each new generation, since so much of this was under heard at the time. But, if the sound is done right and with passion, it is always welcome in my book. The driving title track “Kingmaker” is the highlight here with it’s sing along “Who are you?” chorus, delicate chiming guitars and splashy drumming make for a nice listen. The other big favorite is the closing “2003,” which evokes the aforementioned Peter Murphy’s dreamy solo work. This is a very consistent and enjoyable collection of songs. If any of the touchstones I mentioned are of interest, chances are you will find something to like here.

lyrics and title from Pretty Girls Makes Graves

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top 40 of 2011 Part IV

Here is the final installment of the Top 40 releases of 2011: The Top 10

I hope everyone takes a chance to share some of your favorites from this past year in the comments below!

10. We Were Promised Jetpacks
In the Pit of the Stomach
A couple of years back Ox and I went to see the Scottish lineup of The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit perform at Dante’s as part of Portland’s Music Fest NW. At that time, the second Twilight Sad CD was due to be released and they were to play some new material, so we were pretty stoked. As we walked into the crowded and appropriately burning hot club, we first headed to the bar for beer, the merch table to secure the new CDs and then to the stage. The soundtrack during this entire adventure was another band from Scotland, who despite how many times I’ve asked and had answered who they were, their name never stuck with me. All I knew is that they sounded incredible, were really intense, and their singer reminded me of golfer Lee Westwood gone insane. It wasn’t until recently that I put together their silly and apparently too difficult to remember name with a moment when I could actually seek out this four-piece’s music. They have two albums, and much like their live set, both are full of incredible intensity. This second offering, much like The Twilight Sad’s second Forget the Night Ahead, is maybe a bit too much, as there’s nary a chance to take one’s breath, aside from the closing “Pear Tree,” and the opening segment of the fantastic “Act on Impulse.” True be told though, I kind of admire the all-in fire of this music. The complex and always forward pressing drumming pushes the string shredding passes of the guitars, which act as fuel to ignite a fire into singer Adam Thompson who lays his heart on the line with commitment and searing passion. If you need feel this kind of fire burning inside, then throw on the singles “Medicine” and “Human Error,” and the surprisingly hummable “Picture of Health,” or “Sore Thumb,” and the undeniable force that is the album opener “Circles and Squares.”

9. Veronica Falls
Veronica Falls
(Bella Union/ Slumberland)
Veronica Falls have been releasing singles now for a few years, but this is their proper debut album and it’s a welcome beginning, though a pretty dark one. We start out with “Found Love in a Graveyard” a song that seems to be about having a love affair with a ghost, while we definitely don’t want to go to “The Fountain,” or delve into “Misery” or “Bad Feeling” (another ghostly entry). That’s just side one! Some of these songs sound fairly upbeat with their nice male/ female vocal harmonies, pounding barely in control drums, and tight strumming guitars, but things are definitely not all good here in Veronica Falls. The bleakness of their words isn’t overwhelming and only adds an added depth to their brand of indie pop, which is often described in terms of the C86 explosion and a touch of the Sarah brand sound, but I hear more of Australia’s late great Cannanes here, though a bit less ramshackle and a lot more focused. “Stephen” comes off as a lost Pixies track, if maybe they had decided to strip things down a bit, instead of adding the keyboard flourishes of later albums. Veronica Falls’ sound fits the black and white pastoral cover of the album. It has a wintery feel; one that is tinged with sadness, but has a familiar comfort. Don’t miss their title song “Veronica Falls,” the fairly uplifting “Come on Over,” “Right Side of my Brain,” along with the previously mentioned tunes for a sense of their sound and let’s hope they continue to make such touching music.

8. The Rifles
Freedom Run
(The Rifles/Nettwerk)
This third LP from Chingford UK’s mod-pop band The Rifles is a bit of a shock to the system. Having absolutely gone apeshit over their spiky early singles and debut No Love Lost, and enjoyed their progression to a bigger sounding act with their second album Great Escape (my 2009 # 2 pick), this new one threw me. After the first few listens, and even after hearing and loving the pre-LP single “Tangled Up in Love,” pretty much nothing sat well with me. Besides that single, at best, I felt indifference, while at worst, I was annoyed. However, this is the Rifles - this is the band that gave us “Peace and Quiet,” “Local Boy,” “Science in Violence,” and my two ultimate favorites: “When I’m Alone” and “Out in the Past.” I had to give the new material more of a chance. And, believe it or not, most of these songs started to grow on me. Their earlier work had a very punk/mod flavor (think The Clash and The Jam) and they’re blessed with huge pop sensibilities. This new work focuses more on their pop sensibilities. Really, much of this album wouldn’t sound out of place amongst work by UK pop acts from the late 60s when there was a fair amount of concept album and orchestration happening. For whatever reason, it didn’t click with me at first, even though my tastes with age have leaned more towards classic pop sounds.  Maybe it’s because of songs like “Love is a Key” and “Little Boy Blue (Human Needs)” tread in a direction that I don’t want to go. The rest of the album though, has won me over in a big way. The opening four tracks form a dazzling spectacle of chiming guitars and catchy harmonies. “Dreamer” is a builder that acts as a bridge between older Rifles and this new one (literally, as they now have a new rhythm section), while “Sweetest Thing” and its falsetto vocals climbs to sparkling heights. The other unendingly catchy number is the sing-along simplicity of  “I Get Low.” Overall, though a bit too much, but a brave step in a new direction and once one’s mind (meaning mine) is open, this proves to be a winning album that sounds classic and modern at the same time, much like Oasis did during the mid-90s with Definietly Maybe. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

7. Trembling Blue Stars
Correspondence 10” EP
Okay, so I thought last year’s double CD release, Fast Trains and Telegraph Wires (last year’s # 4 pick), was to be the final statement from longtime favorites Trembling Blue Stars. However, this 10” orange vinyl EP sprang up earlier this year to treat us to one last taste from this Robert Wratten led collective. With releases like this, the farewell can go on forever as far as I’m concerned. The opener is a mix of two songs from the last album, “Outside” and one of the highlights “Half-Light,” strung together into an ambient masterpiece re-titled “The Light outside.” Up next is another short instrumental that reflects the theme of the last album, with its quiet airwave static. “Sunrise on Mars” jumps in and acts as this set’s true single. It’s a spot on example of this band’s ability to craft perfect three minute bits of stellar heartfelt pop. Side two opens with an old 80s Wire favorite: “Kidney Bingos” with help from Caesar McInulty (The Wake) on vocals with late term member Beth Arzy (ex-Aberdeen). This straightforward rendition, though welcome, offers nothing revelatory. The final two songs are the very strong though. “A Field at Dusk” is an acoustic strummer that carries the listener into a melancholic state of total reflection, while “A Spell of Songs” is a classic finger picked number with a slowly unfolding story that has marked all phases of Wratten’s storied career stretching from the Field Mice, Northern Picture Library to this band. Will he start again? I sure hope so.

6. exlovers
“Blowing Kisses” 7”
“Starlight, Starlight” mp3
(Young and Lost Club)
Enough already! exlovers need to release an album now! This is getting ridiculous. This UK five-piece has released 3 7” singles and a 10” EP since 2008 with nary a fumble throughout, but still no full length. This year started off with promise with the 7” release of “Blowing Kisses,” another short driving song on par with their excellent Stephen Street produced “You Forget So Easily” (last year’s #15 pick) from late 2009. The B-side, “Motheaten Memories” is even better with its single guitar intro that builds into an upbeat number that crashes through some soaring peaks and valleys musically. Both of these songs show an aggressiveness that much of their prior work hasn’t shown, but the ever consistent twin vocals of Peter and Laurel guide us through these songs of fractured relationships. I thought this single for sure would mean a new album in 2011, but nothing all year…until just recently on their website they’ve announced that an album is immanent and have provided a chance to download a free track: “Starlight, Starlight.” I suggest everyone take advantage of this free preview; it’s quite a treat.

5. Secret Shine
The Beginning and the End
Secret Shine were a Sarah band in the early to mid 90s, but they were one that mined the shoegaze world more than the fey shyness of most of their label mates. Vocally, they fit right in, but musically they were bit a more noisy. Even though I treaded those Sarah grounds quite a lot back then, I somehow overlooked them. It wasn’t until after they reformed after their original drummer Tim Morris died, that I found my way to their two EPs of very nice new material released in 2006. They followed those with a new album that harkened back to their prior 90s album in 2008 (All of the Stars), which sounds great, but sometimes lacks memorable moments – like so much of the newer shoegaze material out there. This second album in their new version is a big leap forward from that one. Along with their own signature sound, this has a feel of “Pearl”-era Chapterhouse with it’s combination of electronic atmospherics mushed together with the waves of guitars and the cooing of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. This set opens with a fiery “In Between” to get the adrenaline going, while “Perfect Life” eases into a nice universal groove. Other standouts include the burning back to back side two songs: “Hole in Your Heart” and “It’s Killing Me.” “Touching Nothing,” and the big beat of “Trying to Catch the End” finish the album off in dreamy Slowdive-ish fashion. My only complaint here is that the vocals don’t quite fit right in the mix productive-wise. They sound like they’re piped in from somewhere else. Maybe it’s the odd seeming use of auto-tune, but something’s amiss in the sound at times. This is a minor complaint, because the songs are strong and most-likely the most consistent and best of their recording career.

4. Dum Dum Girls
Only in Dreams
He Gets Me High EP
(Sub Pop) 
I liked the Dum Dum Girls’ first album (2010’s home recorded, mostly solo I Will Be), but it felt more like sketches of songs. There are catchy short bursts with some great melodies, but the drum machine grows a bit old throughout and there’s far too much reverb shadowing Dee Dee Penny’s vocal gifts. I wondered what their second album would sound like with a full band and more fully realized songs. The result? I absolutely have fallen head over heels for Only in Dreams! Firstly, Dee Dee’s vocals are way more upfront and forceful here, which is a plus, because she gets to showcase her cool early - Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) inflected voice. Oh, and her oohs and aahs throughout can be spine tingling, such as in the sad plea of “Heartbeat (Take It Away),” which makes me melt. The full live band proves to be a huge benefit as well, after a year of solid touring; they have formed a tight knit base and Jules adds some tasteful 60s-ish surf guitar leads that fits beautifully inside these girl group inspired songs. Everything here is recommended, but start with the endlessly refreshing “Bedroom Eyes,” the Cramps-like “Just a Creep,” “Caught in One,” and “Tears on My Pillow.” Then, turn to the epic and haunting “Coming Down” and the emotional “Hold Your Hands.” Come to think of it, this album is actually stuffed with heartbreak and sadness and loneliness and it is a beautiful and comforting way to deal with it.

The pre-LP four song EP He Gets Me High is also highly recommended. The three originals are all worthy of making the album, especially the single standout title track. Lastly, is a cover of the Smiths’ oft-covered “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” which is a song that doesn’t need to be covered, but this is easily the best I’ve heard. The loud buzzing guitars drive this song with an urgency that most covers seem to lack and it has reinvigorated life into a song that had kind of faded from my old lexicon of favorites. Thank you!

3. Lanterns on the Lake
Gracious Tide, Take Me Home (2 CD)
(Bella Union)
After three stellar self-released CD EP’s, Northeastern England’s Lanterns on the Lake finally come through with a full length album. Last year’s EP feature “Lungs Quicken” (#14 pick for me for 2010) opens this 11 song set with its life affirming urgent plea. There are a few other holdovers from the original limited EP’s dating back to 2008’s Starlight EP. From that debut we find two songs that have undergone major overhauls: the heart wrenching “If I Have Been Unkind” and the now sweeping epic plea of “I Love You, Sleepyhead.” Also, appearing from their 2009 second EP Misfortunes and Minor Victories, another transformed treat finds “A Kingdom” becoming the upbeat centerpiece in this cinematic collection. If you thought those early EPs were impressive displays of subtle beauty and introspection, this album will fulfill and surpass all expectations! I’m pretty sure that the weather has changed to dark and menacing outside while I’ve listened to this beauty, as it evokes the myriad greys, dark blues, and greens of a misty coastline. The gentle guitar plucks and foggy atmosphere of the layers of strings envelop these songs with shimmering depth. Check out the autumn colors of “Blanket of Leaves,” “Not Going Back to the Harbour,” and the perfect “Tricks.”

Also, if you have the chance, find the version of this album with the “Rough Trade Bonus Disc.” Two of the songs are reprised remixes from the album, but are really the full superior versions of what made the LP. While the two new tracks are both stunners!

2. The Wild Swans
The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years
Tracks in Snow EP
Could this really be true: a third album from the Wild Swans? I hear their trademark icy keyboard atmospherics, some twinkling piano fills, pristine guitar leads and Paul Simpson’s distinctive and personable voice; it is true! Let’s see, they formed in like 1980, released their first official LP in 1988 and find their way to this: The Coldest Winter in a Hundred Years by 2011. Maybe most surprising is that these 13 tracks collect the sound, the passion and the romanticism first heard from these northern Brits back in 1982 with their legendary “Revolutionary Spirit” single and their early BBC recordings. I cannot tell you how welcome this release is! You see, as a young kid, I discovered this band through the vinyl only release of their three song Peel Session, which is stunning (a record I purchased twice due to wearing it out). That very release spawned a rebirth and led them to finally record their first album: Bringing Home the Ashes, an album that has not fared well critically over time, but one which I proudly claimed in 1988 as my favorite of that year and am not ashamed that it still holds a warm place in my heart. Yes, it has dated a bit, due to a heavy 80s production sound (drums that sound like machines, etc), but the songs are stellar. An odd second album followed two years later and was way too influenced by producer Ian Broudie, whose Lightning Seeds were splashing rainbows and candy all over the world at that time. Space Flower was mildly interesting, but turned out to be fleeting ear candy that has not been a favorite to return to. I’m not sure why I’m going through the history lesson here, though it is an interesting one – considering that the band is more of a legend or myth than an actual entity. In 2009, they shocked me by releasing a magical 10” two song single with the catchy UK referencing “English Electric Lightning,” (included here) and the wonderful short story/song “The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years” which details the early years of the Liverpool music scene through the eyes of main Swan Paul Simpson. “Liquid Mercury” was the next peak at new material (also included here) and it shines as a prime example of their new material – a pristine classic catchy tune. Most of these songs are simple 3 minute pop nuggets, yet they jammed full of feeling and depth. The clear theme throughout is a sense of loss – and that loss being England’s fall from grace – at least in Simpson’s mind. It is probably a bit overdone, but there’s a little bit in all of us that looks back into parts of the past longingly and the supposed good times. This one will feed that desire and provides the perfect reflective soundtrack to do so. “Falling to Bits,” the opener, with its declaration “This town is falling to bits and I don’t like it/ We need a bonfire lit and I’ll ignite it” serves as a proper thesis that leads to the aforementioned songs, the heavily referenced “My Town” and the lamenting closer “The Bluebell Wood;” all of which provide examples of better times. The best songs though lie in the other tracks. I love the bursting chorus of “Chloroform,” and the tragedy of its both World War referencing lyrics, and the mournful yet comforting conversation with loved ones now passed in “Lost At Sea.” This is what I signed up for and why this CD has stayed in constant rotation throughout much of the year. I don’t know if the Wild Swans will stick around this time or disappear for another 10 years, but I recommend everyone seek this out while they’re still here. I would start with their early years 2 CD retrospective from 2003, Incandescent, but I hear that’s now out of print and selling at outrageous prices, so get this while the opportunity still exists!!

Through direct mail order from Occultation, one can also pick up the 3 song suite Tracks in Snow, which should be released as a single. All three songs are easily album worthy, if not radio single ready. “Dark Times” works as the perfect Wild Swans anthem in less than 3 minutes! Wait! No! “Disintegrating” is the perfect Wild Swans single that encapsulates their ability to capture broken hearted moments with a comforting touch. Meanwhile, the closing “Poison” is a nice little love song - also highly recommended.

1. The Joy Formidable
The Big Roar (Box set)
I am in love with this band. I have to come clean. There’s no way around it. When I first ran across their impressive mix of soaring shoegaze atmospherics mixed with the grinding propulsive drive of the best post-punk, and the crazy frenetic drumming, I was hooked. Listening to this, their official debut album (though 2009’s A Balloon Called Moaning was basically an album – my #1 pick from last year!!), has made me feel like a high school kid again! They have rekindled that early spark I had when I first became a music obsessive fanatic. When I wanted to follow bands on tour, wear their t-shirts every day and litter my walls with posters and album art. The Big Roar fits that bill too! Its mix of epic barnstormers and short fast pounders, along with an unusual bent on lyrics; reminded me of the sprawling mess that I fell in love with when I first came home with The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me in 1987, as a 16 year old. Not that they sound anything like each other, but the creative drive and willingness to go for it at all costs is what is appealing. The only downside of their debut is that four of these twelve numbers were already on last years’ EP/LP, though these are bigger sounding and “Whirring” now is a closer approximation of the unbelievable show-stopper that this gale force band is live (a must see!!!). Also, last autumn’s stunning single “I Don’t Want to See You like This” appears here as well. We’ll let this go though, since these songs needed more exposure, because they are simply that damn good. The remaining seven songs are glimpses into the shear raw power that this Welsh by way of London trio possess. The opening track “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” is a slow building lengthy glider that spirals itself into a frenzied show stopping force! Though it’s not the easiest way to be exposed to the band, it certainly shows off where they’re about to take us. The highlights for me, besides the appearance of the double-kick drum on a handful of tracks (feeding my secret metal head needs), come with the bursting short-ish songs, such as the punky “The Magnifying Glass,” the explosive “Chapter 2,”and the cryptic “A Heavy Abacus.” I hope they don’t burn themselves out too quickly! This is amazing stuff.

The box set, if you can get your hands on one, comes with a second disc with 6 tracks from their earlier days. The highlights are the Catherine Wheel-like shredder “Greyhounds in the Slips” and the underrated 2010 single “Popinjay,” which is downright creepy. Also included are two DVDs. One disc follows the band a journey from their home base to the beach where they filmed the video for “I Don’t Want to See You like This,” (video included) as well as compiling all of their early videos for “Whirring,” “Austere,” and “Cradle.” The other disc is an up close, audience perspective view of the band in an early NYC gig. It gives one a taste of how impressive they are in person.

Here's to a new year and much much more great music and don't forget to share your choices for the best of 2011!

Links: Top 40 #'s 40-31
                      #'s 30-21
                      #'s 20-11

Top 40 of 2011 Part III

Here are the listings from #'s 20-11of my favorites of 2011:

20. Buffalo Tom
Getting older sucks. More and more, I’m finding I’m writing about bands in their 30-somethingth year of existence and in some cases wondering what happened to their initial fire and power. Buffalo Tom is a prime example. Their first three albums were Dinosaur Jr.-tinged, true American, college rock feasts of blasting guitars, tumultuous drums and achingly powerful songs that peaked with the stellar rollercoaster ride that is 1992’s Let Me Come Over. In 2007, they reunited after their initial 10 year run, with a so-so album (Three Easy Pieces) that made the purchase of Skins a bit of a risk, and much like the direction of their post 1992 career arc, the songs have mostly lost their edge and spunk. It’s not bad though. In 1995 I might’ve shelved this CD after one listen and written it off as old man rock – much like I did with 1993’s horribly produced Big Red Letter Day. Now that I am an old man, I see some value here. The opening “Arise, Watch” is a stunning piece of vocal interplay that traces new ground without losing attention. ‘Down” recalls some of their older work, as does the spunky “Guilty Girls.” Other standouts include the momentous “Here I Come,” “Lost Weekend,” and the closing “Out of the Dark.” Yet, when I hear the mandolin and acoustic plucks of the glossy duet with Tanya Donelly (ex-Throwing Muses, Breeders & Belly), I get sleepy and bored. There’s a bit too much of that here, but they are on an improving arc, and that is a good thing!

19. Ringo Deathstarr
Colour Trip
(Sonic Unyon)
Colour Trip is this Austin, Texas trio’s first official album and it is a welcome one. For those out there who love shoegaze with some bite, there is something of quality to be found here. Their sound goes back to the Jesus and Mary Chain – like many of the original shoegaze bands of the late-80s/early 90s – taking cues from the deep breathy vocals and machine-like pop precision of JAMC’s Honey’s Dead. Then, they infuse their sound with massive doses of My Bloody Valentine waves of guitar disorientation. In other words, this is pretty cool. I also appreciate the focus, as most of these songs clock in at fewer than 3 minutes. There isn’t a lot of groundbreaking here, but they have found a sound and they have breathed some life and passion into it and it shines through. Feel their force on the MBV ode “Imagine Hearts,” the Lush-like explosion of “So High,” and “Tambourine Girl.” The ultimate song – one of the best of the year – is the two minute “Kaleidoscope,” whose brevity and humming feedback atmosphere makes me want to hear it over and over again and yet again.

Sparkler, a compilation of their early EP and singles, was originally released in 2009, but I had not yet discovered these guys. Luckily, Sonic Unyon has made these songs readily available again. Here Ringo’s influences are even more clearly stated, but one can see their talent and ability in such songs as “Some Kind of Sad,” “Down on You,” and “Sweet Girl in Love.” Colour Trip is their better and more original work, but both are worth the price of admission.

18. For Against
Black Soap EP
Nebraska’s rock legends For Against have been creating amazing music for over 25 years and this EP collects three songs from their earliest recordings together in 1984 and allows them to see the light of day for the first time. It proves that they had a lot of talent to burn from the get go. “Black Soap,” their first ever recording, is a short and speedy post-punk landmark chock full of early Cure reverbed bass lines (think “Play for Today”), scratchy guitars and busy drumming and, of course, monotone dark lyrics (“your black soap won’t get me clean”). An amazing start! “Dark Good Friday” sounds a bit more like the direction For Against headed with their first two 80s albums with Harry Dingman’s stratospheric guitars chiming atop Jeffrey Runnings’ mid-range bass fills. Lastly, we find a different mix of their now famous (in my dream world that is) club epic “Amen Yves (White Circles),” which originally appeared on their unbelievably creative In the Marshes 10”, as part of Independent Project Records’ “Archive Series” in 1990 (my favorite of all their records). Crucial for fans.

17. Should
Like a Fire Without Sound
It’s been since 1998 since Should released Feed Like Fishes and to be honest I had kind of forgotten about them. In some ways, this doesn’t sound like the same band, since the fuzz and noise of their early records has been completely stripped away. What we’re left with without this added coating is a much more memorable bunch of songs. The nine songs here are very downbeat and precise and perfect for a nice lazy afternoon of daydreaming. Each little nuance and subtle addition to these fairly sparse songs conjure up very pleasing hummable moments. The delicate melodies that Marc Ostermeier and Tanya Maus create here on such standouts as “Turned Tables,” “Slumberland,” and “Just Not Today” all feel so familiar and comfortable that I cannot shake them from my consciousness. Plus, I cannot overlook the cool factor of their cover of Disco Inferno’s “Broken” (from their 1991 In Debt compilation LP!). Please check this out!

16. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
(Collective Sounds/ Slumberland)
This is a very nice second album. The Pains’ first had a decidedly small indie pop sound, which mirrored the early Slumberland artists from 89-92 in sound and vibe, has been transformed into a much bigger one with the addition of mega producer Flood (U2, Depeche Mode, etc) and a superb mix job by the remarkable Alan Moulder (Swervedriver, Ride, Lush, Curve, etc). These kids are clearly making a step forward and searching for a wider audience. Hot on the heels of last year’s two shining 7” singles, this album starts off with the heavy buzz and danceable jangle of the title track followed by the super poptastic classic “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” and “Heart in Your Heartbreak (second of the 2010 singles – last year’s # 23 pick). These three songs show the promise that the Pains have! The remainder of the album is full of solid little songs, though it levels off a bit. Some other good high points include the teen anthem of “Even in Dreams,” the very Jesus and Mary Chain-ish “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” and the trance inducing closer “Strange.” I look forward to their next progression.

15. The Lonely Forest
Every once in a while, an album comes along where nothing really astounds me, yet I find myself listening to it all the time. This year’s candidate is from the, apparently third album by Anacortes, WA natives, The Lonely Forest. I say apparently, because I had never heard of them and am a bit saddened that I have let them slip through my fingers this long. Luckily, Death Cab’s Chris Walla snapped them out of obscurity and signed them to his own fledgling label imprint with Atlantic and produced them as well. In addition, they played some dates with the Joy Formidable around the time Arrows was released and I was able to see them play last spring. They are a straightforward good old fashioned college rock band that has a knack for writing some pretty catchy anthems. Most of these songs feel like they should be played at outdoor festivals. Their lyrics are very relatable and down to earth. In fact, they really should be much better known than they are! Maybe vocalist John Van Deusen’s mildly nasally voice may turn some people off, but it doesn’t bother me. Maybe I simply relate to their clear love of the Pacific Northwest’s access to oceans, harbors, rivers, lakes, lush forests and mountains that shines through their music (check out their love song to the NW: “I Don’t Want to Live There”) that I relate to. At any rate, the highlight here is “Turn Off This Song and Go Outside,” and very catchy pop tune that is telling us to do exactly what it says. The album is bookended by a couple of quiet ballads, but for the most part this collection rocks and finds some good hooks in songs like “Two Notes and a Beat,” “Coyote,” and the twin songs that examine the inside and outside of love “(I Am) The Love Skeptic” (“and the bullshit never ends”) and “(I Am) The Love Addict.” This is very entertaining.

14. Nature Set
Enough is Enough 7” EP
Oh boy! This is fantastic! “Enough is Enough” comes on fast and is as addictive as crack! I love it! This UK four-piece had me dancing around like the moron I am in seconds with "Enough is Enough," and the best part is that the other three songs herein are just as strong. I make it no secret, I am a sucker for catchy, energetic pop songs and it’s a bonus when they come packaged with female vocals with lots of background harmonies! “You or Nobody” slows things down a bit and at times sounds a bit like label-mates The School. Then they get their early Go-Go’s on with the B-side opener, “At Least Not Today,” while finally catching a psychedelic tinge with their darker closing track “The Engineer,” which reminds me of a song I know so well, but I cannot place it. Whatever the case, this is excellent and I am an instant convert. I cannot wait to hear more. They have just released a split cassette with the newly formed Former Lover, who is led by ex Long Blonde (a favorite in this house), Dorian Cox. I am filled with anticipation.

13. Standard Fare
“Suitcase” 7”
“Darth Vader” mp3
Standard Fare/One Happy Island
Split 7” EP
(Melodic/Thee Sheffield Phonographic Co)
Last year’s debut album from Standard Fare, The Noyelle Beat (#3 pick), was a refreshing and surprising blast of fun and lively songs that have continued to linger in my head for nearly two years now. I’m so glad that they’ve released a bit of new music this year while waiting with great anticipation for the January 2012 release of their sophomore effort, Out of Sight, Out of Town. The split single with Boston’s One Happy Island finds both bands covering each other’s songs, along with one original each. Standard Fare takes a crack at what turns out to be an incredible OHI song: “Kudzu Girlfriend.” The title alone tells us where this one is going, but Standard Fare turn this into their own with their brand of C86 jangly buzz and duel vocals. Their original contribution is another tight 2 minutes. One Happy Island takes on Standard Fare’s “Night with a Friend,” and similarly, they make this their own. One Happy Island reminds of a modern version of the low-fi Beat Happening sound, but with much better playing. Their music is charming with unusual instrumentation and it works perfectly with this great duet. Their original “China Fair” is another revelation and a good reason to seek this music out.

“Suitcase” is an incredible song that shows us that Standard Fare is ready to grow and expand, though they are also ready to abandon all of us for a bunker prepared for nuclear fallout. The B-side here, “Nine Days,” also shows another side of the band with a much more reserved feel.

This quieter sound continues on Standard Fare’s newest mp3 single “Darth Vader,” which finds them switching perspective from the exuberance and frailty of young love to a level of maturity mixed with resignation. The non-LP track that comes with the single download, “Argument,” is another short two minute worth the .99 cents, but clearly a B-side.

12. Wire
Red Barked Tree
(Pink Flag)
It’s hard to believe that the third version of Wire (second reformation – now as a trio) has lasted longer than either of the previous two. The most amazing part is that Red Barked Tree is their most live-sounding, and spontaneous album since maybe 1977’s Pink Flag! The best part for me is that this album seems to accumulate the sounds and styles that they have experimented with off and on for the last 35 years and smash them all together in a surprisingly cohesive 40 or so minute whole. Speaking of smashing, “Smash” here is one of their best true rock songs ever! But who cannot love the straight ahead punk burst of “Two Minutes” or the oddball (a word I used twice in a description for their 2008 # 7 pick Object 47) Graham Lewis sung “Bad Worn Thing”? And who would’ve ever thought we’d hear layers of acoustic guitars strumming along on the closing statement “Red Barked Trees”? This band continues to progress in unexpected, and more importantly, refreshing ways. Amazing.

11. Drugstore Anatomy
“Sweet Chili Girl” CDsingle
“Standing Still” CDsingle
(Rocket Girl)
Yet another band that we had lost in time has returned. This was once surprising, but nowadays, it has become commonplace and welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about selling out and all that. These artists deserve a second chance at attention. I hope they make it! At any rate, during the mid-to-late 90s Drugstore was a perennial favorite of mine. Their brand of catchy acoustic based tunes crooned by the Brazilian born bandleader Isabel Monteiro really found a home in my heart. This trio had an energetic spark, despite some fairly quiet numbers, which revealed itself on their fiery second album White Magic for Lovers (1998). However, ten years after their so-so third offering found them splintering and disappearing, Monteiro has come back with a new lineup and with renewed enthusiasm. These ten songs are subdued and quiet and really quite depressing (sample lyric: “I want salt in the wound/I want blood in the rain/everytime that I move/I want nothing but pain”), but also full of life and verve. Instead of coming off as woe is me, these songs of heartbreak feel more like an understanding old friend who has come to help us nurse our wounds. There are many references to things coming to an end: lights going out, falling rocks, etc, but it feels natural, like the end of a chapter and the start of something new. The tracks here are sparser than ever, with mostly a solo acoustic album feel, but are warmed by light touches of subtle instrumentation throughout. Most welcome is the heart-tugging strings of the closer “Clouds,” and the Spanish inflected duet “Aquamarine,” which reminds me of some of those beautiful cinematic songs by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra from the late 60s. This album seems to improve with each listen!

The singles are not essential here, especially, the “Sweet Chili Girl” 2 tracker, both songs bookend the album. The standout album track “Standing Still” offers two new songs, which are okay (“Don’t Throw Me In” and “Bring Me His Head”) in the same vein as the album, but not as revealing and exciting as some of the band’s past b-side material.

We're almost there!  Stayed tuned for the Top 10 next time.

Links: Top 40 #'s 40-31
                      #'s 30-21
                      #'s 10-1

Top 40 of 2011 Part II

In an effort to keep things in more of a bite sized format, I have broken the Top 40 into 4 parts. These are the reviews for 2011 from pick #'s 30-21.

Here we go:

30. The Primitives
Never Kill A Secret 7” EP
(Fortuna Pop!)
The first time I heard the Primitives brand of speedy, buzzing, 2 minute pop songs in the late 80s, I was completely sold. Hearing the famous “Crash” single for the first time was a breath of fresh air that blew off the dormancy of my childhood love of the early 60s do-wop girl groups like the Shangri-La’s, The Supremes and The Ronettes, except now these catchy tunes came with the heaping portion of fuzzed out guitars a la Jesus and Mary Chain, with the adrenaline rush of the Buzzcocks thrown into the mix. “Thru the Flowers,” “Way Behind Me,” “Out of Reach,” and especially “Spacehead” were instantaneous blasts of energy that I feasted on over and over again. I think hearing Tracy Tracy’s semi detached vocals atop that buzz (on their appropriately titled debut Lovely) changed my music tastes forever. Up to that point, most of my music loves of the time were leaning towards the male dominated US indie bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Lemonheads, Husker Du/Bob Mould, Pixies, etc, but now I had fallen in love with the female fronted bands. The love didn’t last long though, as their second album Pure, though it had some nice moments, didn’t contain that same immediacy that was their early hallmark, while their final album came and went without me noticing it. So, their return after 17-18 years of dormancy was one I approached cautiously. These four songs are quite a revelation! They may have more in common with the slower more 60s Nuggets garage style of rock, like Pure, my tastes have expanded as well, finding me in love with these songs. “Rattle My Cage” is a classic sex tune that needs Go-Go dancers in cages and a constantly panning camera for a video. Tracy Tracy’s cool has not diminished in the slightest and the band sounds invigorated to be back at it. “Never Kill A secret” is a nice acoustic strummer, while the closer, “Breakaway” definitely sounds like some lost early 60s pop number. Also, included is a very nice cover of the great Lee Hazlewood’s “Need All the Help I Can Get.” Welcome back! Now I’m ready for a new album.

29. Low
(Sub Pop)
This is Low’s 9th album and they have not made a misstep along the way. Their only downfall is maybe diminishing returns over the years, as their cryptic crawling songs can weigh a bit heavy over time. Then again, their last two were their loudest and most upbeat records to date, ending with 2007’s Drums and Guns (Really? Has it been that long?). This new material definitely includes some of their fuller arrangements that they’ve been slowly (sorry) adding on over time, but this overall harkens back to their 2002 classic Trust. Like that album, this is one is recorded in a church and has a big open-ended sound that does wonder for their sound. This album is a bit of a mixed bag as compared to some of their seamless past work. Maybe they’re trying to find new directions and haven’t landed on exactly which way to turn yet. My favorites on this include what may be one of their best singles to date in the album opener “Try to Sleep,” and the banjo infused stomper “Witches.” Some other highlights are two of the longer tracks that remind of their earliest days with evil sounding organ led “Especially Me” and the hypnotic “Nothing but Heart.” It’s good to have Low around, like it’s good to have at least an occasional snowfall in the winter. They remind us to ease off the gas a bit and reflect.
( or PO Box 600 Duluth, MN 55801)

28. Maritime Human Hearts
This band will always be compared to the great 90s act The Promise Ring, because of Davey von Bohlen’s distinctive voice. This is both a good and bad thing. Those who appreciated that band’s work should be alerted that a couple of these guys are still at it (Maritime also includes the complex drummer Dan Didier from the Promise Ring) and on their fourth album since 2004. On the other hand, some might be disappointed with the mildly new direction and I’m sure the band itself grew tired of past band references years ago. What sets this band apart from their predecessor is the basic simplicity of their songs. They are built on top of a very rock solid rhythm section and guitarists von Bohlen and Dan Hinz color in the remainder with nice high end post-punk fills. What we’re left with are a bunch of really nice hummable pop songs that will stick in your head after a few listens and keep you coming back for more. Several of these songs would make great hit singles: “Paraphermalia,” “Air Arizona,” and the teen angst anthem “Annihilation Eyes,” but “Peopling of London” and “Faint of Hearts” are the big standouts for me with their deep bass walk and gradual build. Check these guys out.

27. Still Corners
Creatures of an Hour
(Sub Pop)
This debut album from Still Corners is an interesting work. I’m not sure what to make of it. Apparently, they released an EP in 2007, but I didn’t hear of them until last year’s really strong “Don’t Fall in Love” 7”. This collection does not contain any songs that quite live up to that single, but overall, it is a dreamy mood piece that will transport the listener into another world. I’m just not certain what kind of world that is. Many of the songs here are infused with some creepy sounding organ which gives it a circus crossed with 60s acid drench psychedelic feel, which is an odd juxtaposition considering that Tessa Murray’s breathy barely there vocals sugarcoat a pretty mellow and relaxing, if not a bit unsettling collection. The best songs here include the opening “Cuckoo,” the misplaced instrumental “Circulars,” which should be later in the tracklisting, the shuffling “Into the Trees,” and the goth-tinged “I Wrote in Blood.” I’m sure this is all very confusing to read, so just check them out and see for yourself.

26. Big Troubles
Romantic Comedy
This is the second long player from Big Troubles, but the first for me. It makes sense why Slumberland picked these guys up, because they have a knack for very catchy pop numbers, one of which approaches a lost Pains of Being Pure at Heart track (“Minor Keys”). By all accounts, their debut is a super low-fi fuzzy nugget, but I hear no evidence of such on this follow-up. In fact, they’ve brought in Mitch Easter (Let’s Active and, most famously, early R.E.M.) to put his producer’s touch on this and from what I can ascertain it would be a similar makeover that the UK’s Moose made when Easter produced their first LP back in the early 90s. That transformation found Moose suddenly going from shoegaze noise makers to whistling acoustic pop purveyors. That’s what this album sounds like, even though the lyrics defy the title and spell out bad luck with love, the music is mostly pretty splashy and full of sunshine. It’s an enjoyable listen that reminds a bit of Velvet Crush’s debut In the Presence of Greatness. There’s no big statement here, but a whole big of hooky songs to enjoy like “She Smiles for Pictures,” “Misery,” the melancholic “Engine,” and my favorites “Make it Worse” and the closing “Never Mine.”

25. Astrid Williamson
(Incarnation/One Little Indian)
This is easily Astrid Williamson’s worst album in her career. It lacks the highly flying breezy intensity of her solo debut in 1998, or the strong singer-songwriter back to basics of her second self-titled album and 2006’s Day of the Lone Wolf. And though this album seems like an old relic from the world of 80s overproduction and prodigious use of senseless sound effects, it lacks the 80s new romantic spark of her 2009 LP Here Come the Vikings. And don’t get me started on how far removed this is in quality to the epic shoegazing classic she led her original band Goya Dress through. The blame seems to lie with her collaboration with Leo Abrahams who has apparently worked extensively with famed ambient lord Brian Eno. He has crushed the drive of much of this album with bleeps, bloops and frustratingly distracting effects. Having said all of this though, Williamson is an accomplished songwriter whose deft touch with lyrics and beautiful piano flourishes saves this album. For every weighted down mess such as the drudgingly dull “Underwater” and “Husk,” we find a back to basics straight-forward “Miracle” and a winning “Pulse.” The best songs feature mostly (aside from some unnecessary flourishes) just Astrid and her piano as on the timeless “Connected” and achingly beautiful “Paperbacks.” This isn’t a bad album, it simply has a few missteps, but I will continue to sing the praises of this way too overlooked artist.

24. Sons and Daughters
Mirror Mirror
"Breaking Fun” 7”
This is this Scottish quartet’s third long player, and after the in-the-red forcefulness of their last LP, 2008’s This Gift (my #1 pick of that year), they have brought the tempos down a lot. Instead of the straight-ahead guitar assault of the last one, or the foot stomping traditional Scottish tones, crossed with punk styling’s of their debut and near perfect EP, 2004’s Love the Cup, Sons and Daughters go all gothic post-punk on us. What has remained is their love of murderous and menacing lyrics, as evidenced in the back to back songs about a serial killer (“Rose Red” and the famous Black Dahlia murder “Axed Actress”). This fits in well with their new style. The scratchy guitars and empty echo chamber effects of the drums make this feel like a lost Bauhaus album with some female vocals added in. Unfortunately, this is not what I signed up for with this band. It has taken me some serious listening to find a way into this heavy somewhat burdensome album. Once inside, there are moments of light that remind why this band has always been so appealing to me. That reason: catchy songs! Though, they are clearly going for atmosphere here over pop singles, there are some sparkling sing-along choruses that have wrapped themselves into my psyche, such the declarative passage in “Orion” and the upbeat downshift chorus of “Don’t Look Now.” The clear standout here though, is “Rose Red,” which finds the band hitting their strengths and sounding like they’re having a good time re-telling the bloody story and even jumping into a first person mindset. This album at first was a bit shocking. My distaste for it as a whole was palpable. It has won me over a bit since the summertime, but I am hoping that this turns out to be an experiment only and that they angle for something different next time. I recommend this, only to the hardcore fans. To anyone wanting to try them out for the first time: start with Love the Cup and then jump full bore into This Gift!

The single “Breaking Fun” is an odd choice. It has no real hook and though the lyrics are quite thought-provoking, it hides this band’s true talents of writing really catchy tunes. Kind of a dud. Better is the short b-side “Giallo,” but definitely not worth seeking out.

23. Idaho
You Were A Dick
(Idaho Music)
Idaho has returned after a 6 year a hiatus with their 8th long player. It’s hard to believe really. I skipped the last LP, 2005’s The Lone Gunman, as it was really more of a movie soundtrack then a proper LP. So instead for me it’s been 10 years since Jeff Martin’s musical vehicle has crossed my path with his first truly solo work, 2001’s Levitate. To be honest, I barely remember that album. All of the past trademarks return on Dick: Martin’s quiet, croaky voice, mostly down-tempo and atmospheric, short songs dominate. As with all of his work, my favorites tend toward the edgier, louder numbers such as “The Space Between” and “Up the Hill.” The excellent title track starts things off on a telling path with its story of personal disappearance, as the narrator observes an old acquaintance over what sounds like a social media site. Has he really moved on with his life, or simply changed locations (“is it that you were a dick to me in high school?”)? It sets a thought-provoking tone. Like much of Martin’s work, the songs can be a bit hit and miss and can be difficult to dig into. However, it is worth the effort, as repeated listens provide increased intimacy into what he’s trying to achieve. This doesn’t achieve the heights of Idaho’s best work, 1997’s The Forbidden EP, nor 1998’s most cohesive work, Alas (which Martin reissued on his own imprint a few years back as a combo pack), but it has it’s moments and is a welcome return. If you seek this out from his website, you will also receive a bonus DVD with a bunch of extra songs! While you’re there, pick up the reissue I just mentioned; along with Idaho’s fantastic debut 7” single “Skyscraper” from 1992, which sold me on them from the beginning and their ’93 debut Year After Year!

22. Social Distortion
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
Six plus years since their last LP has passed in a flash and Social Distortion return like an old friend. After about 33 years or so, this is only their seventh actual album, yet they have chiseled a permanent mark in rock-n-roll history. Who would’ve thought that Mike Ness – a skinny little punk rocker – would become a source of some of the most authentic old fashioned classic rock-n-roll? Yet, we’ve witnessed the evolution with each spread out entry from the snotty punk of their early singles and 1983’s Mommy’s Little Monster to the Stones by way of Ness’ heroes: Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. blend of today. In many ways, this LP feels like what Ness has been striving for since 1988’s Prison Bound, with its tough guy ballads and tales of bad luck, fugitives on the run, and surviving through and despite it all. Though I personally prefer the shredding and angry side of Social D that rears its ferocious head on a few songs each album and throughout the entirety of 1996’s White Light, White Heat, White Trash, I cannot deny that this may be their ultimate complete statement with such cracking numbers as the opening instrumental thesis statement “Road Zombie,” to the closing favorite “Still Alive,” and all the dusty sidetracks in between. Thanks for stopping by on your travels, old friend.

21. British Sea Power
Valhalla Dancehall
(Rough Trade)
I’ve always liked British Sea Power, but I have also always held them away at a suspicious distance. They have a remarkable ability to write huge hooks for massive sounding anthemic songs, but they also have the tendency to bury them in obscurities, needless complexities and what seems like inside jokes. They also like to clutter much of their collections with needlessly long songs. Aside from their most focused work yet, 2005’s Open Season, their other three albums though grandiose and innovative, also drag on too long and wear out the audience. As always, there is much to recommend here. The opening “Who’s in Control?” is like a soccer chant filled with angry lyrics that gets the adrenaline going. “We are Sound” is an even better offering, but then the mixed bag starts to set in. “Georgie Ray” is a slow burner that has a nice hook, but is a bit of a momentum killer so early in the album. “Mongk II” is a personal favorite, with its buzzing and endlessly open ended sound working its way to an obscure but catchy refrain, while “Observe the Skies” also gets me singing along at every turn ("Let's watch the nebulae explode"). “Luna” is a solid mid-tempo song, as is the first single “Living is so Easy” and the closing “Heavy Water.” On the other hand, these 13 songs are hampered by the heavy handed and odd “Baby,” and the unbelievably endless “Cleaning Out the Rooms” and “Once More Now” (over 11 minutes!!). These epics aren’t bad songs; they’re simply a bit much. The good greatly outweighs the bad, so I definitely will keep an ear out for their future material, but will continue to hope for a tighter album that focuses on their strengths.

That's it for this installment!  We're halfway there, so please stayed tuned for the Top 20.

links: Top 40 #40-31
                     # 10-1