Category: Grade: A

Haim – Women in Music, Part III

ARTIST: Haim 

TITLE: Women in Music, Pt. III

YEAR RELEASED: 2020

CHART ACTION:  #13 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Now I’m in It (#9 Rock), Hallelujiah (#38 Rock), The Steps (#24 Rock), I Know Along (#29 Rock), Don’t Wanna (#26)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You don’t but you should. And see the Deluxe Version below.

LINEUP: Danielle Haim, Alana Haim, Este Haim. Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij were their main collaborators again and Tommy King added some keyboards as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A breakthrough, written and recorded despite travails all around them. They produced one of 2020’s classic works.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sometimes personal tragedy brings great art. Each sister of Haim had struggles and tribulations with death, cancer, and diabetes. Also, they had enough of gender roles and attitudes by the music machine.

So, they got to the studio, and expanded their sound greatly, and had songs inspired by many genres and artists. The sound palette put form by the sisters and their producers fits each song on the button. While there is still a bit of their breezy, summery pop in there, Haim is head on addressing a lot of issues and does so with tremendous aplomb.

This is my favorite album from 2020 thus far, and it is deserving of the accolades.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were nominated from Grammys for Album of the Year and the song “The Steps” for Best Rock Performance.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yeah, oh yeah. Deluxe issues have  a new version of“3 AM” with Thundercat collaborating. The single “Summer Girl” (#27 Rock) was appended as well, and the most recent addition is “Gasoline” with Taylor Swift.

 GRADE A+: It’s an incredible work and definitely speaks to the misogyny of the record industry and press, along with working through their various personal hurdles.

Pink Floyd – Animals

ARTIST: Pink Floyd                 
TITLE: Animals
YEAR RELEASED: 1977
CHART ACTION: #3 US, #2 UK
SINGLES: None
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not many people know this one, really, since it’s basically three LONG songs.
LINEUP: Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Richard Wright..
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An ALLEGORY, just like George Orwell’s Animal Farm!

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dogs, pigs, and sheep. Roger Waters has some thoughts about the human race, and they involve those animals and how people are just like them (well, everyone is one of them).

Yes, it’s an allegory! And before you think that Waters was totally ripping off Orwell, the criticism was over capitalism this time, and not Stalinism. The same capitalism that gave Waters, et. al. boatloads of money (and lost them boatloads too due to bad investments).

Now, before you roll your eyes, the music this time is more energetic and urgent than Wish You Were Here, and adds some heft to the proceedings. And while this is Waters’ baby, (only Gilmour has a co-writing credit, and just one), the band seems a bit more into it. Even though it’s just three long songs (and two little tidbits bookending the allegory), it’s not as ponderous.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: David Gilmour again complained about Waters splitting up a song, but this time it was suspected that “Pigs on the Wing” was split in two for royalties and not for artistic purposes. Some anti-capitalist.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A-: They’ve got some energy that keeps the allegory from overwhelming the music.

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

ARTIST: Pink Floyd                             

TITLE: Dark Side of the Moon               

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Money (#13 US), Us & Them (#101)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: What DON’T you know?

LINEUP: Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Richard Wright. Claire Torrey did the vocals on The Great Gig in the Sky. Dick Parry played sax. Doris Troy, Lesley Duncan, Lisa Strike, and Barry St. John did backing vocals. Various around the studio contributed voice overs.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A pinnacle album for production, progressive rock, the 70’s, you name it.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Can I say anything about Dark Side of the Moon that hasn’t been said? Well, I’ll try to be somewhat original, I guess.

The production and engineering are stellar, probably the best sounding record I’ve heard (thanks to Alan Parsons even if some of the band won’t say it). The record was a pioneer on using sequencers to great effect, and the sound effects the band used were stellar and added so much to the recording.

But none of that would matter without the songs and the playing. This may be the last true record as a band where they all collaborated instead of one member rather much dictating what was to be played. The songs grew out of concerts they played in 1972 and 1973 where they workshopped the songs and got them just right. Every band member was on top of their game.

It deserves all of the accolades it received, and listening to it with fresh ears (with earbuds or headphones) will bring you delight. Oh, and it’s been on the charts for 957 weeks total in the US. So…yeah.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Parsons made the standard 35-pound sum as engineer for this record. And Claire Torrey received credit for “The Great Gig in the Sky” since she just ad-libbed those vocals.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. Why should there be?

GRADE A+: The apex of prog rock and Pink Floyd.

Green Day – Kerplunk!

ARTIST: Green Day 220px-Green_Day_-_Kerplunk_cover

TITLE: Kerplunk!

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They re-recorded Welcome to Paradise for their major label debut.

LINEUP: Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tre Cool. Johnathan Kiffmeyer played on the EP that was appended as a bonus.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dookie before Dookie.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: From the first notes of “2000 Light Years Away”, and on through the record (except for one jokey cut), the last indie record for Green Day sounds almost exactly like their major label debut, especially in sound and songs. The mixture of power pop and punk is pretty much complete here.

In fact, the punkier and faster recording of “Welcome to Paradise” on this album (the only song that crossed over) may be better than the more sweet and polished version on Dookie. New drummer Tre Cool is an added bonus, as he’s a solid and imaginative drummer.

This record is punkier than what will follow, and poppier than their previous records. Had just a few tracks been better songs (and / or that joke cut left for box sets or B-sides), it probably could have been the best record of their career. As it is, it’s pretty damn good.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This sold 10,000 copies on the first day of release, and 50,000 within a few months. That’ll get the majors talking.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, their Sweet Children EP (named after the first incarnation of the band) that had their previous drummer playing on it.

GRADE A-: Power pop punk hit the sweet spot.

Massive Attack – Blue Lines

ARTIST: Massive Attack 220px-MassiveAttackBlueLines

TITLE: Blue Lines

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION:  #13 UK

SINGLES: Daydreaming (#81 UK), Unfinished Symphony (#13 UK), Safe from Harm (#35 Dance, #25 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They covered Be Thankful for What You Got

LINEUP: Robert Del Naja, Grantley Marshall, Andrew Vowles. Shara Nelson, Tricky, Horace Andy, Neneh Cherry, Claude Williams, and Mikey Taylor contributed vocals.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Bristol (UK) DJs form a collective, and happen to ‘invent’ trip-hop after they finally got to the studio.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Breaking out of the ‘sound system’ culture (that also produced Soul II Soul), Massive Attack emerged from the Wild Bunch, and after some prodding got to the studio to record this album. Oh, and they rather much came up with a new genre when it came out.

“Trip Hop” is a mash up of hip-hop, soul and funk, samples, electronica and dub, and is more for chilling out and vibing to than dancing. The vocalists they use, like Shara Nelson and rapper Tricky, add excellent coloring to the tracks. This record is one you just put on and let flow over your mind and body.

The only issue is a nice, but un-revelatory cover of William DeVaughn’s classic “Be Thankful for What You Got”. It doesn’t seem to propel the album forward, as the other tracks around it do. That’s kind of a minor quibble.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They recorded some of this at Neneh Cherry’s house.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A: With just one small stumble, this is not only a seminal record but tremendous to boot.

Midnight Oil – Essential Oils

ARTIST: Midnight Oil Essential_Oils_cover_art

TITLE: Essential Oils

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None in the US

SINGLES: Several of the songs not listed were singles in Australia and NZ. Charting in the US and UK: The Dead Heart (#53 US, #11 Mainstream, #62 UK), Beds Are Burning (#17 US, #6 Mainstream, #6 UK), Dreamworld (#37 Mainstream., #16 Modern) Blue Sky Mine (#47 US, #1 Mainstream, #1 Modern, #66 UK), Forgotten Years (#11 Mainstream, #1 Modern, #97 UK), King of the Mountain (#20 Mainstream, #3 Modern), Truganini (#10 Mainstream, #4 Modern, #29 UK), My Country (#66 UK), In the Valley (#60 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The above probably covers it.

LINEUP: Peter Garrett, Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey, Rob Hurst. Andrew James was the original bassist. Peter Gilford replaced him for a few years and Bones Hillman replaced him.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Australia’s best band ever? Maybe! They’ve been at it since 1976 in one form or another with the same four core members since 1977. They are highly political, tremendous live, and always seem to evolve their sound.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A band that’s been around since the mid-70s (and are back and touring again) had to sound stale at some point, right? No, not Midnight Oil. They always pushed their music forward – from a punk-ish roar to experimenting with electronics and distortion. But they are always determined to make an impact both politically and socially.

This collection grabs tracks from each studio album and even Eps. By their second album, they were tight and fierce as any band going, and that never really changed as they moved forward. Always political, and always advocating for social change (and Peter Garrett isn’t their sole lyricist, in case you were wondering), Midnight Oil became the conscious of the Australian rock world – all while delivering great and challenging music and killer live shows.

They split up when Peter Garrett got more involved in Australian politics, but have reunited and have toured around with much of the same fire and fury as they had before. This is an essential collection for an essential band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “The Dead Heart” is their highest charting single in Australia, at #$

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A+: It’s an essential compilation that will make you want to dive in for their entire catalog.

Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years

ARTIST: Corin Tucker Band 220px-Album_cover_for_the_album_1,000_Years_by_Corin_Tucker_Band

TITLE: 1,000 Years

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  #9 Heatseekers, #49 Indie

SINGLES: Doubt

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Seth Lorinczi, Sara Lund. Juliana Bright, Kate O’Brien-Clark, and Douglas Jenkins added support.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Back at it after the Sleater/Kinney hiatus, Tucker wrote and recorded an album that is quieter but just as powerful.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not diving into the vocal yelps except on rare occasions (“Doubt”), toning down the sound, and generally making things a bit more even keeled, Corin Tucker’s first solo album after the hiatus of Sleater/Kinney adds a unique chapter to her musical biography.

There’s still hints of her band’s work, but only hints. “Half a World Away” could definitely be an SK song, but here the arrangement is more controlled and her vocals more restrained, and it works better. Some of the better moments are on the quieter songs, where she’s reflective of her place in the world as a mother and a musician.

This album shows Tucker as more than the punk rocker she was for years. She’s got depth and breadth, and it’s a refreshing look at her as she moves to middle age.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She said that Seth Lorinzi (bass player and producer) really shaped the sounds on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A-: As solid as any Sleater/Kinney record with a maturing outlook.

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

ARTIST: Sia  220px-Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: 1000 Forms of Fear

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Chandelier (#8 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Cry (#103 US, #77 UK), Elastic Heart (#17 US, #10 UK), Fire Meets Gasoline (#193 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Burn the Pages, Cellophane.

LINEUP: Sia and Greg Kurstin. Jessie Shatkin and Nick Valensi helped on a track each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After taking a break (or retiring) from performing because of mental health issues, a surprise hit led her back to the studio after a while and she released her most focused album yet.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After writing “Titanium” with hopes of it landing with Alicia Keys, and finding it released by David Guetta with her demo vocals on it, Sia became more famous than she had been, especially in the US. So having stepped back from recording to write songs, she found herself in the studio again with Greg Kurstin and delivered this set of passionate, bombastic pop songs.

While over the top at times, the production fits Sia’s intent on the tracks, especially on the smash “Chandelier”. Yet the album touches on a lot of subjects and touches on them well. Sia’s songs are personal, and at times heart-rendering, as she was fighting demons upon demons in her life, which led to her original retirement.

The deep cuts, like “Hostage” and “Straight to the Knife”, are where the meat of the album lives. She poured everything into all of the songs, telling a story and not just gunning for hits or radio play. But with her natural ability for hooks and melody, she got them. This is a much better record than her earlier efforts, and improves with multiple listens.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was at this time where Sia decided to cover her face, and let her art speak for herself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, acoustic piano cuts and other mixes.

 GRADE A-: This is a modern pop album that grows on you.