Category: Reviews: S-V

Stellastarr* – Harmonies for the Haunted

ARTIST: Stellastarr*

TITLE: Harmonies for the Haunted

YEAR RELEASED: 2005

CHART ACTION: #12 Heatseeker

SINGLES: Sweet Troubled Soul (#37 Dance)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Arthur Kremer, Shawn Christensen, Amanda Tannen, Michael Jurin

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from NY band finds them in a more dance-oriented mood rhythmically, but still has a foot into the alt-rock scene.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Perhaps taking a nod from the trends in NYC happening at the time (with Interpol and the Rapture), Stellastarr moved themselves toward a dance-oriented rhythm, while still blasting guitars out to the fore, and singer Shawn Christensen still over-singing a bit. His enunciation on the pre-chorus to “The Diver” is cringe-worthy for sure.

What this album has is “Sweet Troubled Soul”, an all-timer of a track and head-and-shoulders above everything on this record. The other tracks are OK, but without that track the album would just be a trend-hopping exercise by a band that never really knew what it wanted to be anyway.

Still, “Sweet Troubled Soul” is worthwhile and the other tracks are decent enough to keep. So, one track saves the day.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was first issued with the blasted Media Max software that kept legit buyers from ripping a copy for their iPod.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but the copies streaming now don’t have the hidden track. So an anti-deluxe?

GRADE B+: It’s really a regression with one track pumping the grade up two notches.

Scorpions – Tokyo Tapes

ARTIST: The Scorpions

TITLE: Tokyo Tapes

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: All Night Long

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe, if you’re a fan of early Scorps

LINEUP: Klaus Meine, Uli Jon Roth, Rudolf Schenker, Francis Buchholz, Herman Raraebell

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Capping the Uli Jon Roth album with a double live in front of an adoring fan base in Japan, the Scorps play their hits, and indulge in double-live album excesses. It was the 70’s.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The double live album. What would rock fans in the 70’s do without it? This one is perfect to check out the various Scorpions’ 70’s tracks that are scattered over several compilations.

The Scorpions iteration with Uli Jon Roth was a little more arty as Roth liked to extend songs with guitar solos. The bad news is that Roth also sang a few tracks, and he’s no Klaus Meine. Not even close. His vocals kill “Polar Nights”, but dang he can play.

There are some indulgences (of course), including two covers of old rock songs and an old Japanese song, along with a lot of soloing (including a drum solo in “Top of the Bill”). Still, this is a prime collection of 70’s Scorpions.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first re-issue of the CD left off “Polar Nights” since they wanted it on one disc.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, they restored “Polar Nights” and added more live tracks, including the Japanese anthem and four repeat tracks from another show.

 GRADE B: It’s a 70’s live double, so it is long and indulgent. But it’s still a good overview and the playing is great.

 

Jim Steinman – Bad for Good

ARTIST: Jim Steinman          JSteinman_Bad

TITLE: Bad For Good

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #63 US, #7 UK

SINGLES: Rock and Roll Dreams Come True (#32, #14 Mainstream, #52 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Meatloaf did cover a lot of these songs on later albums, and so did other artists.

LINEUP: Jim Steinman, Rory Dodd, Karla DeVito, Todd Rundgren, Davey Johnston, Kasim Sulton, Max Weinberg, Roy Bittan, Roger Powell, Ellen Foley, Larry Fast, and many more.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Meatloaf’s songwriter recorded the planned followup on his own after Mr. Loaf lost his voice. He’s no Meat, that’s for sure.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Jim Steinman was the lunatic that came up with Bat Out of Hell for Meatloaf, and when it came time for the followup Meatloaf was out of commission due to voice issues and drugs. So, not wanting to wait, Steinman gathered musicians and producers and did the damn thing himself.

He should have waited for Meatloaf. Steinman’s vocal limitations are noticeable from the jump, and even with Rory Dodd helping his voice was still a liability. The structure of the record is almost the sing – spoken word pieces, a duet with a hot girl – long winded pieces – a storyline. This one was ostensibly about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Yeah, whatever.

It’s bombastic, and would have been a decent Meatloaf vehicle. But here, it’s just bombast without redemption. Only a couple tracks are worthy of keeping, really.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The irony is that later in 1981, Meatloaf’s followup, with Steinman songs, came out. He needed these songs.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Not really, but the single “Rock and Roll Dreams Come True” came packaged as an EP with the original vinyl. The single and B-side are the last two tracks on the CD.

GRADE C-: The importance of a vocalist has never been more apparent than here.

Jen Trynin – Cockamamie

ARTIST: Jen Trynin           220px-Cockamamie

TITLE: Cockamamie

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None (sigh…)

SINGLES: Better Than Nothing (#15 Alternative, #40 Mainstream), Happier

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, unless you knew me then.

LINEUP: Jennifer Trynin, Paul Bryan, Jerry Deupree, David Gregory, Mike Levesque, Michael Rivard. Aimee Mann sang backup.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Boston based solo artists records a rockin’ alternative power pop-ish solo album with great songs and no reaction from the public for the most part.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Coming out of Boston, Warner Brothers released this album after local Squint Records put it out to raves in 1994. It deserved the accolades – it didn’t deserve the commercial freeze-out.

MTV played the video for “Better Than Nothing” at times, and that garnered some airplay. Yet the album has several great tracks like “One Year Down”, “Too Bad You’re Such a Loser”, “Knock Me Down and “Happier”. Her guitar tone is fantastically meaty and raw, which adds to the overall sound and mood. The production and her work with the rotating drummers is strong as well.

There are few dull spots or subpar tracks. It’s just a shame it didn’t resonate with the public or radio.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She later married her producer Mike Denneen.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: Unfairly ignored by the powers that be, it deserved a lot of play.

Soul Coughing – Irresistible Bliss

ARTIST: Soul Coughing                    220px-Irresistiblebliss

TITLE: Irresistible Bliss

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #136

SINGLES: Soundtrack to Mary (#37 Alternative), Super Bon Bon (#27 Alternative), Soft Serve

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Disseminated….

LINEUP: M. Doughty, Sebastian Steinberg, Mark de Gil Antoni, Yuval Gabay

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album is a bit tighter in arrangements and production, which caused some band discord and left some fans disappointed.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The much anticipated second album by Soul Coughing changed up their winning formula a bit. No longer did they throw the kitchen sink out there in samples and arrangements. This time, M. Doughty wanted a tighter record – even as they still combined all sorts of genres into one stew.

“Super Bon Bon” was the song on this record that has left a legacy, and it does harken back to their debut, though it is a bit slicker and polished. As the record moves along, the sense of wonderment and excitement from discovering new sounds didn’t seem to be there. It’s almost as if they were telegraphing their production and sampling tricks.

I wouldn’t call this a ‘slump’ or a bad record by any means. It’s just not as magical as the first one.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Doughty didn’t want to wait on Tchad Blake to produce, and enlisted David Kahne to produce most of the record. That didn’t go over well with anyone except Doughty, and bassist Steinberg quit for a few days.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. An EP with live cuts…in Japan (of course).

 GRADE B: By making the record tighter and less random, it takes away some of the more interesting aspects of the band.

Swans – Filth

ARTIST: Swans                                     

TITLE: Filth

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: Are you serious?

SINGLES: None, but the EP Swans is appended.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Um….

LINEUP: Michael Gira, Jonathan Kane, Roli Mosimann, Norman Westberg, Harry Crosby

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pummeling your senses into oblivion.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I’ve had issues in adding some really out there and art damaged records to my catalog (See Throbbing Gristle, Einstruzende Neubauten, Foetus, etc. on Ugggh!) but Swans makes the cut, even though it is also grimly difficult and damaged.

Michael Gira and his band of noise terrorists do have song structures, and even songs that you can move a bit too. What they also have is a holy clatter and noise made by two drummers, two bassists, and a guitarist interested in making sheets of noise. Gira sings, er, shouts his tales of degradation and real-life horror. The effect is heightened by the use of repetition in both music and lyrics.

This is not for everyone – probably not for most people. But if you get it (and it may take a while) it’s worth a ride. 

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Michael Gira said he wanted the music to obliterate, just because it felt good. Mission accomplished.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Several different packages, and some have their debut EP along with this album

 GRADE B+: I get this, not that I’m going to put it on to cook dinner (unless I have to tenderize something with a mallet).

Sleater-Kinney – Call the Doctor

ARTIST: Sleater-Kinney               220px-Callsoctorskinney

TITLE: Call the Doctor

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None really

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Call the Doctor, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, Lora Macfarlane

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from Olympia feminist punks establishes their cred as one of the best bands of the scene in the 90’s.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting out with the blast of “Call the Doctor”, a punk anthem for sure, but then moving to a complicated track like “Hubcap”, then a complete screamer like “Little Mouth”, Sleater-Kinney showed versatility in their attack and sound. They could change it up and still scream loudly if need be.

As the record goes on, you can feel Sleater-Kinney reveling in their songs and feminist power, strategically placing rage so you don’t get worn out. The structures of the songs are also varied and tricky, with the two-guitar attack varying and the riffs flowing (but not always the way regular rock riffs are constructed). When Corin Tucker says, “I’m the Queen of rock-and-roll”, there’s so much conviction that you believe her and will follow her.

You needed this record in 1996, and you need this record in 2019 to combat the crap going on in the world, right now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Now, when they play “Joey Ramone” live, they change the reference in a lyric from Thurston Moore to Kim Gordon.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: Every song either grabs you immediately, or sneaks up on you later. Play it loud, and scare the patriarchy.

Solange – Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams

ARTIST: Solange                                 220px-Solange_-_Sol-Angel_And_The_Hadley_St._Dreams

TITLE: Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams

YEAR RELEASED: 2008

CHART ACTION: #9 US, #180 UK

SINGLES: Charting: Sandcastle Disco (#1 Dance, #149 UK), T.O.N.Y. (#62 R&B, #1 Dance), Would’ve Been the One (#3 Dance), Fuck the Industry (#6 Dance), I Told You So (#5 Dance)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really

LINEUP: Solange Knowles, Sean Hurley, John Broussard, Manny Patino, Phillip Todd, Noel Langley, Neil Sidwell

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Beyonce’s sister makes a non-teen-pop album and impresses for the most part.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It was six years after her debut (a forgettable teen dance-pop record) and Solange Knowles came out with a varied album with lots of references to 60’s soul and 70’s funk coupled with a modern production.

Sure it could have done with a little trimming (it’s almost an hour long wwith a couple of six minute tracks that could have shunk a bit) but it was a fine effort and established her as an artist in her own right.

But, as she became a bigger thing (perhaps due to the elevator video with Jay-Z?), in 2015 they released a deluxe version which grabbed some single B-sides and club mixes and made it a 17 track monster. It included a cover of “The Thrill Is Gone” done with BB King, and excluded “Sandcastle Disco” the first single from the album. You can’t stream that song now, anywhere, which is a very curious thing.

There already was at least four other bonus editions done, and three of the five added tracks were on those versions. “Fuck the Industry” was also it’s own single released in 2010. So not only to re-release another ‘deluxe’ edition, and then removing the first single from it? Hmmm, very curious decision suits.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “T.O.N.Y.” was the only original not co-written by Solange. It was a Cee-Lo Green / Jack Splash joint.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, as I yelled about above.

GRADE B: Pleasant soul / R&B record with homages to the old days, but needed some trimming and fewer record company shenanigans.

Sonic Youth – Sister

ARTIST: Sonic Youth                        220px-Sonic_youth_sister

TITLE: Sister

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Schizophrenia, (I Got A) Catholic Block

LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Where Sonic Youth’s promise intersects with its reality.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Finally, an album that fulfilled Sonic Youth’s vision and promise. While Evol was a great leap forward, Sister is the culmination of their SST career and put them at the precipice of greatness.

The trend towards recognizable song-structures is there, and they utilize structures to make an impact in lyrics and sound. Still, they allow Kim Gordon to recite powerful feminism over what sounds like free-form noise (but definitely isn’t). The drumming by Steve Shelley is propulsive and evocative (and really drives songs like “Stereo Sanctity”).

The band was able to construct haunting songs (“Schizophrenia”), first person observations (“Tuff Gnarl” and a combo of creepy first person songs (“Pacific Coast Hightway”). It peters out a bit at the end (after a cover of a song by Crime) but really, the cover is probably the cause of the letdown. Had they re-sequenced it and ended with the cover, it would have been nearly perfect.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first versions, in the UK, had the final two cuts spelled “Kotton Krown” and “White Kross”, while later versions had it as “Cotton Crown” and “White Cross”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD version appends “Master=Dik”, the first appearance of the Ciccone Youth sound.

 GRADE A: Of course not for everyone (it IS Sonic Youth), but this is one of their must-haves. A great mix of rock song structures and avant-garde tuning and sounds.

Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die

ARTIST: Tortoise                220px-Millions_Now_Living_Will_Never_Die_-_Tortoise

TITLE: Millions Now Living Will Never Die

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Djed, The Taut and the Tame

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Douglas McCombs, John McEntire, David Pajo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A long excursion and some shorter tracks. The long song intrigues, but some of the shorter ones fall flat.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Djed” is the centerpiece of this second album by Tortoise, and it’s an almost 21-minute long work that turns and moves through several motifs and styles that challenges and intrigues the listener.

An on the ball listener could probably go through each of the genres referenced in “Djed”, but as a piece it’s evolution between styles make it its own. It’s fascinating and compelling.

There are five other tracks here, and they don’t reach the brilliance of “Djed”. A couple fall short and seem to be just filler or incomplete ideas, but a couple work pretty well. “Djed” though is the main attraction and the one that makes this worthwhile.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: David Pajo from Slint joined the group on bass.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B+: “Djed” is tremendous but a couple of the other tracks fall short.