“Evermotion” – Guster

TRACK BY TRACK

  1. Long Night – this song is not remarkably bad.  A good opening song because it is full of anticipation – an eerie march recanting some crazy experience, while promising more adventure to come!  The lyrics are good and the musical style is pretty Gusterly here, with little bells adding interest to the chorus.
  2. Endlessly – This song is slightly more upbeat. It has a new wave kind of feel, which seems a little out of character and unusual these days.  But it’s not bad.
  3. Doin’ It By Myself – This has your basic classic doo-wop chord progression and a slow, dancey rhythm. Things I really didn’t like about this song were 1) uncomfortable lyrics and 2) echoey vocals that didn’t sound intentional but rather poorly produced, and out of tune with one another.
  4. Lazy Love – This has a sixties feel which features lazy falsetto lyrics about luv (somehwat obviously)… there is some decently jangly guitar too between verses, but really nothing special overall.
  5. Simple Machine – This has the return of the horribly echoey vocals, but with more fun new wavey synth sounds and a dancy beat.
  6. Expectation – This song sounds like a poorly finished or undefined thought. Sort of a Sergeant Pepper marijuana haze, slow stream-of-consciousness string of words on a weak melody with some synth again in the background.
  7. Gangway – This feels like something that could be from an old timey musical. The verse that ends with “Gangway” seems almost circus-esque.  They even sing “tra la la la la” which makes the whole song feel even more corny.
  8. Kid Dreams – Musically this is not a bad song, just slow. I wanted more energy and rock from this album, so I was pretty much disappointed with every track that had the same mellowness.  I did not enjoy the lyrics, as they seemed unredeemingly sad.  I wasn’t sure how this song was actually intended to make me feel, even after several listening.
  9. Never Coming Down – I like this song, which is simple and sweet with a Willie Nelson flavor. But the easy campfire feeling means it is nothing new, nothing special. Also it is not particularly well performed – so it is fun to sing along to, but nothing to be impressed by.
  10. It Is Just What It Is – Again, what is with the excessive echo and reverb on the main vocals?! I must be missing something here, because it HAS to be intentional.  Some simple casio-esque keyboards give this an indie feel, which isn’t horrible for an upbeat song. But again I must say nothing really makes me love this.
  11. Farewell – This is a nice piano-filled ballad, with the type of melancholy lyrics you would expect from a song called “Farewell” – “I tried to cheat gravity, what will you do?”  Some of the military drum feeling from the opening track is echoed here, so it gives a nice phrasing to the closure of the album.  A robotic recorded voice finishes with the words “we are free”, then the album is over.
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“On Avery Island” – Neutral Milk Hotel

TRACK BY TRACK 

  1. Song Against Sex – My favorite song on this is hands-down the opening track, “Song Against Sex”.  I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but this song is fast, fun, and includes Weezer-esque vocals punctuated by timely trumpet interludes.  This makes you feel like a teenager again, and would be so much fun to hear live!
  2. You’ve Passed – this is a slower song, but the drums keep it moving.  This song is in a minor key and comes across like a chant with sitar-esque guitars throughout, and mystical-sounding solo.
  3. Someone is Waiting – here is the kind of song that loses me a little bit. The tempo is slower, and the vocals are wailing and unfocused.  There are some fun sound effects here though, something like applause or the sound of frying eggs.  There is a guitar section of a dissonant and buzzy nature that I would more happily tolerate with heavier drums.  Instead I start to remember the feeling of being up too late with a cigarette-smoke headache.
  4. A Baby for Pree – I had to look up these lyrics because they creeped me out a little bit with their tactile/descriptive/feminine imagery. I’m sure there are multiple interpretations, perhaps (likely) not to be taken literally.  The song tells a story, and the music underneath is almost minstrel style with simple strumming guitars – so it is really designed to support the storytelling singer and I think that is why the lyrics pop out so much here and demand to be noticed.
  5. Marching Theme – I would describe this “theme” piece as having a dizzying background of animated guitar rambling, while a deliberate and unwavering instrumental keyboard melody warbles above – then crashes into a guitar freakout.  I actually loved this, maybe because there were no complicated lyrics to distract me!
  6. Where You’ll Find Me – This continues the music theme started with “A Baby for Pree”, having the same melody and more really deliberate poetry. The first song is telling the story of Pree – this second one is told in the first person, seemingly continuing the story as a postlogue.  This really reminds me of Belle and Sebastian, without the emotional violins.  Instead there is a keyboard solo that works just fine.
  7. Avery Island / April 1st – The horns here remind me of the sound of evening taps. Has the feeling of bittersweet finality, the end of something.  While listening to this, in my mind I am seeing a Wes Anderson movie with sad and nostalgic images of being outside at dusk.
  8. Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone – I really liked this track. Another example of how the horn section (I guess I should say brass) is well-featured here, and I hate to keep saying that the vocals of NMH remind me of Weezer, but they really do.  In a good way!
  9. Three Peaches – This song is the one that reminds me most of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Plenty of vocalizing without words – in a voice that seems Kurt Cobain-esque.  Finally, a little more grit than Rivers Cuomo here!
  10. Naomi – Here we have a little more of the song structure that appeals to the part of me that loves pop. A prominent verse of the song that came through is “Please Don’t Leave Me” – I initially wondered if this was a slower cover of Ben Lee’s 1995 song (of course it is not).   I like the synthesizer in the background; reminds me of The Strokes’ “12:51” (although a little less upbeat and rocking).
  11. April 8th – This continues the feeling given by #9 (“Three Peaches”) again. In fact, the repeating themes (“A Baby for Pree”/”Where You’ll Find Me Now” and these two grungier songs) alternating with more instrumental horn-infused tracks make you aware that you are listening to a deliberate musical work, not just a collection of isolated songs that happen to be on the same CD.
  12. Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye – This track is 13 minutes and 49 seconds long. It is obviously the band’s favorite; their way to go out with a bang (or drawn-out, distortion-infused, end-of-the-concert jam).  I would suggest this is their oevre principal from the body of their greater magnum opus.  But I don’t enjoy listening to it, sorry!

“Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics” – Aretha Franklin

TRACK LISTING & COMMENTS

  1. At Last – This is an OK, but not great cover.  It really feels like a cover.  As I mentioned in the full review, I was excited to listen to this version of “At Last”, because this song always reminds me of every wedding first dance – or stereotypical wedding MOVIE first dance – of all time.  But something was missing here – I felt nothing!  The emotion and awww factor of the Etta James version was just not there.
  2. Rolling In the Deep (The Aretha Version) – I thought this was great. This is already a really good, energetic song, and Aretha takes it to the next level.  I wish had taken better notes – but I think I remember that the lead singing, underlying rhythm, and backing vocals just seem enhanced in every way over the original.  Loved it!
  3. Midnight Train To Georgia – the Gladys Night performance is hard to beat. That song has special meaning to me since I moved away from my family when I was 20 (for a boy, of course), and I used to quote lines of the lyric to myself as personal encouragement.  This version is a little faster, and the backup singers are female, which shouldn’t matter but it produces an overall lighter sound.  It almost sounds like the tape has been put on high-speed!  The male singers provide a lot of personality to the original version, which is why I think the overall experience is different here.
  4. I Will Survive (The Aretha Version) – This one came out pretty good, mostly I think because Aretha throws a lot of her own style in here, but it really works with the song. She uses a different phrasing for the opening line that might throw you off a bit at first – but then she has some sassy comments thrown in (“get to steppin’!”) that make this version extra fun and fresh.
  5. People – I’m not sure I gave this one a fair trial. I should have spent some time with the Barbara Streisand original in order to provide a good comparison… but I just don’t like this song.  It comes across like a run-on-sentence trying to describe an incomplete idea.  If you love the original – beware.  I’m learning that covers of songs that one is really attached to almost always disappoint.
  6. No One – I actually liked this! “No One” (originally performed by Alicia Keys) is well-sung by Aretha in this version, which has an extra reggae/islander feel that will make you long for warmer weather.  It was enjoyable to listen to, and pleasant to have in the car on a dark wintry day.
  7. I’m Every Woman / Respect – I had not heard “I’m Every Woman” in ages! Chaka Khan or Whitney, this is an awesome song that was popular for a reason.  Combining it with R-E-S-P-E-C-T is fun (although unexpected, and possibly unnecessary since each song could stand on its own), and it gives it that unique Aretha mark which is perfect for this album.  You’ll be turning up the volume on this one!
  8. Teach Me Tonight – There are a number of singers that have recorded this over time, but when I use Google the most acknowledged seems to be Dinah Washington. There is a beautiful picture of this woman singing her heart out into a vintage microphone – you should check it out.  However I still think this song is a little creepy, and I don’t like the vulnerability of it when I think about the lyrics.  If you already like it, you might like this version too – because the singing by Aretha is just fine.
  9. You Keep Me Hangin’ On – I don’t remember having a lot to say about this song, after several listens through the whole album, which could be a good thing. Most tracks initiated a very negative or very positive response in me, so the others just kind of faded into the background.  This is probably just fine.  The only comment I can think of is to suggest that Aretha’s voice is not as pretty as Diana Ross’ voice… but that is probably some Diva war that I don’t want to get involved in.
  10. Nothing Compares 2 U – I have to reiterate what I said in the review here. I was surprised to find this on the track listing, because 1) I didn’t realize that Sinead O’Connor was considered a classic “Diva”, and 2) the cover version is just all wrong – too many interpretive liberties are taken with the original.   The tempo is jazzy, the melody becomes upbeat even though the song is sad – so the originally haunting, memorable chorus is now barely recognizable.

“Hypnotic Eye” – Tom Petty

TRACK LISTING & COMMENTS

  1. American Dream Plan B – This was my favorite song right away, as described in the full review.  It is simple, raw, sassy and very rock n’ roll.  I love the lyrics because they are so simple, clever and punky – “when I see what I want, I go after it!”
  2. Fault Lines – the rhythm pattern of this song was really familiar, but now I am realizing I lack the vocabulary to accurately describe it. I want to say bossa nova with a lot of hi-hat, set to a bass line that is almost surf-rock mixed with really fast swing.  Clearly I need to take a music class if I am going to keep up with this blog!
  3. Red River – This was another contender for favorite, but I didn’t like it right away. It seemed too 70s cliché and melodramatic at first, but then I learned to adore the singable chorus and almost CSNY feel that it carries.
  4. Full Grown Boy – One of my least favorites on the album. “Full Grown Boy” is a little bit jazzy, and would remind me of a Steely Dan number if it only included some female backing vocals… as it is though, it just really isn’t my style and I think the lyrics are weird.  For example: “and the foreman seems to know me ‘cause I found myself at last.”
  5. All You Can Carry – This one has a 60s/70s psychedelic vibe to it; I think the lyrics have some styling/reverb that gives the song a really vintage feel. Pretty good!
  6. Power Drunk – This song has a cocky confidence (fitting for the title) that alternates acapella one-liners with heavy guitar. Speaking of guitar, this one has a solo that I like, set above a background reminiscent of ZZ Top. Then the chorus breaks into repentant and classically nasal Petty vocals… if it seems like there is a lot going on here, it’s for good reason.
  7. Forgotten Man – Another example of the best, most rocking songs on the album. I can totally see this as a Patty Smith performance piece, with her arms up, feet dancing and voice booming.  That’s probably why I like it so much – I was singing along in the car with my imitation Patty voice!
  8. Sins Of My Youth – This track is in a haunting, minor key, causing you to wonder what exactly ARE the numbered and varied sins of T.P.’s youth? Not too slow, not too miserable, yet not really one of my favorites.
  9. U Get Me High – Here is kind of an 80s rock song à la Sonic Youth mixed with Teenage Fanclub, if that makes any sense. Power rock chords on the chorus, drug reference in the title, and there you have it.
  10. Burnt Out Town – Yet another that is just not my favorite kind of music; it annoys me with the repetitive chorus and that bluesy, George Thorogood-esque style. If you want to tap your foot, slowly shake your head, and be inspired to do a harmonica solo on the break, then you might enjoy playing this one with your friends.
  11. Shadow People – I had to look this up, because I was convinced I had heard of a Joni Mitchell song called this (or something similar)… nope!  Not a cover.  Just Petty Poetry.   And his voice is starting to sound a little like (aging) Bob Dylan here, too!  A fitting song to finish up the album.

“The Both” – Aimee Mann and Ted Leo

TRACK LISTING & COMMENTS

  1. The Gambler – This is truly an Aimee Mann song. Guitars are fuzzy with reverb; and there are slow (but great) drums underneath it all.   Aimee’s voice pops through more on the chorus than Ted does.
  2. Milwaukee – In contrast to #1, this is truly a Ted Leo song! A reckless, rollicking strong start with twangy abandon. Great catchy harmonies on the chorus, too.
  3. No Sir – This has the format of a classic 50s waltz in “doo-wop” style, but with the Aimee angst blended in there somehow. Not bad – a nice mellow break between the more upbeat #2 and #4 on the disk.
  4. Volunteers of America – Vying for my favorite, as described in the full album review. This features fun guitars, driving beats, and cynical lyrics. Can’t go wrong with that!
  5. Pay for It – Featuring the Aimee Mann storytelling style, this is your basic sad relationship song with a kind of miserable, foreboding “you’re gonna make me pay for it” chorus sung by Ted. Just OK from my perspective, not my favorite.
  6. You Can’t Help Me Now – If you liked the “Magnolia” movie soundtrack, this song will be just your style. Aimee is the primary singer on this, and it has the piano backdrop you will recognize from her earlier work.
  7. The Prisoner – Ted is the main vocalist on this. I love the chorus – the whole song has a sort of 80s feel to it, and faintly reminds me of the classic “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” by Squeeze.
  8. Hummingbird – Lilting acoustic guitars, in a medieval-esque style with violins creating a slow and emotional chorus. This is actually one of my favorites on the album, even though I usually like to ROCK a little bit more.
  9. Honesty is No Excuse – Here is your dramatic, classic, love-gone-wrong “took your love, I used it” kind of song. The auditor in me noticed that the lyrics for this song are strangely NOT included in the CD liner notes. Perhaps this is just as well, because the chorus is basically just “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…” This one is really balanced between Aimee and Ted on the vox.
  10. Bedtime Stories – There’s a pop-y feel to this one. But at the same time, the melody is unpredictable and runs all over the map in terms of chords and key.   I love the lyrics here – “and now there’s poetry and prose in your name / it overflows the frame / trying to impose a theory on the game.” The phasing is perfect with the music!
  11. The Inevitable Shove – I have to say that this last one is kinda Billy Joel. Really piano-driven, and it feels like an intro number for some hypothetical musical about life sucking in “the big city “ (or something). Not a bad song, but not my favorite. Meh.

Don’t forget to check out the overall album review – I actually liked this one and hopefully you will too!

“All Together Now” – Better Than Ezra (BTE)

TRACK LISTING & COMMENTS

  1. Crazy Lucky – the “hit single”. When I saw this stated on the album cover I had to laugh out loud because apparently I’m not sure what definition of “hit single” is these days. Anyhow, this is a silly and fun, listenable tune.
  2. Gonna Get Better – the serious song; a story of a struggling friend. There are usually just one or two serious songs on a Better Than Ezra album dealing with substance abuse, strained relationships, etc… so there you go. This one is very traditional BTE with great vocals, and driving rock-style guitar and drums beneath.
  3. Undeniable – see comments on Least Favorite Song in the full review. I have not yet felt compelled to make myself listen to the whole thing.
  4. Insane – again one of my least favorites. Not as bad as #3; but really that’s all I have to say.
  5. Sunflowers – this actually was my favorite! A fun song that will get you rockin’ in the driver’s seat – refer to my comments for favorite song above.
  6. The Great Unknown – this is my very close “second favorite”.  The heartfelt chorus will have you singing along, and feeling connected to your freest self.  Still fun but thoughtful at the same time.
  7. Before You – this is a beautiful song. Simple lyrics, thoughtful vocal harmonies, and piano accompaniment. There is usually one of these on every BTE album, if you are a BTE fan I would compare this to “Under You”, “Everything in 2s”, and “Daylight”, etc… First-dance-at-a-wedding material. You will be singing along before it is over!
  8. Dollar $ign – This might be good enough lighthearted fun, but I find the literal “dollar sign character “$” in the title and the cheesy lyrics a little annoying.
  9. One Heart Beating – This was kind of a surprise, because I found the overall style and call-and-response approach to the chorus for this to be reminiscent of Coldplay. It would probably be great to hear live, in a huge arena with tons of people singing along.
  10. Diamond in my Pocket – This is old skool BTE. Imagine sitting around with your friends and a crappy guitar just playing fun songs in a kind of raw way. Lots of New Orleans references in here too, which is very BTE. A little bit silly of course, but not bad, not bad at all.
  11. I Fly Away – This one has sort of a Celtic feel – imagine that you’re running through the hills of the highlands chanting the chorus. In this case, the chorus of “Hey ma mama, away-o” is actually another music history reference to “Life in a Northern Town” by Dream Academy. I like it.

Don’t forget to check out the overall album review!