So far behind. Still.
Terence Trenty D'Arby — TTD's Vibrator (1995)
*long sigh* When TTD flirted with more traditional rock textures in his first two albums, it felt very natural; a genuine extension of his style. But the gratuitous wah wah and distortion pedals all over the guitars throughout this album just sound cheap and contrived. That's not more apparent than on the otherwise good ballad 'Holding On to You.' Just completely unnecessary. I'm not that crazy about a "soul rock" sound in the first place, but this album just takes it that extra step. The drum loops and horn samples all over 'C.Y.F.M.L.A.Y.?' sound almost cartoony at points. But similar things a few songs later on 'Surrender' work exceedingly well, achieving a point of resonance that the rest of the album seems to be pretending it's capable of. Very next song 'TTD's Recurring Dream' is lush and dreamy. Truly the best this album has to offer. The last few songs end on the similarly overwrought note that the album began on and overall, it strikes me as an overproduced, overly ambitious work that only occasionally reaches its potential.
Bix Beiderbecke — Volume 2: At the Jazz Band Ball (1927/1928)
Early swing collection from one of the architects of the sound. As these sorts of things go, these are recordings in which Bix was a featured soloist. He was the leader of a few of these sessions, but the goofy vocal numbers with Willard Robison are pure fun on their own, without the Bix connection, just because they are so timely. Elsewhere, pure awesome occurs on the title track and 'Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down.' A scattershot collection of stuff, but when it's good, it's really good.
Billy Bragg & Wilco — Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (2000)
While this volume doesn't have the obvious standout that volume one had, it does hang together better as an album. Billy Bragg sings his whimsical heart out on the more playful numbers My old friend Natalie Merchant even stops by here for a tune (and it's great!). Wilco pretty much steals the show with their tunes. The building 'Remember the Mountain Bed', the eerie 'Blood of the Lamb' and the album closing beauty 'Someday Some Morning Sometime' all make for darn fine listening. Overall, I missed it at the time, but the influence of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes looms large over this one. Pretty nice stuff. And fun.
The Jesus and Mary Chain — Automatic (1989)
I've had this one on vinyl for years, but in true late 80's anti-vinyl propaganda, it's missing two songs! The two extras were among some of the first things I ever purchased digitally and that is also when I learned my lesson the hard way: digital media sucks too, because it gets corrupted and they count on you just saying, "Enh, it's only a buck" and buying it again and again and again. . . But, finding this CD for 50¢ finally ended my bitterness towards this album (and made me realize that the things I didn't like it for were not its fault). It's a much more rockin' affair than Darklands (which I still say is their best album), but it's just so relentlessly catchy! The big, crunchy guitars and cheesy drum machines on 'Head On' have become something of a holy grail by this point. It deserves whatever praises it receives. The sludgy textures on 'Gimme Hell' predict grunge, without falling prey to the pompous tendencies (the jay ay emm see were always brilliant songwriters anyway). This never has been my favorite JaMC album, but it's definitely right up there with their initially brilliant 80's run. Really nice to finally have hard copies of the two extra songs.
Stereolab — Sound-Dust (2001)
Some very David Axelrod-esque textures in this album that I hadn't noticed when I heard it before (about seven or eight years ago). After a floaty one minute intro vamp, 'Baby Lulu' breaks into one of the best breaks in modern times. Although I've moved on, my inner-MPC glutton is potentially drooling. The dreamy atmosphere that permeates through the songs, the heavy reliance on vibes. Yeah, I get definite vibes of Axelrod. The arrangements handled by Jim O'Rourke really shine on tunes like 'Nought More Terrific Than Man' and 'Suggestion Diabolique' (really conjuring Seriously Deep here). An oft-neglected Stereolab album. But a unique one, just on the basis of John McEntire and Jim O'Rourke's participation (the material is decidedly unfamiliar for the Groop, as well). Awesome.
The Dukes of the Stratosphear — Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (1985/1987)
In which, our friends XTC masquerade as a Nuggets-inspired retro band. This is actually just the EP 25 o'Clock and the full length Psonic Psunspot collected together on one disc. They totally nail the Electric Prunes with the title track on the EP. And that's the fun thing here: try to figure out who they're copying. But, to even say that they're "copying" feels like it's a shot at them. When in fact, they're just really inspired by the 60's bands they grew up with. 'What in the World?' is obviously straight out of obsessive Sgt. Pepper listening, but it's a darn catchy tune on its own. 'Vanishing Girl' is obviously a 60's-influenced gem, for instance, but it doesn't really have any of those major touchstones and feels more like the real XTC playing what they wanted to play. As great as Skylarking is, the material the band recorded in the immediate aftermath seems more closely pointed towards the direction that they were focused on all along. It's one case in the history of rock music where the band members were probably all much more dedicated to the side project than they were the main gig. For that, it just emits awesomeness.
Lou Reed — self-titled (1972)
Most of Lou Reed's debut album consists of songs that the Velvet Underground had tossed away. The recordings of the Velvets' versions of these tunes are now rock and/or roll history, but when this album came out in 1972, nobody knew them and few knew the Velvets in the first place. This album was recorded in England. Indeed, between a break from Yes recording sessions, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman played on this album. I can't even conceive of the hilarity and awesomeness of that meeting of minds. The versions of the songs that were initially done by the Velvets are generally not as good as what they initially were. The cheesy psuedo-soul background vocals on most of the album are mostly to blame. However, the decidedly more folky take on 'I Love You' is much more interesting than the stock Velvets sound applied to previous takes. And, I have to say, while that initial Velvets version of 'Ride Into the Sun' is pastoral and very resonating, Lou's version here just sounds so much cooler. Maybe I am rockist after all. Lou attempted 'Ocean' here as well and it's still a good song, just didn't pan out with the overproduction. I would say that, in retrospect, this album does play as the next Velvets album, after Loaded. It's just not as good (which merits the question: what is?). This UK edition from 2000 (the only version currently in print) is worthwhile, if for nothing else than the liner notes, which go into very close detail about the surroundings of the album's recording sessions. Certainly Lou at the crossroads, but definitely of interest to Velvets fans.
Fran Healy — Wreckorder (2010)
Jeez, has it really been almost five years since the last Travis album? I am a whore for their brand of MOR jangle, so I have no excuses for just now getting hipped to this mini-masterpiece. I am a big fan, obviously. That this album reminds me of Travis, but hints at a specific mood that I don't feel like Fran's band could have accomplished as well, is a very important sign. Tracks one and two are very Travis-esque, if Travis were a bit more subdued. 'Sing Me to Sleep' then pops up —unforeseen Neko Case cameo and all— and just realigns the entire mood of the album. The otherwise whimsically gloomy 'As it Comes' features somebody named Paul McCartney on bass (who?), while 'Shadow Boxing' is one of Fran's best songs and easily the album's highlight. The piano line and chord progressions are just about too close for comfort, I might venture to say. Absolutely chuffin' brilliant, mate. 'Rocking Chair' is the epitome of the underlying folky aspect of this album, while the closer 'Moonshine' catches a glimpse of Fran as the melodramatic synth and drum machine pop star he so wishes to be. He even hits those excellent falsettos. Of course, it's all much too earnest to be any of what I've just said. And that's what makes it so good. My expectations for the next Travis album are officially in the stratosphere.