Continuing on. . . and on. . . and on. . .
The Appleseed Cast — Illumination Ritual (2013)
It's a strange time to be an Appleseed Cast fan. Their dreamy cascades of cymbals and guitars is still present on their first album in four years, but the only original member left is singer and creative center Chris Crisci. Aaron Pillar and John Momberg's respective farewells are now relegated to the stopgap Middle States EP from two years ago. And while Aaron's inimitable guitar style is definitely missed on Illumination Ritual (things definitely take a turn in a more angular direction), this album still manages to sound like the Appleseed Cast. Except, they're really fast now. There is a very much an upswing in tempos this time around and that's a catch twenty-two, because while the songs definitely have riffs and hooks that are great, it almost feels like the whole album is just one long song, because the tempos don't vary much. Still, it sounds an awful lot like Mare Vitalis, and that's fantastic because that's not only an album I love, it's also the one where I feel like they were doing great pop songs when you stripped away all the effects and noise. So, here: 'Cathedral Rings.' It's an emotionally charged, dynamic, anthemic, fist-pumping, rock-and-fucken-rolling masterpiece. Probably their best all around song since the Peregrine days, at very least. Side two of the album contains a very epic Low Level Owl-esque two-fer that was probably intended to be the big centerpiece of the album with 'Barrier Islands (Do We Remain?)' morphing into 'North Star Ordination.' It's definitely a highlight, in a classic-sounding Appleseed sort of way. Throw in a couple instrumentals, and we're done. Overall, it's Chris delivering a by-the-numbers Appleseed Cast record and trying to give us (the fans) what he thinks we want. Little does he know, I will like whatever he does as long as he's leading with his heart and not trying to rehash past glories. I'm extra critical of this stuff because they are one of the best things currently going. And besides, as the proper full length follow up to Sagarmatha, it was going to be hard to top that one. I just wish Aaron's departure from the band wasn't so glossed over.
Bob Dylan — Dylan (1970)
Generally regarded as Bob's "worst" album, it's also generally accepted that he was trying to piss off fans when he recorded it. It was mostly recorded during the same sessions for Self Potrait and, just like that album has an unmerited bad reputation, after fully digesting this one, I have to say it falls into the same category (some of the album consists of outtakes from the unimpeachable classic New Morning). There are no originals here, but the things Bob does with tunes like 'Mr. Bojangles' and 'Big Yellow Taxi' are fascinating and ultimately they feel less like someone making fun of them and more like someone just screwing around. There's a very nice folk pop sheen to the production and I have a really hard time not playing the whole album whenever I listen to it. Certainly not his best work, but this is just an alright album, where he would commit near atrocities in the future.
Atoms for Peace — Default (2013)
B-side action from one of the year's most pleasant surprises. The a-side was definitely a grower for me and it appears here in an instrumental version alongside the non-album doodle of a song 'What the Eyeballs Did.' It's one of the AfP songs where Flea's bass playing is front and center and it's all the better for it. Nice to hear more from these guys.
Cocteau Twins — Otherness (1995)
I've had this guy digitally for many years, but it's always nice to find hard copies of these sorts of things. It's essentially a remix EP wherein Robin and Liz try to make some older songs kind of ambient dancey. Not a total success, but not a waste of time either. The highlight is the super blissed out, very nearly psychedelic, drumless retake of 'Cherry Coloured Funk.' Well done on that one, you lot.
Morrissey — The HMV/Parlophone Singles '88-'95 (late 80's/early 90's)
A lot of this was not new to me. In fact, about 90% of it wasn't. But, for a few of these b-sides (and even a couple of the a-sides), they appeared on the British singles and nothing else. So, they were out of print for many years until these things came out. But forget it: those were too expensive and way too bulky for me. This guy squeezed out a few years ago under my radar and it's those two sets slimmed down to three CDs: the perfect package. Way too many Moz classics (and just plain old musical classics) to start naming names, so I'll just run down the list of things I liked that I didn't already know. 'Journalists Who Lie' is about as awesome as it can get when you look at the title and then consider that the song could be described as "cartoon rockabilly." 'Pregnant for the Last Time' is more fake rockabilly fun, while tunes like 'You've Had Her' and 'I'd Love To' are the sort of cascading introspective mini-epics that find Steve dropping the rockstar façade and singing these full on heartachingly genuine masterpieces. I guess I understand why he's hidden them away and basically assigned them to obscurity status in his own catalogue. I mean I do but I don't. The frustration of being a Morrissey fan. Top tunes, whatever the case.
Morrissey — Beethoven Was Deaf (1993)
Morrissey's best band rocking out for a bunch of Frenchies. There's a sense to this live album that it was meant to be a big grand assertion of dominance —and, in retrospect, it most certainly is— but, at the time it was virtually ignored in the shadow of the near smear campaign being launched at Steve in the British music press (not to mention: this album has still never been released in America). Oh well, by the wayside went definitive versions of essential Moz classics (the rockabilly-ed up 'Sister I'm A Poet', the flawlessly rambunctious run through of 'The Loop' and the version of 'Jack the Ripper' that's so good it makes the studio version seem like a sick joke). Of course, all of the then-Moz calling cards are present as well, but it's the diversity and the tension in the setlist that really makes this one a complete and total classic. It's an album that I've known for several years, but it feels like such a relief to finally have a hard copy of my own. Where in later years, Morrissey released live things for fan benefit only, this one actually feels like it belongs in the strange saga of Morrissey's creative trajectory. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that they play a totally kickass version of my favorite Morrissey song.
Q and Not U — Different Damage (2002)
Totally great DC indie guys. Noisy and political and shouty and spastic and inexplicably funky — it's only now, a decade later, that I can really understand that they were one of the first of the new wave revival that hit hard in the early 2000's. This was the band's second album (and a lot of folks would say their best) and it's just a wonderfully angry and varied record. The first track is probably the highlight, but side two of the album plays less like a group of songs and more like a sidelong suite whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's definitely an album that sounds best when you take the whole thing in at once. It's too bad they quit after their poppier follow up album; truly a band that had something different to say.
R.E.M. — Strange Currencies (1995)
This Monster single had absolutely no chance at the charts, but it still managed to crack the top 40. It's definitely one of the more conventional R.E.M. moments on that album. But the real reason this single was released was so the band could get some live recordings for the one-off show they did in support of Automatic for the People out there (it's a now nearly forgotten piece of trivia that the band did not tour in support of their most famous album). There's a super juicy rockin' version of 'Drive', a silly Iggy Pop cover (where Michael inexplicably declares after the final chorus, "Dracula was pretty good, but it wasn't quite as gory and violent as they said it would be") and that finally morphs into a seriously rocked up 'Radio Free Europe.' Well worth hearing, even if only for historical purposes (the music just so happens to be great as well). Would love to see the entire show released.
Heat waves suck.