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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: 3WA (page 1 of 14)

Weekly Word Working Assignment

3WA 2018 #29: Filter – Title of Record

I wonder what, in the coming post-CD age, will replace the gimmick of the “hidden track” at the end of the disc, found after waiting through several minutes of silence.

What is it?

Title of Record is the 1999 sophomore album release by Filter, the band mostly and forever known for that “Hey Man Nice Shot” song, though they’re also somewhat known for a song from this album as well.

How does it sound?

You know a sampler mix goes a long way:

Why this pick?

This is simply the Filter record I like best. I liked it when a coworker first loaned it to me back in my radio days, I like it now. Compare to, say, The Amalgamut where I like three songs and can’t stand most of the rest, or The Sun Comes Out Tonight which has a few strong bits and a lot of… not as strong bits.

There’s a lot of “nope” in Filter’s song catalog, basically. Too angry, too dark, what-have-you. And it’s all on a bunch of other records that aren’t Title of Record, thank goodness. Which isn’t to say ToR doesn’t have a lot of anger, oh heavens no. You don’t spin up a Filter record because you’re in the mood for sweetness and light and cute puppies. I’m just saying there’s a threshold between “angry enough to encourage catharsis” and “whoah dude dial it back a bit,” and at no point does this particular album cross that line for me.

There are very few albums which aren’t from one of my Big Three (Genesis, Pet Shop Boys, Midnight Oil) that I will listen through all the way without skipping a song. Title of Record is one such.

Or, to reword and sum up: I don’t care much about this band but I completely dig this album.

Which songs are the highlights?

Once you get past the less-than-a-minute-long intro track, everything here is good for me. Really, I’m not kidding. But if I had to point to a couple of specific tracks I’d go with “It’s Gonna Kill Me” and “The Best Things.”

And maybe “I Will Lead You.” Possibly also “Cancer.” Let’s not forget “Miss Blue.” And… well, you get the idea.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I still think “Take a Picture” is a good song, even if it’s a bit overplayed.

So it still works well. I just don’t listen to it as often, that’s all. And I had to put something in this section, didn’t I?

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I nearly took a full swing at The Sun Comes Out Tonight, as it’s the newest in my library. (Yes, I know another album follows that one. What I’ve heard of it so far doesn’t interest me much.) I gave a capsule review a few years ago, and I’m going to be repeating efforts often enough this year as it is, so it’s probably for the best that I leave it be. So here we are.

Any final thoughts?

Much like with Apoptygma Berserk, Filter’s a band where there’s one album pitched right into my strike zone and a bunch of others that aren’t even close. And of course the album I like best marks me out as a statistical outlier to the band’s staunchest supporters. Go figure!

And one of these days I’m going to edit down a version of the “Miss Blue” track without the 14 minutes or so of silence-then-random-screaming after the song itself ends. Hidden “bonus” tracks, y’all! The best way to ruin a perfectly good random playlist! Sigh.

3WA 2018 #28: Joe Hisaishi – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Soundtrack

The nice thing about having soundtracks in the year’s project roster is it gives me a chance to take a bit of a break. Think of them as sort of like a “bottle episode” of a TV show.

What is it?

It’s the soundtrack to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, released in 1984.

How does it sound?

Like music used to soothe gigantic bugs.

Why this pick?

Part of the successful immersion into the weird post-apocalyptic future of this particular Miyazaki film is the compelling, slightly off-kilter score. Listening to one or another of the pieces on this soundtrack album is enough to put me in that world, if only for a few minutes. And so, I’m sharing that opportunity with you, here.

Which songs are the highlights?

This soundtrack album does something a bit odd: Most tracks are made up of two or three bits of the soundtrack score proper, so while half of one track might be something you find relaxing or whatever, the other half might be from a fight sequence. The lead track contains the opening theme, sure, but it’s bookended by two unrelated bits of background music.

This being the case, it’s hard to point to a specific track and say, “This, this one stands out.”

Other than “Nausicaä Requiem,” that is.

Which songs don’t work so well?

See above…

I guess if this soundtrack has a weakness, it’s that the occasional 80s-style synths leave it feeling rather dated in places.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I almost went with the soundtrack to Iria: Zeiram the Animation. They’re of a similar vintage and there are some bits on that album that I really love.

Any final thoughts?

I’d prefer them to have made more individual tracks to separate out the themes instead of sticking two or three per track, but that’s the way the Giant God-Warrior crumbles, I suppose. (Does the Giant God-Warrior count as a giant robot for “giant robot warning” purposes? Nah, let’s say it doesn’t. Ha.)

3WA 2018 #27: Duran Duran – Astronaut

I made some mistakes while selecting the album list. That’s fine, mistakes happen. Two of the mistakes boil down to, “but I’ve already written about this one!” Ha ha, too late, I made a big sampler mix late last year and everything. I’m committed.

Here’s the first of those mistakes. I’m standing by the selection because first time around, I was unkind to a perfectly cromulent record. This time, maybe, I can do justice to the thing.

What is it?

Astronaut is the late-2004 studio record released by Duran Duran, who were busy trying not to fall off the pop-culture radar entirely.

How does it sound?

Mix up for the sampler:

Why this pick?

It’s the last album by the band that I actually like. Duran Duran are very, very hit-or-miss for me, which is weird because their sound didn’t change much over the first couple decades. Rio and Notorious? Great! Seven and the Ragged Tiger and The Wedding Album (yes that’s not its real name but whatever, everyone calls it that)? Meh. Liberty and Red Carpet Massacre? No thank you. I couldn’t tell you why one record works and another doesn’t, not in this instance.

Astronaut is almost on the “meh” part of the spectrum, and upon first listen that was my overall impression. Now, though, I really love a half dozen of the songs and am okay with most of the rest. Only a couple of the tracks still put me off.

So here we are. It’s a good record. Don’t trust what 2004’s version of Karel had to say about it! (I’m not linking that post. You can search for it if you want.) He was kind of a self-absorbed jerk with delusions that his opinions mattered!

…Hmm. Maybe things haven’t changed terribly much, eh?

Which songs are the highlights?

“(Reach Up For The) Sunrise,” the lead single and first track on the album, is a fully competent radio-friendly piece of work and holds up just fine, fourteen years later.

The real standouts, though, show up once the first couple of songs are out of the way. “What Happens Tomorrow” is marvelous in the same way that “Come Undone” was on The Wedding Album, “Nice” may not be terribly deep but it is outstandingly upbeat, “Taste The Summer” is almost good enough to make me think fondly upon my least-favorite of the seasons, and “Finest Hour” is surprisingly uplifting.

Along the way we also get “Want You More” and the title track “Astronaut,” both solid bits of pop songcraft.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I still don’t like “Bedroom Toys” or “Still Breathing” very much. Some things didn’t change from 2004 to now, I suppose.

“One Of Those Days” needed an overhaul; there’s a germ of a good song in there somewhere that should’ve had the chance to come to fruition.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Had I been thinking clearly enough I’d have remembered I’d written about Astronaut already. Twice. Okay, the second time it was only a couple of paragraphs, but the point stands. I goofed up.

My obvious choice should’ve been Notorious. I love that record to bits. There’s not a song on there that I can’t enjoy on some level. I will play it through and not skip a thing. It contains several of my all-time favorite DD tunes, such as “Skin Trade,” “Winter Marches On,” and “Proposition.”

Maybe, if I revisit this album-write-up idea later, I’ll rectify this egregious oversight.

Any final thoughts?

I received this album from the radio station outfit I used to work for. It was the big promotional package and everything. I gave it away to a friend (after ripping it to my library) because my first impression was so underwhelming.

I… kind of wish I hadn’t done that. D’oh.

The version of “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise” they released as a promo is a better mix than what’s on the album. So of course I don’t have a copy of that either! Go, me!

Oh, hey! We’re past the halfway mark on this year’s project. I haven’t missed a deadline in a year and a half so far. Let’s hear it for six more months of reliable content production!

3WA 2018 #26: Toy Matinee – Toy Matinee

Yes, I could’ve placed this self-titled release up against a couple of the others. I decided against that in favor of honoring the anniversary of its release.

What is it?

Toy Matinee is a one-off masterwork of pop music released this week, twenty-eight years ago. In its original form it’s only nine songs long, barely past three quarters of an hour.

How does it sound?

I hope that someone saves a seat for me on the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

For all that Kevin Gilbert’s talents are displayed quite well on his later solo records, I get the feeling that he was best suited to a collaborative effort. Which, of course, makes me sad for the might-have-been outcome if he’d auditioned for and gotten the Genesis gig after Phil Collins left, but… c’est la vie.

And what a collaborative effort this is! It’s catchy, it’s clever, it’s poignant, it’s everything you want from an early ’90s pop album. There’s hardly a dull thud to be heard.

(…sorry about that, Gilbert fans. That pun was unintentional.)

High school best friend Steve and I came across the band due to a little side blurb in an issue of Tower Records’ magazine at the time of the album’s release. The two main songwriters were quoted as having influences that added up to most of the core of our individual music libraries. We had to check this album out!

I’m so glad we happened upon that magazine article. Too bad I threw out the stack of magazines years ago…

Which songs are the highlights?

The lead track, one of only two songs to receive much in the way of radio airplay, is “Last Plane Out” and it’s a great advertisement for the record as a whole. “The Toy Matinee” is rather somber for a title track but that’s fine because it’s gorgeous anyway. Seriously, it’s a go-to rainy-day bit of mood music. If you sample the album online (beyond the above 30-second mix), please check out these two songs first and foremost.

And then there’s the song which is presumably about Madonna, “Queen of Misery,” which largely exists because nearly all of the band’s members worked on one of her records. (I didn’t know about that until years and years later.) All of this is firmly in the pop-rock vein, nothing more and nothing less. Still, it’s all superbly crafted stuff.

Along and between those standouts we get the appropriately absurd tribute to the painter Salvador Dali, “Turn It On Salvador,” and the almost anthemic “Remember My Name.” Closing out the original album tracklist there’s “We Always Come Home,” an odd but endearing slice of aw-shucks down-home life-goes-on.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Okay, “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge” is kinda meh. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly memorable or compelling either. Kind of a foam packing peanut of a song, a state made worse by it being the longest of the songs on offer.

On the flipside, “There Was A Little Boy” is musically compelling and well-written, but the lyrical subject matter is a bit off-putting. “How can you expect a child to understand the sickness of the world / his eyes are blind,” indeed. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It was a coin-toss between this and Thud, Kevin Gilbert’s first solo album. (Hence the pun apology, above.) I decided that Toy Matinee is a better intro to Gilbert than the solo record.

Any final thoughts?

If you do pick up the album, get an edition which includes the bonus tracks. Most of them are just early/reworked versions of songs already on the record but it’s all worth it to get the short, sweet, melancholy “Blank Page.”

I really, really wish that if we hadn’t gotten a Gilbert-fronted Genesis at least we could’ve had a second Toy Matinee release. Sigh.

3WA 2018 #25: Yuki Kajiura – Fiction

That’s right, I’m picking an album from the highly-regarded woman who composes anime soundtracks who isn’t Yoko Kanno. Sorry, Cowboy Bebop fans.

What is it?

Fiction is a 2003 album from Yuki Kajiura, whose initial claim to fame was being involved in the Noir and .hack soundtracks, generally speaking.

How does it sound?

Take me back to the mix where the sampler was born:

Why this pick?

This isn’t a “best of” since a lot of the tracks are originals and the rest have been reworked and/or re-recorded for this release. It’s close enough for our purposes, though, and as a jumping-on point for appreciating her work this is a nearly ideal Yuki Kajiura release. It helps that it’s readily available in the USA without having to finagle a copy via CDJapan or something like that. (Though you want the 14-track version originally limited to Japan, because you miss out on “Red Rose” otherwise.)

To suggest that this is just a collection of stuff from anime & game soundtracks is a disservice, though. Fiction is a helluva collection of gorgeous songs, never mind where they came from originally. Absolutely gorgeous.

Which songs are the highlights?

The album kicks off with a rendition of “Key of the Twilight” from the .hack franchise, and there are few better songs ever to arise from the world of anime. A few songs later we get the title track, “Fiction,” which is an outstanding original piece for this album. A few songs after that comes the high-energy instrumental, “Red Rose.”

Along the way we get “Cynical World,” a fine rendition of Noir‘s “Canta Per Me,” and the grand delight that is “Vanity.”

Oh, and just to drive home how marvelous Noir was musically, there’s a great take on “Salva Nos” toward the end of the album as well.

Which songs don’t work so well?

The album starts to run out of top-tier material after the midpoint, with pieces like “Awaking” (despite having the same melodic line as a .hack song she’d done earlier) and “Winter” and “Lullaby” (an oddly-rendered torch song, more or less) not coming together quite as well as the earlier stuff.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It might’ve been obvious to go with the .hack//SIGN or Noir soundtracks. Too obvious, in fact. I’d probably have picked the Mai-HiME soundtrack instead.

Any final thoughts?

In the process of writing this entry I discovered that Fiction II came out a few years ago. Well hello there, new addition to the wishlist…

3WA 2018 #24: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Look, if you think I was going to type out the band’s name twice just to see how far I could push WordPress’s post title boundary, you’ve got another think coming.

What is it?

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe is the quite-literally self-titled 1989 release by four guys who might have been called Yes but couldn’t, in this case, due to legal reasons so they named the band after themselves.

If I’d been smart I’d have slotted this one right after the Pink Floyd entry, come to think of it. Missed an opportunity there! Ah, well. At least I managed to get two self-titled records back to back…

How does it sound?

See the sampler mix be the master now:

Why this pick?

There are a bunch of Yes albums, many of which I’ve never listened to. They’re not really my thing. And yet, there’s this bizarre creature that I kind of adore. In a way it’s a backlash to the hit-machine trajectory of the main Yes brand, given the smash success of 90125. Jon Anderson got some of the former band members together and essentially asked, “Remember when we were just screwing around and having fun making music however we wanted?”

This is the result, and it’s a thing.

A very 1980s, very prog-rock, very mixed-bag thing.

A thing where four of the nine tracks are divided into sections with their own titles. (I won’t be detailing all the section/subtitles here. They’re not actually that important.) Oh, and there’s a heavy dose of indulgence in “world music” styling, being the trendy thing to do if you’re a British musical act in the 1980s. Your cringe levels may vary.

Which songs are the highlights?

The core of the album’s strength is in a run of three early songs: The weirdly kind-of-martial “Fist of Fire,” the intricate ten-minutes-plus epic “Brother Of Mine,” and “Birthright,” the politically-charged piece which basically justifies the album’s entire existence.

Near the end of the album we get the other epic, “Order Of The Universe,” and it’s ridiculous in a good way. A nine minute paean to the power of rock-n-roll in complex multi-part arrangements and with very little actually rock-n-roll about it. I adore this track, I really do.

Coming off of that, the album’s closer is “Let’s Pretend,” which sounds the closest to “classic” Yes of the 1970s of anything on the entire record. Sure it’s just some guitars and Jon Anderson singing, but it works well and makes one wonder what might have happened if they’d tried for a simpler, more acoustic approach to this project overall.

Which songs don’t work so well?

It’s a Yes album, for all intents and purposes, so there are experimental excesses galore. Take the lead track, “Themes.” It’s six minutes of what feels like a bunch of ideas that didn’t grow big enough to seed their own songs so they got tossed in the bin with each other and mixed into one rambling ridiculous piece. Several of the bits are kind of interesting, just not crammed in with each other like this.

My least favorite piece is “The Meeting,” just a piano and Jon Anderson’s voice and lyrics about love or something and it’s a snooze is what I’m saying. “Quartet” comes up next and is somewhat better, being four love songs smushed together in one track but at least there’s a full band playing to make it less dreary. It’s still dreary, though.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I was highly, highly tempted to go with Union, which is basically a compilation of songs from both camps of past-and-present Yes musicians into one hodge-podge of a record. It’s both more uneven and more generally listenable than ABWH, which I must admit is a helluva trick.

But in the end, I had to go with this crazy last-gasp attempt to see what a “pure” not-quite-as-commercialized Yes record might sound like.

Any final thoughts?

The only time I saw Yes in concert was in support of Union. It was an “in the round” presentation, rotating stage and everything. My best friend Steve and I were in the nosebleed section in whatever sportsball auditorium in Los Angeles it was, I can’t remember and it’s probably changed names ten times since. The only other thing I really remember, other than the “in the round” thing? So many potheads. SO. MANY.

All I can think of now, looking back on it, other than SO MANY POTHEADS of course, is… each and every one of those eight guys on stage must’ve wanted to wring the neck of at least two of the other guys on stage during that entire tour.

The power of the paycheck, y’all.

 

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