Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: 3WA (page 1 of 13)

Weekly Word Working Assignment

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.


3WA 2018 #23: Dada – Dada

In the grand scheme of things, some bands are simply destined to be remembered for that one hit song from their first record.

In this particular case that’s a damned shame.

What is it?

dada is the third studio album by the band dada (lowercase intentional, for artsy-fartsy reasons), released in late 1998 to almost no fanfare whatsoever, though a couple of songs were played on the radio a few times.

How does it sound?

Like a beautiful sampler mix machine:

Why this pick?

Good question, actually. If you already know about the band then you probably share the common opinion that their debut, Puzzle, is in many ways their strongest work. Whether that’s because or in spite of the hit single, “Dizz Knee Land,” is variable from fan to fan. (I think we can all agree that “Dorina” alone justifies the band’s existence, though.)

But you should know by now how I feel about leaning on laurels earned via debut albums.

dada (the album) sounds to me like the product of a band really trying to figure out what they want to do next, and also figure out how they’re going to make a living at it. Is there more of a commercial sound on this record? Oh, definitely. Did that mean the songs are diminished in quality? I declare, absolutely not.

What I’m really getting at is: In a just and proper world, “Beautiful Turnback Time Machine” would be at least as well known as “Dizz Knee Land.”

Which songs are the highlights?

“Information Undertow” is even more relevant in 2018 than it was in 1998, which is a neat trick.

After the mid-album slump we get three of the finest songs the band ever produced: The delightfully ridiculous “Beautiful Turnback Time Machine,” the gorgeous and bittersweet “Baby Really Loves Me,” and arguably the best mopey-angst anthem of all time, “Spinning My Wheels.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

I can take or leave “California Gold,” actually. It’s the lead-off single, it’s got some catchiness to it, but… it wears out its welcome a bit too early. Somehow it’s the longest track on the album; had they edited it down by a minute or so I think it would’ve held up better.

“Sweet Dark Angel” and “Goodbye” represent the saggy middle stretch of the record.

I’m sure that “Outside” is probably a fine song for most folks but since it’s one of those “a dude and his acoustic guitar moping over a girl” tunes, I have to give it a pass. The tail end of the album is, in fact, where they stuck most of the weakest material. “Agent’s Got No Secret” is a bit of a dull thud to finish on.

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

Definitely Puzzle. I listened to that thing through, over and over, for months after I got it. (It was another of the prizes when KGON went “all classic rock” and ditched anything made after the mid-1980s from their library. Man, that job was a goldmine.) Admittedly, artsy California stoner-rock isn’t my usual thing but damn, Puzzle was good enough to win me over anyway.

Any final thoughts?

The band kind of fizzled out after this record, which is a damned shame.

A funny thing happened while doing the listen-through for this week’s post. I’d previously set ratings tags on all the tracks, with a few 4s and a couple of 5s, the rest 3s or less. Basically I was highlighting which songs I absolutely wanted to have come up in random playlist scenarios and marking down the rest. After I’d done that, years ago, I stopped listening to the album all the way through, ever.

This time through I found myself reevaluating almost every star rating I’d set back then. I’d not considered back when I chose “one album per week” as this year’s project concept that making myself fully revisit these albums would result in falling in love with some of them all over again. And yet, here we are. Hot damn.

…no, I don’t know why “damn(ed)” is my word of choice this week, I really don’t. I don’t even have an album by The Damned in this year’s list!

3WA 2018 #22: Apoptygma Berserk – You and Me Against the World

The overwhelming majority of the music in my library came to me via other media (movies, TV shows, fan-made videos) or recommendations from friends & acquaintances. Occasionally I dabble in letting online services suggest things, and nearly always I’m disappointed.

And then there’s this oddball thing.

What is it?

You and Me Against the World is the 14-tracks-long 2006 studio album from the band often referred to as “APOP” because Apoptygma Berserk is just shy of being a champion-level tongue twister.

How does it sound?

Is the sampler mix to blame?

Why this pick?

This album is pitched directly into my strike zone, if you’ll forgive the sportsball analogy. It’s basically a pop-rock record with a lot of Euro-styled electronica underpinnings. It features a lot of great hooks and some clever turns of phrase. None of the songs are long enough to wear out their welcome. The overall sound is just a bit off-kilter from the norm, but not to the point of becoming too weird to enjoy. And, there are no really bad songs here. Not all of them are great but none are too grating, as it were.

Which songs are the highlights?

The first full song on the album is “In This Together,” which functions as the title track. It’s a great anthemic piece that I never tire of.

One song was so nice they mixed it twice. The first is called “Love To Blame,” while the other shows up at the end of the album as a more techno-ish variant called “Is Electronic Love To Blame?” and I prefer the latter by a tiny margin but each is marvelous in its own right.

“Cambodia” is a really weird little barn-burner of a ballad, and I can’t figure out what kind of story it’s really trying to tell. Mind you, I’m terrible at parsing lyrical meaning so that may be a failing on my part rather than the songwriter’s. I enjoy the song anyway. Speaking of barn-burners, “Maze” is a great three-and-a-half-minutes of high-intensity rock-n-roll.

Which songs don’t work so well?

This is another album with one of those minute-long lead-in teaser tracks, named “Tuning In Again” in this case, which can be skipped or ignored as you see fit.

“Faceless Fear” doesn’t entirely come together quite right, and “Tuning To The Frequency Of Your Soul” needed either more added to it or some of what’s in it taken away, I’m not sure which.

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

The band is (in)famous for not making quite the same style of record from album to album. After YaMAtW came Rocket Science, which I like a few songs from but the rest don’t work for me hardly at all, so if I’d not chosen this album it would’ve been something from another artist entirely.

Any final thoughts?

Apparently the only lasting value I received from Last.FM was pointing me in the direction of this band.

No, seriously. Nearly everything in my library came to me via direct recommendation from friends, or because of a song used in some other medium (fan-made video, movie soundtrack, etc) caught my attention and I did some research. I spent a few years feeding everything I listened to into Last.FM in order to train its suggestion algorithm.

Nearly everything suggested to me by Last.FM fell into one of three categories:

  1. Stuff already in my library. (Great algorithm there, guys.)
  2. Stuff that’s super-popular but entirely unrelated. (People who listen to stuff I like also listen to big-name stuff I don’t like? Big wow.)
  3. Examplars of a given genre. (As I listen to rock music, it follows that I should listen to, say, The Eagles. NO.)

Fail, fail, fail. And yet… at one point the site suggested I listen to this specific album. There you go, guys. It was all worth it! Really!


3WA 2018 #21: Ramin Djawadi – Pacific Rim Soundtrack

Remember last year when one of the running themes was a giant-robot content warning? Ah, those were the days, weren’t they?

What is it?

The Pacific Rim Soundtrack is the 2013 release of Ramin Djawadi’s marvelous accompanying music for the delightful mechs-versus-monsters film we all know and love.

We do all know and love it, right? Right.

How does it sound?

Like music you’d cancel the apocalypse to:

Why this pick?

Soundtracks make up a small but significant percentage of my music library. I didn’t include a lot of them in this year’s writing project selections. Just a few.

Why this one, to start? I figured I’d go with something that people might actually have familiarity with, being a relatively recent film with high popularity among my fellow geeky people.

Which songs are the highlights?

Unlike a normal album where a vocal performance here or a particular riff there can make a song stand out, a soundtrack is all about bits of music that remind you of stuff you saw in the movie. It’s hard for me to separate the musical cues from the viewing experience and judge tunes on their detached merits. Naming names doesn’t help me tell you how best to listen to this sort of record.

With that said, the main theme is probably the best piece of music I know of to cue up when I need to get something done.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Some tracks one recognizes a few seconds of from the movie only to find that the rest of the track is either too repetitive or uninteresting. And, of course, you get to hear variations on the key motifs over and over again as you work your way through. That can get a bit tiring after a while.

I’m not going to name names here, either. There’s so much personal preference involved that there’s no point whatsoever in picking and choosing songs to avoid.

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

There are a few other soundtracks in the pipeline yet, but unless you know my library it won’t give anything away to say that I could have gone with the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Dune, or the first season of RWBY, or maybe one of the Cowboy Bebop albums. Who knows?

Had the game come out last year while I was still assembling the list I might have selected the soundtrack for the new Battletech game. It’s quite good, nearly up to the standard set by the Mechwarrior 2 game soundtrack.

Any final thoughts?

The Pacific Rim Uprising film score tries to reuse the main theme from this soundtrack while “punching it up” a bit, and it just didn’t quite work for me. I appreciated what they were aiming for, they just… missed, that’s all.

3WA 2018 #20: Space Brothers – Shine

So much for big, popular records by recognizable bands! This week, we’re going for something rather obscure.

What is it?

Shine is a late-1999 electronica release by one of those European acts who like to change their name based on which way the winds are blowing, or the change of state of a subatomic particle, or whatever. For this record they called themselves the Space Brothers but that moniker was (mostly) discarded not long afterward. Which makes this kind of a debut record, but kind of not, for the purposes of our “debut record” ongoing project thread.

How does it sound?

Find your mix in the world:

Why this pick?

While Shine may not be the best or most notable late-90s electronica record, it captures a kind of sound that I still enjoy from time to time. It’s usually tagged as “trance,” for what that’s worth. The recipe for this kind of record looks something like:

(Ingredients – 1 or 2 dudes with synthesizers and contacts in the club scene. 1 female vocalist.)

Mix drum machine loops and melodic bleepings, add breathy vocals to taste.

Deliver a few key tracks to dance clubs as quickly as you can.

Release a CD, maybe. Maybe just stick with some 12″ singles. You do you, bro.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Shine” was my introduction to this album, thanks to a music video someone assembled based on material from an anime series I actually don’t like. It was a good video, though. And the song holds up quite well.

The other top tracks are “This Is Love,” “The Light,” “Forgiven,” and “Legacy.”

Look. It’s a trance record, there are very few distinguishing features from song to song. Let’s just move along, shall we?

Which songs don’t work so well?

With trance-type electronica, there’s a fine line between “chill background music with a catchy groove” and “music so in-the-background that it might as well not be there at all.” A few of the tracks here fall into that latter category, such as “Heaven Will Come” and “I Still Love You.”

Then there’s the closing track, “Beyond the Sun,” which is just plain dull.

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

There’s no good answer to this question, here. There are no other Space Brothers albums, only a few scattered singles.

I didn’t pick anything by Scooter for this year’s project, so maybe their Mind The Gap. Dunno.

Any final thoughts?

I missed out by living in Portland instead of Seattle around the time this record came out, because they had a radio station up there which played this kind of stuff all the time. Maybe I’d have burned out on all the euro-styled dance music, maybe not.


Um. Next episode: More zombies! *

(* – zombies not included)

3WA 2018 #19: Audioslave – Revelations

Apparently the theme for this stretch of posts is “music by acts I’m only somewhat into.” It wasn’t intentional, I assure you.

What is it?

Revelations is the 2006 album released by don’t-call-it-a-supergroup Audioslave, the amalgamation of Soundgarden’s singer and the everything-else of Rage Against The Machine. It’s a dozen tracks of surprisingly straightforward rock music.

How does it sound?

The original fire has died and gone, but the sampler mix plays on:

Why this pick?

Between the two Audioslave albums in my library, Revelations and Out of Exile, this one features the same number of four-star cuts with far fewer dull thuds. Weirdly (considering its membership) it’s probably one of the purest rock-n-roll records of the post-grunge (or post-alternative, or whatever) age.

Of course, the real question is probably “why not a Soundgarden album?” Well that would’ve been Superunknown and my thoughts on that record boil down to: I like some of the radio hits and the rest of it didn’t connect with me at all. My only other Soundgarden purchase was King Animal which mostly bounced off of me on first, second, and third listens.

So we’re back to Audioslave. And this, their final effort, realizes the promise of the premise: In the end they managed to craft a superb rock album out of the disparate backgrounds of its membership, a record eminently listenable albeit questionably meaningful.

Which songs are the highlights?

The album kicks off well with the title track, “Revelations.” “One and the Same” comes next and yeah, it’s pretty good too.

“Original Fire” was the first thing I heard from the band, and I still like it. It’s hard to argue with a solid anthem of a barn-burner.

Late in the album is a trio of very good tunes, from “Shape Of Things To Come” through “Jewel Of The Summertime” and into the superb “Wide Awake.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Until We Fall” is the sort of acoustic-guitar-centered rock music piece which leaves me cold in general. It needed a hook of some kind, perhaps. “Broken City” is a handful of musical ideas that don’t quite work well together.

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

Out of Exile, by process of elimination. It does feature two of my favorite songs from the band, “Yesterday To Tomorrow” (with its lovely little bridge section) and “Be Yourself.” But there are some real stinkers on that album, so, no.

Any final thoughts?

I really like Chris Cornell’s voice, at least when he wasn’t tearing his vocal cords to shreds. I know that the shouty/screamy stuff was kind of his calling card but I always hoped he’d step away from that as he got older. We’ll never find out, I suppose. Mind you, here I am criticizing one of the most notable voices in modern rock music. What do I know?

Speaking of singing, in order to make the 30-second sampler mixes I need five snippets of roughly six seconds in length. Problem is, a lot of songs on the album feature Cornell drawing out each line of lyric as long as humanly possible. This made snippet selection more challenging than usual. I may, possibly, have cursed the name of a dead guy a few times during sampler mix assembly… ahem.

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