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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: 3WA (page 2 of 14)

Weekly Word Working Assignment

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!

Ahem.

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.

Hmm.

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.

3WA 2018 #18: Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason

It occurred to me, after I clicked the “schedule” button on last week’s post, that there is in fact a relevant and natural follow-up subject in the spreadsheet. Queensrÿche’s Promised Land is often referred to as their take on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, so why not bring out the selected Pink Floyd record next?

Sure, it’s a flimsy kind of segue, but I’ll take what inspiration I can get.

What is it?

A Momentary Lapse of Reason is the 1987 album release from the band which legally retained the name of Pink Floyd despite Roger Waters’ efforts to the contrary. In some ways it’s a first album. In some ways a it’s a last hurrah.

How does it sound?

Sampler mix rise and swirl into the leaden sky:

Why this pick?

1987 was a weird year for weird classic-rock bands releasing big, popularly successful records. The Dead did it with In The Dark, Fleetwood Mac did it with Tango In The Night. And so with the venerable Pink Floyd, having parted ways with one of its key members. I find this aspect rather interesting, seeing what the remaining members decided to do once freed of Waters’ particular stylistic and lyrical demands.

Mind you it’s also a great sounding record. It’s very 1980s, sure, but excellently so.

There are individual songs on earlier Pink Floyd albums I like more than nearly anything on Momentary Lapse. There are, however, no Pink Floyd albums I like more, song-for-song, than this one. Even the great and powerful Dark Side of the Moon doesn’t have much to offer other than “Money,” “Us and Them,” and “Time” in terms of individual-song listening material. (And I don’t even like “Us and Them” all that much. Blasphemy, I know.) Early records were crafted for listening all the way through, usually after having recalibrated your brainpan with chemicals. Later records with Roger Waters are… polarizing, to say the least.

Momentary Lapse is just nice. It’s what you get when what’s left of a highly creative long-running act settles down in the late 1980s to bash out a few good songs, gosh darn it.

Which songs are the highlights?

The first half (or side, if you prefer) consists mostly of a string of three radio singles and one song that should’ve been. “Learning To Fly” and “One Slip” and even “Dogs Of War,” they’re all good cuts. For my money, the best of the popular songs is “On the Turning Away.”

My favorite songs here are toward the end of the album, though. “Yet Another Movie,” the closing track “Sorrow,” and the instrumental “Terminal Frost” are just fantastic.

Which songs don’t work so well?

There are no real duds here. “Signs of Life” is a typically (for Pink Floyd) odd little opening number, more ambient sounds and partial melodic noodling than an actual song. The pair of “A New Machine” tracks add up to barely more than two minutes of David Gilmour doing kind of a riff on Genesis’ “Guide Vocal” tracks on their Duke album. Take them or leave them, the album isn’t damaged either way.

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

The temptation to go with Wish You Were Here after last week’s Queensrÿche commentary was nearly too strong to resist. Problem is, there’s not much to say about that record. It’s basically made up of three songs surrounded by two long tracks full of musical noodling-around.

I could also have taken a stab at talking about The Wall. I’m not sure I could have done it justice. My feelings about that record are complicated, to say the least.

Any final thoughts?

I stated above that this is kind of a first album. Any major line-up change results in a debut, of sorts. What does the band do now? What new sounds do they try for, if any? By any measure this is a respectable result, even if in the end it’s really kind of a glorified David Gilmour solo record.

I also stated above that this is kind of a last hurrah. Sure, the live album which followed this is pretty good and sold well, but after that? The Division Bell is an utter snooze-fest. (Sorry, die-hard fans. I simply cannot connect with that record.) Apparently there was a final album released a few years ago; the fact that I only learned about it while researching this project post says it all, really. So I consider Momentary Lapse to be the high note that Pink Floyd really went out on. And that’s okay. It’s a good album, Brent.

Even if it does succumb to the 1980s fascination with adding saxophone solos to things.

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