Rickie Lee Jones-Rickie Lee Jones (1979) 
Look at that album cover. Rickie Lee Jones stands there with a beret on, smoking a blunt, pulling off her best beatnik impression. For years prior to this album she was known as Tom Waits beatnik friend, and chose that identity to debut to the public with.  It’s an identity that works for her, but one she kind of abandoned right after this album.  I guess someone told her the 60s were over.
Actually, she may have decided to abandon that beatnik persona halfway through her debut album. While many of the songs do showcase her beatnik side (“Danny’s All Star Joint”, “Young Blood”), more of them stray closer towards a Joni Mitchell sounding folk singer.
Her big hits, “Chuck E’s In Love” and “Coolsville” both showcase the more folksy side of her, (which I guess was more what the audiences wanted in the late 70s). A lot of her music combines pop and art-folk to create an interesting style that I don’t think I’ve heard before. One of my favorite songs from her, the somber ballad “Last Stop Texaco” does this perfectly.
Rickie Lee Jones had hits after her debut album, but never anything that I thought was that great.  She went full on folk singer and got kind of boring (mostly since bland folk singers are a dime a dozen).  Her first album though…it’s a pretty damn perfect combination. 

Rickie Lee Jones-Rickie Lee Jones (1979)

Look at that album cover. Rickie Lee Jones stands there with a beret on, smoking a blunt, pulling off her best beatnik impression. For years prior to this album she was known as Tom Waits beatnik friend, and chose that identity to debut to the public with.  It’s an identity that works for her, but one she kind of abandoned right after this album.  I guess someone told her the 60s were over.

Actually, she may have decided to abandon that beatnik persona halfway through her debut album. While many of the songs do showcase her beatnik side (“Danny’s All Star Joint”, “Young Blood”), more of them stray closer towards a Joni Mitchell sounding folk singer.

Her big hits, “Chuck E’s In Love” and “Coolsville” both showcase the more folksy side of her, (which I guess was more what the audiences wanted in the late 70s). A lot of her music combines pop and art-folk to create an interesting style that I don’t think I’ve heard before. One of my favorite songs from her, the somber ballad “Last Stop Texaco” does this perfectly.

Rickie Lee Jones had hits after her debut album, but never anything that I thought was that great.  She went full on folk singer and got kind of boring (mostly since bland folk singers are a dime a dozen).  Her first album though…it’s a pretty damn perfect combination. 

La Sera-La Sera (2011) 
We haven’t been posting very much on Currently Listening recently, have we? I know I just haven’t had any time to write any reviews, And I assume everyone else is too busy as well.  Hopefully this can jump start us again.
La Sera is a side project of Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman. There’s nothing unusual with that, band members often form secondary bands to do music that their main band wouldn’t touch. The weird thing is though, that there’s really no difference between the music Goodman plays with the Vivian Girls and the music she plays with La Sera. Yes, it may be a touch less punky, and a bit more poppy, but it doesn’t seem like it would be out of place at all on one of the full group’s albums. 
Goodman includes everything that you’d expect:Girl-group sing-a-long hooks, Ramones inspired riffs, artistic distortion…there’s really nothing surprising about any of this.  When it works, its highly enjoyable. When it doesnt work, well, it has the exact same problem as when a Vivian Girls song doesn’t work.
And that’s another weird thing. The Vivian Girls have yet to make a solid album that doesn’t have half-assed filler on it. La Sera seems to be following that mold exactly. Yes, “Beating Heart” and “Never Come Around” are really good. Hell. the album starts off strongly with a few songs…but after the first couple, it just gets lazy. “Left This World”, “Hold”, “Under The Trees”…all filler. Goodman’s solo project doesn’t even work well.
Recently, myself and fellow Currently Listening reviewer Delia saw La Sera opening for twee-poppers Tennis at the Bowery Ballroom. Live, I liked them well enough, though I admit there wasn’t anything special about her, and most of my enjoyment was probably due to the fact I have a thing for female singers. Goodman stands out from her band, and not in a good way. She’s all decked out in tattoos and ragged punk shirts, and they look like they just came for an indie-pop show. The crowd wasn’t really into it (as this was a Tennis concert, not a Vivian Girls concert), and Goodman came off as totally out of place. I don’t know, I always found the Vivian Girls to be not as good as their hype, and La Sera seems to be following in their footsteps.   

La Sera-La Sera (2011)

We haven’t been posting very much on Currently Listening recently, have we? I know I just haven’t had any time to write any reviews, And I assume everyone else is too busy as well.  Hopefully this can jump start us again.

La Sera is a side project of Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman. There’s nothing unusual with that, band members often form secondary bands to do music that their main band wouldn’t touch. The weird thing is though, that there’s really no difference between the music Goodman plays with the Vivian Girls and the music she plays with La Sera. Yes, it may be a touch less punky, and a bit more poppy, but it doesn’t seem like it would be out of place at all on one of the full group’s albums. 

Goodman includes everything that you’d expect:Girl-group sing-a-long hooks, Ramones inspired riffs, artistic distortion…there’s really nothing surprising about any of this.  When it works, its highly enjoyable. When it doesnt work, well, it has the exact same problem as when a Vivian Girls song doesn’t work.

And that’s another weird thing. The Vivian Girls have yet to make a solid album that doesn’t have half-assed filler on it. La Sera seems to be following that mold exactly. Yes, “Beating Heart” and “Never Come Around” are really good. Hell. the album starts off strongly with a few songs…but after the first couple, it just gets lazy. “Left This World”, “Hold”, “Under The Trees”…all filler. Goodman’s solo project doesn’t even work well.

Recently, myself and fellow Currently Listening reviewer Delia saw La Sera opening for twee-poppers Tennis at the Bowery Ballroom. Live, I liked them well enough, though I admit there wasn’t anything special about her, and most of my enjoyment was probably due to the fact I have a thing for female singers. Goodman stands out from her band, and not in a good way. She’s all decked out in tattoos and ragged punk shirts, and they look like they just came for an indie-pop show. The crowd wasn’t really into it (as this was a Tennis concert, not a Vivian Girls concert), and Goodman came off as totally out of place. I don’t know, I always found the Vivian Girls to be not as good as their hype, and La Sera seems to be following in their footsteps.   

Kid Dynamite - Shorter Faster Louder
How much can I even say about this record? For me, it’s kind of the definition of hardcore. I’ve spoken at length in the past about how Kid Dynamite was a perfect band, and I think it’s an indisputable fact. This record stands tall at number 16 on my list of the greatest albums ever made (tied, obviously with their self-titled debut record), with good reason; it’s the perfect synthesis of everything that’s great about punk rock in general and hardcore in particular. It’s straight-faced with a smirk, and dripping with punk rock cliches while remaining surprisingly original and infusing hardcore with a new life. Everything about it just works, it’s a perfect blend of speed, dexterity, songwriting chops, tightness, and aggression. Littered with huge breakdowns, shout-along choruses, driving rhythms, it’s the birth of Philly hardcore - hell - it’s the birth of modern hardcore.
True to it’s name, it is shorter, faster and louder than Kid D’s debut album (though the average song length is longer, tsk tsk). Even with Spider Cotterman replacing Steve Farrell on bass, the band sounds as locked in as they ever did. Vocalist Jason Shevchuk’s lyrics are hugely relatable to anyone in their early 20’s, and cover everything from racism to heartbreak to all-ages shows. It’s packed to the gills with mosh anthems like “Give ‘Em the Ripped One”, the 10-second assault of “Two for Flinching”, and the stage-dive inspiring classic “Cheap Shot Youth Anthem”. Dave Wagenshutz is the true backbone of this band, pummeling his way through all 24 minutes and 49 seconds, making it impossible not to air-drum along. The hooks and cues, musical and vocal, display guitarist/mastermind Dan Yemin’s signature lightning-quick, seething songwriting, and are catchier than anything that fast or aggressive has any right to be. It’s the final document of a band that burned out so quickly and brightly that they couldn’t help but leave an indelible mark on the face of hardcore, and on Shorter Faster Louder, they’re at the top of their game (the top of everyone’s game), fuming with intensity and intelligence, making a huge but lean sound, staying melodic and abrasive in a single breath. They were the Nirvana to the the tough guy hardcore boom of the late 90’s, and they’ve left the same lasting legacy.

Kid Dynamite - Shorter Faster Louder

How much can I even say about this record? For me, it’s kind of the definition of hardcore. I’ve spoken at length in the past about how Kid Dynamite was a perfect band, and I think it’s an indisputable fact. This record stands tall at number 16 on my list of the greatest albums ever made (tied, obviously with their self-titled debut record), with good reason; it’s the perfect synthesis of everything that’s great about punk rock in general and hardcore in particular. It’s straight-faced with a smirk, and dripping with punk rock cliches while remaining surprisingly original and infusing hardcore with a new life. Everything about it just works, it’s a perfect blend of speed, dexterity, songwriting chops, tightness, and aggression. Littered with huge breakdowns, shout-along choruses, driving rhythms, it’s the birth of Philly hardcore - hell - it’s the birth of modern hardcore.

True to it’s name, it is shorter, faster and louder than Kid D’s debut album (though the average song length is longer, tsk tsk). Even with Spider Cotterman replacing Steve Farrell on bass, the band sounds as locked in as they ever did. Vocalist Jason Shevchuk’s lyrics are hugely relatable to anyone in their early 20’s, and cover everything from racism to heartbreak to all-ages shows. It’s packed to the gills with mosh anthems like “Give ‘Em the Ripped One”, the 10-second assault of “Two for Flinching”, and the stage-dive inspiring classic “Cheap Shot Youth Anthem”. Dave Wagenshutz is the true backbone of this band, pummeling his way through all 24 minutes and 49 seconds, making it impossible not to air-drum along. The hooks and cues, musical and vocal, display guitarist/mastermind Dan Yemin’s signature lightning-quick, seething songwriting, and are catchier than anything that fast or aggressive has any right to be. It’s the final document of a band that burned out so quickly and brightly that they couldn’t help but leave an indelible mark on the face of hardcore, and on Shorter Faster Louder, they’re at the top of their game (the top of everyone’s game), fuming with intensity and intelligence, making a huge but lean sound, staying melodic and abrasive in a single breath. They were the Nirvana to the the tough guy hardcore boom of the late 90’s, and they’ve left the same lasting legacy.

Disfear - Misanthropic Generation
One of the straight-up angriest bands in operation, Swedish d-beat act Disfear’s third record is where they really start to hit their stride. While not as fully-formed as 2008’s Live the Storm, Misanthropic Generation lays the groundwork for the stomp and grind of the follow-up. Disfear has always operated on that level, combining fury and relentless speed to a furious low-end rumble not done so well since Motorhead entered the scene.  Sure, every song kind of sounds the same, but you could say the same of virtually every band in their genre. I’ve always been a sucker for bands like this (Tragedy, From Ashes Rise, His Hero is Gone, Cursed, etc.), but Disfear has always done it with less punk grime and more metal grime, which gives their style of crust-core some much needed levity and swagger that puts them a step above their contemporaries. Misanthropic Generation runs a little long, which Live the Storm is able to correct, but the tunes are there. “Demons, Demons, Demons” and opener “Powerload” are perfectly aggressive and embracing of the punk ethos within a metal context; something easier said than done. A definite mosh record for the ages.

Disfear - Misanthropic Generation

One of the straight-up angriest bands in operation, Swedish d-beat act Disfear’s third record is where they really start to hit their stride. While not as fully-formed as 2008’s Live the Storm, Misanthropic Generation lays the groundwork for the stomp and grind of the follow-up. Disfear has always operated on that level, combining fury and relentless speed to a furious low-end rumble not done so well since Motorhead entered the scene.  Sure, every song kind of sounds the same, but you could say the same of virtually every band in their genre. I’ve always been a sucker for bands like this (Tragedy, From Ashes Rise, His Hero is Gone, Cursed, etc.), but Disfear has always done it with less punk grime and more metal grime, which gives their style of crust-core some much needed levity and swagger that puts them a step above their contemporaries. Misanthropic Generation runs a little long, which Live the Storm is able to correct, but the tunes are there. “Demons, Demons, Demons” and opener “Powerload” are perfectly aggressive and embracing of the punk ethos within a metal context; something easier said than done. A definite mosh record for the ages.

Lil’ Wayne - Rebirth
Right off the bat, I’m gonna go ahead and sacrifice some of my bountiful street cred and admit that this is not the first time I’ve listened to this record (hell, it’s not even the second time). My fascination with this album is akin to Weezer’s much-maligned Raditude (an album I also exhausted around the same timeframe, to everyone’s chagrin), as Raditude was an album about partying written by someone who has ostensibly never been to a party. In the same sense, Rebirth is a rock album written by someone who has a less than tenuous grasp on rock music. I think I just find high-profile artists operating on delusion of that magnitude fascinating.
Recently, I compared Odd Future to Young Money in terms of the collective aspect in the modern musical landscape, and I think that the reason Young Money can’t exist in the same spectrum as Odd Future is the same reason why Rebirth is so unsuccessful. Wayne is an insider longing to be an outsider; his existence seems to be oriented toward convincing people he’s really fucking weird (I imagine him consulting with his entourage about what thing he can do next to make people talk about how crazy he’s going, a la Tracy Jordan), but because he exists so far inside of the mainstream, he has no connection with the fringe in the same way that Odd Future or someone of that ilk does. Some of his ideas about what’s out there are just made up, some of it just rips off Miley Cyrus, and some of it is surprisingly spot-on (“The Price is Wrong” even dials down the super-polished production in favor of a sound that almost comes straight out of Inner Ear Studios, which actually kind of works for the album’s “punk” track). I can’t even sit here and tell you that the album is unlistenable (though parts of it are). Wayne has an unmistakeable ear for clean production and catchy tunes, but as much as that works in his favor, it’s also detrimental to the “dangerous” sound he attempts to craft on Rebirth. He’s appropriately melodramatic on the ballads, puts on his best snarl for the “harder” tracks, and where stuff like “Knockout” and “Drop the World”s Eminem guest verse are supremely wonky, Wayne smartly runs the gamut of popular rock music, stretching from Fall Out Boy-esque pop-punk licks to new wave synths to uber-bombastic arena rock anthems. The point still remains though that he made this album too far inside. I would love to see what a group like Odd Future would do with this tableau, someone with a clearer view on the outside of musical culture.

Lil’ Wayne - Rebirth

Right off the bat, I’m gonna go ahead and sacrifice some of my bountiful street cred and admit that this is not the first time I’ve listened to this record (hell, it’s not even the second time). My fascination with this album is akin to Weezer’s much-maligned Raditude (an album I also exhausted around the same timeframe, to everyone’s chagrin), as Raditude was an album about partying written by someone who has ostensibly never been to a party. In the same sense, Rebirth is a rock album written by someone who has a less than tenuous grasp on rock music. I think I just find high-profile artists operating on delusion of that magnitude fascinating.

Recently, I compared Odd Future to Young Money in terms of the collective aspect in the modern musical landscape, and I think that the reason Young Money can’t exist in the same spectrum as Odd Future is the same reason why Rebirth is so unsuccessful. Wayne is an insider longing to be an outsider; his existence seems to be oriented toward convincing people he’s really fucking weird (I imagine him consulting with his entourage about what thing he can do next to make people talk about how crazy he’s going, a la Tracy Jordan), but because he exists so far inside of the mainstream, he has no connection with the fringe in the same way that Odd Future or someone of that ilk does. Some of his ideas about what’s out there are just made up, some of it just rips off Miley Cyrus, and some of it is surprisingly spot-on (“The Price is Wrong” even dials down the super-polished production in favor of a sound that almost comes straight out of Inner Ear Studios, which actually kind of works for the album’s “punk” track). I can’t even sit here and tell you that the album is unlistenable (though parts of it are). Wayne has an unmistakeable ear for clean production and catchy tunes, but as much as that works in his favor, it’s also detrimental to the “dangerous” sound he attempts to craft on Rebirth. He’s appropriately melodramatic on the ballads, puts on his best snarl for the “harder” tracks, and where stuff like “Knockout” and “Drop the World”s Eminem guest verse are supremely wonky, Wayne smartly runs the gamut of popular rock music, stretching from Fall Out Boy-esque pop-punk licks to new wave synths to uber-bombastic arena rock anthems. The point still remains though that he made this album too far inside. I would love to see what a group like Odd Future would do with this tableau, someone with a clearer view on the outside of musical culture.

Tool - Aenima
It’s tough to think about what my life would be like without this record, which stands at number 9 on my list of the greatest albums of all time. Above almost any other, this is pretty responsible for igniting my interest and love for music, and serves as a locus point more specifically for my love of rhythm-driven, intelligent, aggressive music and weird time signatures. I was 10 when Aenima was released, and I think I heard it for the first time when I was 13, save for maybe catching the video for “Stinkfist” on 120 Minutes sometime in the interim. My cousin, who had just earned his honorable discharge from the U.S. Naval Forces, came back from his final tour in Italy with a wedding band and this record, raving about both. I’m not sure if it’s the sentimental attachment I associate with this record, but it’s something I still hold close.
Being a fan of Tool over the age of 18 and in a place that isn’t in the middle of nowhere is something reserved for a very special personality type (and also usually means that at some point prior, you were a Tool fan under the age of 18 who lived in the middle of nowhere). As a band who intentionally baits its audience (I’ve always marveled at the quiet genius of a band who forces their fans to walk around in shirts that proclaim “TOOL” loudly on them), you’re almost required to have a sense of humor about something very serious. Tool is a serious band, and Aenima is a serious record, but live, frontman Maynard James Keenan laces their set with a borderline stand-up routine, and appears frequently in underground anti-comedy vehicles (have you seen Tim & Eric’s interview with him? Incredible!). Even Aenima is peppered with quips from Bill Hicks’ incendiary “Arizona Bay” bit, and lyrics on a song like “Hooker With a Penis” are some of the best pissed-off humor since Black Flag’s Damaged. Even the interludes like “Message to Harry Manback” are seething with absurdity (“Die Eier Von Satan” is a fucking cookie recipe read in German through a megaphone over industrial noise). For a band that purports to take themselves so seriously, they’re willing to be pretty loose about it.
Aenima is a “mature” record; for Tool, for their fans, and for heavy music in general. Few albums are this sophisticated, well-crafted or intelligent, regardless of genre. The introduction of bassist Justin Chancellor on this record was always the missing ingredient. While the raw power and smart compositions are still hiding under the surface on Undertow, Chancellor meshes so well with drummer Danny Carey’s masterful drumwork, it makes Aenima a touchstone for rhythm sections to follow (Jesus Fucking Christ the drumrolls throughout the last minute of “Forty-Six and 2”). It’s the rhythm section that really gives life to these songs. They make what would be a one-dimensional, single-guitar metal record a fully realized, three-dimensional monolith of self-exploration, societal loathing, and near-operatic madness. Keenan is the perfect conduit from band to audience. He’s bombastic without being an attention hog, talented without nearing wankery, his lyrics combine vitriol with tongue-in-cheek humor, and you can hear his live charisma through the speakers. His loud-soft range is second-to-none, and he helps to anchor Adam Jones’ comparatively simple guitar work with his sheer vocal power.
There’s not a half-formed or weak song in the bunch unless you want to count interlude tracks, and even those work expertly in the context of the record. The early songs are great mid-90’s metal single fodder, and the more sprawling tracks on the B-side - “Third Eye” and “Pushit” in particular - can stand alongside songs like “War Pigs” and “The Number of the Beast” as some of the all-time great metal tracks. With Aenima, Tool expanded the acceptable metal palette. Without this album, there’s no Mastodon or Isis; progressive stylings in heavy music would be an unexplored avenue even still. Sure, people had been influenced by King Crimson and Black Sabbath before, but prior to Aenima and Neurosis’ Through Silver in Blood (released the same year), no one had made the leap to really combine the two. There are bits of stoner metal in it (not surprising considering the amount of drugs that went into it), ditto prog, tech-death, even drumbeats that would become trademark of nu-metal (for better or worse). It’s easily one of the most integral records in heavy music, just based on popularity, sheer influence, and staying power, and it continues to mold heavy metal in all of its incarnations to this day.

Tool - Aenima

It’s tough to think about what my life would be like without this record, which stands at number 9 on my list of the greatest albums of all time. Above almost any other, this is pretty responsible for igniting my interest and love for music, and serves as a locus point more specifically for my love of rhythm-driven, intelligent, aggressive music and weird time signatures. I was 10 when Aenima was released, and I think I heard it for the first time when I was 13, save for maybe catching the video for “Stinkfist” on 120 Minutes sometime in the interim. My cousin, who had just earned his honorable discharge from the U.S. Naval Forces, came back from his final tour in Italy with a wedding band and this record, raving about both. I’m not sure if it’s the sentimental attachment I associate with this record, but it’s something I still hold close.

Being a fan of Tool over the age of 18 and in a place that isn’t in the middle of nowhere is something reserved for a very special personality type (and also usually means that at some point prior, you were a Tool fan under the age of 18 who lived in the middle of nowhere). As a band who intentionally baits its audience (I’ve always marveled at the quiet genius of a band who forces their fans to walk around in shirts that proclaim “TOOL” loudly on them), you’re almost required to have a sense of humor about something very serious. Tool is a serious band, and Aenima is a serious record, but live, frontman Maynard James Keenan laces their set with a borderline stand-up routine, and appears frequently in underground anti-comedy vehicles (have you seen Tim & Eric’s interview with him? Incredible!). Even Aenima is peppered with quips from Bill Hicks’ incendiary “Arizona Bay” bit, and lyrics on a song like “Hooker With a Penis” are some of the best pissed-off humor since Black Flag’s Damaged. Even the interludes like “Message to Harry Manback” are seething with absurdity (“Die Eier Von Satan” is a fucking cookie recipe read in German through a megaphone over industrial noise). For a band that purports to take themselves so seriously, they’re willing to be pretty loose about it.

Aenima is a “mature” record; for Tool, for their fans, and for heavy music in general. Few albums are this sophisticated, well-crafted or intelligent, regardless of genre. The introduction of bassist Justin Chancellor on this record was always the missing ingredient. While the raw power and smart compositions are still hiding under the surface on Undertow, Chancellor meshes so well with drummer Danny Carey’s masterful drumwork, it makes Aenima a touchstone for rhythm sections to follow (Jesus Fucking Christ the drumrolls throughout the last minute of “Forty-Six and 2”). It’s the rhythm section that really gives life to these songs. They make what would be a one-dimensional, single-guitar metal record a fully realized, three-dimensional monolith of self-exploration, societal loathing, and near-operatic madness. Keenan is the perfect conduit from band to audience. He’s bombastic without being an attention hog, talented without nearing wankery, his lyrics combine vitriol with tongue-in-cheek humor, and you can hear his live charisma through the speakers. His loud-soft range is second-to-none, and he helps to anchor Adam Jones’ comparatively simple guitar work with his sheer vocal power.

There’s not a half-formed or weak song in the bunch unless you want to count interlude tracks, and even those work expertly in the context of the record. The early songs are great mid-90’s metal single fodder, and the more sprawling tracks on the B-side - “Third Eye” and “Pushit” in particular - can stand alongside songs like “War Pigs” and “The Number of the Beast” as some of the all-time great metal tracks. With Aenima, Tool expanded the acceptable metal palette. Without this album, there’s no Mastodon or Isis; progressive stylings in heavy music would be an unexplored avenue even still. Sure, people had been influenced by King Crimson and Black Sabbath before, but prior to Aenima and Neurosis’ Through Silver in Blood (released the same year), no one had made the leap to really combine the two. There are bits of stoner metal in it (not surprising considering the amount of drugs that went into it), ditto prog, tech-death, even drumbeats that would become trademark of nu-metal (for better or worse). It’s easily one of the most integral records in heavy music, just based on popularity, sheer influence, and staying power, and it continues to mold heavy metal in all of its incarnations to this day.

Smoke or Fire - This Sinking Ship
Early on when Tim and I were sowing the early seeds of friendship, we were discussing which bands our opinions met on, and Smoke or Fire (along with the Sainte Catherines) were a band where I think I less than eloquently explained how I felt in reality about them in favor of making a bolder but more misconstrued statement about how I was not a huge fan of this record. Tim sort of took that and ran with it, and the meme that began afterwards was that I harbored a secret and severe dislike of Smoke or Fire. This isn’t true. My sophomore year of college, I listened to their debut LP, Above the City pretty consistently (in fact, it landed at number 19 on my favorite records of 2005, just ahead of Bear Vs. Shark’s Terrorhawk, an album that’s stood the test of time a bit better), but This Sinking Ship, while not necessarily a bad record (especially compared to similar-era sophomore records from Fat Wreck artists like the Loved Ones’ second LP), just always struck a weirdly sour note with me.
My major qualms with this album are in the song structure (and length) and the production. The drums are grossly overproduced, especially the kick drum, which sounds like it was directly transplanted from a Pantera record (what works for Vinnie Paul is not universally transferrable). It’s also really top-heavy. There aren’t really even any secret gems on the B-side (okay, maybe “Cars”). After “Little Bohemia” (which is little more than a showcase for one of the most cringeworthy choruses in recent punk rock), it’s pretty much a straight downward spiral. There are plenty of bright notes early on. The opening three tracks are totally solid, and “Irish Handcuffs” is one of their best. The whole thing just seems overthought in comparison to the stripped-down fury of Above the City, which played fast and loose through 11 tracks like it was nothing, whereas This Sinking Ship clocks in at a full 10 minutes longer with one additional track. The “aggressive” tracks on this record seem forced like fast Rise Against tracks do nowadays (“Breadwinner”, “Life Imitating Art”) and degrade into limp choruses. There’s still a solid 5 song EP that could be salvaged out of this, but it serves well as an evolutionary and educational point for Smoke or Fire, who rebounded some with last year’s much improved The Speakeasy.

Smoke or Fire - This Sinking Ship

Early on when Tim and I were sowing the early seeds of friendship, we were discussing which bands our opinions met on, and Smoke or Fire (along with the Sainte Catherines) were a band where I think I less than eloquently explained how I felt in reality about them in favor of making a bolder but more misconstrued statement about how I was not a huge fan of this record. Tim sort of took that and ran with it, and the meme that began afterwards was that I harbored a secret and severe dislike of Smoke or Fire. This isn’t true. My sophomore year of college, I listened to their debut LP, Above the City pretty consistently (in fact, it landed at number 19 on my favorite records of 2005, just ahead of Bear Vs. Shark’s Terrorhawk, an album that’s stood the test of time a bit better), but This Sinking Ship, while not necessarily a bad record (especially compared to similar-era sophomore records from Fat Wreck artists like the Loved Ones’ second LP), just always struck a weirdly sour note with me.

My major qualms with this album are in the song structure (and length) and the production. The drums are grossly overproduced, especially the kick drum, which sounds like it was directly transplanted from a Pantera record (what works for Vinnie Paul is not universally transferrable). It’s also really top-heavy. There aren’t really even any secret gems on the B-side (okay, maybe “Cars”). After “Little Bohemia” (which is little more than a showcase for one of the most cringeworthy choruses in recent punk rock), it’s pretty much a straight downward spiral. There are plenty of bright notes early on. The opening three tracks are totally solid, and “Irish Handcuffs” is one of their best. The whole thing just seems overthought in comparison to the stripped-down fury of Above the City, which played fast and loose through 11 tracks like it was nothing, whereas This Sinking Ship clocks in at a full 10 minutes longer with one additional track. The “aggressive” tracks on this record seem forced like fast Rise Against tracks do nowadays (“Breadwinner”, “Life Imitating Art”) and degrade into limp choruses. There’s still a solid 5 song EP that could be salvaged out of this, but it serves well as an evolutionary and educational point for Smoke or Fire, who rebounded some with last year’s much improved The Speakeasy.

Karen Dalton-In My Own Time (1971) 
My first exposure to Karen Dalton was the inclusion of “Katie Cruel” on an Oxford American music compilation. She sounded like a female Neil Young, singing a blues song filled with sorrow and regret. Her voice held more emotion than Billie Holiday. It was a beautiful piece of music, naturally making me want to seek out more from this mystery woman.
Turns out Karen Dalton was a kind of influential zelig all over the 60s Greenwich Village folk scene.  She played at Cafe Wha?, performed with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, and is the subject of the Dylan and The Band song “Katie’s Been Gone.” She was called the “folk singers answer to Billie Holiday” due to her soulful and pain-filled voice. She did covers of folk and motown songs, and made them completely her own.  She was a legend in the scene until she suddenly disappeared from public view amid addictions to drugs and alcohol. In 1993 she finally turned up, collapsed on the streets of New York City, having been suffering from AIDS for the 8 years prior. She died too young, and only left two real albums of recorded material.  
In My Own Time is Dalton’s second album, and is the highlight of her career. None of the ten songs on the album are originals, instead they’re all covers of soul or blues songs or new versions of traditional folk pieces, yet all of them sound like Dalton created them. Dalton mostly takes on more obscure material (like the aforementioned “Katie Cruel”), but also pops in a few familiar nuggets, like Percy Sledge’s “When a man loves a woman” and Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”. 
Dalton’s releases do not do justice for the career she had, and it’s a shame she never had a comeback later on, like so many of her contemporaries did.  Thankfully In My Own Time can live on as her legacy. 

Karen Dalton-In My Own Time (1971)

My first exposure to Karen Dalton was the inclusion of “Katie Cruel” on an Oxford American music compilation. She sounded like a female Neil Young, singing a blues song filled with sorrow and regret. Her voice held more emotion than Billie Holiday. It was a beautiful piece of music, naturally making me want to seek out more from this mystery woman.

Turns out Karen Dalton was a kind of influential zelig all over the 60s Greenwich Village folk scene.  She played at Cafe Wha?, performed with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, and is the subject of the Dylan and The Band song “Katie’s Been Gone.” She was called the “folk singers answer to Billie Holiday” due to her soulful and pain-filled voice. She did covers of folk and motown songs, and made them completely her own.  She was a legend in the scene until she suddenly disappeared from public view amid addictions to drugs and alcohol. In 1993 she finally turned up, collapsed on the streets of New York City, having been suffering from AIDS for the 8 years prior. She died too young, and only left two real albums of recorded material.  

In My Own Time is Dalton’s second album, and is the highlight of her career. None of the ten songs on the album are originals, instead they’re all covers of soul or blues songs or new versions of traditional folk pieces, yet all of them sound like Dalton created them. Dalton mostly takes on more obscure material (like the aforementioned “Katie Cruel”), but also pops in a few familiar nuggets, like Percy Sledge’s “When a man loves a woman” and Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”. 

Dalton’s releases do not do justice for the career she had, and it’s a shame she never had a comeback later on, like so many of her contemporaries did.  Thankfully In My Own Time can live on as her legacy. 

James Blake - James Blake
So here it is, one of the most-hyped albums set for release this year, and the early-year front-runner for Pitchfork’s album of the year position. I was somewhat familiar with Blake prior to this, I checked out the CMYK and Klavierweirke EP’s from last year, and wasn’t necessarily unimpressed, nor surprised that P4K were getting stoked on it, but I suppose it didn’t make much of a lasting impression, as dubstep as a genre never really has with me (remember Burial’s Untrue? Never really latched on to that either).
I can’t say for sure that it really lives up to all the hype, but I will say that I’m pretty impressed right off the bat. Blake is excellent at crafting an atmosphere, his songs are simultaneously densely layered and sparse, and his brassy baritone croon lends itself to his slow-cooking compositions. It’s like D’Angelo’s Voodoo for post-9/11 white urbanites. The amount of sexuality and involuntary head-nodding Blake whittles out of something so inherently inorganic is staggering, especially on tracks like ‘I Never Learnt to Share” and the stark “Limit to Your Love”. He seamlessly employs autotune with his own unaffected vocals, and creates a space where they can happily co-exist (the influence of Kanye West and western hip-hop in general is palpable here), even in the gospel-esque strains of “Lindesfarne II”, where we also see the appearance of an acoustic guitar. It’s almost a re-imagination of 60’s and 70’s soul music, filtered through the Manchester sound, Kraftwerk and Bon Iver’s excursions into autotune. James Blake definitely has his head in the right places, he smartly pulls the right (and wrong) influences into a melting pot that he can mold into a single cohesive piece that rarely disappoints. Give me one rainy day with this record, and trust me, I’ll be telling you it lives up to the hype. Until then, it’s definitely an engaging, creative and for as different as it sounds in the current landscape, something extremely familiar.

James Blake - James Blake

So here it is, one of the most-hyped albums set for release this year, and the early-year front-runner for Pitchfork’s album of the year position. I was somewhat familiar with Blake prior to this, I checked out the CMYK and Klavierweirke EP’s from last year, and wasn’t necessarily unimpressed, nor surprised that P4K were getting stoked on it, but I suppose it didn’t make much of a lasting impression, as dubstep as a genre never really has with me (remember Burial’s Untrue? Never really latched on to that either).

I can’t say for sure that it really lives up to all the hype, but I will say that I’m pretty impressed right off the bat. Blake is excellent at crafting an atmosphere, his songs are simultaneously densely layered and sparse, and his brassy baritone croon lends itself to his slow-cooking compositions. It’s like D’Angelo’s Voodoo for post-9/11 white urbanites. The amount of sexuality and involuntary head-nodding Blake whittles out of something so inherently inorganic is staggering, especially on tracks like ‘I Never Learnt to Share” and the stark “Limit to Your Love”. He seamlessly employs autotune with his own unaffected vocals, and creates a space where they can happily co-exist (the influence of Kanye West and western hip-hop in general is palpable here), even in the gospel-esque strains of “Lindesfarne II”, where we also see the appearance of an acoustic guitar. It’s almost a re-imagination of 60’s and 70’s soul music, filtered through the Manchester sound, Kraftwerk and Bon Iver’s excursions into autotune. James Blake definitely has his head in the right places, he smartly pulls the right (and wrong) influences into a melting pot that he can mold into a single cohesive piece that rarely disappoints. Give me one rainy day with this record, and trust me, I’ll be telling you it lives up to the hype. Until then, it’s definitely an engaging, creative and for as different as it sounds in the current landscape, something extremely familiar.

Paul Baribeau - Unbearable
Paul Baribeau is an artist who came around in the mid-aughts during what most people would call the peak of the anti-folk/riot-folk craze that fell upon the punk rock underground in the wake of Against Me!’s meteoric rise out of the folk-punk scene that birthed them. Along with his Plan-It-X compatriots like Ghost Mice, Baribeau enjoyed a moment in the spotlight with 2007’s Grand Ledge, which seemed as though it was going to launch him and frequent collaborator Ginger Alford into a more mainstream audience. For better or worse, Baribeau has stayed firmly rooted in the obscurity that he thrives in. The influences have always been right, Baribeau’s best songs tend to play like an especially cutesy Springsteen with an extremely understated punk edge, and songs like “Rolling Clouds” and “If I Knew” are yearning peans to adolescence (in the best way possible). He knows that brevity is a strength, and even Unbearable sounds epic in relation to Grand Ledge, stretching the 18 minute running time to 24 and change. If you’re a fan of friends and soda and you still spend afternoons with your head in the clouds, dreaming about your high school crush, this is 100% up your alley. Of course, not to discount the poignancy of Baribeau’s songwriting, but if you crave something a little more substantial, with some deeper lyricism, this might not be your thing. Like our good friend Bryan said about Spraynard’s full-length LP, this is largely just junk food, but like all well-balanced diets (and other guilty pleasures), after a few beers, junk food is sometimes the only acceptable option, and sometimes, you just wanna get drunk and hug all your friends and shout along, even though you might regret it tomorrow.

Paul Baribeau - Unbearable

Paul Baribeau is an artist who came around in the mid-aughts during what most people would call the peak of the anti-folk/riot-folk craze that fell upon the punk rock underground in the wake of Against Me!’s meteoric rise out of the folk-punk scene that birthed them. Along with his Plan-It-X compatriots like Ghost Mice, Baribeau enjoyed a moment in the spotlight with 2007’s Grand Ledge, which seemed as though it was going to launch him and frequent collaborator Ginger Alford into a more mainstream audience. For better or worse, Baribeau has stayed firmly rooted in the obscurity that he thrives in. The influences have always been right, Baribeau’s best songs tend to play like an especially cutesy Springsteen with an extremely understated punk edge, and songs like “Rolling Clouds” and “If I Knew” are yearning peans to adolescence (in the best way possible). He knows that brevity is a strength, and even Unbearable sounds epic in relation to Grand Ledge, stretching the 18 minute running time to 24 and change. If you’re a fan of friends and soda and you still spend afternoons with your head in the clouds, dreaming about your high school crush, this is 100% up your alley. Of course, not to discount the poignancy of Baribeau’s songwriting, but if you crave something a little more substantial, with some deeper lyricism, this might not be your thing. Like our good friend Bryan said about Spraynard’s full-length LP, this is largely just junk food, but like all well-balanced diets (and other guilty pleasures), after a few beers, junk food is sometimes the only acceptable option, and sometimes, you just wanna get drunk and hug all your friends and shout along, even though you might regret it tomorrow.