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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2016

About a million music albums were released in 2016. I heard maybe a couple hundred of those. Out of that, here are my favorite nine, in an attempted briefer fashion than previous years.

9. The Algorithm -- Brute Force

After three albums, I'm ready to say it: Rémi Gallego is a genius. His unique instrumental blend of metal and electronic music grows more sophisticated and beautiful with each new release. On Brute Force, Gallego adds touches of lovely, soaring electric guitar, which take his compositions to the next level. It's time for this Frenchman to get some international recognition.

8. FM-84 -- Atlas

I know that movies like Garden State and Elizabethtown feature girls who are not realistic, but one summer in the 80's, I met this girl named Autumn at the beach in Grand Isle, and we made friends, and she always called me "Honey" instead of "The Nicsperiment," and she had this awesome clubhouse where we ate watermelon, and she had an NES and a ton of awesome games, but the best thing is, this guy named Col Bennett, under the moniker FM-84, recorded a whole album about it.

7. Michael Giacchino -- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

I saw Michael Giacchino speak live earlier this year at an event for which I really need to do a write-up. During a Q&A, a crowd-member asked how Giacchino felt to be "this generation's John Williams." "I think John Williams is this generation's John Williams," Giacchino replied sheepishly. Now, Giacchino has been tasked with writing the first score for a live action Star Wars film not sound-tracked by the maestro. Giacchino does not falter. While I won't even pretend like the Oscar-winning Giacchino is Williams' equal, his score for Rogue One features a wonderfully heroic theme for the heroes, a great dastardly theme for the villians, and a seemingly endless amount of motifs for others. He does a great job of incorporating Williams' previous Star Wars work at just the right moments, creating work that gives Williams his due, and expressing his own personality as well. Giacchino's action music is the best since Williams' score for The Force Awakens last year, and he gives hope that a soon-to-be post-Williams soundscape has a bright future.

6. Pure in the Plastic -- Polyenso

This album in one sentence: What I wish Justin Timberlake would sound like. Somebody sign these guys.

5. Childish Gambino -- Awaken, My Love

If Donald Glover has a better year then this one, someone needs to check to see if his DNA is shaped like four-leaf clovers. Coming fresh off the birth of his first child, and the incredible success of his creative work on FX's Atlanta, Glover's musical project drops rap completely in favor of an old-school 70's funk and R&B attack. The diversity of the sounds on this album is almost as big a surprise as Glover's lively voice. Consider me on-board.

4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --Skeleton Tree

Formless, shapeless; Cave, grieving the loss of his son, calling out across the water, hearing no response, trying to live regardless.

3. Radiohead -- A Moon Shaped Pool

Experimental rock music should have run out of ideas years ago, but these Brits just keep uncovering new ones, and everything on this haunting lullaby of an album sticks, from the odd rhythms, to the nervous, seemingly sentient sounds wandering around each corner.

2. Norma Jean -- Polar Similar

With Polar Similar, Norma Jean have not only transcended whatever they once were, but whatever genre or scene could have ever claimed them. This is huge, deep, relentlessly heavy--and I mean heavy on a metaphysical level as much as a musical level--restlessly progressing to some black summit, yet not bleak, not depressing, just heavy, heavy and massive. This is an astounding work by a band without peer.

1. Solange -- A Seat at the Table

I've always had an antagonistic relationship with Beyoncé's music, solely based upon the fact that when Destiny's Child's broke out, their album was the display CD at the local Wal-Mart where I worked. After hearing the umpteenth tween belt out, "Can you pay my bills, can you pay my telephone bills...," I decided I never wanted to hear the lovely Ms. Knowles voice ever again. If someone would have only told me that she had a cooler sister who sat in the back of the class, always wore black, and never smiled, maybe I would have thought better of the Knowles family. A Seat at the Table presents a sort of minimalist R&B unlike anything I've heard, with live instruments and excellent songwriting. This is an album of ideas and deep metaphors, with Solange repeating the coda "away," near the beginning and end of A Seat at the Table in a fashion that gifts the word a thousand meanings. This is a great work, my favorite album of the year...and she wrote it right down the highway from here!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Songs of 2016 (Not Found on Albums in the Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of the Year)

Brace yourself: I'm about to say a bunch of really controversial stuff, like In Utero isn't Nirvana's best album, that I like the idea of David Bowie more than the actual David Bowie, and that politics don't matter and can neither ruin nor improve your life, except when George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and then my dad's farming business went bankrupt and I had to start giving my Winn Dixie paycheck to my parents so we could pay our light bill. Nevermind, I guess.
Here are my nine favorite songs from 2016 that don't appear on any of my nine favorite albums from 2016. They are arranged, seemingly like the events of 2016, in no particular order.

Shell Sport -- "Rain Print"
The way this random kid from Greenland puts beats and bass together in this song makes me hope that he makes a lot more songs.

David Bowie -- "Lazarus"
Knowing how non-plussed I've been about David Bowie, my wife arrived back from a January trip to New York with the words "You've got to listen to this song." "This song" is "Lazarus," a haunting, fog-horned swansong from a guy who's influence of innovation and imagination on other artists has always had a stronger effect on me than his actual back-catalogue. While the non-video six-minute version is more powerful with its extended jam-session ending, this abridged video-version is stunning, and a hell of a way to go.

Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil -- "Nonchalant"
The Wow to the Deadness EP from whence this came overwhelmed my expectations. I've never been wowed by Steve Albini's production skill's, even on Nirvana's In Utero, but he brings out the best in this scrappy band of old guys, really finding some space in this straightforward, nearly shamanistic rock song.

Deftones -- "Prayers/Triangles"
The mid-section to Deftones' Gore is the weakest thing they've ever done, sounding more like watered-down alternative rock than the spacey art-metal they've perfected over the years. Thankfully, the album's opening salvo is excellent, particularly the first track, "Prayers/Triangles," which is as hypnotic as head-bangers come.

Drive-by Truckers -- "Guns of Umpqua"
American Band is a huge step back in the write direction after DBT's shockingly inconsequential English Oceans. The standout from this thoughtful collection of protest songs is gorgeous, spectral "Guns of Umpqua," contrasting the more menial aspects of life with a horrible real-life Oregon school-shooting.

ORKA -- "softly" ft. Amy Seach
I discovered the reclusive ORKA this year through an older song, "Phantom." His sensual, earthy grooves feel infinite, while piling on a strange soul that seems alien. He only released a handful of songs this year, with "softly" being my favorite. It fully captures the way he drags the listener through near-orgasmic soundwaves, and also makes me cry when I look at how many Youtube views it has next to any random video of Taylor Swift pulling out a wedgie.

Chevelle - "Shot From a Cannon"
Chevelle's The North Corridor almost feels like an exercise in denial, as it seems to be determined not to give the listener what they want. The building atmosphere from the last several albums is almost completely diminished, and the heavy grooves one expects seem to be hiding around every corner, hesitant to reveal themselves. Instead, the band settle for a very bare bones, simplistic, nearly generic rock approach, until the awesome closer, "Shot From a Cannon," where they introduce the groove that will bring the apocalypse. More of these on the next album, please!

Alcest-- "Kodama"
Alcest is the critically heralded band I always want to like, but their formless, spacey guitar-work always seems to put me to sleep...until the excellent Kodama, which takes inspiration from Master Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. This eastern tint gives Alcest a sense of dynamics heretofore missing, and the opening title track, with its quiet to loud breaks and soaring vocal moments, announces a band intent on keeping the listener wowed and engaged.

Kent - "Den sista sången"
People, generally those very young and naive, who have previously never seen the candidate they voted for lose an election, have been calling 2016 the worst year in history. In my years, I've seen both parties come and go, but my lot in life strangely not change regardless. Hmm. However, knowing that Kent will never make another album does directly effect me. While their swansong album, Då Som Nu För Alltid, is sadly not their best, the closer, "Den sista sången," and its corresponding final performance video hit me right in the tear-ducts.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


It's been almost five years since I've visited, and I'm not sure if it's even still a thing. I've written a lot of negative things about Pitchfork in the past, and I believed and still believe all of them. I guess at the end of the day, Pitchfork is a business (if it's still around), and it has to back up its business. I almost forgot they existed, but this review is inextricable from my too-cool-for-school music review website experience. But let's back it up.
I saw Phoenix on SNL in 2009. They performed "Lisztomania" and "1901," thought the songs were great, and loved the band's positive energy. I knew that the album the songs were from, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was receiving critical praise, and I picked it up at Best Buy for a low, low price. Those two SNL songs kick off the album, and are basically bouncy pop-rock, full of fun, weightless lyrics. They third song is a slower, semi-disco track. Four and five are basically one long song, a keyboard-based instrumental buildup with a gentle vocal coda. I'll note here that, as far as I know, Phoenix performed this album as a four-piece, playing keyboard, bass, and guitar, and a drum-machine performed the drum parts. No drummer is credited. These four guys carve out a signature sound, and it becomes apparent by the halfway point, sixth track, "Lasso," that this sound is extremely limited. Vocalist, Thomas Mars, has a certain cadence and rhythm, and a certain group of notes he likes to sing. It doesn't vary on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Tracks five through ten show that the band have a certain thing they can do, and that they did it best on the first two tracks. The last five tracks are essentially B-grade reinterpretations of those two songs.
I've long held the opinion that many modern music reviewers listen to an album's first few tracks, turn it off, review it, then throw on the next one. I am fairly certain that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's many "album-of-the-year" accolades came from reviewers who did just that. After quickly reaching a wall in my own listening of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I fled to those positive reviews to try to find out how to enjoy the rest of it. Pitchfork did that typical thing they always do where they ignore the best, often most popular songs, and talk about deep-album cuts as if they are the true standouts. This would seem to counteract my initial statement, but Pitchfork's praise of these songs was often complete gibberish, nonsense showcasing the reviewers' large vocabularies. I found no solace in this gibberish. The other reviews did the general, "mention the first couple of songs" thing, and that was it. I then decided on my own that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would work great as an EP, ending at track five. As a ten-track album, it reveals Phoenix as a band with some pretty unfortunate limitations. I think the fact that no one has heard from them since proves this point. Outside of a 2013 album that the previously mentioned reviewers couldn't even pretend to be interested in--and why would they? Praising it wouldn't raise their cool points, so why do it?--they've been silent.
This experience from seven years ago planted a seed in me to start writing my own music reviews (though I had written some scattered reviews before, as well as made end-of-the-year lists). I was disgusted by the little effort put into reviews by major publications like Rolling Stone (the "just listen to the beginning and the singles" approach), and even more disgusted by the trendy ("we're too good for anything, except what you won't get"), tone-deaf approach of Pitchfork. Why not write my own reviews? I decided I'd shoot for two things: objectivity and honesty. Objective in that I want to review the music I am reviewing, and not its cool-factor and lack thereof, and honesty in how certain factors may influence my ability to be objective.
Objectively, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix starts off great, then repeats itself in weaker and weaker variations, till it squeaks to a close. Honestly, the fact that the album received numerous accolades, despite being quite average, may be why I have only given it a five instead of a six or a seven. Whatever the case, this review is yet more proof that I like to talk about myself far more than I like to actually review anything.

Phoenix-1901 (Live on SNL on 4/4/09) from Joaquin Sharpe on Vimeo.

2009 Glassnote
1. Lisztomania 4:08
2. 1901 3:13
3. Fences 3:45
4. Love Like a Sunset (Part I) 5:39
5. Love Like a Sunset (Part II) 1:57
6. Lasso 2:48
7. Rome 4:38
8. Countdown 3:57
9. Girlfriend 3:24
10. Armistice 3:05

Saturday, December 24, 2016

PFR- Disappear


I feel like in many ways, the reputation of PFR's Disappear is doomed. I've lately read several articles lamenting the lack of backing veteran Christian artists are finding in their latter years (here's a great one!). For one, Christian music is a niche genre. Then there's the fact that some people de-convert and don't care for the lyrical content of the music anymore. There's also a large crowd who treats music as disposable, and doesn't come back to anything they've listened to in the past. That doesn't leave older Christian artists many listeners.
PFR were not quite huge in the 90's, but certainly had a following, and held a certain respect in the mainstream Christian rock scene of the mid-90's. The respect was due to the band's excellent, Beatles-esque harmonies, their tight musicianship, and strong songwriting abilities. While they never put out an absolute standout mid-90's album, like their respective peers DC Talk with Jesus Freak, Jars of Clay with their self-titled album, or Newsboys with Take Me to Your Leader, their Great Lengths is at least on par with Audio Adrenaline's Bloom. Then they "broke up." DC Talk also broke-up (or went on a still-active 18-year hiatus...whatever you want to call it), Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys mutated into ungainly, original member-free zombies, and Jars of Clay shunned their original fanbase to produce one of the most critically acclaimed back-catalogues of the past 20 years. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, PFR got back together to record Disappear. They also put out a live album, and an album of re-workings, then broke-up for what we can assume will be forever. However, this final PFR review of mine is for Disappear, PFR's final full-length album of original material, released by Squint Entertainment in 2001. Shortly after Disappear's release, Squint Entertainment went out of business... leaving Disappear not promoted. With the factors I mentioned in this review's opening sentences already working against it, this complete lack of visibility rendered Disappear's title unfortunately apt. I am the only person I know who owns it. But fifteen years later, I'm still listening.
Man, this is like the saddest review intro I've ever written. Disappear is a good album, not perfect by any means, but it doesn't deserve to be as completely overlooked as it has. It shows PFR maturing, yet not becoming boring or predictable.
"Amsterdam" kicks things off with high-energy, but experiments with some cool guitar effects and brings a sense of urgency and a bit of darkness, which the band's previous music never quite touched upon. It also brings back those fabulous harmonies their previous, supposed-to-be-final album, Them lacked. "Gone" keeps the energy high, making for a very rocking opening duo. "All Ready" then comes completely out of left-field with a Celtic, autumnal intro, perhaps full of even more energy than the previous two songs. "All Ready" also features, in its chorus, some of the most beautiful harmonies PFR have sung.
After this wonderful opening trio, the band offer the standard PFR CCM radio ballad of the album, with "Missing Love," but it's actually one of the best they've done. It features some gorgeous strings, and lets them breathe for an excellent extended outro--I hate when a band doles out the money for some classical instrumentation then relegates it entirely to the background--I love the respect PFR show for it here. "Closer" picks the rock back up, a mid-tempo number that highlights Disappear's excellent production qualities--with a trio, you'd hope guitar, bass, and drums are all given equal love in the mix, and PFR continue to excel in this.
Unfortunately, Disappear is not a perfect album, and is let down by its sixth and seventh tracks. "Even a Whisper" perhaps aims for the circular melodies of past songs like "Merry-Go-Round," but falls into a pit of cheese. It also features an unfortunately boppy drum beat that brings to mind what I call the "K-Love" rhythm. This song is not going on my PFR mix-tape. "Language of the Soul" also disappoints, another ballad, but nowhere in the league of "Missing Love," just too schmaltzy. Thankfully, these two songs come and go, and Disappear picks back up. "Falling" is a return to urgency, and thematically links back to "Amsterdam." There's a definitel sense of searching and longing in these lyrics that I enjoy. "Me," is next, a true weirdo of a song, and maybe my favorite for that very reason. In between the industrial choruses (I'm not kidding!), an effect-laden guitar riff, and a distant spaghetti-western bass line bring to life an imaginative sound I haven't heard in any other song. It may be too strange for some, and certainly not what one would expect from PFR, but I dig it. It reminds me of when I moved into my first apartment, broke and lying on the carpet in the middle of the night next to my stereo, but I'll actually get to that when I review another band's album in a few weeks.
Disappear closes with "You," a hazy, sort-of ballad that ends the album on a definite high. It's spacey and mysterious, yet victorious, another unique feather in PFR's cap. The strings return and are again allowed freedom to soar, lifting Disappear into a twilit stratosphere for its final two minutes.
And that's it. No more PFR--and just when it looked like, instead of becoming old and boring, they were going to experiment with new sounds more than ever. Miss you guys.
Also, the only person to post songs from this album to Youtube was apparently raptured five years ago.

2001 Squint Entertainment
1. Amsterdam 2:41
2. Gone 3:20
3. All Ready 3:09
4. Missing Love 5:24
5. Closer 3:15
6. Even a Whisper 3:11
7. Language of the Soul 3:47
8. Falling 2:56
9. Me 2:35
10. You 4:46

Thursday, December 22, 2016

PFR -- The Late Great PFR


Greatest Hits albums are a relic of the pre-digital past. Now you can just stream however many songs you want by any band for basically free. However, in the 90's, people would be way more likely to give a greatest hits album a chance...especially if it included additional content. 90's mainstream Christian rock band, PFR, who deserve to be mentioned among any of the other standout bands in that genre,* did two things to make their greatest hits album more attractive. First, they did something extremely forward-thinking for the time, and let fans vote online for what songs should make the cut. The band's other fans must agree with my assessment of PFR's output. Great Lengths is very well-represented, while only two of Them's songs reach the tracklist. The band's older two albums get some love, as well. The fans chose a great mix, highlighting PFR's tight musicianship and Beatles-esque harmonies. However, the second thing I alluded to above makes The Late Great PFR unique: it's got three brand new songs. These are all okay, with "Name" showing the band's more rocking side, "Forever" their easy ability to churn out a CCM radio ballad, and "Fare Thee Well" featuring their lighter, fun side, even if it is about the band breaking up. Of course, four-years shouldn't actually count as a break up, but PFR isn't the only band to be a bit hasty in that regard.
*Other bands I'd include there: Newsboys, Jars of Clay, and Audio Adrenaline. Jars of Clay is the only one that is still viable, though, with the other two shuffling along zombie-like without an original member, and PFR forever disbanded.

1997 Sparrow Records
1. Great Lengths 2:32
2. Pour Me Out 4:06
3. Name (New Recording) 3:30
4. Walk Away from Love 3:54
5. Forever (New Recording) 4:20
6. Anything 3:49
7. Spinnin' Round 4:00
8. Goldie's Last Day 4:14
9. Pray for Rain 3:30
10. Wonder Why 3:15
11. The Love I Know 3:48
12. Do You Want to Know Love 3:30
13. Merry-Go-Round 4:59
14. That Kind of Love 3:33
15. Wait for the Sun 4:49
16. Fare Thee Well (New Recording) 4:30

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

PFR -- Them


Aw, man. There's a reason that PFR's greatest hits album, released just a few years after their first swansong, Them, only includes two of Them's songs.
Do you come to PFR for the sweet, Beatles-esque harmonies? They are few and far between on Them. They are replaced by vocal effects and strings. Maybe there were tensions in the band, considering they had their first break-up shortly after Them was released, but it seems rare on this album for frontmen, Joel Hanson and Patrick Andrew, to even appear on the same song together. On top of that, most PFR albums see Hanson taking lead-singing duties throughout, with Andrew providing a large amount of background vocals on each song, and lead on maybe two or three (with songwriting credits following accordingly). For some reason, Andrew sings lead and receives chief writing credits on over half these songs. This diverts from PFR's trademark sound, and strengths. Andrew, at least in 1996, is not as strong a vocalist or writer as Hanson. He adds a grit to his Them vocals that is not really found on previous albums, and it is a little abrasive to the ears. Also, Andrew's melodies are Beyoncé-esque. By that, I mean that the melodies are extremely busy, and that Andrew sings many, many notes--even if he and Hanson were getting along great, and in great proximity, there isn't much room for harmony in Andrew's songs here, anyway.
But I won't place all of the Them blame on Patrick Andrew. Outside of "Pour Me Out," Them features some of Joel Hanson's weakest songwriting to date. Compared to the previous two albums, it almost sounds like Hanson is just fulfilling a quota so the band can end. The two frontmen combine to give Them a strange hard rock-lite meets CCM sound. I just don't like it. It's weak and a little, the lyrics are even cheesy, too. PFR can and have done so much better. I don't get the regression.
I am very happy, though, that PFR decided to give the fans a better conclusion, just five years later. Them would have been a lousy way to end things.
But before I get to that, here's Them's first track, "Pour Me Out," which signals a far better album than what listener's actually get.

1996 Sparrow Records
1. Pour Me Out 4:06
2. Daddy Never Cried 3:27
3. Anything 3:49
4. Fight 4:59
5. Line of Love 3:11
6. Ordinary Day 3:12
7. Tried to Tell Her 2:38
8. Face to Face 3:52
9. Them 4:13
10. Kingdom Smile 3:08
11. Say 2:48
12. Garden 3:16

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

PFR -- Great Lengths


90's Mainstream Christian Rock wunderkinds, PFR, are back with their third album, Great Lengths, Beatles influence on their sleeves. The opening title-track starts with strings, and a tumble of cascading waterfalls of harmonies that continues throughout the album. While they might have been "mainstream," and seemingly able to write a radio-ballad at will, PFR rocked harder, and had far more musical ability than most mainstream Christian Rock bands of the day, endearing them to those who may not have been naturally inclined toward the genre. The more I listen to them with the opportunity of hindsight, the more I realize how much of an anomaly this band was. They could have backed up any Nashville front-person in a studio, but they really did their own thing, combining a sort of straight-ahead 90's college rock approach with both the aforementioned Beatles-influence and CCM radio sensibilities. You can tell that they know where there bread was buttered, and yet they sound like they are still doing whatever they like. Great Lengths has a leg up on their previous album because it's got just a little more emotion behind it, a little more darkness and tension, maybe simply because the band-members are older and have more life experience. Whatever the case, this is a great shot of nostalgia for anyone who was listening in the 90's, maybe "The PFR Album," and I don't find myself skipping any tracks now, so I think it's safe to say that though it's certainly of a time, it still holds up. I mean, look at these dudes, how can you hate them? Also, how can you hate run-on sentences?

1994 Sparrow Records
1. Great Lengths 2:32
2. Wonder Why 3:15
3. Merry Go Round 4:59
4. The Love I Know 3:47
5. It's You Jesus 4:01
6. Trials Turned to Gold (Keith Green cover) 2:27
7. Blind Man, Deaf Boy 2:54
8. See the Sun Again 3:23
9. The Grace of God 3:43
10. Last Breath 2:56
11. Life Goes On 3:54

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

PFR -- Goldie's Last Day


Let's jump right into this:
90's Christian rock band, PFR, may have attracted few non-Christian listeners, but they garnered respect in the overall music community. The trio had serious musical chops, and the two vocalists' harmonies were often compared to those of the much so that they were tagged for a secular Beatles tribute album featuring acts far more well known...and they were considered the standout performers.
PFR's sophomore album, Goldie's Last Day, showcases these strengths in spades, and is an enjoyable listen, though it is missing a key aspect of a great album: tension. Outside of the closer, which morphs in its second half into a strangely cathartic cover of The 5th Dimension's "Let the Sun Shine In," tension is non-existent on Goldie's Last Day. It's just a bunch of sunny, early 90's pop-rock songs, played by an extremely competent bassist, guitarist, and drummer. As such, it doesn't make much of an emotional connection, but for most of its running time, it's pretty fun, even if it sounds a bit dated. Back in '93, we mainly listened to this for the title track, a delightfully goofy rock eulogy for a golden retriever. And for that "Let the Sunshine" cover. It's killer. But mostly Goldie.

Aw man, when I looked for the Goldie video, I came across this Out of the Grey one. Man, I had such a huge crush on the singer when I was 12 (I was so jealous of the guitar-player husband! And now that I am googling, I see that they are still together, and still playing music together. Man, that is inspirational!). And that jazzy, new-agey early 90's soft rock, man, that was my jam. So much atmosphere. Now, I'm gonna go find me some Enya.
GO GO 1993!!!

1993 Sparrow Records
1. Walk Away from Love 3:54
2. By Myself 3:39
3. That Kind of Love 3:33
4. Dying Man 3:27
5. Spinnin' Round 4:00
6. Goldie's Last Day 4:14
7. Satisfied 5:06
8. I Don't Understand 3:09
9. Mercy Man 4:53
10. Shine 3:34
11. Wait for the Sun 4:49

Monday, December 12, 2016

Peter Gabriel -- Us


1986's So is the peak of Peter Gabriel's career. Once you're at the peak, the only way to go isn't actually down--you could also just stay at the peak. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, since So, Gabriel's music has trended downward. This is clear before even the halfway point of So's six-years-later follow-up, Us.
I couldn't do an objective review for So, but I can easily do one for Us, even though it does have a few of my favorite Gabriel songs. Us comes on the heels of Gabriel's soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, which saw Gabriel working with Northern African  and Middle Eastern musicians. Part of that influence carries over to Us...
1. Come Talk to Me -- I really wish the rest of the album would have flowed with "Come Talk to Me" as a template. The song has a very epic feel, with bagpipes in the intro, and heavy African percussion throughout (and some African singing in the bridge), as Gabriel harmonizes with Sinéad O'Connor about a breakdown in communication. If you've seen any performance footage of this song from the "Secret World Tour," Gabriel does some really cool theatrical stuff, but with Paula Cole (yeah...Dawson's Creek theme song Paula Cole...and she does great!) in the female role.
2. Love to Be Loved -- Here's where a few minor cracks show. This ain't a bad song, but it's already weaker than anything on So, and we're only on the second track.
3. Blood of Eden -- But then here might be my favorite song Gabriel ever recorded. in the early 90's, Gabriel was reeling from his recent divorce, and this mediation on the great mystery of the union between male and female is one of his most painful and mystical songs. It's another duet with O'Connor, but in a far more gentle mode than "Come Talk to Me." The song flows like a gentle brook from the depths of the Earth up through an ancient, fertile, biblical landscape, African drums guiding with sure hands, old instruments (an ancient Armenian flute!) gliding against Gabriel's subtle synth work, the otherworldly backup vocals from co-producer Daniel Lanois, that almost medieval guitar in the soaring bridge, and stirring vocal performances by Gabriel and O'Connor. The video may be my favorite of any music video, doing a great job of somehow visually translating the song, and featuring arresting chemistry between Gabriel and O'Connor, who, with her shaved head and piercing eyes, is like some ancient Irish aes sídhe. Also, why haven't I been to the motherland by now? Even my non-Irish co-worker has been there! Life isn't fair!

4, Steam -- After the great "Blood of Eden," Us starts to take a turn for the worse. "Steam" is not a bad song, but it is a carbon copy of "Sledgehammer," minus the catchy flute sample.
5. Only Us -- Every time I hear this song, I immediately forget what it sounded like as soon as I don't hear it anymore.
6. Washing of the Water -- Borderline Jack Johnson/John Mayer softball crap, but it picks up a little at the end.
7. Digging in the Dirt -- I love the juxtaposition of aggression in the verses, and quiet, reverent seeking in the chorus. Sums up the themes of the album, as Gabriel lashes out, then realizes he needs to figure out what his issues are--yet, still doesn't want to be alone. An album highlight for sure, and the video is so cool, really early 90's, and full of imagination.

8. Fourteen Black Paintings -- Cool atmosphere, almost like a showcase for the things Gabriel learned on The Last Temptation... soundtrack.
9. Kiss That Frog -- If you are trying to make a sensitive, thoughtful album on the pain and searching you are doing after a divorce, maybe don't include this ridiculous song with a frog-for-penis metaphor about how you really want a blow job.  Somehow the music is worse than the concept.
10. Secret World -- This track is a pretty cool closer, a muted encapsulation of some of Us' better moments--but it would work a lot better if it was closing a consistent album.
So, "Blood of Eden" is one of the best songs I've ever heard, several other songs are pretty great, some are a bit boring, and one is borderline unlistenable ("Kiss That Frog"). If Gabriel could have taken the World Music influence to better encompass the entire album, and written some stronger songs to replace the weaker ones, he could have stayed on top. Instead, Us isn't So good.

1992 Geffen Records
1. Come Talk to Me 7:06
2. Love to Be Loved 5:18
3. Blood of Eden 6:38
4. Steam 6:03
5. Only Us 6:30
6. Washing of the Water 3:52
7. Digging in the Dirt 5:18
8. Fourteen Black Paintings 4:38
9. Kiss That Frog 5:20
10. Secret World 7:03

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Peter Gabriel -- Passion (Music from The Last Temptation of Christ)


Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ blew up a dust storm of controversy upon its release because of a scene showing Jesus partaking in sexual intercourse with a woman. This offended millions of people who never saw the film. I did see the film, and I did not hate it because it showed Jesus having sex. The said scene is actually a vision shown to Jesus by Satan to tempt the former away from the cross. If Jesus was human, he was tempted in the same ways we are. That scene doesn't bother me. I am not bothered that Willem Dafoe's portrayal of Jesus is tempted by sex, but I am bothered by the fact that he is a pasty, ineffectual wimp. He gets slapped around by Judas and before his ministry begins, he makes crosses for the Romans for money. It's not that he his is tempted, because he was surely tempted: it is that he is not He. The portrayal is ridiculous.
This is actually a review of Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for the film, though. His soundtrack, titled Passion, saw Gabriel combining his knowledge of electronic music and ambient textures with the indigenous music of the Middle East and North Africa. Gabriel hired many musicians from these regions to create an original work of art that influenced musicians around the world, and shined a light on the genre of "World Music." As great as all that is, though, Gabriel's soundtrack, as an album, is a little bit of a test for your average listener or Peter Gabriel fan. While the music is beautiful, it has few peaks and valleys, mainly existing to create mood. Vocals are sparse, as are any moments of catharsis. Seventy minutes of that can get a little trying. I tend to break this album up into chunks when I listen to it. While as a part of the film, Passion is the best part, on its own, I only love it in bits and pieces.

1989 Geffen Records
1. The Feeling Begins 4:00
2. Gethsemane 1:23
3. Of These, Hope 4:05
4. Lazarus Raised 0:36
5. Of These, Hope (Reprise) 1:06
6. In Doubt 2:07
7. A Different Drum 6:05
8. Zaar Peter Gabriel 4:44
9. Troubled 2:46
10. Open 3:18
11. Before Night Falls 2:16
12. With This Love 3:36
13. Sandstorm 2:55
14. Stigmata 2:24
15. Passion 7:36
16. With This Love (Choir) 3:19
17. Wall of Breath 2:25
18. The Promise of Shadows 2:12
19. Disturbed 3:07
20. It Is Accomplished 3:30
21. Bread and Wine 2:23

Monday, December 05, 2016

Peter Gabriel -- So


It's tough to be objective when reviewing a voice that has been in your head for 30 years. Peter Gabriel is my favorite vocalist, and his album, So, is now 30 years old. I'm not going to even pretend that this is a fair review. In fact, I am going to review the version of this I am most familiar with, the original vinyl, because that is the one ingrained upon me, and I struggle to even think about this album any other way. So, if you're still there, here is a song-by-song breakdown of Peter Gabriel's breakout album (yes, I began this sentence that way on purpose). He recorded plenty albums before this (including the ones he did with Genesis), and I have heard them, and they have some good songs, but they're also too weird for their own good.  Gabriel also did some good work after this, which I'll actually review, but his artistic and commercial peak occurred in 1986, with So. Wait, I forgot, it's time to break it down!
Wait, no its not. I can't do it. I can't be objective, so I can't write a review. Gabriel's vocals sound like the Earth itself is singing--they are ancient and full and wise and comforting and discomforting, cut from well-aged stone, but shifting and changing. The synths in "Red Rain" sound like seismic shifts. The percussion on this album, African and South American in origin, Motown and British in origin. sounds like it has existed and will always exist for all eternity. Gabriel's harmonies on "Mercy Street" are so healing, cleansing, and painful. The way he satirizes 80's over-indulgence in such a timeless way on "Big Time" reminds me of America's currently most popular twitter account. The way he is so vulnerable throughout, voice full of emotion, "I come to you, defenses down/with the trust of a child," "Without a noise, without my pride/I reach out from the inside," isn't like anything else I've ever heard. The way, after he describes so much much humanity throughout the previous seven tracks, then makes you question everything by casting all of human behavior as an act of preprogrammed obedience in the closer, "We Do What We're Told," is a final contradicting stroke of genius. I love this music so much. Here's all of the videos from the album. He made one for all but two of the songs.

1986 Geffen Records
 Side One
1. Red Rain 5:39
2. Sledgehammer 5:12
3. Don't Give Up (featuring Kate Bush) 6:33
4. That Voice Again 4:53

Side Two
1. In Your Eyes 5:27
2. Mercy Street 6:22
3. Big Time 4:28
4. We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37) 3:22