I’m Busy in the Blissful Unaware

For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

Chicago – The Transit Authority (1969)

In case you didn’t know, the band Chicago was originally The Chicago Transit Authority and this was their self-titled (eponymous) debut album. But then the actual transit authority of the city of Chicago brought legal action against the band. So they became just Chicago and this album became known as The Transit Authority. Most Chicago albums are only numbered with roman numerals – they have no titles per se, so this is also I.

I feel like a lot of Chicago’s stuff (especially their later, and maybe more well-known stuff) could be classified as progressive soft rock … or should that be soft prog rock? Anyway, I was surprised how this record wasn’t really a surprise. It was exactly what I expect from Chicago, except funkier (especially the last half hour). It’s like these guys were younger and had more energy.

I liked this. I had heard Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?, but for the most part this album was new to me. I mean, Questions 67 and 68 felt really familiar, kind of like generic classic rock, but it was different enough that I know I haven’t heard it before. And I really liked it.

I think one of Chicago’s virtues (as opposed to a lot of prog stuff) is that it feels really accessible. They’re great musicians, but you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate it. There were some chords in Introduction and some stuff in Listen that was kind of odd, but those were really the exceptions rather than the rule. There were some other things I didn’t really like. In Poem 58, for example, the guitar and bass felt really redundant. It just felt like they were repeating the same thing over and over again. Southern California Purples had both problems. But my least favorite track is Free Form Guitar, which is an appropriate name. The first two minutes sounded like someone tuning up a car, then it started to sound like a guitar stuck inside a late 1960s sci-fi television show, and after that it just kind of breaks down as the aliens probe it or whatever. It is kind of impressive that he did the whole thing just using his guitar and amp (no pedals, etc.), but I would delete it from my iTunes. It’s not music. It’s like the audio version of modern art – noise. I know it’s going to bring down the album score.

I’ve never been way into Chicago. I’ve just caught stuff here and there. This makes me want to get more into them. 3/5

On a side note, after Spencer went on his mission, I got one of my trombone friends from high school to come and play with our band. He said he tried explaining what ska was to his mom. He said it was like rock, but with horns. He knew he failed when she asked, “Sort of like Chicago?” I think everyone who has ever listened to ska would say Chicago and ska are only similar using that description.

Mika – The Boy Who Knew Too Much (2009)

And, harkening back to the beginning of this little music sharing game, Tim shared Mika’s second album. In a little more than a year, if he’s still playing, I’m sure Tim will share Mika’s third album.

The only track I had heard before was the album opener, and I think it is a decent expectation setter for the rest of the album.

I think his first album was better. This isn’t bad, but nothing really stood out to me. Blame it on the Girls and Blue Eyes had an almost latin feel to them, but other than that I found myself just wanting to hear Love Today.

Dr. John at least felt like a Queen b-side. And that’s a compliment. I mean, a lot of his stuff could, but I think Dr. John did because it felt less synthesized. Toy Boy sounded like a less-creepy version (or just creepy in a different way) of The Dresden Dolls’ Coin Operated Boy. And was that a lyrical reference to Aqua’s Barbie GirlBy the Time deserves to be mentioned just because it didn’t feel like a Mika song. It was very subdued. I think it was my favorite off this album. 3/5

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill (1995)

Let me start by saying I don’t like Alanis Morissette’s voice. She’s kind of whiney and … I don’t really know how to say it … sloppy, I guess. And she breathes into the mic. A lot.

I never owned this whole album, but I’ve had half of it floating around my iTunes for a long time. I’m sure I’ve heard the whole thing at some point, but it’s never been something that I’ve really bothered to revisit.

It’s been so long, I forgot that the lyrics are very much PG-13. I just forgot to expect it. You Oughta Know has the allotted f-word, and there are sexual references throughout (some more overt than others).

And no, none of it is ironic, just tragic.

What I think this album did best was everything related to the actual mechanics of recording. It was all pretty tight, especially considering most tracks on most songs were done in just a couple of takes.

What it all come down to is that while I’m sure this had a huge impact at the time, I don’t really feel like it has aged all that well and I think other people have seen her vision and done more with it than she did. This listen through makes me feel like if this record never existed, I would probably miss out on the creativity it spawned. But actually listening to it myself didn’t really add anything to my life. It was unremarkable. 2/5

Hepcat – Right on Time (1998)

A quick recap: the dying big band swing and emerging rock groups in the late ’50s and early ’60s got garbled together on the radio between the US and Jamaica. When the Jamaicans started trying to imitate the sound they heard and blending it with their own music like mento (think Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song) and calypso, they created ska. Over the next 10 years, as the Rasta Revolution took over, that music changed and slowed down to rocksteady and finally reggae (FYI – modern electronic music was born at the same time in the same place in the form of dub reggae, which you’ll kind of get a taste of at the end of this album). In the ’80s, the UK punk scene blended the ska/reggae sound into their own harder rock – a second wave. The ’90s saw a resurgence of big band swing, and with those horns came the ska horns – the third wave. Although they were just thrown together with all the other alternatives to grunge or boy bands.

I get that some people can appreciate the musicianship of third wave ska, but it’s generally just not their thing. Often it just reminds them of high school. So I’m transitioning to a different, but related genre: rocksteady. Maybe it’s still too close. Maybe it’s like the difference between thrash metal and death metal. I can’t actually tell you what the difference is, but someone who’s into it could.

Hepcat is a Californian band from the ’90s. These songs were written and recorded less than 20 years ago. But, like Wolfmother and Fitz and the Tantrums, they’re modeling their sound on something older. Hepcat is basing their sound on the transition period between The Skatalites and Bob Marley. The purpose of this music is still to be danced to. You’ll find some layed back tunes and some more up-beat instrumentals, but the core element in every song is the groove.

Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments below. Here’s what my friends thought:

“This was an interesting album for me. The first track was ridiculous, but after that it had a pretty good sound and feel. As the album went on it did seem to lose steam. But yet again, I couldn’t get fully synced into the music from a personal perspective. The more I listened the more I felt it really is that constant up and down that is predictable to a “t” that throws me off. I could have sworn this was a much older band, as Paul suggested, and I even told Chris earlier today it was (until I saw the date while grabbing the title). In a way I think I give this album 3 stars instead of my typical 1 or 2 because it’s use of that 60’s vibe really seemed to enhance the ska sound, rather than take it away…and when I say enhance I mean make it bearable. ;-)” 3/5 – Tim

“They did a great job of capturing that vintage jamaican vibe. I could easily be convinced that this was recorded 30 years earlier. I like Reggae (which I generalize Rocksteady into) but it does tend to sound the same. Rhythmically it doesn’t vary enough.

Pharoh’s Dream – this intrumental was my favorite so far

No Worries – now they’re swinging it, thats a nice changeup even if subtle

Overall this album was ok. It did seem pretty redundant. Part of what I like about the 3rd wave is that it brings in the punk influence that gives more variety. I probably wouldn’t change the channel if it came on the radio, but a whole album of it is a bit much.” 3.5/5 – Spencer


4 thoughts on “I’m Busy in the Blissful Unaware

  1. Pingback: Reflections in the Waves Spark My Memory | Another American Audio-logue

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  4. Pingback: Sweetness Fill Me Up; Never Let Me Down | An American Audio-logue

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