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.
Weather Report – Black Market (1976)
I haven’t listened to a ton of Weather Report. I discovered them one semester in college when I was taking a history of jazz class and a class about arranging jazz and improving small combo playing/soloing skills. I had been into more big band swing stuff, but that semester I started listening to a wider ranger of jazz. But I had such a breadth, I never went very deep into an artists’ catalogue. So this was the first time I’ve listened to this album.
I didn’t much care for the obviously late ’70s sounds of the synths. But the album has some great grooves. Spencer said to pay attention to the drums, and there were times that was the only interesting thing going on. I don’t know that it’s so much a good thing when your drummer is the highlight of a song (although some might disagree), but the two guys they had drumming on this album really helped it from getting boring at times.
Gibraltar has some of my favorite and least favorite stuff. I really like how it built up towards the end. I didn’t even mind some of the heavier synths, but some of the earlier stuff just seemed to go on a long time. Herandu also had some cool stuff that made me back up the track and take a harder listen. Plus, it had some very 8-bit video game synths which were a little cool (especially since this was before home consoles).
I feel like a lot of Weather Report’s stuff is either great or just alright. There’s not much in between for me. But there’s also not much “totally sucks” either, so the album’s got that going for it, too. The only lowlight for me was Three Clowns, which was in part due to the languishing tempo and the weird lead voice in the keys. And thankfully it was a pretty short track. 3/5
AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)
And now we have some classic hard rock. Simple chord progressions, memorable riffs, lyrics laced with double entendres, and one of the most easily identifiable vocalists. This is one of the standards against which the heavy, guitar-based music of the last 35 years has been judged.
And rightly so. I know some people can’t get past the scratchy tenor vocals and the suggestive lyrics. It’s not exactly my favorite. And with any other style of music, the vocals wouldn’t work. But I think it’s actually pretty accessible. AC/DC’s doing exactly what they were trying to do. It’s not the rather dark stuff Black Sabbath was doing. It’s not the psychedelic stuff Led Zeppelin and others were doing. It’s not the glam rock of Poison. It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s just hard rock.
And it has aged really well. I think a lot of that has to do with the simplicity of it all. They’ve got some great riffs and face melting solos, but they know it all has its place – wherever there aren’t vocals. They’re very conscious of what else is going on musically. A lot of musicians never figure that out. Bluegrass, jazz, metal and prog rock seem to be the worst offenders, but everyone suffers from it at some point in their careers. It’s hard to compare albums from different genres, but I feel like very few hard rock/metal albums are as good as this. And even fewer do better (although I would submit that Wolfmother’s first two albums do).
My favorites off this album are maybe not the obvious ones. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution is hands down my favorite, but Shoot to Thrill is a close second. Some of the lyrics turn great songs into stuff that I don’t love, but I’d still give this whole album 4/5.
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007)
And now for something completely different. I used to listen to a lot more of this kind of stuff in high school and early college. I still have some stuff like this in my iTunes, but this kind of music is eternally linked to mowing the lawn or shoveling my parents’ driveway.
There are no riffs or solos (or even chord progressions) to speak of, but that’s alright. In general, I feel like this whole alum is brighter and dancier than the stuff I got from Napster, LimeWire or Kazaa. And infinitely better labeled. I still have a couple of things I can’t identify.
There were moments of super repetitive strings or keys or guitar in Get Innocuous! that could have been cut and done the song a favor – both in terms of length and content. And I know the focus of this album isn’t the vocals, but they’re still really important to me. And Get Innocuous! didn’t really impress. However the groove, which is the focus, did impress me. Then All My Friends was an improvement all around. Even my kid thoroughly enjoyed it.
And everything else was somewhere in between. Time to Get Away and Us v Them (although the latter again had some weak vocals) were also pretty good, but All My Friends was the highlight of the album.
Well, it was the highlight of most of the album. New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down is pretty good on its own. Mixed in with some other music, this might just be another kinda bluesy tunes. But when it comes at the end of an electronic dance record, it makes you pay a little more attention. It might be my favorite from the whole week. 3/5
Leo Kottke – 6 and 12 String Guitar (1969)
Since last weekend was the 4th of July and I was thinking of stuff I could share that was uniquely American, I decided on some bluesy folk guitar.
This is an album which makes me want to be a better guitar player. It’s essentially a private concert recording (with the audience being the sound guys). It’s just him and his guitar with no overdubs, and usually only one take per song.
I like this album, but I’ll be honest, it’s a 3/5 album with some 4/5 or 5/5 songs on it. It’s all instrumental (because he says his voice “sounds like geese farts on a muggy day.”), which means it’s mostly great background music and I’m fully expecting some of you to say it all blends together, which it can. However, there are some great gems in here.
Primarily Vaseline Machine Gun, which is how I got turned on to this guy. Apparently this song is about two things: first, waking up naked in a sleeping bag on a beach and second, the rather abrupt end of the volleyball game that woke him up.
I also really love the melodic lines in Watermelon, the two opposing moods of The Fisherman, and the kind of programmatic nature of Busted Bicycle.
And in case you’re wondering (but you’d probably miss it if I didn’t point it out), there’s an odd little noise about 30 seconds from the end of The Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie. That’s one of his strings snapping. They just left it in there, which I love because it reminds me how important real, flawed humans are to making art.
If my friends ever get their reviews back to me, I’ll post those here. Feel free to share your own thoughts on Leo Kottke or whatever else in the comments below.