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.
Led Zeppelin’s self-titled (1969)
This is not my favorite Zeppelin studio album. That distinction goes to III (with a score of 3.6/5). Nor is this my least favorite. That would be Presence which still gets a straight 3/5, so it’s not like there’s a huge gap between them. This ties for my third favorite, with a 3.4/5.
Let me first start by saying that while I love a lot of what Jimmy Page does, some times his solos just sound like messy noodling. While technically impressive, it doesn’t always contribute musically. While technically impressive, it doesn’t always contribute musically. That might be the biggest downer for me. None of the songs are bad (I can only think of four songs in their whole catalogue I don’t really care for. Although to be fair, there’s only three of their songs that I wish I wrote. And none of those are Stairway to Heaven, which is just alright.), but for a lot of them I have to be in a mood to get the Led out, and still they might not be the tracks I turn to first.
Also, while I love the blues based sound they’ve got going on (especially How Many More Times), I don’t love that they don’t always give credit to the musicians who inspired them … and whose songs they sometimes cover or reference. It got them in some legal trouble, which is too bad.
I feel like the album opens with some of the best stuff. Both Good Times, Bad Times and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You are great. Communications Breakdown is good, too. But my favorite is (of all things) the raga rock Black Mountain Slide. I like it partly just because it’s different. I also think it’s more of the most musical things on the album.
Years and Years – Communion (2015)
Like LCD Soundsystem, I wasn’t really impressed with the vocals on this album. However, I can at least appreciate that these guys have pretty good voices, it just isn’t really my style.
And at first, I thought the beat was going to be pretty good. I really liked what they had going on during Foundation. But the next couple of songs were just meh. And then Take Shelter came on and I had a really hard time not just skipping it. The basic drum and bass “riddim” they use in that song has a name: Dembow. It is also the defining characteristic of the tramp-stamp of music: Reggaeton. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s more Latino hip-hop than anything from ’60s Jamaica. And everything I’ve ever heard is just trashy. And having served a state-side Spanish-speaking mission, I’ve heard a lot of it. Maybe Take Shelter isn’t that bad, but the beat totally killed it for me.
King was probably my favorite song, and even then it wasn’t mind-blowing. It was just one of the few I wouldn’t mind hearing if it showed up on a playlist or something. Eyes Shut reminded me of Sam Smith (who I wasn’t really impressed with), but better. Desire had one of the better beats on the album. But both songs were just ok – better than most of the album, but still just ok compared to … well, pretty much everything else I’ve ever listened to.
This isn’t terrible. It just really isn’t my kind of music. This album didn’t really do anything for me. 2/5
Another Honest Jon’s Chop Up! – Rocket Juice and the Moon (2012)
This is a collaboration between guitarist / keyboardist Damon Albarn (of Blur and The Gorillaz), bassist Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) and drummer Tony Allen. I had never heard of Tony Allen before, but apparently the Nigerian drummer has been active since the late ’60s. He’s apparently a legend. Knowing that is pretty important going into this album.
There are actually conflicting statements on whether “Rocket Juice and the Moon” is the name of both the group and their album, or just the album. In 2011 they performed together at a jazz festival under the name “Another Honest Jon’s Chop Up!”, but the album came out after that and the only name of any kind on it is Rocket Juice and the Moon. I guess that means they could have changed their name.
Normally I’m not really a fan of Damon Albarn. I think a lot of his stuff is just weird and musically distracting. This album is kinda funky – both as a style of music as well as being a little weird – and I mostly like it. Flea and Tony Allen do a great job of setting up a solid (if rather complex) groove. I really think their talents help temper Albarn’s, to everyone’s benefit. Whenever they have horns do some hits in the background, that also helps the funk grooves.
1-2-3-4-5-6 had an almost chiptune quality to it, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album, but once Shooter got going, I started feeling pretty good. The chiptune kind of stuff came back in There and Worries, and I wasn’t really impressed. I think most of it had to due with the sounds they used, specifically the synth horns in There. They just sounded cheap.
Rotary Connection as was a perfect name for that song, although I didn’t exactly love the recreation of a washer’s spin cycle going on in the middle of the song. The acoustic guitar is alright, but the electric guitar in Fatherless sounds like it’s circular saw. Leave Taking had a little of that going on, too. This may sound weird, but I’d really like to hear Leave Taking covered by a marching band like the Blue Devils. I feel like the horns remind me of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.
Poison was kind of a downer, plus I wasn’t really impressed with Albarn’s singing. It wasn’t terrible. I liked the song more than most of The Gorillaz or Blur, but it wasn’t as good as the rest of this album. I think the more subdued rhythm section stuff had a bit to do with that. Then Extinguished had something really weird going on in … the keys? It really sounded like someone wanted their cat to record the keys part and was shining a laser pointer on the keyboard to accomplish it. I think that was the lowlight of the album.
Check Out also had a slow groove to it, and I didn’t mind. What I did mind was the construction work going on in the keyboard. It was off-key, syncopated hammering. It felt disjointed and disorienting. Plus there was some other sound which I assume was made with a guitar. At least it wounded like a steel wire.
I know it sounds like all I’ve been doing is pointing out the negatives. There really is some cool stuff going, but only about 2/3 of it. And the stuff I don’t like isn’t overpowering, it’s mostly just little-to-medium-sized stuff. 3/5
Stroke 9 – Nasty Little Thoughts (1999)
This is one of those albums I bought for one song (back in the days before you could preview the whole album online and just buy the one song you liked). But unlike most of the other CDs I bought, I actually like most of this album. It’s not amazing. It’s just pretty good late ’90s pop rock.
These guys are kind of one-hit wonders, although they actually put out quite a few albums. The song that got me into them was Letters, which you may recognize. Some other highlights include the more chill Tail of the Sun, the source of the album title Washin’ and Wonderin’, and Not Nothin’ (which I like because of the drums, but I never noticed until I was listening to the album before I shared it that it has a ska-influenced rhythm guitar part).
I really like the pre-chorus and chorus from Little Black Backpack, but I don’t really care for the verses. Make it Last is kind of the same way, except I don’t mind the verses as much and I don’t like the chorus as much. Also, I feel like the last few songs start to feel like they’re dragging the album out, even though they all have good stuff in them; the songs are fine, but the album starts to suffer a little.
Here’s what my friends thought:
“Letters – I immediately recognized that opening line. The rhythm and alliteration are awesome. The rest of the song was kinda just ok. That one hook that was memorable from the early 00’s was the only memorable thing of the song still today.
Little Black Backpack sounds familiar. Was this one on the radio?
The rest of the album I had pretty much the same reaction as the first song. The best was that opening line and the rest was just ok. Nothing was particularly offensive or bad, just none of it got me very excited.” 3/5 – Spencer
“This is a good album, but definitely feels dated. It was enjoyable, but felt to me like a record label’s attempt at throwing out what sells, rather than an artist putting their mark on the music world.” 2/5 – Tim