For a couple of years, some of my friends and I have been sharing music with one another. We’re supposed to review/rate whatever’s shared with us, but that doesn’t always happen.
There are very few weeks where I think, “of course so-and-so shared that album” about everything shared. This is a very personality-specific week of sharing.
USU Jazz Orchestra – Europa (2014)
Both Spencer and I played jazz at Utah State University, but my tenure as an official college musician didn’t last long. I just felt like they wanted me to be a robot. I was only under the direction of Dr. Gudmunson a few times, but I liked him. Apparently he doesn’t feel much different than I did. According to Spencer, this is Dr. G’s response to what he feels is stagnation in the world of jazz.
“The future of jazz is east where European writers and bands are breaking the rules and actually making hip new music,” he said.
This album has some arrangements of tunes from Frank Zappa, Tom Waits or Radiohead arranged for big bands, and other tracks all from European writers/arrangers. Not that I recognize all of them (Run? The Seamstress? Wingless Flight?).
I don’t really listen to much Tom Waits, and had never heard his version of Time before. Really, I was expecting an arrangement of Pink Floyd’s Time. But what I got was surprisingly emotional. The female vocalist was great. Better than This Lament (which, I’m actually a little surprised I hadn’t heard before, having once been a college trained jazz trombonist) and the Zappa tunes.
I’ve just never really been a fan of Zappa. These performances were better than the original, but I still didn’t love them. Having played with these guys (albeit ten years ago), I know USU’s jazz program isn’t cut-rate. They have enough good players to fill two full jazz bands. But they’re still college kids. And there were a couple of times, like in the live The Grand Wazoo, where it showed. That happens to anyone, however professional they are, during live shows. That was probably my favorite of the Zappa covers. The outro of More Trouble Every Day was pretty good, but that track felt long.
This wasn’t my favorite version of Just, but it’s a great song. I really liked the long, harsh intro and how the trombonist incorporated some of the other ideas from the song into the solo.
There weren’t any bad tunes, although some went rather long. 3.27/5
Here’s what my friends had to say:
“Let me be real here for a second. I am an Aggie Blue and True. I hold my Alma Mater in high regard. But this just didn’t do it for me. Granted, I’m not a big jazz fan, but even I can put aside that preference and recognize the talent. In many ways it just didn’t seem that polished or dynamic to me. It felt more like a pet project than a real attempt at putting out a great album. It felt like I could have heard this just walking into a classroom and taking a seat.” 2/5 – Tim
“I liked this more than I thought I would. That doesn’t mean I loved it, but it was a good listen while working.
And of course, I must specifically review their take on one of my favorite songs of all time, Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place.” They sapped the intensity out of it in favor of a chill, noir sound. Which was an interesting take. Most covers I’ve heard of the song (including a few big band/jazz/piano ones) like to keep the energy high on it so I was impressed with their decision to mellow it out. I appreciated the various movements of it as well. Their cover of “Just” was decent, too, as a quick study of that main riff of the original.
Overall an entertaining listen. The songs were recognizable enough to catch my ear but different enough to sound fresh. Maybe not an album I’d come back to really, but better than I thought it would be.” 6/10 – Chris
Tool – Ænema (1996)
At the time (well, when I started listening to them four or five years later anyway), I was impressed by Tool’s prog metal. I had been told they were being ironic and clever, but it never really clicked with me. Still, I like their musical ideas, if not their lyrical ones.
Let me start off low and end on the high. Die Eier von Satan was really hard to listen to. It reminded me of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. If I ever heard it again, I’d skip past it.
I didn’t so much love the end of Eulogy. And while I still feel like the musical arrangements are great, 46 & 2 felt a little disjointed, like it was just a little more complicated than they had rehearsal time for. And Hooker with a Penis just felt like they didn’t quite have a plan to begin with – just anger. Third Eye also felt just like an angry jam. Some good ideas in there, but mostly just over-long.
Message to Harry Manback had some pleasant music, which was a rather unexpected change. But I didn’t care for the dialogue – either the content or the sound quality.
Intermission was also a pleasant, unexpected change. H. and the title track are great (lyrics not withstanding); ’90s classics.
All in all, still (mostly) good instrumentals, but probably not something I’d come back to. 2.93/5
From my friends:
“I haven’t listened to much Tool, though a few of these songs I’d heard before. It falls into the category where I could get into it more if it weren’t so explicit in the lyrics. I’ve heard of several bands who sold their souls to be as good as they are, and to be honest if Tool did they got a bum deal. I was expecting to get way more blown away. Perhaps this was more amazing back in ’96, but to me it didn’t seem that progressive, more like a marriage of grunge and speed metal.
It certainly wasn’t boring, I guess I was expecting something more freaky and surprising.
I did really like the opener. I’m going to give this a 4.0 because some of the tracks were pretty good, and I didn’t get bored anywhere on it, but there were several tracks I’m happy to skip the lyrics.” 4/5 – Spencer
“OK this one was interesting. I had a lot of Tool fans as friends when this came out. They were fanatical in their fandom, which really turned me off to the band. Listening now I can see why they loved it then, but it didn’t seem to age too well for me. I think 10 years ago I would have given it 4 stars, but today it just seems a little dated in themes and tone. Some albums are timeless, but I think this one might get worse overtime.
That said the talent was absolutely there; lyrically, vocally, and musically it was genius. But it just doesn’t hold up to age.” 3/5 – Tim
BΔSTILLE – Wild World (2016)
Bastille is good. They aren’t really my cup of tea, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a song of theirs that I didn’t mind hearing. On the deluxe version of their first album, there were three or four stand out tunes. I expected a similar turnout on the deluxe version of this album.
And wasn’t disappointed. They’re modern electronic pop rock, and some of it is rather dancey (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Lethargy was probably my favorite tune on the standard album. I can’t even really pick out what made it different than any of the others. The next couple were also pretty good. Campus was another good one, even though it uses something similar to the dembow riddim (which I loathe). And I wanted to like Anchor more than I did. I feel like it had a lot of mostly-realized potential. The bonus track Final Hour was great and is definitely worth looking up.
My one complain is really that there were clips from the news or movies or something sprinkled throughout the album, which made me think the album was supposed to be some sort of concept album. But I never cared about the lyrics. I just don’t get much sense of emotion from them. But it’s still decent music. I probably wouldn’t turn it off or skip past any of it. 3.24/5
From my friends:
“I’m not familiar with Bastille. From the opening, I thought they had a nice sound, pop synth stuff without being dancey. Really the whole album was pretty darn well done. Its just that I didn’t really get into the sound. Also when a band has so many clips from old movies or whatever through the album, I feel like they’re trying to push some message. Sometimes its interesting, but they annoyed me here. I want more guitar solos 🙂 Or I’d settle for synth solos. But most of them were really vocal driven. I really loved the dirty fat bass in Currents, but the rest of the track was just OK. Blame was probably my favorite track. I liked 4 Walls. There were quite a few good ones, but not a lot stood out or really struck me. It kinda just seemed like Depeche Mode to me.” 3.8/5 – Spencer
“Hmm. Well I’ve never been a huge fan of what little I’ve heard of Bastille, so I wasn’t excited to listen to this. The album was about what I expected. There are some interesting sounds and ideas going on, the melodies themselves are better than the average pop drivel (except “Glory,” that was pretty cookie-cutter bad). But his voice is so annoyingly beige to me. I thought I’d really like “An Act of Kindness” as it began, but when he started singing I cringed. That was kind of my reaction to most of this. Some good sounds, but overall just a little too bland for my liking I think, and mostly because of the singer.” 5/10 – Chris
Bob Marley and the Wailers – Live! (1975)
This week, I’m playing off last week’s suggestion and sharing more live stuff. Bob Marley has been one of those artists I haven’t shared because there’s just so much to choose from. I decided to go with the album that has one of my top five favorite Marley tunes: No Woman, No Cry.
I think the whole album’s pretty good. I like this live version of I Shot the Sheriff more than the studio version. But I know not all of you are huge fans of reggae. What else do I need to say aside from, “chill reggae grooves”?
Here’s what my friends had to say:
“For whatever reason, Bob’s reggae is on a pedestal for me, it seems so much less monotonous than nearly any other reggae artist. I don’t know if its just unfair bias, but I feel like he brings a lot more to his songs than something like the Mighty Diamonds a couple weeks back. AND he has a great rhythm section. That said though, Get Up was a huge dissappointment because I thought it was really rushed which happens on a lot of live albums, but it seemed this was the only track here suffering this way. That ended up the low-light. I liked Them Belly Full because it was new to me, and some of the classics were treats to hear live, even though I think the album versions bring a nicer variety of sounds. I listen to Bob mostly through his greatest hits, but its nice to dig in deeper to his catalog once in a while.” 4/5 – Spencer
“This was much better than I thought it would be. I’ve never really listened much to Marley, but now I see why so many people revere him. It makes me want to listen to other albums, because this one was just infectious…it kind of pulled you in and didn’t let you go until it was done.” 4/5 – Tim
“I’m a fan of Bob. And this was a great live album. But, virtually none of my favorite Bob tunes were on it save “No Woman, No Cry” (and if I’m not mistaken, this live version is the one that appears on the Legend compilation). So that was a little unfortunate. I did enjoy it as some good reggae though, and the good stuff always translates to a live setting very well. It’s a very communal genre, and hearing the crowd interacting adds a lot. “Burnin’ and Lootin’” was my favorite here for whatever reason. I just found myself feeling that groove with the audience.” 7/10 – Chris