Oh Gray River, Your Waters Ramble Wide

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.

The Ramones – The Ramones (1976)

Tim shared this partly because he’s amazed nobody else has, and now that he has I am equally amazed they haven’t popped up sooner.

For one reason or another I haven’t even thought of sharing the Ramones.

This album opens with some great heavy hitters. Other songs that caught my attention were Havana Affair and the album closer, which were both new to me. Someone else did some vocals on 53rd and 3rd, and I didn’t really care for it. There were some bonus tracks that stood out, too. I would give I Don’t Care a break for being a demo (because I don’t think it’s very good), but I really liked I Can’t Be, which was also a demo recording.

Otherwise the tone of the guitar (which sounded even grittier on the demo tracks), the simple writing and the general sameness of the songs starts to blend them all together. They weren’t bad, they just had a hard time standing out without being mixed in with other music.

I think the Ramones are one of the big names in punk rock for a reason. When I think of early punk, I think of the Ramones. And there’s a lot here to emulate and learn from.

One thing to learn is walking that fine line between refreshingly simple and uncreative. They turn simple music into an art. I’ve said as much on this blog in the past, but I think a lot of musicians (jazz and metal especially) forget that it’s okay to be simple. KansasDust in the Wind is super simple, but it stands out more because a lot of their other stuff is rather complicated. I think there really has to be a balance.

The Ramones’ tunes are also pretty short, which I think a lot of musicians have a hard time remembering is okay. If you don’t have a ton of words, that’s okay. Not every song has to be a 6-minute epic tune. Have a verse, a chorus, a solo, another chorus and be done. If that’s what you have and it gets the message of your song across, then that song has served its purpose, even if it’s only 1:30 long. Especially in this age of digital music, there should be no limits on how long or short a song should be. 3.27/5

Here’s what my friends had to say:

“I wasn’t alive in 1976. So I can’t really take this album perfectly in historical context. But I know Boston’s self titled album is also from this same year. If you ask me which one rocks more, it’s a no brainer. So I mean that to say, I just don’t get punk rock. I don’t really think this album really rocks at all: the guitars are kinda nasally and thin, the vocals are fairly vanilla, and it always seems bouncy, more like polka than rock’n’roll.

Thats right. I said it.

I also know this album was way ahead of the curve and became a classic dispite poor sales for a lot of years. Its now basically the textbook of punk rock. So I find the album interesting for that, but I don’t care that much for modern punk either. That being said, I’d love to see these guys live back in the day, probably huge energy. But I still don’t feel like this album captures that very well.” 3.8/5 – Spencer

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (2009)

I have listened to quite a bit of The Decemberists before and, to be honest, I wasn’t super excited to listen to this album. This album just hasn’t jumped out to me on previous listens. I like The Decemberists. I think they have interesting arrangements, and their songs are just complicated enough, but aren’t overburdened with it. They feel natural. But I don’t always love their vocals. I kind of have to be in the mood for them.

Except previous listens weren’t straight run-throughs. They were mixed in with other stuff of theirs, or even artists. Some albums, like the Ramones, maybe be better in a mix, but this is better as one single experience. I still wouldn’t say that I loved this album, but I think every song is better than average. The ones that stand out most are Annan Water, The Hazards of Love 3: Revenge!, Abduction of Margaret and The Wanting Comes in Waves.

Some of my favorite singles from the band come from earlier releases, but I think as a whole album, this is was way better than I remember it being. It makes me want to relisten to all of their stuff. 4.24/5

From my friends:

“I’ve heard about the Decemberists a lot, but never really listened, so this was a welcome share. I really liked the album. It flowed well, had great vocals, and stayed cohesive throughout.

This is going to sound weird, but I was thinking of giving it 5 stars at first, but felt it wasn’t an album I would listen to often, so I dropped it down to 4. It was weird for me, because it feels so well polished and good, but the conclusion of the album wraps things up so nicely there is no urgency to start over…like reading a good book. It was fun while it lasted, but it might be another 10 years before reading again.

So does that justify a star drop? I don’t know, but it felt right.” 4/5 – Tim

Apocalyptica – Reflections (2003)

I was going to share a different artist, but I just couldn’t get excited about them this morning. Maybe it’s the weather. So I moved on to the next artist on my list.

In case you’ve never heard of them, Apocalyptica started out as four Finnish cellists playing Metallica. Their next album was still mostly covers (there were three originals – one of which has a sequel on this album), but by different metal bands. Their third album was mostly originals with a couple of covers – Metallica and Edvard Grieg. They also added a couple of guest vocalists, some percussion, and one member of the band played an upright bass on some of the numbers.

The standard version of this, their fourth album, is all original. There are some bonus tracks including a Rammstein cover and a Bush cover, and I think they’re worth checking out if you like both the original band and Apocalyptica. Again they have some additional musicians (there’s a trumpet on one tune, which blends nicely with the strings), but now almost every track has drums, which I have to be honest I don’t love. I think they sounded fine before without drums.

I’m sharing this album because more than their previous albums, this has more emotion behind it. It’s not just technical proficiency, which they’ve had from the beginning. I feel like this album is more human.

Some of the highlights on this album are Faraway (the original, instrumental version – the female vocalist (and model on the cover) sounds just a little tight or nasally), Čohkka, Conclusion, and especially Epilogue (Relief), which is in the top 100 songs currently on my computer. Which might not sound that impressive, but that’s less than 1% of the music on my computer. Probably closer to 1/10 of a percent. And after the top two, I haven’t bothered to even try and rank the top 100. They’re just in that playlist.

Here’s what my friends had to say:

“I really like the cello since it was the first musical instrument I became aware of as a kid (my mom plays). I found some of the really fast solo passages really impressive, but overall, this isn’t really something I’d listen to. I like the sound of cello over the rock “guitar” tones (even if they’re more cellos), but I don’t really get into metal as a genre and much of this just kinda sounded like metal. The constant chugging gets pretty boring to me. My least favorite tune was Seeman. German is not a pretty language. Sorry. It would have been pretty awesome otherwise. Epilogue was great. Reminded me of Barber’s Adagio. I didn’t have a lot of other things stand out to me. I think I will listen to this again, because I want to like it more than I did.” 4/5 – Spencer

“Wow. Totally surprised here. The first track left me wondering if I would like it, but then it just took off and held me through to the end.

It was one of those albums that is just perfect for listening while working, or driving. But not one to listen to in a casual setting. And I must add, the experience was good in my car, but great with headphones. This always bothers me, as I’ve said before, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that music like this is wasted on poor quality speakers. I feel like my dad when I was a kid insisting on having a high fidelity system at home. It just makes a difference.” 4/5 – Tim

Share your own thoughts on the Ramones, The Decemberists or Apocalyptica down in the comments section.

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5 thoughts on “Oh Gray River, Your Waters Ramble Wide

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